UN@ est une plateforme d'édition de livres numériques pour les presses universitaires de Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Epigraphic Evidence for the Acclamationes of Pompeian Spectators



“Around the same time, from trivial beginnings arose a vicious bloodbath between the colonists of Nuceria and of Pompeii, at a gladiatorial spectacle produced by Livineius Regulus – whose expulsion from the senate I have already related. Abusing each other with typically parochial petulance, they resorted to insults, then rocks, and finally swords. The Pompeian mob was stronger – the spectacle was being staged there. As a result, many of the people of Nuceria were carried to Rome, their bodies badly mutilated by wounds, and very many mourned the loss of children or parents. The emperor (Nero) entrusted judgement of the case to the senate, and the senate delegated it to the consuls. When the matter was brought before the senate a second time, the Pompeians were banned from public gatherings of that sort for ten years, and the associations that they had set up illegally were disbanded. Livineius was punished with exile, as were others who had incited the riot.”1

What evidence is there for the behaviour of spectators at mass entertainment venues in Roman Italy and beyond the great imperial capital? By a remarkable stroke of chance, one of the few towns in the peninsula where a specific gladiatorial show was described in any detail by an ancient historian has also become the site of extraordinarily large, enduring, and comprehensive archaeological excavations: Pompeii. While the passage quoted above has elicited a great deal of scholarly discussion on the potential for violence among crowds at gladiatorial games, particularly in relation to civic identity and regional politics, riots at gladiatorial games were in fact exceptionally rare by comparison with the circus and pantomime. And so it is worth asking whether or not Tacitus’ account of this anomalous event, in dialogue with local material evidence, can provide clues about how members of the audience in Pompeii might have organized and conducted themselves on this specific occasion in 59 CE – and why.2

For example, the Pompeians and Nucerians were both somehow able to distinguish their fellow townspeople from a group different from themselves, while the mutual exchange of insults and projectiles from each side also presupposes a certain degree of coordination and verbal communication. It would make perfect sense in this scenario if the two groups were allocated separate seating in different sections of the arena from one another, although there is no direct evidence for seating assignments based on citizenship within the local community, as has been attested at Rome, for example, and in at least one other western colony.3 Likewise, the local spectators were probably used to expressing aloud, as a group, applause and cries of instruction, greetings, thanks, or abuse. Such messages would be consistent with the culture of supporters (fautores) well attested in historical accounts of central Italy for this period and especially their practice of acclamation (adclamatio) – that is to say, phrases shouted in unison.4

In fact, there is a good deal of material evidence for these aspects of the audience’s responses at local games. Seating divisions were built into the very design of the Pompeian amphitheatre, whose network of staircases, corridors, tunnels, dead ends, parapet walls, and gates allowed pedestrian traffic to be regulated relatively easily and flexibly (fig. 1). The integration of the amphitheatre into the defensive walls and towers at the southeastern end of the city probably prevented half of the crowd from being able to evacuate safely and perhaps even facilitated access to some of the stones and swords mentioned by Tacitus.

Plan of the amphitheatre in Pompeii,
Fig. 1. Plan of the amphitheatre in Pompeii, demonstrating the rows of seating in relation to the annular passageways, exterior staircases, and city walls; overlaid with an inset box that shows the main entrances to the arena floor and the access tunnels beneath the seating on the western side (after Golvin 1998, pl. 23 figs. 1-2.).

One particularly rich source of information is the large and highly detailed fresco depicting the same riot (fig. 2), but depicted from a very different perspective: namely, painted in a style of Roman art that sought to express clearly and intuitively to the viewer specific subjects usually taken from history or everyday life.5 Just above the floor of the arena in this image, distinct sections of seating have been indicated with thick, dark lines framing each densely-packed cluster of figures. For the artist it was also important to communicate both the oval shape of the building from above and an impression of the deep arches and double staircases that still characterize the exterior elevation of the amphitheatre today. The artist also pays attention to luxuries such as the awnings offering shade (uela) and the marbled decoration on the interior wall separating the arena floor from the audience’s seats above.

Fresco from courtyard of house
Fig. 2. Fresco from courtyard of house (I 3, 23) in Pompeii, depicting a riot in the amphitheatre (MANN inv. 112222, https://commons.wikimedia.org).

A keen eye for such specifically local, material details also extends to the surrounding area, with the violence evidently spreading into the open space to the north of the arena and around the Large Palaestra (II 7, 6; https://pompeiiinpictures.com/pompeiiinpictures/Plans/plan_2_07.htm), the spacious, square structure immediately to the west of the amphitheatre.6 Around one entrance to the Large Palaestra two remarkable phrases were painted, one in Greek and one in Latin, and both in very small letters (fig. 3): “To Decimus Lucretius, good luck!” (feliciter) and “To Satrius Valens, to Augustus Nero, good luck!”7 The combination of the adverb feliciter with a name or names in the dative case is the most commonly attested formula for Latin acclamations in the first century of the empire.8 The illustrious family of D. Satrius Lucretius Valens is known to have produced gladiatorial games locally on at least three separate occasions from inscriptions painted onto the facades of buildings in Pompeii.9  But if these acclamations were ever painted on the northern façade of the Large Palaestra, they have not survived. Nevertheless, similar wishes for good luck were found on the surviving stretch of wall plaster here, instead acclaiming two other local producers of gladiatorial games, namely Cn. Alleius Nigidius Maius and Ti. Claudius Verus, whose careers will be examined below (figs. 4-5).10 It seems plausible from our analysis of the rest of the painting that the artist seems to have associated this location with acclamations related to games in the amphitheatre. But its humble setting and quotidian perspective should not distract us from the reality that only the very wealthiest and most ambitious public figures were able to produce gladiatorial games, including the promotional costs.

Detail from lower right part of fig. 2, showing feliciter acclamations written 
in Latin and Greek on northern façade of Large Palaestra
Fig. 3. Detail from lower right part of fig. 2, showing feliciter acclamations written in Latin and Greek on northern façade of Large Palaestra (II 7, 6-7) (MANN inv. 112222 (detail), https://artsandculture.google.com).
View of northern façade, Large Palaestra
Fig. 4. View of northern façade, Large Palaestra (II 7) at time of excavation, demonstrating: inscriptions CIL, IV, 7586-7592, 7988-7989 painted on plaster facing (i.e. tituli picti, many overlapping); damage to wall eastwards (i.e. towards the left); in the foreground, ash and pumice still to be removed (Varone & Stefani 2009, 222 = SAP B968, with permission from L’Erma di Bretschneider).
Scale facsimile of fig. 4 from the time of discovery
Fig. 5. Scale facsimile of fig. 4 from the time of discovery, including announcements for gladiatorial games, electoral notices, and written acclamations, drawn in red and black ink (Varone & Stefani 2009, pl. 14 = SAP P/1577, with permission from L’Erma di Bretschneider).

The central question that this paper seeks to address is what, if anything, can these inscriptions from Pompeii, which implicitly lay claim to being acclamations, reveal about the behaviour of spectators at local games? The first step must be to acknowledge the gaps between the various conceptions of the word ‘acclamation’ that have been introduced so far. First of all, any verbal expression actually shouted at the amphitheatre must be distinguished from a text painted conspicuously on a wall nearby, even if the content of that phrase might appear the same on the page. For this reason, I shall refer to texts physically inscribed on a surface as ‘written acclamations’ – admittedly a kind of oxymoron, since the adclamatio proper was by definition an aural form of communication. These written acclamations, discovered on the wall of the Large Palaestra and documented elsewhere around Pompeii, also differed fundamentally from the ostensibly similar phrases brushed onto the fresco scene of the riot. For that fresco  was located inside a more private setting, within the larger context of a visually creative painted composition, and conveyed both an individual’s detailed memory of a specific event and a kind of stereotype, or abstract idea of the type of text that should be represented in this section of the painting.

In other words, the formal characteristics and implications of each medium need to be charted before larger issues that cross media can be addressed, such as the potential meanings or social functions of such phrases, whether orally or in writing. This approach seeks not only to apply tools from the broader discipline of communication studies to a specific town in Roman Italy, but also to adapt some of the important strands of scholarship from the subfield of media studies for such a setting – in particular framing, or the ways in which mass entertainment spectacles shaped the audience’s expectations, values, behaviour, and sense of communal identity.11

What emerges most clearly from the written acclamations in Pompeii is their place within a larger system of communication, controlled by and for a handful of the wealthiest and most powerful individuals, in which members of the public and spectators in the arena were nudged towards accepting the larger political agenda set by the producers of those mass spectacles. The messaging in this communication system was biased in favour of constructing a civic consensus, achieved in part through the active participation of spectators in making decisions and performing ritualized duties over the course of the festivities. This constant reperformance of a public consensus at games ultimately served to legitimize the otherwise arbitrary inequalities and social hierarchies of the status quo.

Acclamations performed live at the games were a fast and effective way of gauging and publicly confirming how much the audience approved of the spectacles and by extension the performers, producers, and community involved in their success. The written acclamations are particularly ripe for examination since the reference volumes of the Pompeian epigraphic corpus have been updated in recent years with comprehensive images and new critical commentaries.12 Finally, a lengthy marble inscription, only recently published, has revealed extraordinary new evidence about the organization of gladiatorial games in Pompeii and the aftermath of the catastrophic riot of 59 CE. This new inscription provides a clear demonstration of exactly how acclamations, both expressed in person and reported in writing, were exploited by the most powerful and influential public figures.13

Before surveying the written acclamations, it is worth reviewing briefly the culture of mass spectacles in Pompeii. Most of the evidence relates to the gladiatorial games produced in the amphitheatre or occasionally the forum, but in principle there is no reason why the same basic system of acclamations could not have applied also to the pantomime dancers, dramatic performers, or other forms of agonistic public spectacles.

The Culture of Gladiatorial Games in Pompeii

In Pompeii, annually elected magistrates were required either to organize a religious festival, including games with theatrical performances (ludi scaenici), or to oversee a public building project, in negotiation with the town council.14 Gladiatorial games (munera gladiatorum) with hunts (uenationes) typically fell beyond this requirement, as a rare, additional benefaction to the public that was financed privately, usually by wealthy and ambitious members of the local elite, or occasionally by entrepreneurial outsiders, as we have seen in the case of Livineius Regulus.15

Due to the exceptionally rich dossier of local evidence, however, it is possible to trace in finer detail some of the ways that the local benefactors who chose to produce gladiatorial games exploited the opportunity to represent themselves favourably to their fellow townspeople and to future generations. A producer might time the sponsorship of his games to coincide with the dedication of a public building project that he had financed or commission for his monumental tomb a stucco relief recreating the duels he had sponsored, complete with painted labels.16 In order to publicize in advance when and where gladiatorial games were taking place locally, detailed announcements were painted conspicuously in large letters onto whitewashed walls around town (fig. 5), which also served to build anticipation for the listed attractions and to reinforce the generosity of the producer.17

These inscriptions and monuments should be understood as part of a larger multimedia strategy of public messaging by the producers of mass spectacles, whose success hinged on being able to communicate quickly and effectively with the audience at the culmination of each gladiatorial duel. From the time of Augustus, it was illegal for gladiators to be exhibited without any opportunity to appeal for reprieve (missio).18  As a consequence, a complex but formulaic sequence of highly effective signals – first by the gladiators themselves, then the spectators, and finally the sponsor – was developed in order for the conflict to be resolved in a rapid and transparent manner according to a public consensus. This process publicly celebrated the superiority of the spectators over the producer and performers alike; affirmed normative values like courage, excellence, and justice; and ritually re-established the community by bringing together the many different groups and competing interests within the diverse audience.19 The system of signals is worth outlining briefly because its mechanisms and function resemble the practice of live acclamation by audiences at games throughout the Empire:

  • the defeated gladiator indicated surrender, usually with a raised finger.20
  • each spectator communicated “with a turn of the thumb” whether the losing party deserved execution or reprieve.21
  • a rough and ready poll of each sector of seating (cuneus) was conducted in real time by agents of the producer, posted conspicuously at regular intervals around the front of the elliptical arena, before being relayed back to the producer.22
  • the producer communicated the final decision to the spectators, gladiators, and personnel.

