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CIL VIII 14683 and the North African Curiae

Chris Dawson

This paper argues that the Curia Iovis of the Augustan colony of Simitthus in Africa Proconsularis continued to be the public voting institution of the populus described in the surviving civic statutes from Baetica and Italy. It focuses on the regulations the curia adopted on November 27, 185CE, which were found inscribed on three faces of a rectangular base in 1882 and published by René Cagnat in 1883 and more fully in 1885 (CIL VIII 14683).

Traditionally, the inscription is cited as key evidence that the North African curiae were – in fact or in practice – private organizations (e.g. Toutain 1896: 285; Waltzing 1895: 278, 371, 1899: 364-366; Duncan-Jones 1982: 278-279). The reason is clear: parallels to the regulations of voluntary associations can be found in just about every aspect of the inscription, from the summae honorariae members (curiales) had to pay in order to hold a curial office to the fines for various infractions, such as unruly behaviour or failure to participate in the funeral of a relative. The most authoritative interpretation continues to be that of Tadeusz Kotula (1968: 101-102, 127-128), who asserts that the inscription marks the period when the North African curiae “degenerated” into “quasi-collegial” social groups, “hermetically” sealed off from one another and from civic life.

This interpretative tradition is, in the end, unconvincing. For neither Kotula nor any other scholar since the turn of the 20th century has undertaken a comprehensive re-analysis of the inscription. Rather, it stems from Cagnat's confident identification of the curia as a “funerary college” (1885: 128), which was, in turn, directly influenced by Theodor Mommsen's now discredited juridical category of collegium funeraticium tenuiorum (Bendlin 2011). Moreover, there was a contemporary public institution with which the North African curiae should also be compared: the thirty-five tribes of Rome. They too had a highly-organized internal structure and participated in similar non-political activities, like the funerals of fellow-tribules. It makes sense that the colonists of Simitthus (and the citizens of other North African cities with a Roman statute) copied Rome's tribes, as well as Rome's magistracies and senate. These points indicate that one must go beyond the narrow collegium-comparison to understand the North African curiae.

Attention will, therefore, be paid to the neglected objections of Johannes Schmidt (1890: 605-606) and J. Roman (1910: 102) that the mention of the colony's birthday in the inscription (line A4) and its use of the word concilium (line B5; i.e. rather than conventus) to denote an internal meeting of the curia are indicative of a civic institution, rather than a private association.

The clearest evidence, however, that the curia remained a civic institution is the note that the curia adopted the regulations secundum decretum publicum (lines A7-8). The phrase is currently interpreted to refer to a decree of the decurions of Simitthus, but the adjective publicum more naturally refers to a decision of the populus. Four other inscriptions from North Africa more clearly indicate that a populus could pass decreta publica (CIL VIII 14785-6; AE 1925, 44; AE 1949, 38; cf. ILAlg. 1.2145; CIL IX 2860). Therefore, the decretum publicum followed by the Curia Iovis must also have been passed by the citizens of Simitthus while distributed into their curiae. Such a situation would make any claim that the regulations mark the end of the curia's voting role difficult to sustain.

Thus, while the North African curiae do share similarities with voluntary associations, it under-represents their role in cities to attempt to understand them solely by reference to voluntary associations. The North African curiae continued to be a public institution throughout the third century and the “quasi-collegial” organisation and activities revealed by CIL VIII 14683 indicate that their public role was more than what is described in the surviving civic statutes, not less.

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Roman Imperial Interactions

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