Epitaph for a Jewish freedman (CIL VI, 8962)

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Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Unknown, Rome.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
British Museum, London. Room G78. Inventory number: 1756,0101.199
71 CE to 130 CE
Physical Characteristics: 

Marble plaque. The inscription is set within an incised frame. Triangular inclusions between the words. The plaque was broken into two large pieces but has been restored without any damage to the lettering.

Height: 35 cm
Width: 59 cm
CIL VI, 8962
This large marble plaque contains a funerary inscription for the two daughters of a freedman of the imperial household in Rome, Titus Flavius Acraba. The names given in the inscription present the interesting possibility that he was one of the Jewish captives brought to Rome as a slave following Vespasian and Titus’s siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Although it is not possible to identify him as a Jewish slave with absolute certainty, the implications of the names are worthy of consideration.
The inscription records that Titus Flavius Acraba, a freedman of the imperial household (Augusti libertus) set the inscription up for his daughters: 7 year old Hadria Acrabilla and 19 year old Provincia. The marble panel on which the inscription was inscribed was likely originally affixed to a tomb structure that stood on the site whose size is described in the text, as 10 feet wide and 9 feet deep (in fronte pedes X in agro pedes VIIII). It was a tomb for Titus Flavius Acraba’s entire household; he made it for himself (fecit sibi), his daughters, and his freedmen, freedwomen and their descendants (libertis libertabusque posterisque eorum). This was a generous dedication, and one that may have been possible through the high position that he had reached within the imperial household; as decurio ostiariorum (overseer of the doormen) it was his responsibility to supervise the slave doorkeepers within the imperial residence (Booms, Latin Inscriptions, p. 50).  This was a role that had likely been awarded to Titus Flavius following his manumission, and represented the continued important connection between the freedman and his imperial patron (Boulvert, Esclaves et affranchis impériaux, p. 182).
The most interesting feature of the inscription, however, is the Jewish origin of the freedman and his family that it possibly suggests. Titus Flavius’s cognomen – Acraba – might be understood as the Latinised version of ‘Aqravat or ‘Aqrabat - the name of a toparchia in the north of Judea, which received brief mention in Josephus’s Jewish War (2.568) and is also mentioned in Mishnah Maaser Sheni 5:2. The cognomina of slaves and freedmen have long been investigated for the details that they contain regarding ethnicity and social status; the high number of Greek-derived cognomina in funerary inscriptions of freedmen across the empire led to the conclusions that a Greek cognomen was “likely to indicate slave origin or freedman descent within two or three generations” (Weaver, Familia Caesaris, p. 84-87). Servile cognomina that appear to describe the nationality or birthplace of the individual are also found in the epigraphic record, although admittedly with less frequency in Latin than in Greek (Gordon, “The Nationality of Slaves”, p. 98). Inscriptions from across the entire empire attest to this practice; Mary Gordon identified a range of cognomina such as Gallus, Germanus, Baeticus, Afer, Maurus, Ponticus, Phyrx, Lydus, Cilix, Araps, Parthus and Persicus, which read as evidence for the slave population representing the “epitome of the empire, or even of the known world” (“The Nationality of Slaves”, p. 98, n. 3). It is, therefore, possible that ‘Acraba’ was a kind of nickname attributed to Titus Flavius by his slave master or superior in the imperial household on account of his originating from the town of ‘Aqrabat. The fact that the praenomen and nomen are given in the text as ‘Titus Flavius’ also lends credence to the suggestion that he was both enslaved and freed under the Flavian emperors which, combined with the Semitic nickname might indicate that he was one of the thousands of Jewish captives brought to Rome by Vespasian and Titus following their siege and destruction of Jerusalem. If this were to be the case, then his choice of name for his first daughter – Provincia, or ‘province’ – is undeniably ironic (Booms, Latin Inscriptions, p. 51). This fits with Harry Leon’s work on the inscriptions from the Jewish Catacombs of Rome, in which his analysis of 551 texts revealed that the female child of a Jewish parent in Rome was more likely to receive a Latin – or non-Jewish - name than a boy, a practice that continued in later periods of Jewish history too (Leon, Jews of Ancient Rome, p. 109). That the younger daughter, Hadria Acrabilla, also received a Latin nomen and Latinised cognomen (‘little Acraba’) is further attestation of this practice.
