Favours granted to the city of Volubilis (ILAfr 634)

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Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Volubilis (Mauretania Tingitana); possibly next to/near the Basilica.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
5 km west of Moulay Idriss. In situ in the Forum.
Physical Characteristics: 
Stone statue base found at Ksar-Faraoun ( = Volubilis), Morocco, in 1915. Traces of the feet of the statue that stood on top are still visible. The inscription is set within an inscribed frame; the first five lines in larger lettering than the rest. The front of the base has been fractured in two places, but the inscription is still legible.
Height: 142 cm
Width: 74 cm
Letter height: 4-15 cm
ILAfr 634
(AE 1992, 1943; ILM 116; IAM 2,448) 
This inscribed statue base from the Roman province of Mauritania Tingitana records the favours and rewards granted to the town of Volubilis by the emperor Claudius, following its support of Rome during a revolt by a local population. It is an important example of how the ‘benefits’ of Romanisation were extended to provincial communities, as well as being an interesting testimony of Claudius’s policy towards granting citizenship.
The inscription states that Marcus Valerius Severus successfully won a series of benefits for the city of Volubilis and his fellow inhabitants there. In spite of his Latin nomenclature, Severus was most likely of local north-African origin, which is indicated by his father’s name, Bostar. Severus was clearly a member of the local elite; he was an aedile, a duumvir, a sufes – a well established Punic magistracy – and the first flamen (priest) in his municipium, and his wife was wealthy enough to dedicate this large monument at her own expense, as indicated in the final four lines of the text. Fabia Bira, Severus’s wife, was also of north-African origin (she is named as the daughter of Izelta, Izeltae filia); although there were certainly towns in this region of Mauretania that were made up of Roman settlers, the success of Severus and Fabia Biria was not due to their Roman origin: both were of indigenous descent and their prominence should be better understood as an example of the Julio-Claudian policy towards inclusion and promotion of the local aristocracy.
Marcus Valerius Severus had been successful in a particular context too, which was key to the approval of his petition to the emperor Claudius for citizenship and the status of municipium for the city. Severus had been praefectus auxiliorum (leader of the auxiliary forces) and with them had suppressed the uprising of a Berber freedman named Aedemon, who had revolted against Rome late in 40 CE. Aedemon had been led to revolt by the supposed ‘murder’ of the client King of Mauretania, Ptolemy, who had been summoned to Rome by his cousin, the soon-to-be emperor Claudius, where he was put to death in unknown circumstances (Pliny, Natural History, V.11). Aedemon had led the people of Mauretania in revolt against the Roman authorities based there in response to the news of this murder, but was suppressed by Severus, and as a result of this success, the emperor Claudius was able to annex the region into two provinces (for the revolt and Claudius’s subsequent reorganisation of the province, see Fishwick, The annexation of Mauretania, p. 473-478; Gascou, La succession des bona vacantia, p. 111-112; Christol, Remarques sur l’inscription, p. 1637-1644). The majority of scholarship concerned with this region attributes the elevation of Volubilis to municipal status to this annexation, but as Fergus Millar has noted, there is nothing in this inscription (which is usually given as the primary source of evidence) that explicitly refers to Claudius having been the one to have bestowed this status on the town (Emperor in the Roman World, p. 404). If the status of municipium had already been awarded to the town in some period shortly before the revolt, then the benefits under discussion here may have been a secondary set of advantages that would logically follow, rather than a specific policy of reward adopted by Claudius for this particular case. The language of the inscription is, however, categorical in its attribution of the successful embassy to Rome to Severus, and presents the new legal statuses given to the town’s inhabitants as a direct result of his involvement. 
