Letter of Vespasian to the town councillors of Sabora (CIL II, 1423)

Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Found in Cañete la Real, Málaga, Andalucía, Spain.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Now lost.
78 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
Bronze tablet with an inscription that records the response of the emperor Vespasian to an appeal from the town of Sabora in Baetica. Originally discovered in the 16th century.
CIL II, 5.871 (= CIL II, 1423)
The inscription on this bronze tablet – now lost – recorded the positive response of the emperor Vespasian to a petition made by the town councillors (duumviri) of ancient Sabora and contains a number of interesting details for the early period of the Flavian principate. Firstly, it demonstrates Vespasian’s granting of Latin rights (ius Latii) to all of Spain following his victory in the civil war of 69 CE as a way of conciliating the provinces from which he had not received direct support (Levick, Vespasian, p. 139). However, the inscription also records the positive reception of the Flavian administration by a local community, as demonstrated through their adoption of the Flavian gens when renaming the town. The inscription also illustrates that urbanisation was not always instigated by the Romans as a primary tactic of control and expansion in the provinces; here the local community of Sabora appear to be expressing their independent desire to rebuild the town in a Roman fashion, rather than responding to an order to do so from a Roman official. Whilst the rebuilding depended on securing on the emperor’s approval of their plan, the appeal of the Saborenses appears to indicate more local motivations.
The text of the inscription opens with Vespasian’s titles – which allow us to date the inscription to 77-78 CE – and his acknowledgement of the magistrates and councillors of Sabora, whom he greets as a group of four (IIIIviris et / decurionibus Saborensium); this was not unusual in the municipia where distinction between the duumviri and the aediles was not made as strictly as in colonies, which recognised only the two duumvirs as the leading magistrates of the town (d’Ors, Epigrafía jurídica, p. 142). In line 6 Vespasian begins to address the key points of the petition that has been made to him: that the Saborenses wish to move their administrative centre from a hilltop to more level ground (oppidum…ut / voltis in planum extruere); to rename their town after him (sub nomine meo); the guarantee of tax revenue promised to them by the emperor Augustus (vecti/galia quae ab Divo Aug(usto) accepisse dici/tis custodio). The vectigalia was a general term for all the regular revenues of the Roman state and could be employed to describe a number of different taxes, duties and fees (see Rostovtzeff, Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire, p. 202; 548, n. 31). In the case of this inscription, the term in employed in too vague a manner for it to be possible to specify exactly which fee or revenue is implied, but Patrick Le Roux is certain that this income was connected with the political promotion of the town, and referred to the royalties and public revenue that should be paid into the public treasury of Sabora (Le Roux, “Vectigalia et revenus des cités en Hispanie” p. 159-60). In any case, Vespasian agrees to the first three petitions, but he does not concede to their final request for permission to raise new taxes, rather directing them to the proconsul of the province, because with ‘nullo resondente’ (‘no-one to present the other side of the case’), he cannot pass judgement (for petitions to the emperor to raise taxes in municipia, see de Laet, Portorium, p. 351-362). Fergus Millar has noted that this partial refusal is a particularly interesting element, as few inscriptions of imperial letters record negative answers; this was not because of the particular benevolence of the emperors, but because a refusal was not worth recording given the costly and lengthy process of making an inscription (Millar, Emperor in the Roman World, p. 426).
In this case, the request for permission to raise further taxes must have been a secondary issue to those which Vespasian did permit: moving the town centre to level ground, renaming it Flavia Sabora and guaranteeing the tax revenue promised by Augustus. This latter guarantee is of obvious benefit to the town, but moving the town centre and renaming it after the Flavians is a more interesting development, and one that reveals both imperial policy in the provinces and the provincial reaction to that policy. The Iberian peninsula had supported Galba and Otho in the civil war of 69 CE, and then waited quietly for the outcome between Vitellius and Vespasian; following his victory, Vespasian had granted Latin rights (ius Latii) across the Spanish provinces, elevating a number of cities – such as Sabora – to the rank of municipium without forcing new settlers or military responsibilities upon them, in a conciliatory approach which sought to demonstrate the benefits of Flavian rule (Levick, Vespasian, p. 138). In the case of Sabora, the grant greatly enhanced the position of the town, which it aimed to reflect in the construction of a new town centre, lower down from its traditional hilltop community. The new urban centre would make Sabora look like a ‘Roman’ town, and the associated prestige likely had a local impact that was of unspecified benefit to the region as a whole. However, as Barbara Levick and Alvaro d’Ors have noted, the suggestion of a new urban centre bearing Vespasian’s name was likely made in order to present the more pressing request of the town in a more palatable way, namely its economic malaise and the logistical problems with being situated high up on a hill (Levick, Vespasian, p. 140; d’Ors, Epigrafía jurídica, p. 63). Nicola Mackie has even proposed that the petition made to Vespasian included a covert suggestion that he offer some financial assistance in rebuilding the town, which his response appears to ignore (Mackie, Local Administration in Roman Spain, p. 146). This fits with Andrew Fear’s suggestion that “urbanization per se was not a primary goal of Roman policy”; instead of supporting the expensive adornment of the town, Vespasian here demonstrated a more practical focus, ensuring above all that Sabora was able to pay its imperial taxes rather than assisting it in full urbanization (Fear, Rome and Baetica, p. 21-22).  
The most noteworthy element of this inscription is given in the specific nature of the request to move sites, from hilltop to lowland, demonstrating that that the desire to rebuild came from the provincial municipium, and was not centrally directed from Rome. Rome had no active interest in moving administrative centres unless to do so was of some direct benefit to the imperial administration of the region. The decision to move must have been in response to the needs and wants of the inhabitants of Sabora. It is possible that, as Andrew Fear suggests, the town council recognised the immediate benefit of Vespasian’s granting of Latin rights and sought to respond in an appropriately enthusiastic display of building and improvements to the aesthetic development of the town, for which the hilltop site was no longer appropriate (Fear, Rome and Baetica, p. 221). It is also possible that the local council recognised the importance of demonstrating loyalty to the new regime, especially since they had been on another side of the civil war. In either case, the petition to Vespasian showed a sophisticated understanding of the Roman system; this small community of Baetica was able to affect a financial guarantee by presenting its requirement as a demonstration of loyalty to the Flavian gens and the desire to appear outwardly ‘Roman’ in the design and decoration of its town centre. Vespasian’s confirmation of these requests resolved logistical and financial issues for both the administration and Sabora, which now proclaimed his beneficence through the adoption of his name; the newly constituted Flavia Sabora was a clear example of the mutual benefits that acquiescence to the Flavian regime might bring. 
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Vectigalia et revenus des cités en Hispanie

Le Roux, Patrickarticle-in-a-journal155-173Vectigalia et revenus des cités en HispanieIl capitolo delle entrate nelle finanze municipali in Occidente ed in Oriente, Actes de la Xe rencontre franco-italienne sur l’épigraphie du monde romain, Rome, 27-29 mai, 1996RomeCollection de l’École française de Rome1999

Pax and the Ara Pacis

Weinstock, Stefanarticle-in-a-journalp.44-5850Pax and the Ara PacisJournal of Roman Studies1960
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