At the climax of each gladiatorial duel, therefore, all attention was concentrated on the producer, now able to demonstrate himself publicly consulting and following the wishes of the people.23 In this way a kind of political drama was staged in public: the people were now cast as sovereigns of their own destiny, with power over life and death, when in reality they were merely selecting between the two options that had been presented to them by one of the most wealthy and influential aristocrats in town. The principal advantage for the benefactor at this point was to divert any questions about his own political legitimacy in front of a potentially capricious crowd by channelling that energy towards giving the spectators a sense of empowerment, thereby establishing a consensus that happened to involve himself leading modestly from the front. The significance of this moment explains why scenes showing an appeal for reprieve are overwhelmingly the most common compositions of gladiators across all visual media, both across the empire and in Pompeii, where the graffiti are particularly numerous and detailed.24

The ritual communication to determine the appeal for reprieve worked well in part because it occurred at the most exciting, important, and meaningful moment for the audience during the games. Strong personal stakes had been carefully ratcheted up over a long period of increasing anticipation, from the painted advertisements announcing the spectacles, to the ceremonial sacrifices, feasts, and grand parade that preceded the games, when spectators could scrutinize closely all combatants before their entry to the arena.25 After the integrity of the armour and sharpness of the weapons had been publicly demonstrated by an umpire, the gladiators warmed up with preliminary skirmishes. The entire enterprise depended on transparency, so that the well-informed audience had all the information necessary to decide the final verdict. The large, visual representation of precisely these activities, painted onto the interior wall of the arena along with motifs of victory, quite literally framed every gladiatorial contest in Pompeii with a message of sound regulation and fair sportsmanship.26

In other words, the wealthy and influential producers of gladiatorial games in Pompeii understood perfectly well the political value of an enormous platform for communicating with a receptive audience that was already primed to fulfil its role in publicly celebrating a shared sense of prosperity and community. Acclamations can be seen as another form of communication in which a public consensus could be achieved once a particular expression had reached a degree of dominance over the noise of any competing alternatives. According to this analogy, it was in the interests of a producer to ensure that any verbal consensus reached by the audience was safe and ideally favourable to his own position. One opportunity for setting such an agenda would have been to consult the audience about whether or not a victorious gladiator deserved additional prizes, particularly if the producer had prepared all possible outcomes beforehand.27 Acclamations should be understood, however, neither as the spontaneous coalescence of a sentiment genuinely shared by the spectators, nor as a publicity stunt cynically stage-managed in advance by the local authorities, but rather as a mode of public communication with some room for negotiation, complexity, and variation that could be exploited by canny benefactors.

Written acclamations: Image and Reality

Scholarly interest in Pompeian acclamations dates back to at least 1871, when Karl Zangemeister identified and indexed a category of texts called acclamationes in the first edition of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum volume 4, which would become the canonical reference book for all wall inscriptions (parietariae) from the Vesuvian area.28 The principal division of this volume was not according to content, however, but rather by medium, since the less ephemeral texts from Pompeii chiselled into stone or cast with metal letters were published alongside the other inscriptions for Campania and neighbouring regions (CIL, X). Zangemeister further separated “labels painted with a brush” (tituli picti; inscriptiones penicillo pictae: figs. 5, 7) from texts scratched into the wall with a sharp instrument (inscriptiones graphio scriptae), that is to say, from graffiti in the original, very narrow, sense of the word (e.g. figs. 6, 9).

line drawing of graffito inscription
Fig. 6. Left: line drawing of graffito inscription (i.e. graphio scripta) CIL, IV, 2460, indicating paleography, visual design elements (e.g. tabula ansata frame), and state of conservation at time of recording. Right: more schematic diagram of the same graffito specimen, along with a critical edition of text and information about provenance, interpretation, and bibliography (from Zangemeister). The text reads: Aug(usto) felicit[e]r / “To Augustus, good luck!” (from Zangemeister 1871, pl. 25 n. 3 and p. 157 respectively).

This study focuses on those feliciter inscriptions that mention by name people known to have presided over gladiatorial games in Pompeii, almost all of which were produced with paint rather than through scratching.29 Once this specific body of evidence has been analysed closely, within the context of public communication before, during, and after gladiatorial games, the scope can then be broadened to encompass further typologies of feliciter inscriptions attested locally, in particular the political implications of namely the written acclamations that reference the imperial family, the local citizen body, or neighbouring colonies, instead of local benefactors.

Such a focus already raises the issue of bias in the source material, however, because in most cases the producers of local gladiatorial games are only able to be identified from the detailed announcements for games that they arranged to be painted conspicuously around town. In fact, the names of fewer than a dozen local producers are known from the entire history of the town.30 This relatively short list of names reflects the reality that inscriptions written on plaster typically did not survive very long before being covered or damaged. But it should also be noted from the outset that our selective dossier only involves a very small fraction of the wealthiest notables in Pompeii.

The Pompeian benefactors addressed in the feliciter inscriptionswould probably have applauded Zangemeister’s description of these texts as acclamationes, because they stood to benefit from the boundary between written and oral forms of communication being blurred. The verbal utterance of a phrase like feliciter by a crowd of spectators must be strictly distinguished, however, from the material manifestation of any wish written on a publicly visible surface in several ways. First, the written word possesses a visual element that speech cannot easily reproduce, such as colour, size, layout, or script (e.g. figs. 4-5, 7-8). Inscribed texts, moreover, cannot exist without the surface on which they are written, in our case usually the final plaster coating affixed to masonry walls durably enough to survive a natural disaster and over one thousand years. While the loud shouting of a crowd might be heard from far away, inscriptions were able to capture a message and convey it into the future as well as across space. Finally, the ability to speak is of course quite separate from the degree of literacy also required in order to read, much less write, a text.

Put simply: written acclamations were not the same thing as the voice of the people. The surviving written acclamations are notable for expressing in brief and formulaic language an unwaveringly positive message about each sponsor, who is often linked to the specific content, if not also the location, of their games. Moreover, a close focus on the material aspects of these inscriptions will reveal that they were painted in all likelihood by the same class of professional sign-writers who were hired to promote gladiatorial games and electoral candidates.31 These characteristics may perhaps be best illustrated by examining in detail the example of Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius – the producer mentioned most frequently not only in these written acclamations but also in the announcements for games – who, over the course of a glittering public career, was elected to the chief magistracy (duouir quinquennalis) and appointed to the position of imperial priest (flamen Caesaris Augusti).32

Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius

Cn. Alleio Maio
principi munerarior(um)
To Gnaeus Alleius Maius, the leading games-giver – good luck!
CIL, IV, 7990 (fig. 7)

Although this fine text has unfortunately perished since the time of discovery (II 4, 7), it is clear from a photograph taken shortly after excavation that the whole message has been preserved legibly and intact (fig. 7). This observation is strengthened by the coherence of the visual composition, aligned along a central axis.

Photograph of painted acclamation
Fig. 7. Photograph of painted acclamation (CIL, IV, 7990) at time of excavation, found on façade of II 4, 7 in Pompeii. The text reads: Cn(aeo) Alleio Maio principi munerarior(um) feliciter / “To Gnaeus Alleius Maius, the leading games-giver – good luck!” (Varone & Stefani 2009, 222 = SAP B 968 (with permission from L’Erma di Bretschneider).

The most important information appears at the beginning and in the largest letters: the name of Gnaeus Alleius Maius. In this respect the text does not seem to differ from the vast bulk of stone inscriptions in which an individual named in the dative case is either commemorated after burial or honoured in gratitude for some kind of public gift or achievement. Here, however, Maius is explicitly characterized by the extremely high quality of the gladiatorial shows that he has produced in the past.

The epithet of Maius – “the leading games-giver” (princeps munerariorum) – is a creative and concise expression that praises his leading position in both the political and gladiatorial arenas. The title of princeps had of course been favoured by the Julio-Claudians since the constitutional settlements of Augustus, but according to Quintilian it was also Augustus who had originally coined the word munerarius (8.3.34). With this phrase, Maius is implicitly associated with an emperor famous, among many other reasons, for producing games unrivalled in scale and for ruling by the consensus of the senate and people. These qualities must have been clear to another politically effective communicator like Maius, because Augustus himself had expressed the same sentiments in the autobiographical account of his achievements, whose text travelled widely.33 The adverb feliciter had been proverbial in imperial acclamations for some time, so this creative epithet extended an expression and a practice that were already very familiar to the people of Pompeii.34

Once the reader has reached the final word – feliciter! – perhaps even uttering it audibly, the sense is complete, and the action of reading has reproduced the precise content, and now also the oral format, of an expression that might well have been shouted aloud by spectators in attendance at one of the gladiatorial shows produced by Maius. And if, we might imagine, that sentiment should happen to be shared and perhaps even amplified by any other people also in the vicinity of the reader, then the process of acclamation from the arena would essentially have been transplanted to another time and location altogether. A close analysis of the material contexts for this written acclamation reveals how practically every element was designed to recall an ideal audience at gladiatorial games in Pompeii. At an even wider level, it will become clear that Maius sought to integrate both written and oral acclamations into an ambitious multimedia strategy for public communication that enhanced the immense power and influence he already enjoyed.

First, the immediate spatial context: painted onto the exterior facade of a large, multi-functional property (II 4, 7; https://pompeiiperspectives.org/index.php/regio-ii-insula-4), one block west of the Porta Sarno gate on the main east-west road traversing the entire town, and near the intersection of a narrow lane leading south to the amphitheatre one block away. This location ensured the text remained both conspicuous and relevant, because of the high volume of traffic on the busy Via dell’Abbondanza and its proximity to the arena – perhaps even within earshot, at times, of spectators.

The only other material documented along this same stretch was a series of nine electoral notices (programmata), several of which were also very well preserved and finely painted. When juxtaposed, there emerge several formal characteristics shared by these two otherwise distinct genres of painted inscription. The electoral notices usually took the form of a request to support a local political candidate, whose name appeared in larger letters at the beginning of the text. Both the written acclamation and electoral notices here were painted in black pigment with a small brush on a white background. Indeed, one notice celebrating the election of Marcus Epidius Sabinus explicitly combined this genre of painted text with a written acclamation, since the final line, apparently authorized by the “venerable order” of town councillors, ended with the words, “To (Titus Suedius) Clemens, a venerable arbiter, good luck!”35

The written acclamation to Maius painted here should not be understood as the spontaneous or haphazard creation of appreciative spectators leaving the amphitheatre, but rather the product of professional sign-writers (scriptores).36 Maius was clearly familiar with their work, since sign-writers had been employed to promote his own candidacy in several local elections and even to advertise the lease of a large, multifunctional property that he owned.37 The written acclamations were much more closely linked, however, both formally and thematically to the announcements for upcoming gladiatorial games than to the electoral notices, all of which were painted by the same body of professional sign-writers.

This close connection is clear from a second written acclamation painted for Maius, this time from the courtyard of the Forum Baths (VII 5), where the text – “To Maius, the leading citizen of the colony, good luck!” – was attached to one side of a large but fragmentary announcement for games that he was producing.38 The content of the announcement is clear, however, because at least three further versions of the same text were painted publicly, including one specimen only a block away (VII 4) and two on the Via dell’Abbondanza (III 2, 1; https://pompeiiperspectives.org/index.php/regio-ix-insula-7; IX 7, 3; https://pompeiiperspectives.org/index.php/regio-iii-insula-2): “At the dedication of the monumental tablets of Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius, at Pompeii on the Ides of June, there will be a procession, athletes, sprinklings, and awnings.”39 The layout of this composite inscription, painted with black pigment on a white background, suggests that the written acclamation was produced at the same time as the announcement for forthcoming games, and this conclusion is supported by distinctive paleographical flourishes that match across both sections of the text (fig. 8).40

Two facsimiles of a single painted inscription
Fig. 8. Two facsimiles of a single painted inscription (CIL, IV, 1177), which combines a written acclamation to Maius (Maio, principi coloniae, feliciter!) with announcement for his games on the occasion of “tablets” being dedicated (opus tabularum, perhaps painted panels). Note the consistency in letter forms between acclamation and announcement in the upper transcription, also produced by brush, in comparison with the printed typeface of the lower transcription (above from Bechi 1857, 6; below from Zangemeister 1871, 71).