The rewards that Severus successfully petitioned for the inhabitants of Volubilis were Roman citizenship (civitatem Romanam), the right to marry women without Roman citizenship (conubium cum peregrinis mulieribus) and immunity from imperial taxes for ten years (immunitatem annorum X). The final two rewards given to Volubilis have caused some discussion in the scholarly literature; most editors have understood incolas in line 14 to be a mistake for incolis, in reference to benefits conferred by Claudius upon resident ‘aliens’ in the city. Others have retained the accusative plural form of the noun, as given on the stone, in order to suggest that resident aliens in Volubilis were not subject to a tax that was to be paid into the municipal treasury (Sherwin-White, Roman Citizenship, p. 357). The more contentious scholarship has circulated around lines 14-16, which concern the inheritance of property; Robert Sherk translated these lines as ‘the property of citizens killed in the war whose heirs were no longer alive’. This was the bona vacantia or ‘vacant goods,’ whose owner had died without leaving them to a specific person or group in their will. Jacques Gascou has argued that this ‘vacant’ property was to be distributed amongst the entire community of Volubilis, but Maurice Lenoir has proposed that only citizens were eligible to claim it (see Gascou, La succession, p. 113; Lenoir, Histoire, p. 93ff.). In either case, the fact that there was such a quantity of ‘vacant’ property that its dispersal necessitated a legal framework in the form of this monumental documentation is perhaps an indication of the severity of the losses suffered by the inhabitants of Volubilis during their suppression of Aedemon’s revolt (Gascou, La succession, p. 111-112; Sur une inscription, p. 134, n. 5;Fasolini, Aggiornamento, p. 74). Archaeological evidence has revealed that a large portion of the city was damaged, if not destroyed by fire, which Maurice Lenoir attributes either to the revolt, or to a later period of building once the town had become a muncipium (Histoire, p. 93).
The suggestion that the town suffered great losses as a result of supporting Rome during the civil unrest of 40 CE would go some way to explain the many benefits granted to the city by Claudius; if, contrary to Fergus Millar’s proposition, Volubilis had not already become a municipality prior to the grants listed here, the number of honours awarded to the town was perhaps unusual, and reflective of an especially positive reaction to Severus’s embassy by the emperor.  Not only did Claudius extend the greatest privilege of all to the inhabitants of the town – Roman citizenship -, but he did so alongside a number of other privileges that ensured a smooth legal transition. One must therefore question whether or not this generous grant was made in response to an already flourishing – or at least, developing – ‘Romanised’ community; Marcus Valerius Severus and his wife Fabia Bira, although of Punic origin, clearly operated within the town as ‘Romans,’ by name, occupation and cultural practice, as the dedication of the inscribed, honorific base demonstrates. The award of citizenship may simply have been the next step in a longer process of ‘Romanisation’ that had begun some years before. As Donato Fasolini has shown, the granting of citizenship to a community not yet fully integrated by Rome would have gone against the behaviour exhibited by Claudius in almost all other similar instances (Aggiornamento, p. 77ff.). However, as Fasolini rightly notes, the extension of citizenship should be understood alongside the other honours that are being awarded here, which collectively work towards the fluid transition to the greater legal and political significance of a municipium; by granting the right to the distribution of unclaimed property as well as marriage with non-Roman women from outside of the town, Claudius ensured that ‘Romanisation’ – or at least contact with Rome – might expand beyond the boundaries of Volubilis to her surrounding neighbours. This avoided future questions or issues surrounding the legality of such unions, and made the town the driving force of expansion in the region (Fasolini, Aggiornamento, p. 77-8). The honours bestowed by Claudius on Volubilis therefore shared a twofold purpose; they illustrated the generosity of the emperor and his regime in the proper acknowledgement of loyalty from their allies, but they also reveal the importance of encouraging relationships and growth in cities that appeared susceptible to Roman influence (Sherwin-White, Roman Citizenship, p. 357). Irrespective of the actual status of Volubilis at the beginning of Claudius’s reign, it is clear that the town represented a stronghold of popular support for Rome amongst an otherwise indigenous community.
Bibliographical references: 

The Annexation of Mauretania

Fishwick, Duncanarticle-in-a-journal467-48720The Annexation of MauretaniaHistoria: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte1971
Realized by: 

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Favours granted to the city of Volubilis (ILAfr 634)
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron
Publishing date: Wed, 10/24/2018 - 19:10
URL: https://www.judaism-and-rome.org/favours-granted-city-volubilis-ilafr-634
Visited: Mon, 04/15/2024 - 14:36

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