However, we should be cautious of attributing too much weight to the apparent Latinisation of ‘Aqrabat to Acraba, and of using such detail from the epigraphic record to identify the presence of Jewish slaves in Rome. As Gideon Fuks noted, “of more than 500 Jewish grave-inscriptions from Rome, not one attests that the deceased was either a slave or a freedman” (“Where have all the Freedmen gone?” p. 30). Indeed, only one epitaph has been discovered that explicitly names the deceased’s origins as a Jewish slave, in Puteoli (modern Pozzuolo, near Naples); Claudia Aster is described as a “captive from Jerusalem” (Hi̲erosolymitana captiva), but this is the only extant example to make such a direct claim. The somewhat extraordinary lack of evidence for Jewish slaves in the capital city however would appear to contradict the statements of the literary sources, which claimed that thousands of Jewish captives were sold on the slave markets following Pompey’s conquest of Judea in 63 BCE, and Vespasian and Titus’s victory more than a century later, as the epitaph for Claudia Aster may well be evidence for. Catherine Hezser explains the seeming lack of epigraphic sources for these slaves and freedmen however as evidence for the ‘denationalization of slaves’, by which slaves and freedmen of all ethnicities in Rome were forced to abandon their religious identities, making their epitaphs almost indistinguishable from those of pagan slaves and freedmen (Hezser, Jewish Slavery, p. 19, 27-54). Slaves in the Roman world were outsiders, in the sense that they originated from a society outside of that which they now joined, but more importantly because of the social bond of ‘kinship’ that was denied to them (Finley, Ancient Slavery, p. 75). In this respect, the Jewish slaves brought to Rome by Pompey, Vespasian and Titus operated not only outside of Roman cultural and religious practices, but were fundamentally identified as outsiders due to their newly servile status. As Catherine Hezser stated, “their originally Jewish origin would be irrelevant to their new masters or relevant only insofar as it symbolized the power of Roman imperialism in the East” (Jewish Slavery, p. 28). The ‘Jewish’ identity of the slave could only be considered once the slave had been manumitted and their nature as ‘individuals’ reinstated. Whether Jewish or pagan, or indeed a follower of any other religion of the ancient world, Titus Flavius Acraba’s primary identification was that of a slave, and then a freedman; social status carried greater weight than ethnicity and religion. This is not say that once manumitted a slave would not choose to be identified by names that recorded their Jewish origins. David Noy noted several inscriptions from Italy in which manumitted slaves retained semitic names with some modifications, such as a Claudia Aster from Naples, whose cognomen he assumed originally to have been Esther (Noy, Jewish Inscriptions, no. 26).
There is too little detail in the funerary inscription dedicated by Titus Flavius Acraba to determine with confidence whether or not he originated from Judea and was brought to Rome as a slave; his tria nomina could indicate Jewish origins, and it is indeed tempting to understand the name of his eldest daughter, Provincia, as an ironic retort to the situation in which he found himself. It is also interesting to note that the funerary inscription is not dedicated to the Diis Manibus, the ‘spirits of the dead’, with which almost all Latin funerary inscriptions from the Roman world open. Although a number of epitaphs have been found in the so-called Jewish catacomb in Monteverde in Rome that contain the formula, suggesting that it may have been used by at least a very small proportion of Jews, these texts all date to a later period (2nd-4th century CE) and are too few in number to reflect a meaningful trend. Indeed, Jean-Baptiste Frey argued, quite convincingly, that the few inscriptions that came from Jewish catacombs and which employed the Dis Manibus dedicatory formula must have been selected from stonecutters workshops where they were “ready made” with the D M formula already inscribed, using the absence of Dis Manibus in graffiti and painting inscriptions as further evidence that it did not belong in the usual catalogue of formulae for Jewish epitaphs (Frey, “Inscriptions inédites des catacombes juives de Rome,” p. 303; Rutger, Jews in late Ancient Rome, p. 269; see also Epitaph for a Jewish Child for further discussion of the inclusion of this formula). If Titus Flavius Acraba and his daughters were Jewish, then this omission to the Gods of Rome would be entirely understandable.

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Epitaph for a Jewish freedman (CIL VI, 8962)
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron
Publishing date: Thu, 08/30/2018 - 17:54
URL: http://judaism-and-rome.cnrs.fr/epitaph-jewish-freedman-cil-vi-8962
Visited: Mon, 04/22/2019 - 10:27

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