In other words, the written acclamation here seems to have functioned proleptically at first, by anticipating – and perhaps even encouraging – the chants of spectators who will be gathering on the Ides of June. In theory the written acclamation from the start of this discussion – “to Maius, the leading games-giver” – is generic enough that it could also function in this forward-looking manner in relation to any further games that he wished to produce in the future. (Announcements survive for games produced by Maius on at least three further separate occasions.)41 Here the epithet “leading citizen of the colony” (princeps coloniae) reinforces both the civic identity of the Pompeians and the position of Maius at the head of the community, as opposed to merely in relation to other producers of gladiatorial games (princeps munerariorum). The pivot towards a role that emphasizes care for the whole of Pompeii was probably a deliberate strategy during what was a period of crisis, since the conspicuous omission of any reference to gladiators strongly implies that these games took place during the local ban on such entertainment (Tac., Ann., 14.17) in the years following the riot of 59 CE.42 Admittedly there is no scholarly consensus on what exactly the “monumental tablets” might have been, but Maius clearly intends to inaugurate, with festivities and a modest programme of entertainment, some kind of durable construction project built for the public good, as both imperial priest and private benefactor.

A similar occasion appears in yet another fragmentary announcement for a day of festivities scheduled by Maius for July the 4th, “for the health of the Emperor Vespasian and his children” and on account of “the dedication of an altar.”43 No written acclamation has been documented in this location yet, but the announcement suggests a pattern of building with games and provides a salient reminder of how ubiquitous the imperial family was in everyday life. In all likelihood the tradition of acclaiming the emperor in absentia will also have contributed to channelling the positive energy of the audience towards the imperial priest who was producing the games.

By merging a written acclamation with an announcement for games, the sign-writers working for Maius were producing a visually striking poster with a coherent message that would last much longer than the games themselves. Visitors to the baths in later years will have remembered the occasion, while others may well have inferred that Maius had actually been acclaimed with these very words during the announced celebration. This focus on the media of communication underscores the generative nature of combining grand public occasions and material commemoration sequentially, in the form of monuments and inscriptions, all to secure the political goals of Maius in the most enduring and effective way possible. When approached as a series of public communication acts, the many mass spectacles, civic monuments, written acclamations, and announcements for games organized by Maius can thus be understood as repeating, amplifying, extending, or refining this larger message of a highly respected and generous public figure whose dominance of practically every sphere of society is legitimized and even celebrated by his fellow citizens.

No doubt Maius, like his aristocratic contemporaries, also represented himself to his fellow Pompeians in still further media, such as the architecture and decoration of his townhouse, a monumental funerary complex, and further occasions for public speaking, although such examples are yet to be identified securely in the archaeological record. The sensational discovery in 2017, however, of a lengthy marble inscription from the Porta Stabia necropolis provides an opportunity to imagine how someone like Maius might have chosen to construct the publicly visible parts of his own tomb, since no references to specific names, priesthoods, public offices, or other identifying clues have been found yet in relation to the monument.44 Indeed, the name of our princeps munerariorum was immediately proposed as one of the only individuals from this period in Pompeii whose tomb has not yet been identified and who was potentially capable of the lavish scale of public spending and close diplomatic ties with the emperor as detailed in this extraordinary record of a funerary speech (elogium).45

Such an identification is certainly plausible, perhaps even very likely, but ultimately not necessary for our purposes. This elogium is immediately valuable for its climactic description of the Pompeians publicly acclaiming the honorand. But when the inscription is placed within its wider political and economic context, a coherent strategy for public communication emerges that is fully aware of how crises can be exploited effectively for both political and financial gain by appealing to the shared identity, experiences, rituals, and values of the community. After the senatorial ban on gladiatorial games and an earthquake that damaged the blocks of seating in the amphitheatre, the importance and salience of arena spectacles in defining a sense of social identity probably increased greatly, particularly since the events produced there already required a public consensus, as I have argued above. Under these circumstances the audience might be expected to rally around the flag, as it were, by engaging very intensely at any gladiatorial games produced after the triumphant return of such spectacles to Pompeii had been permitted by the emperor. The inscription also reveals the entanglement of political and financial incentives for the honorand, as a producer who needed to ensure that civic patriotism did not tip over into regional violence again, in order to maximize returns on his investment, both in terms of economic and social capital.

Postulante populo Pompeiano?

“This man… gave a banquet to the people of Pompeii…. He offered a gladiatorial spectacle so large in scale and magnificent that it could easily be compared to any presentation put on by the most distinguished colony founded by the city of Rome…. And when Caesar had ordered everyone to remove their gladiatorial troupes beyond the 200th milestone from the city, to this man alone he granted permission to bring (them) back to Pompeii, his own hometown…. Twice he produced large-scale public gameswithout any financial burden to the community. For these reasons, when the people were demanding it (postulante populo) and the entire town council was in agreement that he should be co-opted as a patron… he himself intervened as a private citizen, saying that he could not tolerate being the patron of his own fellow citizens.”46

The 2017 discovery of this marble inscription (https://pompeiiinpictures.com/pompeiiinpictures/Tombs/tombs%20stabg6.htm) – the longest ever found in Pompeii – generated an immediate sensation in the international press, in part because of the scale of the benefactions that the deceased had distributed over the course of his lifetime. The enormous resources that he directed to his fellow citizens are enumerated in detail: a feast for 6,840 people (epulum) to celebrate his maturity (toga uirilis); 416 gladiators in his training school (ludus); a 70% subsidy in grain prices for four years during a shortage (caritas annonae); and a cash donation to the town councillors (50 sesterces each), the public officials known as Augustales and pagani (20 each), and the people of Pompeii (1 each).47

It may seem paradoxical therefore that such a laudatory narrative would culminate with the honorand actually rejecting a request from the people of Pompeii, a fleeting moment of time that would have cost him nothing anyway. By publicly refusing the title of “patron”, however, on the grounds that it would have debased his fellow citizens, the honorand was staging as a kind of live performance a message representing the culmination of a lifetime’s public service, whose content was crystallized in this very inscription that was itself a memorialization of the eulogy speech: namely, that care for his fellow citizens in this most glorious colony (lautissima colonia) was more valuable to him than any money (potior cura ciuium suorum fuit quam rei familiaris), which is why he had provided free mass spectacles not only at no cost to the community (ludi sine onere rei publicae), but also during two periods of exceptional crisis, when precisely such forms of entertainment might have seemed all but impossible. The first crisis was a lengthy grain shortage (caritas annonae), during which he had produced an exceptionally large and sumptuous spectacle for the people in addition to heavily subsidized grain. The second crisis, we learn in this inscription, was the exile of all gladiators from Pompeii (omnes familiae), in addition to the senate banning local gladiatorial games (Tac., Ann., 14.17), at least until the emperor himself allowed the honorand alone to repatriate his school of combatants back to his Pompeian homeland (Pompeios in patriam suam).

In sum, when the honorand rejected the people’s demand that he become their patron (postulante populo), he was explicitly declaring his commitment to a sense of equality and to the community.48 The implied mechanism through which the people could express themselves in this manner, however, was the acclamation, and the most logical venue where so many people could participate was at a public festival – perhaps one of the very grand games (magnos ludos) whose production had just been mentioned in the inscription, or maybe even at one of the spectacles produced with his own repatriated gladiators. If so, the town council would not have needed to wait until their next meeting to signal their unanimous approval for the acclamation (uniuersus ordo consentiret), since they were separated by convention from the main audience in special seating at the front of the amphitheatre or theatre (ima cavea), where a standing ovation would have been easily visible to all spectators behind them.49

On another level, however, the sequence of popular acclamation before magnanimous refusal amounted to a public and free confession by the people of Pompeii that they were willing to acquiesce to a consensus ultimately defined by, and for the benefit of, the richest and most powerful citizen. The public demand that the honorand become the patron of all Pompeians was a “performative utterance”: in the sense that such a speech act explicitly confirmed in front of everyone a hierarchical relationship in which he enjoyed the higher position, and by implication the acclamation also demonstrated the willing acceptance of such an arrangement by all parties.50 The overall effect was to normalize – indeed to celebrate – an oligarchic system in which it was the wealthiest and most influential individuals, and not the local citizen body, who dominated practically all areas of life in their communities.

A parallel for the rejection of public honours communicated by acclamation may be found, once again, in the Res Gestae of Augustus, specifically in his account of the year 2 BC, when Augustus was called “father of the fatherland” (pater patriae) by “the entire senate and equestrian order and Roman people” (RG 35.1).51 According to the biography of Suetonius (Aug., 58.1), “everyone suddenly and unanimously (uniuersi) conferred on him the title of Father of the Fatherland; first the people (plebs), via an embassy sent to Antium; then, because he declined it, as he was in Rome attending spectacles (spectacula), which they crowded, wearing laurel wreaths; soon in the senate, not by decree or acclamation (adclamatio), but courtesy of a speech by Valerius Messala”. In a tearful acceptance speech, Augustus expressed his gratitude by hoping that the gods continued to grant him this public consensus (hunc consensum uestrum) for the rest of his life (58.2).

The ingenious innovation of the Augustan principate had been that the wealthiest and most influential individual was able to gain even more power by publicly abdicating the source of his formal political authority. In the mid-first century an upstanding Pompeian citizen still evidently felt it necessary to present himself as a man of the people and so an alternative honorific title, such as princeps coloniae or princeps munerariorum perhaps, would have been a more politically acceptable compromise than “patron of the colony” (patronus). After all, Augustus himself recalled that he had been called the “leading citizen” (princeps: RG 30, 32) as well as leader of the senate (princeps senatus: RG 7.1), and that Gaius and Lucius Caesar had been acclaimed “leaders of the youth” (RG 14) by the Roman knights, presumably in the theatre, where they were seated together according to rank. Like the phrase pater patriae, these titles were not codified within a written constitution, but rather exceptional honours that had to be conferred by public acclamation.

Of course, as documentary sources, the Res Gestae of Augustus and the new funerary inscription from Pompeii are anomalous and biased. Each inscription was created to record in a durable and monumental form an idealized and rhetorically impeccable biography of an individual who presented himself as a man of the people yet completely dominated public life. The Pompeian eulogy was premised on a shared understanding that the benefactions of the honorand were exceptional and his prestige unprecedented. This idealized model of public communication nevertheless provides a useful point of comparison for understanding the activities and perspectives of the other producers of gladiatorial games in Pompeii, and by extension the ways in which they sought to shape audience behaviour.

The Rest: Popidius Rufus, Satrius Valens, Suettius Certus, and Claudius Verus

There are actually very few Pompeians attested in the surviving feliciter inscriptions that were painted in publicly visible locations, but the names overlap closely with the producers already known from the painted announcements for gladiatorial games. (The rare exceptions, beyond the scope of this study, are either obscure or otherwise unknown figures.)52 More specifically, professionally painted acclamations were directed towards those sponsors from the Neronian and Flavian eras whose public careers are mentioned in other sources, especially in the many painted electoral notices and the copies of transactions recorded on waxed tablets.53 This pattern will reflect certain biases in the pattern of evidence, such as the relative paucity of surviving graffiti and painted inscriptions from the early principate, but also the rarity of an individual producing highly costly gladiatorial games voluntarily and not because of any official duty that is legally obliged.54 Many of the material and linguistic characteristics already discussed in the case of Maius are also found with the four additional producers of gladiatorial games who appear in painted acclamations, namely D. Satrius Lucretius Valens (and family), whom we have already seen in a written acclamation from the riot fresco; as well as N. Popidius Rufus; A. Suettius Certus; and Ti. Claudius Verus.55

Popidius Rufus, for example, is acclaimed with the epithets “defender of the colonists” and “unconquered benefactor” in very large black letters painted in the quadriporticus behind the theatres (VIII 7, 16; https://pompeiiinpictures.com/pompeiiinpictures/R8/8%2007%2016%20p1.htm).56 Suettius Certus, on the other hand, combined one announcement for his gladiatorial games with what appears to be an unparalleled written acclamation: “To all Nero’s games – good luck!”57 There seems to have been two pairs of announcement and written acclamation painted together to Claudius Verus on the northern wall of the Large Palaestra (II 7); that is to say, on the same facade where the written acclamations to Satrius were represented in the riot fresco (figs. 2-5, 8).58 To judge from the restricted content announced of these occasions, offered “for the health of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus”, the spectacles were in all likelihood held during the same ban on gladiatorial games. In other words, each of these three producers seized the opportunity to present himself as champion of the people or as a close ally of the emperor when he announced the specific duration, occasion, and attractions scheduled for his spectacles. It was important for them, as for Maius, to be characterized in these announcements and written acclamations as the recipients of public approval precisely in order to channel the energy of their fellow citizens towards their own ends, both in the near future at the scheduled games and as part of a larger strategy to maximize their influence, opportunities, and honours.

