Tombstone of the governor of Moesia (CIL XIV, 3608)

Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Tomb of the Plautii, via Valeria, Ponte Lucano, near Tivoli.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
in loco.
74 CE to 79 CE
Physical Characteristics: 

Marble plaque, set up outside the tomb. The inscription is within a deep frame. Damage to the top right hand corner and the left middle side has resulted in the loss of some lettering.

Height: 36 cm  
Width: 22 cm
CIL XIV, 3608
This inscription, from the tomb of the prestigious gens Plautia, records the career and achievements of Tiberius Plautius Silvanus Aelianus, one of the most successful military generals of the early principate. It is an important source for our understanding of Roman expansion in the Danubian region, and the interaction that took place between Rome and the ‘barbarian’ tribes. It was a particularly difficult region for Rome to manage and involved confrontation with – and sometimes resettlement of – different ‘barbarian’ populations.
The inscription opens with a brief description of the cursus honorum of the man the plaque was commissioned to commemorate, Tiberius Plautius Silvanus Aelianus, He had held a number of impressive positions under the leadership of five different emperors; P. Conole and Robert Milns suggested a chronology that proposed he was quaestor, legate of the Fifth legion in Germany and Urban Praetor under Tiberius (quaestori Tiberi Caesaris / legato legionis V in Germania / praetori urbano), a legate and companion of emperor Claudius during the conquest of Britain (legato et comiti Claudi / Caesaris in Brittannia), as well as consul and pro consule Asiae (proconsul of Asia), before becoming legate with ‘propraetorian power’ in Moesia under Nero (legatus propraetore Moesiae). The inscription culminates (in line 36) with his promotion to the position of Urban Prefect (praefectura urbis) under the emperor Vespasian (see Conole and Milns, Neronian Frontier Policy in the Balkans, p. 183, for a full chronology). It was clearly a very successful and prestigious military career, which saw him awarded some of the most esteemed roles in Roman administration and brought him into close contact with the governing emperors on more than one occasion.
The inscription has received a lot of attention for the detailed description that it provides of Ti. Plautius’ military activity in the Danubian region, particularly during the long years of his legateship in Moesia, in c. 60-67 CE (for the different interpretations for the dates of his legateship see Pippidi, “Tiberius Plautius Aelianus”, p. 287-328; Zawadski, “La légation de Ti. Plautius Silvanus Aelianus”, p. 60; Heil, Die orientalische Außenpolitik, p. 29). Numerous studies have sought to reconstruct the different movements of the Roman army in this period and have tried to establish what Rome’s aims were in terms of conquest and expansion, as well as the movements of the different tribes of ‘barbarians’ with whom they were dealing. A full investigation of Rome’s military strategy does not fit the purpose of this discussion, but it is clear that the situation on the Danubian frontier was particularly difficult for Rome to manage. Augustus had attempted to expel various ‘barbarian’ populations, but had realised that it was not possible for Rome – militarily or logistically – to restrict or administer the movement of peoples in and out of Roman-held territory. As Roger Batty has suggested, by the later Augustan period a “fresh answer emerged: Rome could defeat them, and drive them off away from Roman territory or into slavery; or, Rome could channel them profitably into fresh areas and fresh identities” (Batty, Rome and the Nomads, p. 404; for further discussion of Rome’s activities in this region during the first century CE, see Batty, Rome and the Nomads; Mócsy, Pannonia and Upper Moesia, p. 36-52; Wilkes, “The Danubian and Balkan provinces,” p. 545-585). This certainly appears to be the case in Ti. Plautius’ actions in the 60s CE; the inscription details that: ‘he led across (the Danube) more than 100,000 of the multitude of the Transdanubian peoples to make them pay tribute, along with their wives and children, their leaders or their kings’ (in qua plura quam centum millia / ex numero Transdanuvianorum / ad praestanda tributa cum coniugibus / ac liberis et principibus aut regibus suis / transduxit). Although certainly large in number, this movement of peoples was not completely unprecedented; in 38 BCE Agrippa had resettled a large number of the Ubii tribe in Germany (Tacitus, Annals, 12.27.1; 13.57.4), and Strabo’s Geography (7.3.10) relates how the consul of 4 CE, Aelius Catus, transported more than 50,000 of the Getae (a tribe from the lower regions of the Danube) across the Danube and settled them in Thrace. Ti. Plautius’ actions in Moesia therefore appear to have involved the forced movement of 100,000 individuals, including women and children, into Roman territory where they were settled but also committed to paying ‘tribute’ – a form of taxation – to the Roman administration. He also intervened militarily in a Sarmatian dispute (motum orientalem Sarmatarum / compressit), ordered a number of ‘unknown or hostile kings’ (ignotos aut…infensos reges) to “honour the military standards of the Roman people”, and in lines 18-20, both returned and accepted hostages from the Dacian, Bastarnae and Rhoxolani tribes, in a process that is described by most translators of the text as a military ‘policy’ across the Balkan region. However, there is no sense of the English ‘policy’ in the Latin text, which merely states that ‘per quem’ – ‘through this’ – he was able to strengthen and extend the peace of the province (pacem / provinciae et confirmavit et protulit). Two