The Arch of Gaius at Pisa (CIL XI, 1421)

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Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Set in a frame and attached to the wall, near the south-east corner of the south corridor of the Camposanto in Pisa.
4 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
White marble tablet with a border along the left side and the bottom, at a lower level than the inscription it contains. Fragmented in two pieces but restored. The first six lines, and an introductory heading containing the date and meeting-place of the local senate, are lost.
Combined width of fragments: 87.5 cm
Height: 155 cm
CIL XI, 1421
This inscription was set up in the Roman colony at Pisa to commemorate the death of Augustus’s grandson Gaius, in Lycia in 4 CE. Formerly the Etruscan town of Pisae, the Pisans had invited Rome to establish a colony there in 180 BCE, with the colonists themselves receiving the Latin rights (Livy, On the Foundation of the City, XXXX.43); it was merged, as other coloniae Latinae as a municipium in the lex Iulia of 89 BCE, but Augustus may have settled a new colony there, as indicated by the full colonial title that it then received, colonia Obsequens Iulia Pisana.
This kind of honorific commemoration of Gaius was not unusual; public honours - in the form of “Consolatory Decrees” - for those deemed worthy of some kind of recognition but who were not eligible for statues or altars - had been common in Naples and the Greek cities of southern Italy for some time, but they were not limited only to those who belonged to municipalities themselves (Sherk, Municipal Decrees, p. 75. See also nos. 29-32; 35; 63). As with the inscription set up in honour of Gaius here in Pisa, certain communities took it upon themselves to demonstrate their loyalty to the imperial family by independently honouring the emperor and his family; not only did this draw positive attention to the town or locality, but it also established a tangible connection with the leading figures in Rome. As Robert Sherk has noted, these honours were not simply acts of ostentation; certain figures in the imperial family had special resonance in the colonies and municipia and there may have been sincere motives of gratitude or devotion behind the act of commemoration (Sherk, Municipal Decrees, p. 75). This may well have been the case in Pisa, where Gaius and Lucius were the patrons of the colony, the colonia Obsequens Iulia Pisana, and where the death of Lucius, Gaius’s brother, two years earlier had been similarly honoured (see CIL XI, 1420). The decree from 4 CE is more fulsome in its praise of Gaius than that passed in honour of Lucius in 2 CE. Although both brothers were patrons of the colony, the achievements of Gaius are celebrated here in almost poetic language: “snatched away from the Roman people by the cruel fates” (crudelibus fatis ereptum populo Romano). It is clear from the text that the loss of a member of Augustus’s family is equivalent to a loss for the Roman people as a whole. Indeed, when alive, Caius and Lucius had been declared principes iuventutis (“princes of youth”) by Augustus, taking a crucial role in his main ideological themes and particularly in his celebration of renewal and youth, and even depicted on the Ara Pacis as Romulus (Lucius) and Ascanius (Caius). Their deaths were therefore devastating, both to Augustus’s dynastical plan and the ideological messages that he had already begun to include them in (see Ara Pacis (13-9 BCE)_Reliefs).
The inscription is organised into several sections: Lines 1-6 (which were also originally preceded by another line, now lost) contain the date and meeting place of the local senate in Pisa. The twelve men involved in writing the decree are listed by name, but we are told in lines 5-6 that there is an unusual political situation: there are no magistrates (the duumviri who sat at the head of town council) because of “disputes concerning the candidates” (propter contentiones candidato/rum). This makes the decision to honour Gaius so fully more remarkable; in a situation of some instability in Pisa, the people of the colony were still motivated to honour his loss and to prioritise it above their own local anxieties, perhaps in an attempt not to appear ‘slow’ in responding to a time of crisis (Cooley, Age of Augustus, p. 223). Lines 7-17 are concerned with how the news of Gaius’s death was delivered to the colony. A long clause is introduced by “cum” (‘since’), which describes the circumstances of Gaius’s death following wounds received when “waging war beyond the furthest boundaries of the Roman people” (ultra finis extremas popu/li Romani bellum gerens). Gaius is cast here as the natural successor to Augustus, executing his “state duties properly” (peregerat bene gesta re publica) and even sharing with him the same virtues (ac simillumum parentis sui virtutibus). It is clear that the colony in Pisa had understood the importance of Gaius as the heir of Augustus and that his suitability to govern had been carefully propagated outside of Rome.