In the case of Satrius, “the generous one” (munificus) and “the eternal priest of Nero Caesar, son of Augustus”, no combination of both written acclamation and announcement has been documented so far. Even so, enough separate specimens of each genre have survived to observe an alternative approach to announcing and producing games, because all three of the occasions from the surviving announcements were co-sponsored with his son, who was also mentioned in all of the feliciter acclamations painted for Satrius, either by name or else indirectly as one of his children (liberis).59 Also unusual is the presence of his wife, Iusta, in several of these painted acclamations.60 Since D. Lucretius Valens, the adoptive father of Satrius and a wealthy individual of equestrian rank, is known to have co-sponsored 35 pairs of gladiators and a hunt with his own father a generation earlier, it is not surprising that a newly-minted aristocrat such as Satrius would introduce to public life the next generation of this powerful local dynasty in a manner resembling the example of the imperial family, who effectively enjoyed a monopoly on producing gladiatorial games in the capital. The consistency of these public messages demonstrates the high value placed by Satrius on public displays of consensus, both in person at these very costly gladiatorial games and with more durable forms of expression, such as large painted inscriptions.

The family of D. Satrius Lucretius Valens differs further from the other local producers of gladiatorial games because it is possible to detect evidence for the penetration of such clear and repeated messaging in other media from private or more personal contexts. We have already seen how the written acclamations painted onto the wall of the Large Palaestra in the fresco of the riot scene connected the names D. Lucretius (in Latin) and Satrius Valens (in Greek) with Augustus Nero (in Greek) and the word feliciter (in both alphabets). This fresco came from the interior courtyard at the back of a modestly-decorated and otherwise unremarkable domicile of “average” size (I 3, 23); in other words, the private space of an individual with substantially less means than the Lucretius family.61 Equally unusual is a graffito, scratched inside a house on a different side of town, which repeated almost verbatim the text of a painted acclamation: “to D. Lucretius, to his children – good luck!”62 In theory a single person could have been responsible for producing both graffiti and painted acclamations, however, and it was certainly much more common for local spectators to scratch into plaster specific scenes or scorecards from the arena, for example, so any graffiti to Satrius and his children remain fascinating but anomalous and difficult to contextualize.

One might have expected fewer surviving inscriptions with acclamations to Satrius and family simply because their announcements were earlier than the others.63 An earlier date would also help explain the more traditional aristocratic concern with succession, as well as the failure of Satrius to exploit the full communicative potential of painted inscriptions by integrating written acclamations into his accouncements.The career of Maius thus seems to mark a turning point in the way that local producers communicated publicly about their games, with a new emphasis on the language of political consensus at both the local and imperial levels, rather than simply linking the name of the producer to logistical details about the date and quality of the spectacle. Since his career also coincided with a series of major crises for the people of Pompeii – including the riot of 59 CE and ensuing ban on gladiatorial games, the earthquake of 63, and probably the 4-year grain shortage mentioned in the elogium, not to mention the civil war of 68-9 CE – it is worth exploring briefly how a shared experience of these traumatic events might have affected the local culture of mass spectacles for both spectators and producers.

Public Messaging as Crisis Communications

“The voice of different peoples may be varied, but resounds in unison
When you are acclaimed as the true Father of the Fatherland.”
Mart. Spect. 3.11-1264

From a political perspective, the senatorial ban on gladiatorial games in Pompeii helped bring together producers and spectators to create a new type of very specific consensus: all parties wanted to regain the privilege of being allowed gladiatorial games locally, whether due to pure enjoyment of the spectacles; perhaps out of resentment at being punished so harshly; as a matter of civic pride; because they sensed an opportunity to profit materially; or any other reason for that matter. Whatever the motives of each individual, the alignment of everyone in support of a clearly defined common goal provided a new context that can only have enhanced public expressions of consensus, particularly once that goal had been achieved.

Perhaps the clearest example of such a broad agreement is provided by two feliciter acclamations, both painted in black, “to the judgements of the emperor and of Poppaea, good luck!”65 These inscriptions must be dated to the brief period before her death, when Poppaea Sabina had received the title of Augusta (63-65 CE). Scholars have sought to explain these texts in terms of the Campanian heritage of the gens Poppaea; the possibility of imperial intervention after the 63 CE earthquake or before the ban on gladiatorial games was due to expire at the end of the decade; and perhaps even the renewal of status as a Roman colonia.66 Of course such explanations need not be mutually exclusive and if spectators had enjoyed the resumption of gladiatorial duels in a swiftly renovated amphitheatre (perhaps decorated with new frescos), then the positive public sentiment would only have been distilled even further.67

The newly discovery elogium has confirmed the hypothesis that gladiatorial games were indeed produced in Pompeii precisely when the senatorial ban should have been in effect.68 More specifically, Nero granted to the honorand alone (uni huic) the privilege of repatriating his gladiatorial troupe “to Pompeii, his own fatherland”, which only makes sense in the context of such an honorific inscription if they were allowed to perform at mass spectacles produced by the honorand.69 Our inscriptions acclaiming the critical faculties of the emperor and Poppaea implicitly celebrated them as individuals too, as well as the consequences of their decisions. Such texts presupposed the idea of successful reciprocal communication with an emperor who had evidently heard and redressed the concerns of the Pompeians, via an intermediary, before receiving public thanks.70 So far this analysis has only considered the two painted specimens of acclamations to the imperial family that can be dated securely, but it seems plausible that some of the other surviving inscriptions with variations on the same formula, both in paint and graffiti, refer to the same event.71 This is not to say that the formula was limited to the Neronian period or to Pompeii by any means, but rather that for a brief period of time the largest possible consensus was visible for everyone to see for themselves.72 The interests of the spectators and producers of gladiatorial games now also aligned with those of the emperor and the new imperial consort, so it makes sense for local messaging to draw from the language and politics of the capital.

Even more precisely, the elogium clarifies that the honorand had enjoyed, however briefly, a monopoly on the supply of gladiators for productions in Pompeii, after his gladiatorial troupe had been granted an exclusive immunity by Nero.73 The circumstances of such a specific act of imperial favouritism reveal just how entangled the financial and political incentives were for the producer in this instance, whose activities must have been highly disruptive within Pompeii but also in the wider region, particularly if the same senatorial ban on gladiatorial troupes had applied to Nuceria as well.74 The honorand was careful to frame his special position as simply offering the means to fulfil his patriotic duty as civic benefactor, when in fact he stood to profit economically as well as politically from this extraordinary opportunity. This messaging seems to have been successful, because two later producers of gladiatorial games adapted the traditional formula of painted announcements by simply stating that their own gladiatorial troupes will fight instead of specifying the number of pairs.75 Rather than viewing this change in language as a way of diverting attention away from the presumably small scale of the production, the reference to ownership of a gladiatorial troupe in this period could also be interpreted more positively, as a mark of quality that distinguished one producer from another, a signal that each producer took seriously his responsibility to the people of Pompeii, and a way of building anticipation and surprise for the spectators.76 In other words, Suettius Certus and Popidius Certus were emulating the honorand’s strategies for investment and public communication, implicitly in competition with one another as well as with other rival producers, both in Pompeii and throughout the wider region.

As the only supplier of gladiators locally, the honorand could have named his price in renting out his troupe to any other producers in the area, while ensuring low costs for his own productions. In addition to the integrated networks of regional markets held regularly throughout central Italian towns in this period (nundinae), commercial fairs were typically organized to capitalize on the influx of spectators guaranteed to attend gladiatorial spectacles, and so these games will have earned money for local vendors and traders too.77 At Pompeii there is good evidence for the local magistrates controlling access to the market stalls afforded by the articulated façade of the amphitheatre and probably also by temporary structures in the adjacent piazza.78 Several spacious and well-furnished properties near the amphitheatre would have been ideal for accommodating large groups of spectators or visitors seeking to dine.79 The honorand was in an excellent position to exploit his unique position as both the producer of the spectacle and a senior member of the town council who managed public resources.

Gladiatorial games thus offered a source of indirect revenue for many people in Pompeii, as well as a source of pleasure and civic pride for all. If spectators from neighbouring communities were required to pay for entry to an event that locals could attend for free, the Pompeians will have appreciated the value of their citizenship even more, although it should be stressed from the outset that there is no clear and direct evidence for such a system of ticketed entry at Pompeii.80 This hypothesis has been proposed to explain another account by Tacitus of a disaster at gladiatorial games, this time from 27 CE (Ann., 4.62), when an entrepreneurial freedman had sought to capitalize on the lack of such spectacles in Rome under Tiberius by luring myriads of spectators to his own display, produced eight miles away in Fidenae.81 The implicit logic of this narrative requires that the “base profit” (sordida merx) of this get-rich-quick scheme derived from charging an entry fee for everyone except for the Fidenates hosting the event, since mass spectacles ceased to function as public benefactions if locals were not granted admission as spectators. In Pompeii there are only oblique hints of a similar pricing structure, such as the announcements for forthcoming gladiatorial games being produced in Nuceria, Nola, Cumae, and other Campanian towns beyond Pompeii, which were exclusively painted on surfaces outside the city walls, as if banished by locals on the grounds of protectionism yet still able to target passing travellers.82

This hypothesis would be consistent with Tacitus’ account of the 59 CE riot, insofar as the Nucerians were evidently seated apart from locals and would not have enjoyed paying for an experience that others had been given for free. In fact the theme of conflict between neighbouring towns recurs throughout Tacitus’ narrative of the 68-9 CE civil war. But for our purposes here, the destruction of the amphitheatre of Placentia provides a particularly salient comparison, because the townspeople had believed that is was “people from the neighbouring Roman colonies” (quidam ex uicinis coloniis) who had actually burned down their arena, using as a pretext the siege by Vitellius’ soldiers, out of “envy and rivalry” (inuidia et aemulatione).83 In Pompeii, as in many other Roman towns, the arena was located at the edge of the town, where it provided a dramatic first impression to visitors, first in relation to the wealthy elites whose grand tombs dominated the approach to the city walls.84 This location also defined the community immediately according to the enormous and visually arresting structure that had been given to “the people of the colony in perpetuity” (coloneis locum in perpetuom), to quote the inscription placed above each monumental entrance of this civic asset built shortly after the Social War and resulting colonization of Pompeii.85

From the perspective of our ideal producer – the honorand granted the exclusive right to repatriate his gladiatorial troupe – it must have been important to keep in balance the opposing forces of civic pride, consensus, and social identity on the one hand, and on the other a sense of rivalry, superiority, and hostility in relation to outsiders, particularly given the violence last time. In this way, it would have been possible to maximize returns on his investment, in terms of economic, political, and social capital: Nucerians and any other Campanians would be able to attend gladiatorial games safely; and all the Pompeians would rally together behind him. There is some evidence for Pompeian opinions about people from neighbouring communities (and vice versa), in the form of several inscriptions that acclaim other people and towns in the region, particularly in relation to their status as honorary colonies of Rome.86 Nearly all of these written acclamations were graffiti, such as a series of lines from the lupanar (VII 12, 18) first wishing “to the people of Puteoli, good luck!” and then “to the people of Nuceria, good luck!”87

There is one fine example, however, of a painted inscription that classifies Pompeii as one of “the true Roman colonies” (uerae coloniae) alongside Puteoli, Antium, and perhaps Tarentum, immediately after one of the feliciter acclamations “to the judgements of the emperor” outside the House of the Vettii (VI 15, 1).88 This text was written by professionals in the same red paint as the electoral notices, announcements for gladiatorial games, written acclamations and other official forms of public messaging discussed above. Scholars have debated whether or not the content of the text should also be treated as official, since in 60 CE Nero had awarded honorary colonial status to Puteoli (ius coloniae) and settled veterans in Antium and Tarentum (Tac., Ann., 14.27), but there is no record of such an honour or immigration wave extending to Pompeii as well.89

The most straightforward interpretation is that the individual who wrote this text considered that his hometown – the colonia Veneria Cornelia Pompeianorum in official documents (CIL, IV, 3340.143), presumably since the Sullan conquest – merited ranking among the three most recent recipients of imperial favour.90 Since this inscription takes the form of an acclamation, the author is suggesting that the people of Pompeii shared this positive assessment, whether in the hopes of imperial patronage in the future, or even in recognition of the special dispensation granted to the gladiatorial troupe belonging to their most powerful and politically connected benefactor. The name of each town appears in the accusative case, with no syntactical relationship to the initial feliciter phrase nor to the final clause defining the list as true colonies, because in the context of the oral acclamation implied by this inscription, the accusative was used for exclamations.91 These towns were too large and distant to pose any real threat to Pompeii’s position in the regional economy of mass spectacles, a kind of zero-sum game where the benefits of hosting a gladiatorial show came at a cost to their nearest neighbours.

