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Generic Formulae and Geographic Variation in the Tabulae Triumphales

Charles W. Oughton

Utah State University

This project offers an analysis of various types of “generals’ inscriptions,”—i.e., those that commemorate the accomplishments of generals in the Roman Republic—and argues that this larger body can be divided into subgenres due to the stylistic and lexical characteristics of various groups of texts. Furthermore, the provenance of these inscriptions supports the categorization, as subgenres are most often confined to limited geographical ranges. I argue that one of these subcategories, which is geographically limited to Rome, are markedly similar to the literary attestations of the Tabulae Triumphales and, as such, provide physical evidence for this body of texts that is usually confined to its testimonia in the literary tradition. In so doing, I build upon Riggsby’s (2006: 195-199) work that gathers the texts of generals’ inscriptions, both physical and those noted in literary works, as a possible precedent for Caesar’s efforts to advertise his own accomplishments. Recent scholarship on the Roman triumph has focused on the separation of the social function of the triumph from its complicated representation in the literary tradition (Itgenshorst 2005; Beard 2007; Spalinger and Armstrong 2013). I also engage with work on the larger context of types of commemoration of the triumph, including the Duilius inscription (Kondratieff 2004), triumphal paintings (Holliday 1997), epitaphs (Van Sickle 1987), and the use and form of Saturnian verse (Parsons 1999). Despite this recent focus on the recollection of the triumph in Republican Rome, little attention has been paid to the form and function of the Tabulae Triumphales, apart from considering how these compare to better known commemorative texts, such as those of Caesar (Adams 2005; Riggsby 2006; Östenberg 2013).

I first organize the texts of the generals’ inscriptions according to shared stylistic and lexical similarities. Among one category of inscription, the basic dedication (designated type A for this project), the pattern includes: 1) the use of capere, 2) a marker of the general’s authority—usually a mention of his office—and, 3) a reference to the conquered place (e.g. CIL I2 48, 49, 608, 613, 615, 741, and 2836a). A second type expands upon this basic form to include: 1) a reference to the act of celebrating a triumph, 2) frequent use of tricolon, and 3) the mention of a specific deity as the dedicatee (e.g. CIL I2 25, 626, 2930). This group (designated type B) often exhibit characteristics of Saturnian verse. The literary attestations of the Tabulae Triumphales (designated type C)—including metrical citations of the tabulae (Ps.-Bassus GL 6.265.29K and GL 2.265.25K) and more complete notices in Livy (6.29.9, 40.52, 41.28) and Pliny’s NH (7.97-98)—bear the generic markers that correspond most closely to type B. Livy’s record (6.29) of Cincinnatus fixing a tabula under his dedicatory spoils connects the ritual of the triumph with the preservation of these texts.

I then chart the three generic types established above onto a map of the Roman Republic to reveal two major trends: First, the vast majority of the generals’ inscriptions occur within Latium. These dedicatory inscriptions reflect the appropriation of the wealth of conquered towns and regions to the Roman state and the role that the generals played in bringing about that victory. Second, only those belonging to type A appear outside of Rome and even these do not begin to spread outside of Latium before the second century BCE. Types B and C, which I argue make a combined body that corresponds to the Tabulae Triumphales, appear only in Rome. I suggest that this geographical isolation supports that these texts were a formal part of triumphal ritual and not merely inscribed as part of a larger trend competitive aristocratic display. A case study of the Mummian inscriptions (CIL I2 626, 630, 631) confirms this larger trend. When put into the context of other generals’ inscriptions, the Tabulae Triumphales prove to be remarkably consistent and identifiable in style, form, and provenance. 

Session/Panel Title

Winning the People

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