Lines 17-24 introduce the different ways that the community of Pisa will honour Gaius’s memory. The decision has been taken collectively amongst the members of the town council and the colonists, due to the lack of duumviri and prefects, again indicating the unanimity with which the Pisans approached this honorific behaviour. The specifications for how to honour his death included a period of mourning, during which the temples, baths and shops of the town must all be closed, and all must abstain from banqueting (ne quod sacrificium publicum neve quae suppli/ cationes nive sponsalia nive convivia publica postea). The anniversary of his death, 21 February, is also to be commemorated annually; the text here makes an important comparison that indicates the severity of the loss felt by the Pisans. It states that the anniversary should be remembered as “equivalent to the day of Allia” (diemque eum quo die Caius Caesar obiit qui dies est ante diem VIIII Kalendas Martias pro Alliensi), setting Gaius’s death on a par with one of the worst setbacks ever suffered by Rome, their defeat by the Gauls at the River Allis in 390 BCE which subsequently led to the sack of Rome (Cooley, Age of Augustus, p. 223). This is an extraordinary comparison, which may demonstrate the extent to which the loss of Augustus’s heir presumptive was considered a catastrophic not only the imperial family, but to the security of Rome and her people as a whole. The extreme nature of the comparison may simply, however, have been an exercise in rhetorical expression, designed to display the exemplary loyalty of the colony.
The final honorific act decided upon by the town council and the colonists was the construction of a monumental arch with which to remember Gaius. It was ordered to be set up at the “most frequented place in our colony” (utique ianus celeberrimo coloniae nostrae loco constituatur), which Fred Kleiner has interpreted as the forum (The Arch of Gaius Caesar at Pisa, p. 158). The practice of setting up monumental arches in fora is well documented in the first century BCE-CE, with Augustus himself having set up two at the south-eastern end of the Forum Romanum in 29 and 19 BCE, to commemorate the victory at Actium and the return of the Parthian standards respectively (Kleiner, The Arch of Gaius Caesar, p. 158. For these arches see Coarelli, Rome and its environs, p. 79-81. See also Denarius of Augustus depicting the Parthian triumphal arch (18-17 BCE); Temple of Divus Iulius and the Actian and Parthian Triumphal Arches (29 BCE).Another nice parallel could be made with Germanicus and Drusus: arches were dedicated to them after their deaths in 19 and 23 CE. Although the arch in the colonia Obsequens Iulia Pisana itself is now lost, a fragment of its inscription has been identified built in to the wall of the Cathedral of Pisa; the lettering is large and deep and contains the holes into which the bronze lettering of monumental lettering would be affixed (Segenni, Decreta Pisana, p. 110-113, incl. a photograph on p. 111). It is possible, too, to piece together a good picture of the arch from the description in the text of the decree from Pisa, which again illustrates the extent to which the figure of Gaius was integrated into the colony’s conception of the Augustan dynasty. Lines 34-5 state that the arch should be “decorated with the spoils of peoples subdued or brought into alliance by him” (orna/tus spoleis devictarum aut in fidem receptarum ab eo gentium); it is unlikely, as Fred Kleiner notes, that they intended the arch to be decorated with actual armour or standards of the enemy, so this ‘ornamentation’ must refer to reliefs of spoils, perhaps with figures of the subjugated people depicted as well, perhaps similar to those depicted on the Triumphal Arch at Arausio (modern Orange) (The Arch of Gaius Caesar, p. 162; see also Triumphal Arch of Arausio_architecture; Triumphal Arch of Arausio_reliefs).
The arch was to be surmounted by two gilded equestrian statues of Lucius and Gaius, around a central statue of Gaius, in triumphal dress (lines 34-7). This combination of statuary and relief, both carrying messages of victory and conquest, was key to the popularity of Gaius and Lucius in the provinces, and how their deaths were used in the foundation of the concept of the gens Augusta (Marotta-D’Agata, Decreta Pisana, p. 44). Honorific arches and statues of this type, which included references to foreign expansion and military success, reaffirmed the prestige of the family and reinforced their superior auctoritas (Marotta-D’Agata, Decreta Pisana, p. 44). The fact that a colonial audience envisioned the arch in this way, rather than it being commissioned by the Senate in Rome, again emphasises the extent to which this kind of perception had been successfully transmitted outside of the capital city. The honours bestowed upon the memories of Gaius (and Lucius) – the period of mourning, the regulations for commemorating the anniversaries of their deaths and the dedication of a permanent monument to them - at Pisa are testimony to their popularity, and to the recognition of the personal qualities that each contained which made them uniquely suitable to assume dominant positions in the state, and even inherit Augustus’s title and estate (Marotta-D’Agata, Decreta Pisana, p. 54-5).
The inscription ends with the agreement that a representative of the colony, Titus Statulenus Iuncus – himself a priest in the imperial cult – be sent to Rome to describe the honours that have been agreed upon (lines 42-50), and finally with the confirmation that further elections have taken place, with two duumviri now in place to ensure the agreed honours are carried out (lines 52-60). The decision to send envoys to Rome, led by a local dignitary whose priesthood directly connected him with the emperor reiterates how eager Pisa was to demonstrate their loyalty and the unanimous nature of their grief.
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The Arch of Gaius at Pisa (CIL XI, 1421)
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron
Publishing date: Mon, 08/27/2018 - 15:15
Visited: Fri, 02/22/2019 - 20:08

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