It is no surprise that there is no mention of Nuceria here, where Nero had also settled veterans in 57 CE, at the same time as another colony in Capua (Tac., Ann., 13.31). By contrast, in one small graffito from the façade of insula VI, 9 6 (fig. 9), the Nucerians are mentioned as “perishing” together with the “people of Campania”, beneath the image of a gladiator receiving the palm of victory, while across the road another graffito rather unusually acclaims them with the antonym of feliciter, essentially cursing the rival neighbours of the Pompeians: “To the people of Nuceria – bad luck!”.92

Facsimiles of two small graffiti scratched onto façades of Via di Mercurio in insula VI
Fig. 9. Facsimiles of two small graffiti scratched onto façades of Via di Mercurio in insula VI (after Zangemeister). The text above reads Campani uictoria una cum Nucerinis peristis (CIL, IV, 1293), with long tails incised emphatically into the plaster. The text below, reading Nucerinis infelicia (1329), employs cruder and more cursive letter forms.

Given the conflicts and crises of this period, we might have expected to find more evidence for what Cicero called “the hostile acclamation of the people”, whether written as graffiti or as painted messages by sponsors, perhaps even disparaging their rivals or attacking the people of Nuceria.93 However, just as public acclamations only started being transcribed much later in Italy, so too was the practice of creating official, durable expressions of cursing or abuse not yet part of the epigraphic habit for the Pompeians, which was employed rather to build a political consensus, to the advantage of both private benefactors and the public order.94


(a) “To Regulus – good luck!”95
(b) “To Regulus – good luck (because he is a prick)!”96

Before closing this study on written acclamations in Pompeii, it may be worth returning briefly to the disgraced senator Livineius Regulus and the riot of 59 CE in the amphitheatre, where a brief acclamation to a certain Regulus (a) was painted in the northwestern access tunnel leading to the front rows of seats (fig. 1G).97 Was this message really intended to remind the most distinguished members of the audience who the guest benefactor was that day, or should we understand the written acclamation, painted in such a dark and isolated location, simply as the expression of a wish?98 The same words were scratched across town in a second location, the corridor of a public bathing complex, but here additional phallic imagery and language were appended to the graffito acclaiming Regulus (b).99 In addition to the larger binary categories inherent to the concept of acclamations – such as oral vs. written, individual vs. society, real vs. staged – these two texts also demonstrate the importance of considering the medium of a written acclamation (painted or scratched), its location (publicly visible or more discreet), timing (before or after a spectacle), and authorship (positive self-expression or external commentary), as well as its content and tone.

The documentary evidence that has survived for us tends to coincide with the official forms of messaging carefully constructed by the most wealthy and powerful Pompeians for a very specific purpose. Part of that purpose, however, was to penetrate the public discourse as widely as possible, so there is some value in approaching painted acclamations from the perspective of what messages the producers of games wanted to communicate – to the spectators in the arena, but also to the wider audience for their painted inscriptions on the streets of Pompeii. There is a clear focus on civic identity, self-promotion, and imperial language in the painted feliciter inscriptions and announcements, perhaps influenced by what appear to have been highly effective strategies for crisis communication and entrepreneurship deployed successfully by the honorand of the new elogium (and also by Maius, if indeed they are not one and the same person). On the whole, the messaging of local producers cohered with the larger system of imperial communication, but it is difficult to measure directly how much the mindsets, behaviours, or activities of spectators at gladiatorial games in late-Neronian Pompeii were affected by, say, a particular written acclamation.

A still more challenging question is to what extent graffiti like the curse against the Nucerini represented wider attitudes about regional politics or the presence of specific groups at games in Pompeii, since they were never understood to be official forms of communication. Graffiti typically lacked contextual clues about such things as the date or the author’s identity, much less the motivation behind writing the text. And yet it seems churlish not to consider in greater detail the myriad texts and images scratched informally into surfaces around Pompeii as a possible proxy for the countless lost voices and points of view expressed by the people who lived there and attended mass spectacles.

The corpora of visual and textual graffiti from Pompeii contain so many pieces of invaluable information about a great range of topics, but when taken as a whole, such an unwieldy and intractable mass of material, strewn across so many separate volumes, can seem chaotic to us today by comparison with the handsome slim volumes each collecting one of the genres of the painted inscriptions from Pompeii.100 For the Pompeians too, these painted acclamations and announcements were able to transmit a clearer signal than the smaller, more faint, and diffuse messages scratched noisily around town, because painted texts were rarer, more conspicuous, more repetitive and formulaic, and also more official, in the sense of communicating information related to public institutions. Amid the din of the crowd thronging the arena, with its musical accompaniment, an individual’s voice would have been lost unless it was amplified by a large enough volume of people willing to share the same content. Eventually the noise always disappeared regardless, but the acclamations painted and chanted in Pompeii, as elements of a larger system of political communication, conveyed a clear, powerful, and lasting signal: a message of consensus.