factors are worthy of note here. Firstly, there is an overt reference to the Augustan presentation of expansion and conquest; Ti. Plautius acts in the name of the ‘populus Romanus’ when he forces the unknown and hostile kings to pay their respects on the border of the Danube to the Roman standards. The kings are presented as being hostile directly towards the populus Romanus, which is represented here by the Roman army, to whom these ‘enemies’ must demonstrate respect under the watchful eye of the general, Tiberius Plautius. This rhetoric calls to mind the statements of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, in which Augustus himself describes acts of diplomacy arranged and held by himself with enemy nations, rather than leaving them to the traditional roles of the foreign envoys and the Roman Senate (see Res Gestae, 26.4; 29.2; 32.2; Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 4). The Augustan rhetoric is again alluded to in lines 25-6, in which he claims to have solved the grain shortage of the ‘Roman people’ by using the supply of his own province in Moesia (ex ea provincia magno tritici modo / annonam populi Romani adlevavit), following the practice described by Augustus in chapter 5 of the Res Gestae.
Secondly, there is nothing in the Latin to suggest an established frontier ‘policy’ from Plautius’s actions in the Balkan region; Roger Batty has cautioned again interpreting the actions described in this elogium as evidence for an imperial scheme, preferring instead to focus on the fragile nature of Rome’s presence in the years immediately before and after Plautius’s governorship (Batty, Rome and the Nomads, p. 407). The Sarmatian and Rholoxani tribes in particular continued to cause problems, crossing the Danube especially at the lower stretches of the river, with both Tacitus and Josephus describing their movements in and out of Roman territory in 68-69 CE (Tacitus, Histories, I.79; III.24; Josephus, Jewish War, VII.89-95). This was in part due to the sudden removal of a large number of Roman soldiers, who had been redirected to deal with the confusion of the civil war period of 69 CE and immediately afterwards (Mócsy, Pannonia and Upper Moesia, p. 41). It may be that the inscription was set up at a time when these troubles were still not fully settled, and at which it was thought politically prudent to celebrate the achievements of Ti. Plautius, who had managed the region more successfully than many before or after him (Batty, Rome and the Nomads, p. 407). Roger Batty has suggested that there should be more careful consideration of who the people that Plautius claimed to move were; in the inscription they are described as ex numero Transdanuvianorum (a multitude of Transdanubians) who do not appear to have belonged to a particular tribe per se, but rather already moving as a group and possibly as refugees from tribal wars in which Rome had not played a part (Rome and the Nomads, p. 407). If that were the case, then Ti. Plautius’ actions were rather reactive than proactive, resettling people already moving in numbers possibly beyond the administrative control of the forces based on the frontier, and taking advantage of Rome’s relatively ‘neutral’ position in the disagreements between the different tribes to broker deals and settlements amongst the various factions (Batty, Rome and the Nomads, p. 407). Although the funerary elogium for Tiberius Plautius Silvanus Aelianus presents his activity in Moesia in such a way that has led to discussions of ‘policy’ and imperial strategy, it is entirely possible that the issue of migration was one that had been set in motion before the Roman presence was fully established in the Danubian region, and which owed its origin to issues and disputes, as well as independent movement, outside of Roman territory. The Danubian region was, therefore, rather a buffer zone in which Rome had some influence, but over which rarely ever had complete control, even if certain evidence – such as this inscription – appears to claim to the contrary.
Irrespective of how it originated, Ti. Plautius management of the situation in Moesia was certainly impressive, and it no doubt suited the Roman narrative to utilise his tenure as governor as an example of Rome’s pragmatic and civilising presence in barbarian territory. Indeed, his successful management of a difficult region appears to have aroused the jealousy of the emperor Nero, who in the aftermath of the Pisonian conspiracy was perhaps even more nervous of the opposition he faced amongst the governing class and the provincial armies (Conole and Milns, Neronian Frontier Policy in the Balkans, p. 192). Under Vespasian, however, Tiberius Plautius found his just reward, as the final lines of the inscription reveal; having successfully completed a term as imperial legatus in Spain, he was recalled to Rome and named Urban Prefect, as well as being awarded a triumph for his earlier efforts in Moesia; these rewards are a further indication of the new Flavian household’s desire to applaud the exceptional effort of a longstanding general, and by extension to appeal to the support of the senatorial aristocracy (for Plautius’ role as legatus in Spain, see Conole and Milns, Neronian Frontier Policy in the Balkans, p. 194, n. 58).  
Bibliographical references: 

The coming of Rome in the Dacian world

Lica, Vasilebooktranslation by Carmen Patac & Mariana Neagu ; revised by Anthony R. BirleyThe coming of Rome in the Dacian worldKonstanzUniversitätsverlag Konstanz2000

The Danubian and Balkan Provinces

Wilkes, John, J.bookCambridge Ancient History, Volume 10: The Augustan Empire, 43 BC–AD 69, 2nd editionA. Bowman, E. Champlin, A. Lintott545-585The Danubian and Balkan ProvincesCambridgeCambridge University Press1996
Realized by: