Decoding Inscriptions: Revelations on two young Quaestores in the 1st Punic War

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Decoding Inscriptions: Revelations on two young Quaestores in the 1st Punic War

Postby Tiberius Cilnius Maecenas » Wed Feb 01, 2017 8:52 am


Censor Iunius Brutus' post on epigraphy (viewtopic.php?f=3&t=971#p8048) reminded me of the joys of this part of history!

We can all get a glimpse into the life into our Roman past by translating inscriptions. Most inscriptions from the Roman period are cataloged into online databases. Many of these have not been translated. You should explore these databases, and try translating them; you will be amazed at what stories you can reveal!

Here is such a database: ... n&ver=simp

Let me show you an example.

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A bronze battering ram from a Roman ship sunk during the 1st Punic war was discovered in 2005. This battering ram was found with several others in the location of the naval Battle of the Aegates which occurred March 10, 241 BCE. This engagement was a decisive Roman victory and ended the 1st Punic war. This came at a cost with 30 Roman and 50 Carthaginian naval vessels going to the bottom of the ocean off the coast of Sicily. This ram is from one of those Roman ships lost that day. Later to celebrate this victory Consul Gaius Lutatius Catulus who vowed a temple to the Goddess Iuturna (sovereign over springs, healing, and purity) if victorious, would fulfill his obligation in the Campus Martius.

This ram tells a story about two men that history mostly forgot. Two Quaestors, the sons of Marcus Publicius Luccius and Gaius Papirius Tiberius. We learn of them based on the inscription on the ram saying;

Marcus Publicius Luccius' son
Gaius Papirius Tiberius' son
Certified by these Quaestors

The ram also contains an image of the Goddess Victoria holding a wreath and palm branch. In the Republican era it is common to find coins with a winged Victoria holding a wreath in her right hand, sometimes a palm branch in her left: Victoria is a military deity, tied to the fate of the weapons and guarantor of their power and integrity. Therefore, it’s not a surprise to find this image to seal the realization of a weapon of a large destructive power that has considerably contributed to the success of the Romans.

But why are the Quaestores approving of this weapon? Polybus say's that in 243 BCE the Senate decided to build more powerful ships for the fleet through an emergency loan requested by the state to individuals, a loan requiring to be documented and managed by state officials. This evidence suggests the quaestores classici monitored the progress of the construction of these ships and the correctness of related operations, as well as the authentication of naval elements whose construction was made possible by the loan itself. In this case, Publicius and Papirius as quaestors act as certifiers.

What happened to these men? Who were they? Did they survive the battle? Did they achieve higher elected office? We can only speculate based on not knowing the actual names of the men themselves.

The gens Publicia reached an importance in the years between the First and Second Punic War, splitting into two branches: Malleolus and Bibilus. Regarding Marcus Publicius, we know of a man with this name who in 238 BCE dedicated a temple to Flora while serving as Curule Aedile and hosting the Ludi Florales. It is plausible that this could be our Marcus who a few years after serving as Quaestor continued up the Circus Honorum in this capacity. And the first member of this gens to reach the consulate was a certain Marcus Publicius Malleolus in 232 BCE. This could be exactly our Marcus Publicius, who at the time of the Battle was a young quaestor and years later made it to the most important position in the Republic. We also know that this consul Publicius was sent to administer Sardinia and while there was robbed!

What of Gaius? On this man the historical record has fewer details. But we do know that a C. Papirius Maso became Consul in 231 BCE. Maybe this was the son of Gaius Papirius Tiberius? Or maybe not? We can only speculate.

If these presumptions are correct, both men survived the 1st Punic War and continued their careers. This ram would have marked one of their first acts as young people starting out on a lifetime of service to the Republic.

Tiberius Cilnius Maecenas

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