  • Adams, J.N. (1982a): The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, London.
  • Adams, J.N.  (1982b): “Anatomical Terms Used ‘Pars Pro Toto’ in Latin”, Proceedings of the African Classical Associations 16, 37.
  • Aldrete, G.S. (1999): Gestures and Acclamations in Ancient Rome, Baltimore.
  • Austin, J.L. (2009): How to Do Things with Words: The William James Lectures Delivered at Harvard University in 1955, Urmson & Shisà ed., 2nd edition, New York.
  • Baratta, G. (2016): “L’epigrafia dipinta: scriptores e botteghe scrittorie a Pompei,” in : Donati, ed. 2016, 97-119.
  • Baroni, A-F. (2016): “Divo Pertinaci… ex reditibus locorum amp(h)itheatri. À propos d’une inscription de Cirta (ILAlg, II, 1, 560)”, MÉFRA, 128–1, 249-265. https://journals.openedition.org/mefra/3383.
  • Bechi, G. (1857): “Relazione degli Scavi di Pompei,” in: Real Museo Borbonico, Vol. 2., Naples.
  • Benefiel, R.R. (2004): “Pompeii, Puteoli, and the Status of a Colonia in the Mid-First Century AD”, in: Senatore,  ed. : Pompei, Capri e la Penisola Sorrentina, Rome, 349-368.
  • Benefiel, R.R. (2005): Litora Mundi Hospita: Mobility and Social Interaction in Roman Campania, Thesis, Harvard University, Cambridge (Mass.).
  • Benefiel, R.R. (2016): “Regional Interaction”, in : Cooley, ed. 2016b, 441-458.
  • Bernardi, L., Busana, M. S., Centola, V., Marson, C., and Sbrogiò, L. (2019): “The Sarno Baths, Pompeii: Architecture Development and 3D Reconstruction”, Journal of Cultural Heritage, 40, 247-254.
  • Bodel, J., Bendlin, A., Bernard, S., Bruun, C., and Edmondson, J. (2019): “Notes on the Elogium of a Benefactor at Pompeii”, Journal of Roman Archaeology, 32, 148-182. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1047759419000096.
  • Caldelli, M. L. and C. Ricci, ed. (2020): City of Encounters: Public Spaces and Social Interaction in Ancient Rome, Rome.
  • Cameron, A. (1976): Circus Factions: Blues and Greens at Rome and Byzantium, Oxford.
  • Camodeca, G. (2004): “I Lucretii Valentes Pompeiani e l’iscrizione funeraria del cavaliere d’età Claudia D. Lucretius Valens (riedizione di AE 1994, 398)”, in : Senatore, ed. 2004, 323-347.
  • Camodeca, G. (2021): “Note su Cn. Alleius Nigidius Maius”, in : Osanna, ed. 2021, 317-318.
  • Capaldi, C. (2021): “Pompa, munus gladiatorium, venatio su un monumento funerario fuori Porta Stabia”, in : Osanna, ed. 2021, 273-296.
  • Cappelletti, L. (2014): “Die Finanzierung von Spielen in Italien und Hispanien gemäß den lokalen Stadtgesetzen (1. Jh. v.Chr. – 1. Jh. n.Chr.)”, in : Harter-Uibopuu & Kruse, ed. 2014, 167-193.
  • Cavallaro, M. A. (1984): Spese e spettacoli: aspetti economici-strutturali degli spettacoli nella Roma giulio-claudia, Bonn.
  • Chamberland, G. (2001): The Production of Shows in the Cities of the Roman Empire: A Study of the Latin Epigraphic Evidence, Thesis, McMaster University, Hamilton (Ontario). https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/production-shows-cities-roman-empire-study-latin/docview/304722238/se-2.
  • Chamberland, G. (2007): “A Gladiatorial Show Produced in Sordidam Mercedem (Tacitus ‘Ann.’ 4.62)”, Phoenix, 61.1, 136-149. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20304641.
  • Chamberland, G. (2021): “Imperial Spectacle in the Roman Provinces,” in: Scanlon & Futrell, ed. 2021, 378-388.
  • Chiavia, C. (2002): Programmata: Manifesti elettorali nella colonia romana di Pompei, Turin.
  • Cooley, A. E. ed. (2000): The Epigraphic Landscape of Roman Italy, BICS Supplement 73, London.
  • Cooley, A. E. (2016a): Res Gestae Divi Augusti Text, Translation, and Commentary, Cambridge.
  • Cooley, A. E., ed. (2016b): A Companion to Roman Italy, Chichester.
  • Corbeill, A. (2004): Nature Embodied: Gesture in Ancient Rome, Princeton.
  • Crawford, M. H. (1996): Roman Statutes, London.
  • De Angelis, F., Dickmann, J.-A., Pirson, and Von den Hoff, ed. (2012): Kunst von Unten? Stil und Gesellschaft in der Antiken Welt von der “Arte Plebea” bis Heute, Internationales Kolloquium anlässlich des 70. Geburtstages von Paul Zanker, Palilia 27, Wiesbaden.
  • De Ligt, L. (1993): Fairs and Markets in the Roman Empire: Economic and Social Aspects of Periodic Trade in a Pre-Industrial Society, Amsterdam.
  • Della Corte, M. (1965): Case ed abitanti di Pompei, Naples.
  • Donati, A., ed. (2016): L’iscrizione esposta, Epigrafia e Antichità 37, Faenza.
  • Dunbabin, K. M. (2016): Theater and Spectacle in the Art of the Roman Empire, Ithaca.
  • Eadie, W. F. (2022): When Communication Became a Discipline, Maryland.
  • Eck, W. ed. (1980): Studien zur antiken Sozialgeschichte: Festschrift Friedrich Vittinghoff, Cologne.
  • Edmondson, J. (2002): “Public Spectacles and Roman Social Relations”, in: Nogales Basaratte, ed., Ludi romani: espectáculos en Hispania Romana, Merida, 41-64.
  • Edmondson, J. (2020): “The Spatial, Social and Political Landscape of Public Spectacle from Augustus to Severus Alexander”, in :  Caldelli & Ricci, ed. 2020, 149-196.
  • Emmerson, A. L. C. (2020): Life and Death in the Roman Suburb, Oxford.
  • Engfer, K. (2017): Die private Munifizenz der römischen Oberschicht in Mittel- und Süditalien: eine Untersuchung lateinischer Inschriften unter dem Aspekt der Fürsorge, Wiesbaden.
  • Evangelisti, S. (2011): Epigrafia anfiteatrale dell’occidente romano: VIII. Regio Italiae I, 1: Campania praeter pompeios, Rome.
  • Fagan, G. G. (2011): The Lure of the Arena: Social Psychology and the Crowd at the Roman Games, Cambridge.
  • Flaig, E. (2003): Ritualisierte Politik: Zeichen, Gesten und Herrschaft im alten Rom, Göttingen.
  • Flaig, E. (2007): “Gladiatorial Games: Ritual and Political Consensus”, in: Roth & Keller, ed. 2007, 83-92.
  • Flaig, E., ed. (2013): Genesis und Dynamiken der Mehrheitsentscheidung, Munich.
  • Flecker, M. (2015): Römische Gladiatorenbilder: Studien zu den Gladiatorenreliefs der späten Republik und der Kaiserzeit aus Italien, Wiesbaden.
  • Franklin, J. L. (1997): “Cn. Alleius Nigidius Maius and the Amphitheatre: ‘Munera’ and a Distinguished Career at Ancient Pompeii”, Historia, 46.4, 434-447. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4436485.
  • Franklin, J. L. (2001): Pompeis Difficile Est: Studies in the Political Life of Imperial Pompeii, Ann Arbor.
  • Fröhlich, T. (1991): Lararien- und Fassadenbilder in den Vesuvstädten: Untersuchungen zur “volkstümlichen” pompejanischen Malerei, Mainz.
  • Galsterer, H. (1980): “Politik in römischen Städten: Die ‘seditio’ des Jahres 59 n. Chr. in Pompeii”, in: Eck, ed. 1980, 323-338.
  • Golvin, J.-C. (1988): L’amphithéâtre romain. Essai sur la théorisation de sa forme et de ses fonctions, Paris.
  • Harter-Uibopuu, K. and T. Kruse, ed. (2014): Sport und Recht in der Antike : Beiträge zum 2. Wiener Kolloquium zur antiken Rechtsgeschichte, Vienna.
  • Hölscher, T. (2012): “Präsentativer Stil im System der römischen Kunst,” in: De Angelis et al., ed. 2012, 27-58.
  • Huet, V. (2004): “La représentation de la rixe de l’amphithéâtre de Pompéi : une préfiguration de l’»» « hooliganisme » ?”, Histoire Urbaine, 10.2, 89-112.
  • Hufschmid, T. (2009): Amphitheatrum in Provincia et Italia: Architektur und Nutzung römischer Amphitheater von Augusta Raurica bis Puteoli, Augst.
  • Iadanza, M. and T. Virtuoso (2021): “Nuovi dati per la conoscenza dell’area dell’Anfiteatro,” in: Osanna, ed. 2021, 131-138.
  • Jacobelli, L. (2003): Gladiatori a Pompei: protagonisti, luoghi, immagini, Rome.
  • Jashemski, W. F. (1979): The Gardens of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Villas Destroyed by Vesuvius, New Rochelle.
  • Langner, M. (2001): Antike Graffitizeichnungen: Motive, Gestaltung und Bedeutung, Palilia11, Wiesbaden.
  • Leppin, H. (1992): Histrionen: Untersuchungen zur sozialen Stellung von Bühnenkünstlern im Westen des römischen Reiches zur Zeit der Republik und des Principats, Bonn.
  • Maiuro, M. (2019): “Caritas annonae a Pompeii,” in: Maiuro, ed. 2019a, 473-492.
  • Maiuro, M. (2019a): Uomini, istituzioni, mercati : studi di storia per Elio lo Cascio, Rome.
  • Mauritsch, P., Petermandl, W., Rollinger, R., and Ulf, C. ed. (2008): Antike Lebenswelten: Konstanz, Wandel, Wirkungsmacht. Festschrift für Ingomar Weiler zum 70. Geburtstag, Wiesbaden.
  • Merola, G. D. (2021): “Cooptatio patroni: l’offerta e il rifiuto,” in: Osanna, ed. 2021, 339-344.
  • Milnor, K. (2014): Graffiti and the Literary Landscape in Roman Pompeii, Oxford.
  • Moeller, W. O. (1970): “The Riot of A. D. 59 at Pompeii”, Historia, 19.1, 84-95. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4435118.
  • Mouritsen, H. (1988): Elections, Magistrates, and Municipal Élite: Studies in Pompeian Epigraphy, Rome.
  • Mouritsen, H. (1999): “Electoral Campaigning in Pompeii: A Reconsideration”, Athenaeum, 87, 515–523.
  • Mrozek, S. (1990): Die städtischen Unterschichten Italiens in den Inschriften der römischen Kaiserzeit (populus, plebs, plebs urbana u.a), Wrocław.
  • Naiden, F. S. and R. J. A. Talbert, ed. (2017): Mercury’s Wings: Exploring Modes of Communication in the Classical World, New York. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195386844.001.0001.
  • Noreña, C. F. and N. Papazarkades, ed. (2019): Proceedings of the 2nd North American Congress of Greek and Latin Epigraphy, Leiden.
  • Opdenhoff, F. (2019): “Layers of Urban Life: A Contextual Analysis of Inscriptions in the Public Space of Pompeii”, in: Petrovic et al., ed. 2019, 303-323.
  • Orlandi, S. (2008): Epigrafia anfiteatrale dell’occidente romano: regio VI. Roma. Anfiteatri e strutture annesse con una nuova edizione e commento delle iscrizioni del Colosseo, Rome.
  • Osanna, M. (2018): “Games, Banquets, Handouts, and the Population of Pompeii as Deduced from a New Tomb Inscription”, Journal of Roman Archaeology, 31, 310-322. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1047759418001460.
  • Osanna, M., ed. (2021): Ricerche e scoperte a Pompei: in ricordo di Enzo Lippolis, Studi e ricerche del Parco archeologico di Pompei, Rome.
  • Petermandl, W. (2008): “Noch einmal zum ‘Zuschauerkrawall’ von Pompeji”, in: Mauritsch et al., ed. 2008, 179–189.
  • Petrovic, A., Petrovic, I., and Thomas, E. ed. (2019): The Materiality of Text – Placement, Perception, and Presence of Inscribed Texts in Classical Antiquity, Leiden.
  • Pobjoy, M. (2000): “Building Inscriptions in Republican Italy: Evergetism, Responsibility, and Civic Virtue”, in: Cooley, ed. 2000, 77-92.
  • Potter, D. S. (1996): “Performance, Power, and Justice in the High Empire”, in: Slater, ed. 1996, 129–159.
  • Rawson, E. (1987): “Discrimina Ordinum: the Lex Julia Theatralis”, Papers of the British School at Rome, 55, 83-114. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40310839.
  • Richardson, L. (1988): Pompeii: An Architectural History, Baltimore.
  • Roueché, C. (1984): “Acclamations in the Later Roman Empire: New Evidence from Aphrodisias”, Journal of Roman Studies 74, 181-199. https://doi.org/10.2307/299014.
  • Roueché, C. (1993): Performers and Partisans at Aphrodisias in the Roman and Late Roman Periods, London.
  • Roueché, C. (2013): “Acclamations,” in: The Encyclopedia of Ancient History.
  • Roth, R. and Keller, J. ed. (2007): Roman by Integration: Dimensions of Group Identity in Material Culture and Text, Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 66, Portsmouth.
  • Sabbatini Tumolesi, P. (1980): Gladiatorum paria: annunci di spettacoli gladiatorii a Pompeii, Rome.
  • Scanlon, T. F., and Futrell, A. ed. (2021): The Oxford Handbook of Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World, Oxford.
  • Senatore, F. (2004): Pompei, Capri e la Penisola Sorrentina : atti del quinto Ciclo di conferenze di geologia, storia, e archeologia : Pompei, Anacapri, Scafati, Castellammare di Stabia, ottobre 2002-aprile 2003, Naples.
  • Sheppard, J. (2019): “Shedding Light on Ludi in Pompeii”, in: Noreña & Papazarkades, ed. 2019, 219-245.
  • Slater, W. J. (1994): “Pantomime Riots”, Classical Antiquity, 13.1, 120–144.
  • Slater, W. J. ed. (1996): Roman Theater and Society, Salmon Conference Papers I, Ann Arbor.
  • Solin, H., Varone, A., and P. Kruschwitz (2020): Corpus inscriptionum Latinarum IV: Inscriptiones parietariae Pompeianae Herculanenses Stabianae. Supplementi pars IV. Inscriptiones parietariae Pompeianae: Fasc. II. Berlin.
  • Sumi, G. S. (2021): “Spectatorship, Control, and Collective Groups”, in: Scanlon & Futrell, ed. 2021, 603-614.
  • Varone, A. ed. (2012): Titulorum graphio exaratorum qui in C.I.L. vol. IV collecti sunt: imagines, Rome.
  • Varone, A. and G. Stefani (2009): Titulorum pictorum Pompeianorum qui in CIL vol. IV collecti sunt: imagines, Rome.
  • Veyne, P. (1990): Bread and circuses, trans. by B. Pearce, London.
  • Viitanen, E.-M. (2020): “Painting Signs in Ancient Pompeii: Contextualizing Scriptores and their Work”, Arctos 54, 285-331.
  • Ville, G. (1981): La gladiature en Occident des origines à la mort de Domitien, BÉFAR 245, Rome.
  • Vismara, C. and Caldelli, M. L. ed. (2000): Epigrafia anfiteatrale dell’occidente romano: regio V. Alpes Maritimae, Gallia Narbonensis, Tres Galliae, Germaniae, Britannia, Rome.
  • Wallace-Hadrill, A. (1994): Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum, Princeton.
  • Weber, V., Varone, A., Marchionni, R., and Kepartova, J. ed. (2011): Corpus inscriptionum Latinarum IV: Inscriptiones parietariae Pompeianae Herculanenses Stabianae. Supplementi pars IV. Inscriptiones parietariae Pompeianae: Fasc. I, Berlin.
  • Wiemer, H.-U. (2013): “Voce populi. Akklamationen als Surrogat politischer Partizipation”, in: Flaig, ed. 2013, 173-202.
  • Zangemeister, K. F. W., Schöne, R., Mau, A., della Corte, M., and Weber, F. (1871): Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum IV: Inscriptiones parietariae Pompeianae, Herculanenses, Stabianae, Berlin.


