Inscribed plaque honouring Romulus.
Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.):
Portico of the ‘Eumachia’ building, Pompeii, regio I.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum):
Naples Archaeological Museum (inventory no. 3820)
9 BCE to 22 CE
Inscribed bronze plaque set into the wall beneath one of the small niches of the semi-circular exedrae of the chalcidicum of the Eumachia building.
CIL X, 809 (ILS 64)
This inscription, along with CIL X, 808, comes from the chalcidicum, or porch, of the Eumachia building, the largest single structure flanking the Forum of Pompeii. The deep, columnar porch was symmetrically arranged, with a large curved niche and two smaller rectangular ones, each of which held a statue, on each side of the great door (van Buren, “Further Studies in Pompeian Archaeology”, p. 108). Although the statues themselves have not been identified, there is evidence to suggest that the back walls of the niches were decorated with coloured marble veneer, and holes for nails which appear in uniform positions over the brickwork suggest that the bronze plaque on which the inscription is found was attached to this veneer (van Buren, “Further Studies in Pompeian Archaeology”, p. 109).
CIL X 809 was discovered beneath the second niche to the left of the door and has therefore been understood to refer to the statue that it originally contained. The inscription names Romulus, the legendary founder and first king of Rome (van Buren, “Further Studies in Pompeian Archaeology”, p. 109). Just as the fragmentary inscription honouring the achievements of Aeneas (CIL X, 808), found nearby in the chalcidicum, the text is an elogium, an honorific description of the hero whose sculpture was placed above it. Like that dedicated to Aeneas, the inscription emphasises the divine lineage, with Romulus named ‘the son of Mars’ (Romulus filius Martis). His foundation of the city of Rome is attested, as well as his role as its first king. The spolia opima, or ‘rich spoils’ were the arms and armour stripped from a defeated opposing general, the most impressive spoils a victorious general might win. The Roman state recognised only three occasions on which the spolia opima had been won, the first of which being Romulus’ victory over King Acro of the Caeninenses, also mentioned in the inscription, after the Rape of the Sabine Women. It was following this victory that the first temple in Rome had been dedicated, to Jupiter Feretrius, to whom Romulus offered the ‘spoils’. The inscription also indicates the deification of Romulus, ‘receptusque in deorum numerum’ (‘received into the number of the gods’), and his new name, ‘Quirinus’. This name is purported to come from the Sabine adjective quiris, meaning ‘wielder of the spear’, and may originally have referred to a Sabine god of War. Quirinus had been accepted into the Capitoline Triad at an early date, shortly after the Romans conquered the Sabine people, but it was not until the end of the Republic (at least certainly by 60 BCE), that the apotheosis of Romulus was officially identified with Quirinus, and accepted across Italy (Fishwick, The Imperial Cult in the Latin West, p. 52-3). It is worthy of note that both inscriptions to Aeneas and Romulus emphasise their eventual deification; in both cases their apotheosis was “on the basis of meritorious achievements”, and in the case of Romulus specifically, for “founding and preserving the [Roman] state” (Fishwick, The Imperial Cult in the Latin West, p. 54). This was crucial for the legitimacy of Augustus’ claim that he too, was linked to the gods, through his now divine father Julius Caesar, and foreshadowed his own apotheosis on the basis of his excellent and honourable rule of the Roman people. Such future action was even predicted by Ovid, who appealed to Aeneas and Romulus in Metamorphoses 15.850 to help smoothen Augustus’s passage to the gods: “I pray you gods who accompanied Aeneas…and you Romulus, founder of our city…may that day be slow to come…on which Augustus leaving the world he rules, will make his way to heaven.” (trans. M. Innes, Metamorphoses (New York: Penguin, 1955) in DeRose Evans, The Art of Persuasion, p. 113-4).
Unlike the dedication to Aeneas, the inscription is an exact copy of the one that formed part of the summi viri display in the Forum of Augustus in Rome. The Forum, dedicated in 2 BCE, included a series of statues of Roman ‘heroes’, including one of Romulus carrying the spolia opima, which had become one of the recognisable attributes of Romulus, and were often featured in sculptures and wall paintings of him (see the fragments of a statue of Romulus found at Córdoba: Ungaro, The Museum of the Imperial Forums fig. 223); here in the summi viri display, the inscription served to emphasise his greatest achievements and underscored the unique relationship between the founder of the city and Augustus, both of whom had secured the peace and prosperity of their people through triumphant military action.
The statue of Romulus in Rome was placed opposite a statue and elogium for Aeneas (Ovid, Fasti V.563-6), the hero of the Trojan War and mythical ancestor of the Julio-Claudians, and it has been conjectured that they were similarly paired in the Eumachia building in Pompeii (van Buren, “Further Studies in Pompeian Archaeology”, p. 108-9; Zanker, Pompeii, p. 93-5), deliberately recalling their arrangement in the capital. The wax tablets discovered in the House of the Bicentenary in Herculaneum include an archive of legal documents that attest to inhabitants of the Campanian region agreeing to travel to Rome to have their cases heard by the urban praetor in the Forum of Augustus (Pugliese Carratelli, “Tabulae Herculanenses II”, p. 168), which may go some way to explain the choice of these statues and inscriptions to decorate the chalcidicum of Eumachia’s building. The summi viri and their great service to Rome may have been familiar to a number of the residents of Pompeii, who must have understood immediately their significance to Rome’s history. The placement of the summi viri was a virtual history lesson, which ended with Augustus as the final, legitimate heir to a seemingly unbroken line of triumphators.
Eumachia’s reinterpretation of Augustan political ideology has been well documented (Cooley, “Women beyond Rome”; Moeller, “Cronache Pompeiane”; Richardson, “Concordia and Concordia Augusta”), and it is clear that she used the piety of the imperial household to support her own political and social agenda. The use of architectural details from the Forum allowed Eumachia to emphasise her own status and ambition, as well as drawing attention to Augustus’s history and legitimacy. Indeed, the pairing of Romulus with Aeneas in the chalcidicum, and the replication of the inscriptions from Rome must have resonated particularly with the text of the inscription above the entrance to the Eumachia building (CIL X, 810 + 811); it dedicated the structure to Concordia and Pietas, two keystones of Augustan imperial ideology, and the two attributes most vividly associated with the first king of Rome (Livy, History of Rome,I.13.8) and the character of the Trojan hero respectively (van Buren, “Further Studies in Pompeian Archaeology”, p. 110). The symbolic historical connotations of both qualities were vividly expressed in the way that Eumachia decorated her building, using a familiar language and visual form to communicate the conscientious devotion and respect for filial duty that characterised the proper and harmonious conduct of the Augustan state, as exemplified in the form of the princeps and the imperial household.