Dedication of the city walls in Naples by Valentinian III (CIL X, 1485)

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Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Building inscription.
Original Location/Place: 
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Recorded in 1745 as being in the aedicula of S. Asprenatis, in the Cathedral of Naples, Italy.
440 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
Fragment of a dedicatory inscription, recording a building campaign in Naples that included the fortification of the city walls. The right hand side of the stone is broken, resulting in the missing end of each line.
Stone (?)
CIL X, 1485
This inscription was set up in c. 440 CE, in the Roman city of Neapolis (modern Naples). It recorded the fortification work ordered by Valentinian III to improve the security of the city’s walls, to which towers were also added. As well as providing evidence for the very tangible threat of barbarian invasion faced by some Italian cities in the mid 5th century CE, the inscription also reveals the reversal of an ideological concept used to describe Roman power since the mid third century BCE; in this inscription, Roman power is presented not as won “by land and sea,” but rather challenged on land and sea by opposing barbarian forces. 
Valentinian III (419 – 455 CE) was the son of Galla Placidia and Flavius Constantius; his mother was the half-sister of Honorius, the emperor in the west, while his father was a patrician, often described as the “power behind the throne” (Jones, PLRE II, p. 323). Valentinian had been recognised as nobilissimus by Honorius at a very young age, but this honour was not acknowledged by Theodosius II, emperor in the east, until the usurper Joannes took the western throne in 423 CE, following the death of Honorius; Valentinian’s father Flavius Constantius (who had died in 421 CE) was posthumously named Augustus in the west by Theodosius, with Valentinian as his Caesar, in a bid to ensure both thrones through an alliance of mutual loyalty. After the defeat of Joannes at Ravenna, Valentinian was installed as the Western emperor in Rome in 425 CE, at the age of six years old (for detailed description of these events, see Blockley, “The Dynasty of Theodosius,” p. 111-138). For the next twelve years, Valentinian ‘ruled’ under the regency of his mother, Galla Placidia (for a history of her reign, see Oost, Galla Placidia Augusta and Sivan, Galla Placidia); having been based in Constantinople since 421 CE, following the death of his father, Valentinian, his mother and sister returned to Italy, and specifically to Rome, in 424 CE.
Valentinian’s reign was characterised by various barbarian incursions that occurred in the western empire, and the subsequent dismemberment of the Roman provinces within it. The initial phase of his reign saw the struggles between the generals in charge of the three principal army groups of the west, the senior Magister militum praesentalis Flavius Felix, the Magister militum in Africa Bonifacius, and the Magister militum per Gallias Flavius Aetius. Their struggles weakened Rome’s capacity to fight other barbarian groups. One of the major events of the 430s had been the invasion of Africa by the Vandals that resulted in the loss of the north African provinces in 431 CE, and in the fall of Carthage in 439 CE, as well as various barbarian invasions that took place in Gaul, by the Aluns, Franks and Visigoths, amongst others (see Heather, “The Western Empire,” p. 1-32; Inglebert, Atlas de Rome et des barbares, p. 50-51).
The Vandal invasion of Carthage in 439 CE was a devastating blow for the Western empire, due to its reliance on the region for economic support from taxation as well as physical support in the form of food. By 440 CE, the Vandals had reached Sicily, and were threatening mainland Italy, leading to Valentinian’s fortification of the walls of Neapolis; as the inscription states, he “fortified the walls and towers” (muris turribusque munivit), “at a great expense and labour” (ingenti labore atque sumptu), meaning that the city was actually able to withstand a number of attacks. Valentinian is described in the inscription according to the honorific titles that were common to Late Antique imperial dedications. Dominus noster, “our Lord”, had been in use since the reign of Commodus but had reached particular popularity under Diocletian and Constantine, eventually replacing the traditional Imperator Caesar that had previously stood at the beginning of the emperor’s titles (Chastagnol, “Le formulaire de l’épigraphie,” p. 13 [135]). The inscription honours his co-emperor, Theodosius, who is described as “most unconquered Augustus” (invictissimus Augustus), with Valentinian himself honoured as “the most wise of all of the princes of the past” (Placidus Valentin/ianus providen/tissimus omnium retr/o principum). Jean Béranger has noted that the introduction of providentia in imperial honours came as part of the process of succession; it was recognised as a particular quality of the successor who, in turn, passed power to the next. Most crucially, since the supposed ‘conspiracy’ of Sejanus against Tiberius in 31 CE, the ‘providence’ of the emperor, the ability to foretell events or the personal character of individuals close to the court, was presented as the quality that protected the Roman people from imminent disaster (Béranger, Principatus, p. 341). In the case of this inscription, it is Valentinian’s providentia that lead to the fortification of the wall, thereby protecting the Neapolitan citizens from Vandal invasion.