  1. Many thanks to Columbia University and Brandeis University, where these ideas were first developed, and to the editors of the volume for very helpful feedback and encouragement. All errors are the author’s, as are the translations (unless otherwise stated). The passage quoted is Tac., Ann.,14.17.
  2. See Fagan 2011, 93-95 on the amphitheatre riot, drawing on Moeller 1970 and Galsterer 1980; cf. Huet 2004. The reasons for violence accompanying circus and pantomime performances in the imperial capitals are explained by Cameron 1976 and Slater 1994.
  3. Rawson 1987, 112, who surveys the plentiful evidence for citizens being seated according to social hierarchies at theatres, circuses, and gladiatorial games of the western Mediterranean during the Roman Republic and Empire, cf. Edmondson 2002, 2020. Spectators from other political communities are only mentioned very rarely, e.g. Crawford 1996, 393-454, where the charter of the colony Genetiva Iulia in Roman Spain stipulates that any magistrate organizing a stage show (ludi scaenici) must “grant, attribute and assign a place to sit” for “guests and visitors” as well as local colonists and inhabitants (colonos Genetivos incolasque hopites atvenoresque: ch. 126). See Orlandi 2004 171-173, 176, 179 for a discussion of foreign ambassadors at the games in Rome, including seats in the Colosseum inscribed “for public guests” ([hos]pitib[us publicis]: n. 14.5) and “belonging to the people of Gades” (Gaditanorum [- – -?]: 14.11); cf. Vismara & Caldelli 2000, 178-179 on the seating reserved in the amphitheatre of Lugdunum for the Glanici, the Macedones, and perhaps also the Antipolitani (78.6-8).
  4. For this definition and a brief overview, see Roueché 2013, s.v. “Acclamations” Encyclopedia of Ancient History. Beyond articles in the standard dictionaries and encyclopedias, the phenomenon of acclamations is analyzed at length in Aldrete 1999, 101-164 and treated in relation to specific case studies by Roueché 1984; Wiemer 2013; and Sumi 2021.
  5. See Fröhlich 1991, 241-247 (pl. 23.2) for a description and formal analysis of the fresco, found in house I 3, 23, but now mounted in Naples (MANN inv. 112222). The more general problem that is often called arte plebea or Volkskunst by Roman art historians is treated at length by Fröhlich 1991, 189-210 and in the 2012 volume Kunst von Unten (ed. de Angelis et al.): here the concept of präsentativer Stil in sculpture, as theorized by Hölscher 2012, is applied to painting, with a focus on style as a medial system of effective visual communication.
  6. See Iadanza-Virtuoso 2021 for a topographical overview of this area, where recent excavations uncovered the foundations of a rectangular structure that seems to correspond to the small building just below the amphitheatre in the fresco.
  7. CIL, IV, 2993x-y, with comments ad loc. in Weber et al., 2011 and SEG. All numerical references to inscriptions below are to CIL volume 4 unless otherwise stated. I have followed Aldrete 1999, 189 n. 13, in adopting the “appealingly vague suggestion” of “good luck!” as a convenient translation for feliciter throughout.
  8. Aldrete 1999, 108.
  9. Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980, 24-32, cf. Camodeca 2004 for a fourth occasion recorded on an epitaph.
  10. CIL, IV, 7989, b-c. Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980, 24-27.
  11. See Eadie 2021 for a history of the discipline and a taxonomy of constituent “strands”, from the early division of speech and journalism through to the legacy of the Frankfurt and Birmingham schools, and Naiden & Talbert 2017 for the nascent application of communication studies to antiquity. The anthropological concept of framing derives from the work of Erving Goffman.
  12. Varone et al. 2009; 2012; Weber et al. 2011; Solin et al. 2021.
  13. First published in Osanna 2018, with early analysis (including alternative readings) by Maiuro 2019 and Bodel et al. 2019, https://doi.org/10.1017/S1047759419000096. See now the papers in the second half of the volume Osanna 2021, 211-418.
  14. Sheppard 2019 for the process in Pompeii, cf. Cappelletti 2014 and Chamberland 2021 for the western Empire more generally.
  15. I have followed Chamberland 2001, 2021 in distinguishing between ‘statutory’ games (e.g. ludi scaenici) that were constitutionally required from office-holders and ‘non-statutory’ spectacles that were privately sponsored. In Pompeii additional gladiators were added to the ludi Apollinares on at least two occasions (CIL, X, 1074d), but the gladiatorial games under discussion should be understood as non-statutory spectacles organized by private individuals.
  16. These examples are taken from the careers of Cn. Alleius Nigidius Maius and N. Festius Ampliatus respectively, from Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980, 32-44 and 62-67.
  17. The surviving announcements from Pompeii, typically referred to by scholars as edicta munerum, were collected and analyzed in Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980.
  18. Suet., Aug., 45.3-4.
  19. Flaig 2007, 83-92.
  20. Ville 1981, 412-415.
  21. See Ville 1981, 419-420 for sources, including Juvenal’s memorable phrase (Sat., 3.36: verso pollice), as well as the detailed analysis of the likely thumb signals at Corbeill 2004, 42, 51-66.
  22. Flaig 2003, 246-261. No doubt the entire process was noisy and could take some time before a consensus emerged, but it was flexible and responsive enough also to allow for indecision or close verdicts.
  23. The model here for the course of gladiatorial games is derived from Hufschmid 2009, 252-259 (with fig. 290).
  24. See especially the analyses of gladiators in graffiti by Langer 2001 and in funerary reliefs and moulded lamps by Flecker 2015.
  25. See Flecker 2015, 241 (fig. A 55C), for a description and image of the relief sculpture from the Porta Stabia necropolis (= MANN inv. 6704) that depicts such a procession and the display of weapons in a frieze above four pairs of gladiators, each of which is shown precisely at the moment when their duel has ended but the fates of each gladiator has not yet been decided; cf. Capaldi 2021.
  26. For images of the paintings, long since destroyed, see PPM Suppl. (1995), p. 105-106 and Jacobelli 2003, 58-59, with analysis by Ville 1981, 407-408 and Hufschmid 2009, 265.
  27. Such a scenario has been suggested for the sponsor Magerius, from a 3rd-C. mosaic in Tunisia, by Dunbabin 2016, 199-201.
  28. Zangemeister 1871, 260, s.v. XVI. Inscriptionum parietariarum genera et argumenta. I. Penicillo pictae. 2 Inscriptiones ad tempus factae; 261-262, s.v. XVI.V. Graphio scriptae. 2. in tectorio b) ad tempus factae, acclamationes aliae, vota, imprecationes variae.
  29. Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980. There is no obvious reason to connect the occasional references to otherwise unknown individuals with the production of arena spectacles, e.g. the graffiti Cornelio Amando feliciter (CIL, IV, 1710) or Cestiliae felic(iter) (CIL, VI, 10996 – even more unusual for acclaiming a woman).
  30. See the collection and analysis of Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980.
  31. For the practices of these professional sign-writers (scriptores), see Mouritsen 1999; Baratta 2016; Ohlendorf 2019; Viitanen 2020.
  32. The documentary evidence is collected by Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980, 32-44; Franklin 1997; and Chiavia 2002, 277-278; cf. now Camodeca 2021.
  33. See RG 22-23 for games and 34 on the constitutional settlement. The inscription was inscribed on bronze columns in Rome, as is learned from the preliminary heading to the surviving copies of the text, all found in Turkey. See Zanker 1988 for the fundamental study of Augustan messaging.
  34. The acclamation appears verbatim, for example, in Suetonius (Claud., 7.1) and the Acta Arualia (CIL,VI, 2086), and is lampooned at least as early as Petronius (Sat., 60.7).
  35. CIL, IV, 7579: M(arcum) Epidium Sabinum IIvir(um) i(ure) dic(undo) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) dignissimum iuveneṃ sanctus ordo facit, Clementi sancto iudici fel(iciter). Varone et al. 2009. This electoral notice is somewhat unusual because it was written after he had assumed the position of duovir, rather than enjoining the viewer in advance to vote for him, and in doing so hints at the prolonged significance of painted inscriptions beyond their immediate context of production.
  36. For the activities and organization of these scriptores, see especially Viitanen 2020; cf. n. 35 above.
  37. See CIL, IV, 138 for the insula Arriana Polliana. Electoral notices: CIL, IV, 499, 504, 512, 3785, 7690, 7980.
  38. CIL, IV, 1177, with lengthy commentary by Weber et al. 2011: Maio principi coloniae feliciter. The same name and epithet appear in another written acclamation from the Large Palaestra (CIL, IV, 7989b).
  39. Respectively CIL, IV, 1178, 7993, and 3883. See Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980, 38-41. The original text seems to have read dedicatione operis tabularum muneris Cn(aei) Allei Nigidi Mai pompa, uenatio, athletae, sparsiones, uela erunt, although the reference to sparsiones was left out of one version.
  40. See in particular the elongated letters R in feliciter and erunt, whose tails both curve down and to the left. Zangemeister 1871, vii, criticized inaccuracies in some of the letter forms of Guglielmo Bechi’s woodcuts, which were derived from copies rather than originals, but every element of the image here is consistent with the version typed out at CIL, IV, 1177 (p. 71).
  41. CIL, IV, 1179, 1180, and 7991.
  42. Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980, 33 and now Bodel et al. 2019, 176.
  43. Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980, 42-43 (= CIL, IV, 1180). The text, paint in red, was found behind the stage of the Large Theatre: pro salute [imp(eratoris) Vespasiani] Caesaris Augu[sti] li[b]e[ro]rumqu[e] [eius ob] dedicationem arae [glad(iatorum) par(ia) – – -] Cn(aei) [All]ei Nigidi Mai, flami[nis] Caesaris Augusti, pugn(abunt) Pompeis, sine ulla dilatione, IIII non(as) iul(ias): uenatio, [sparsiones], uela erunt.
  44. See n. 13 above for bibliography.
  45. Osanna 2018. There is no evidence explicitly ruling him out and the identification of this funerary monument with Maius has continued with the contributions to the volume Osanna 2021, although Maiuro 2019 and Bodel et al. 2019 are more circumspect. See Bodel et al. 2019, 149, 158, 178 for the oral context in which this inscription originated.
  46. The translation is abridged and lightly adapted from Bodel et al. 2019, 150-151. All Latin quotes are from this edition (150): Hic… epulum populo Pompeiano <dedit>…. Munus gladiat(orium) adeo magnum et splendidum dedit ut cui vis ab urbe lautissimae coloniae conferendum esset…. Et, cum Caesar omnes familias ultra ducentesimum ab urbe ut abducerent iussisset, uni huic ut Pompeios in patriam suam reduceret permisit…. Bis magnos ludos sine onere rei publicae fecit, propter quae postulante populo, cum universus ordo consentiret ut patronus cooptaretur…, ipse privatus intercessit, dicens non sustinere se civium suorum esse patronum.
  47. This tally follows the detailed numismatic analysis of the text at Bodel et al. 2019, 165-169, 176-177. The inscription switches between specific denominations of coins (denarii, uictoriati)and the more generic word here (nummi), which most likely refers to sestertii.
  48. Expressions of public sentiment in Latin epigraphy are collected by Mrozek 1990, especially p. 12-13, concerning the formula populo postulante and variations, including the tomb of the Pompeian Augustalis, C. Calventius Quietus, granted a special seat in public “by popular consensus” (CIL, X, 1026): huic ob munificent(iam) decurionum decreto et populi conse(n)su bisellii honor datus est. See also Evangelisti 2011, 32-34, 44-46, 47-49 for similar expressions in Campania (= EAOR 8.9, 17, and 19).
  49. Rawson 1987.
  50. See Austin 2009 for the definition and history of this term from the philosophy of language.
  51. Merola 2021. The text of the RG is quoted from Cooley 2016a.
  52. Apart from three specimens for “the two Fabii” (1087, 1089, 1095) from the quadriporticus (VIII, 7, 16), the names Messius (1101), Fronto (3458), Casellius Marcellus (3643), Munatius (3825), L. Ael(i)us Magnus (7243), and L. Octavius (7341) occur once each in written acclamations. A list has been collected by Chiavia 2002, 73 n. 97. Other feliciter inscriptions from private spaces or “painted” with charcoal, chalk, or materials other than red or black pigment are not considered here because they were not produced by professionals on publicly visible surfaces: see e.g. Weber et al. 2011, 1283 s.v. 917 (Nummiano feliciter), an inscription from house VII 1, 25 (cubiculum 5), written in charcoal despite earlier reports of paint. Also omitted are purely speculative reconstructions, e.g. Weber et al. 2011, 1447 s.v. 7343: “N. Popidii Rufi nomen et cognomen dativo casu restituit Della Corte… certe paululum audacter”.
  53. In her catalogue of the announcements, Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980 distinguished the “personaggi variamente noti” from those “non altrimenti conosciuti” (i.e. Acutius Antullus, N. Festius Ampliatus, M. Mesonius, and Pomponius Faustinus, none of whom are mentioned in written acclamations).
  54. See above, n. 15.
  55. The sources for each are gathered by Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980, 24-69 and Chiavia 2002, App. 2.
  56. Respectively defensor colo(no)rum and inuictus munerarius (1094).
  57. CIL, IV, 1190, with Weber et al. 2011 for the edition: omnibus Nero[n(is) mun]eribus feliciter.
  58. CIL, IV, 7988b-c and 7989a, c, with Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980, 44-50.
  59. See Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980, 24-32 for the announcements, Franklin 2001, 101-106 on the family more generally, and especially Camodeca 2004 for a more detailed prosopographical analysis of multigenerational co-productions between fathers and sons.
  60. CIL, IV, 7454, 9888-9, and perhaps also 1084, with notes ad loc. in Weber et al. 2011.
  61. So Wallace-Hadrill 1994, ch. 4, describing the 3rd quartile of his schema for evaluating domestic space. For the context of the painting within house I 3, 23, see Della Corte 1965, 267-268 and Jacobelli 2003, 72-73, and cf. n. 2 above for the riot.
  62. CIL, IV, 8497b, cf. the painted acclamation CIL, IV, 9889.
  63. Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980, 24-27, 114-116; cf. Mouritsen 1988, 105; Franklin 2001, 101-106; and Camodeca 2004.
  64. Vox diuersa sonat populorum, tum tamen una est / cum uerus patriae diceris esse pater. In Martial’s book de Spectaculis, composed for the opening of the Flavian amphitheatre in Rome, the language of imperial acclamation is presented as the lingua franca of a vast polyglot empire.
  65. The two examples read iudiciis Augusti (et) Augustae feliciter! nobis saluis felices sumus perpetuo (1074) and iudici(i)s Augusti p(atris) p(atriae) et Poppaeae Aug(ustae) feliciter (3726) from the eastern wall of taberna IX 1, 23 and the facade of IX 6, b-c respectively.
  66. The specimens and scholarly hypotheses have been collected by Chiavia 2002, 164 n. 279 and now Weber et al. 2011, 1225.
  67. Golvin 1988; Richardson 1988.
  68. Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980; Franklin 2001.
  69. Bodel et al. 2019, 172-173.
  70. Cf. the graffiti from the House of Julius Polybius, IX 13, 1-3 (AE 1985, 283-4), which appear to mention imperial gifts to the local temple of Venus.
  71. Zangemeister 1871, 50 noted that one painted acclamation (870a) must be earlier than the announcement for gladiatorial games by A. Suettius Certus that covers it; another painted acclamation (7625) and one fragmentary graffito (10049) seem to mention Poppaea, although the editions are not perfectly clear. The other painted inscriptions (528, 670, 3525) and graffito (1612) that mention some version of the iudicia Augusti are only able to be dated relative to the masonry and decoration of their surface, although scholars agree that the survival rate is higher for later inscriptions and particularly those written after the earthquake of 62 CE.
  72. See TLL, s.v. iudicium I.B.1.a (quoting this example at ll. 73-4). For example, Velleius Paterculus contrasts Tiberius’ opinion of Sejanus with that of the people (2.128: iudicia civitatis cum iudiciis principis certant), while from our period Seneca quotes an aphorism, “malo… diui Augusti iudicium, malo Claudii beneficium” (Ben., 1.15); cf. the imperial honours enjoyed by the deceased in a 1st-century epitaph from Corfinium: maximis municipi honorib(us) iudiciis August(i) Caesaris usum (CIL, IX, 3158).
  73. The only other possible troupe in this period was the imperial school, see Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980, 147-149.
  74. Bodel et al. 2019, 175.
  75. See above on Suettius Certus and Popidius Rufus; the clearest surviving specimen reads: A(uli) Suetti Certi aedilis familia gladiatoria pugnab(it) Pompeis pr(idie) Kalendas Iunias: uenatio et uela erunt (CIL, IV, 1189).
  76. Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980, 140.
  77. Benefiel 2016, 442-445 treats the nundinae in Campania in the context of regional interaction. See De Ligt 1993, 14 (with Appendix 2), for the idea of the “accessory festal market” that could facilitate both local exchange between town and country and larger-scale transactions between specialized producers, buying merchants, and retailers.
  78. The inscriptions painted onto the façade of the amphitheatre, each identifying by name an individual “by permission of the aediles” (CIL, IV, 1096, 1096a, 1097, 1097a-b, 1115, 1129-30, 2485, 2996, and 2996a), have been interpreted as market stalls at least since Zangemeister 1871, 202. See Golvin 1988, 409 on the “baraques” depicted in the open area of the riot painting (I 3, 23), described by Sampaola 1990, PPM vol. 1 p. 77-78 and Fröhlich 1991, 241-247.
  79. For example, the Garden of Hercules (II 8, 6) or Inn of the Gladiator (I 20, 1-3) complexes: see Benefiel 2016, 448, following Jashemski 1979, 172-178.
  80. A possibility entertained already by Rawson 1987, 93 n. 63. On the question of entrance fees at games, see Ville 1981, 184, 430-2, Cavallaro 1984, 115, 119, 207-8, Rawson 1987, 96, Chamberland 2001, 208-216, and Engfer 2017, 195-199. See also Baroni 2016 on the statue from Cirta dedicated to the deified Pertinax and paid for “ex reditibus locorum amp(h)itheatri” (ILAlg, II, 1, 560).
  81. See Chamberland 2007, who argues that political ambition was compatible with a profit motive.
  82. Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980, 121 (with all specimens collected at p. 91-112). The two exceptions to this rule are the splendid games hosted by the emperor in Puteoli (CIL, IV, 7994 at III 4, 2) and a fragmentary text that is heavily restored, with language and formulas that differ from the rest of the corpus (IV, 10161 at II 4, 2).
  83. Tac., Hist., 2.21, cf. conflicts between Lugdunum and Vienna (1.65), Puteoli and Capua (3.57), towns in Campania more generally (4.3), and even North Africa (4.50).
  84. Emmerson 2020, ch. 6.
  85. CIL, X, 852, where the amphitheatre building itself is referred to by the word spectacula. Cf. Emmerson 2020, 164: “amphitheaters that were often their cities’ most impressive and expensive buildings, advertised wealth and amenity and so contributed to the urban façade”.
  86. Benefiel 2005, 149-155. For example, “to the people of Nola” (1512: Nolanis feliciter!) and “to the Claudio-Neronian Puteolan colony” (2152): coloniae Clau(diae) Nerone(n)si Putiolan(a)e feliciter!
  87. CIL, IV, 2183, following the edition and commentary of Benefiel 2004, 356-357.
  88. So Benefiel 2004, 360-365, who suggests that reference to the much more obscure Tegianum was supposed to indicate Tarentum, part of a colonization program including Puteoli and Antium. CIL,IV, 3525: iudicis Aug(usti) felic(iter) Puteolos Antium Tegeano Pompeios hae sunt verae colonia[e]. No image has survived, however, and, in combination with the sui generis formula and content, the poor quality of the more cursive letter forms recorded at the time of discovery suggests that its production context may be understood as closer to a graffito than to the painted acclamations of Maius et al.: “negligenter scripta colore rubro, litterarum forma cursiuae propriore” as recorded by Zangermeister 1871, 479.
  89. See the summary by Weber et al. 2011, 1367-1368.
  90. Benefiel 2004, 362.
  91. See Allen & Greenough 190, §397d. The following punctuation and orthography may help convey the syntax and sentiment of the original content: iudiciis Augusti feliciter! Puteolos! Antium! Tarentum! Pompeios! hae sunt uerae coloniae!
  92. CIL, IV, 1293 (Campani, uictoria una cum Nucerinis peristis) and 1329 (Nucerinis infelicia), cf. another seemingly hostile acclamation at 10243a-b (Raro infeliciter). Huet 2004, discusses these graffiti in the context of regional violence and the 59 CE riot.
  93. Cic., Orat., 2.339: uitanda est adclamatio aduersa populi, cf. Q. fr., 2.3.2: non modo ut adclamatione, sed ut conuicio et maledictis impediretur.
  94. Potter 1996, 144-147, cf. now Wiemer 2020 on late-antique acclamations more generally. See, for example, the very different series of inscriptions carved onto the stone colonnade in the agora of Aphrodisias, in Roueché 1984, no. 11, “the whole city says this: ‘Your enemies to the river! May the great God provide this!’”, with commentary on p. 195.
  95. CIL, IV, 1098: Regulo feliciter. According to Zangemeister 1871, 64, this written acclamation was painted with red pigment on white plaster, in block capitals 6.5 cm. high, in the northwestern corridor beneath the seat of the amphitheatre (fig. 1G). The text has not survived nor has any photograph or visual representation been published.
  96. CIL, IV, 4876: Regulo feliciter quia uerpa est ((phallus)). According to Zangemeister 1871 and Mau 1890, the cursive letters of this graffito were scratched into the black wall plaster facing corridor ι in the Sarno Baths complex (VIII 2, 20), on which see now Bernardi et al. 2019, 248-9, and 253.
  97. See n. 95 above and the commentary of Weber 2011, 1311-12. The gens Livineia and cognomen Regulus appear rarely enough in Pompeii for us to assume that this is the same individual from Tacitus (see CIL, IV 3340.38, 66 and N.Sc. 1916, p. 303, n. 116).
  98. One further feliciter acclamation (Messio feliciter: CIL, IV.1101) was painted in this tunnel (cf. feliciu? 1114, in corridor D). In the even darker and more restricted corridor C (fig. 1) was painted with black pigment a heavily restored feliciter acclamation to Ti. Claudius Verus, evidently accompanied with a line of pentameter (CIL, IV, 1118 = CLE 952: iam docui [si]lices verba [benign]a loqui / Claudio Vero feli[c]it[e]r), not far away from a graffito perhaps wishing “good luck to all Pompeians!”: omnibus Po(m)peianis f[eliciter?] (CIL, IV, 1121).
  99. See above n. 96. On the uerpa as both highly offensive word and symbol of prosperity,see Adams 1982, 9-14, 139; 1982a, 37-39.
  100. For example, Sabbatini Tumolesi 1980 on announcements for games and Chiavia 2002 on electoral notices.
ISBN html : 978-2-35613-549-0
Chapitre de livre
EAN html : 9782356135490
ISBN html : 978-2-35613-549-0
ISBN pdf : 978-2-35613-551-3
Volume : 23
ISSN : 2741-1818
Posté le 23/04/2024
33 p.
Code CLIL : 3385; 4117
licence CC by SA
Licence ouverte Etalab

