The Epistula ad Tiburtes (CIL I2 586) is an inscription on a bronze tablet, recording a letter sent to the people of Tibur by a Roman praetor that summarizes the Senate’s response to an embassy of the Tiburtines defending themselves against unknown accusations. The inscription, found in modern Tivoli in the early seventeenth century but now lost, is exceptional both because of its material and its date: very few large public inscriptions, and even fewer in bronze, survive from the 2nd century BCE date scholars now generally assign this inscription. Most studies of the document have focused on features of its language, including archaisms in the text useful for dating inscriptions (Clackson and Horrocks 2007, Salomies 2015) or studying the development of the Latin language (Penney 2005, Adams 2007).
In this paper, I situate the Epistula ad Tiburtes within the context of Roman-Latin relations in the 2nd century BCE, specifically the poorly attested relationship between Rome and Tibur before the Tiburtines became Roman citizens as a result of the Lex Julia in 90 BCE. The Epistula ad Tiburtes is one of the only pieces of documentary evidence for interactions between Rome and her Latin allies under the Republic, and the only known piece pertaining specifically to the city of Tibur. Some modern studies have discussed aspects of the political and historical implications of the Epistula: the entry for CIL I2 586 in Johnson et al. 1961 mentions it as evidence for the relationship between the Roman Senate and the people of Rome in the 2nd century BCE and Brennan 2001 discusses the identity of the praetor who wrote the letter, while Harris 1972 briefly considers the inscription’s Italian context but concludes that it is not evidence of the specific category of Roman relations with allies that he examines (impositions of Roman law). However, none has/have yet addressed the Epistula ad Tiburtes in the context of Roman-Latin relations.
Evidence for the political relationship between Rome and her Latin allies between the conclusion of the major war between Rome and Latin cities in 338 BCE and the Social War is notoriously scarce. As one of only a few Latin cities that had not been politically incorporated by Rome by the time of the Lex Julia in 90 BCE, Tibur’s relationship with Rome is even more poorly attested. In this paper, I first explicate the aspects of the relationship between Rome and Tibur that emerge from a close reading of the letter and those that are suggested by the fact of its composition and inscription. The Epistula ad Tiburtes does not contribute directly to our knowledge of the formal relationship between Rome and Tibur, but does, I argue, provide evidence for the way these two independent polities negotiated their coexistence and the balance of power between them. The Roman Senate approached the Tiburtines at the time of the Epistula as a group that owed good behavior to Rome, and the Tiburtines are depicted as having been required to come to Rome and declare their innocence. Furthermore, Rome (and specifically the Senate) is placed in the position of ultimate arbiter of truth. It is the Senate’s judgment that determines whether the accusations against Tibur are true, not the Tiburtines’ declarations of innocence; the two states are not depicted as equals in a negotiation, but as judge and supplicant. I then consider CIL I2 586 in relation to the other pieces of evidence for Tibur’s relationship to Rome from 338-90 BCE. Taking these comparanda and the inscription’s context into consideration, I argue that the Epistula ad Tiburtes provides evidence for a relationship in which, though Tibur remained formally independent (perhaps as a result of its relative strength in earlier periods--see Baranowski 1988), Rome was already positioning herself in official documents as holding power over the Tiburtines.