Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.):
The Forum of Mulva (ancient Munigua), Andalucia, Spain.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum):
Sevilla - Museo Arqueológico Provincial.
Rectangular plaque with inscribed text. Four holes, one in each corner, from where it was originally affixed to a wall.
Height: 20.5 cm
Width: 30 cm
Depth: 0.4 cm
Letter height: 0.8-0.5
CIL II, *456
(AE 1962, 288)
On 7 September 79 CE, the emperor Titus responded to an appeal made by the magistrates of the town of Munigua, in Baetica, Spain (50 km north of modern Seville). The bronze tablet under discussion here was made to record that response and was placed in a public setting, most likely attached to the wall of a temple or civic structure in the heart of the town, as attested by the four holes which survive in its corners. The inscription was copied from an imperial letter sent by Titus, and reveals important details for the legal right to appeal in the provinces, the role of the emperor as princeps iudex (‘First Judge’) and the importance of imperial generosity in the canon of virtues or qualities that a ‘good’ emperor was supposed to display. Although many such versions of these imperial responses survive in the Greek East (e.g. the archive wall of Aphrodisias), this is a rare surviving example in Latin, which serves to illustrate how legal and fiscal issues were dealt with by the second Flavian emperor.
Titus’s letter was sent in response to an appeal made by the ‘four-man board’ (the quattuorviri, the most important magistrates) of Munigua and the town councillors (decuriones) in a dispute concerning a debt of local taxes (vectigalia) that the town owed to a tax-collector named Servilius Pollio (Hurlet, Le proconsul, p. 270). The town refused to pay and Pollio appealed to the proconsul, Gallicanus, who ruled in his favour. An embassy was then sent on behalf of the municipium to Rome, to appeal directly to the emperor. Although appeals were only initially permissible for criminal cases (see Borkowski, Textbook on Roman Law, p. 63-78), under Augustus a system of cognitio (‘investigation’) emerged, which included an appeals procedure. In the capital cities of the empire, appeals were made to the city prefect and the head of the praetorian-guard; in the provinces they were heard by governors and their subordinates. The emperor might be consulted as a last means of appeal, but he was more commonly – as in this case – asked to provide written rulings in the cases where the local magistrate was unsure how to proceed, with the emperor’s decision providing the final verdict (Borkowski, Textbook on Roman Law, p. 81-82).
In the case of the municipium of Munigua, Titus rejected their appeal as ‘unjustified’ (iniustae) and stated that a penalty should be exacted from them for having brought it (poenam…exsigi a vobis oportebat). However, Titus does not punish the town unfairly; he recognises their claim to poverty and grants a remittance of 50,000 sesterces to the town (vestra…et sester/tia quinquaginta millia(!) nummorum tenuitati publicae/quam praetexitis remisi). He also states that he has written to his friend (amicus) the proconsul Gallicanus, to request that the town is not burdened with interest on the debt (ex die sententiae dictae usurarum vos conputa/tionem(!) liberaret) (For Gallicanus and his relationship with Titus, see D’Ors, “Epistula Titi,” p. 209-210). Finally, Titus indicates that the income Pollio derived from the indirect taxes of the town should also be taken into account, and deducted from the sum due (reditus vectigaliorum vestrorum quae conducta habuisse Pol/lionem indicatis in rationem). Although Titus rejected the appeal of Munigua, his overall verdict on the dispute was favourable to the town; as well as dismissing the penalty, he reduced their debt in three different ways in order to prevent the town from suffering from undue hardship, and it was likely for this reason that the letter was copied and inscribed in bronze and displayed in public. As Fergus Millar has stated, “in practical terms, therefore, the appeal was largely successful” (Emperor in the Roman World, p. 442).
The inscribed letter from the emperor demonstrates an important aspect of the imperial administration; the right of a community to speak directly to the emperor. This ‘connection’ was crucial for maintaining the interest and loyalty of the provincial towns, but the epistolary tradition of these letters also masked a more pragmatic context for the emperor’s response: whatever was contained in a response to a petition or appeal had the force of law, although responses to individual cases were not necessarily intended to be applicable everywhere (Bruun, “Roman Government and Administration,” p. 287-288). However, the letters also provided the emperor with an opportunity to disseminate a version of himself that was not based on official titles or institutions (Hurlet, “The Roman Emperor,” p. 194). In this response, Titus states that he has remitted the penalty fine on account of his own ‘indulgentia’ (leniency, indulgence), using the term in a fiscal sense to describe his remission of taxes rather than in its more familiar ‘moral’ context (Hurlet, “The Roman Emperor,” p. 194). There was precedent for attributing generous acts to the inherent generosity of the emperor: in the Res Gestae Augustus repeatedly states his generosity to the state and the people, such as his donations to the people of Rome and veteran soldiers in chapters 15-18; Claudius had extended citizenship to three Alpine tribes as a beneficium (benefit) and the municipium of Igabrum erected a statue and base to Augustan Apollo in thanks for the citizenship awarded to them also by the beneficium of Vespasian. In the case of Titus, this display of generosity was a very necessary public expression, particularly at the beginning of his reign when he was reputed rather for crudelitas than clementia on account of his military success (Suetonius, Titus, 7); however, once he acceded to the throne his behaviour changed and attempted to follow the virtues laid out by Augustus, endeavouring to win the support of the masses through dignity, justice and moderation (Suetonius, Titus, 7-8). Included in these new behaviours was the indulgentia – generosity – expressed in the letter to the town of Munigua. Rather than seeking to punish local communities and exact financial penalties from them in order to increase state revenue, Titus preferred to practice liberality in his granting of benefits. Although Brian Jones has rather sceptically noted that this liberality was possible because of his more efficient collection of taxes from Egypt and state acquisition of the properties of those who died without heirs, there can be no doubt that acts of municipal generosity won the previous emperor enormous support in communities such as a Munigua (Jones, The Emperor Titus, p. 145-146).
The bronze copy of the letter to Munigua is, therefore, a rare and useful example of how direct communication with the emperor could positively serve both the community he spoke to and the imperial administration. The letter was recorded in bronze for perpetuity by the town council of Munigua because it recorded the favourable acts bestowed upon the community by the emperor. The emperor was equally favourably rewarded by the decision to make his verdict a permanent monument; it was testimony to his moderate and just nature and exhibited his generous treatment of communities far from Rome.
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