Comment citer

Sheppard, Joe, “Epigraphic Evidence for the Acclamationes of Pompeian Spectators”, in : Bell, Sinclair W., Berlan-Gallant, Anne, Forichon, Sylvain, dir., Un public ou des publics ? La réception des spectacles dans le monde romain entre pluralité et unanimité, Pessac, Ausonius éditions, collection PrimaLun@ 23, 2024, 349-382, [en ligne] https://una-editions.fr/epigraphic-evidence-for-the-acclamationes [consulté le 24/04/2024].
Illustration de couverture • Montage S. Forichon et SVG, à partir de :
Sezione interna del Colosseo con spettatori e finta caccia al leone (1769-1770), Vincenzo Brenna, Victoria and Albert Museum, Londres (d'après Gabucci, A. ed. (1999): Il Colosseo, Milan, p. 166-167) ; Relief dit de Foligno (130×55 cm), Détail, Museo di Palazzo Trinci, Foligno, Italie (photo de S. Bell) ; Mosaïque dite du Grand Cirque de la villa de Piazza Armerina, Détail, Sicile (d’après Gentili, G. V. et A. Belli (1959) : La Villa Erculia di Piazza Armerina: i mosaici figurati, Collana d’arte Sidera 8, Rome, pl. X) ; Diptyque en ivoire dit des Lampadii (29×11 cm), Détail, Santa Giulia Museo, Brescia (d’après Delbrueck, R. (1929) : Die Consulardiptychen und verwandte Denkmäler, vol. I-II, Studien zur spätantiken Kunstgeschichte, Berlin-Leipzig, vol. II, pl. 56) ; Mosaïque dite de Gafsa (4,70×3,40 m), Détail, Musée du Bardo, Tunis (d’après Blanchard-Lemée, M., M. Ennaïfer, H. et L. Slim (1995) : Sols de l’Afrique romaine : mosaïques de Tunisie, Paris, p. 196, fig. 143).
Retour en haut
Aller au contenu principal