The most striking aspect of this inscription, however, is the claim that the fortifications were made to protect “all [those] exposed to the attacks on land and sea” (ad omnes terra mari[que incursus / expositam) and to those “enjoying no security” (nulla securitate / gaudentem). The extent of Roman power or imperium had been presented in terms of geographical control – “land and sea” – since the third century BCE, with Rome’s claim to sovereignty based on both the physical exertion of military power as well as the guardianship of the “whole world,” the orbis terrarum, which only Rome was able perform. In the mid third century BCE, the Romans had been described by a Hellenistic poet as taking hold of the “sceptre and monarchy of land and sea” (“γης καὶ θαλάσσης” in Lycophron of Chalcis, Alexandra, 1229-1230). In the second century BCE, Polybius described how Rome had taken power over the entire oikoumenē, or “inhabited world” (The Histories, 1.1.5; 1.3.10; 3.1.4; 6.50.6) and Cicero celebrated Pompey for having brought large swathes of the Mediterranean under Roman control in the 60s BCE, after his clarissima victoria terra marique (“most renowned victory on land and sea” in Pro Balbi 16). Under Octavian, the idea of control over the land and the sea was joined with “the accomplishments of peace because of the victories he achieved,” but in a reworked format that justified his power as a result of civil, rather than foreign, war (Cornwell, Pax and the Politics of Peace, p. 89; for the evolution of the concept from Republic to empire, see p. 87-90). In the inscription under discussion here, the entire concept has been reversed; rather than celebrating or asserting Rome’s hegemony in these traditional terms, the dedication contradicts the concept, highlighting the risky situation of the Roman people; the extent of Roman power as having been extended over the entire orbis terrarum is indicated by the use of the traditional terms terra marique, but the instability of that power is made clear by the emphasis on the lack of security (nulla securitate / gaudentem). Whether or not the inscription intended to make such an ideologically motivated statement, or whether the concept of terra marique was so ingrained in the available vocabulary with which one described the Roman people or Roman power is not clear, but in any case the way in which both are presented in this inscription is extremely unusual. The traditional formulae invoked long-standing memories of Roman victory, its associated peace, and the dominance of Rome’s presence across the empire. That these things were promoted in the inscription as being under threat, and in such conspicuous language, represents the very real instability faced by the Western empire and mainland Italy in the mid fifth century CE.
Bibliographical references: 
Blockley, R. C., “The Dynasty of Theodosius”, in Cambridge Ancient History, XIII. The Late Empire, A.D. 337-425 (ed. Averil Cameron , Peter Garnsey; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 111-135
Heather, Peter, The Western Empire 425–76, in The Cambridge Ancient History: Late antiquity: empire and successors, A.D. 425–600 (ed. A. Cameron, B. Ward-Perkins ; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 1–32
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Dedication of the city walls in Naples by Valentinian III (CIL X, 1485)
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron
Publishing date: Tue, 08/07/2018 - 20:30
Visited: Sun, 02/25/2024 - 13:09

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