Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Louis Maurin, Milagros Navarro Caballero, Inscriptions latines d'Aquitaine (ILA): Bordeaux. Pessac: Ausonius, 2010. Pp. 688. ISBN 9782356130259. €70.00.

Reviewed by Hagith Sivan, University of Kansas (

Version at BMCR home site

This is a useful and beautifully produced addition to the important series that brings together the Latin inscriptions of the south-west of Gaul (= Aquitania). The corpus of some 400 inscriptions is prefaced by a generous introduction, maps, and tables.

The first introductory chapter provides a brief history and description of the city, its institutions, urban components (cemeteries, rampart), and its hinterland from the conquest of the territory by Caesar to CE 418, the date assigned to the settlement of the Visigoths in Aquitania and the terminus ante quem of this collection. Two facts are apparent. The bulk of the inscriptions in this volume originated in the city's rampart, the construction of which c. CE 300 provides a terminus ante quem for nearly all the recorded inscriptions. Since most of the inscriptions are funerary, it bears remarking that the serene carved likenesses of the dead and the words inscribed in their memory were appropriated for so mundane a purpose as a project of civil engineering. But then cemeteries and tombstones have been always prime target of rifling for building materials, whether needed in haste or in crisis. The other fact is that we know very little about the city of Bordeaux (civitas Biturigum Viviscorum; Burdigala) until the fourth century when Ausonius, the city's most famous alumnus, penned a panegyric of its beauties, and added a commemoration of its intelligentsia, as well as descriptions of his own urban and rural dwellings. Ausonius' effusion points to a striking irony. While literature throws singular light on the city in the fourth century, four inscriptions (1% of the total) are dated to this same century. The epigraphical "habit" must have changed dramatically. The editors elected to exclude Christian inscriptions (although of the four fourth century inscriptions, two bear Christian symbols).

The second introductory chapter surveys onomastic matters and information related to the personal status of the dead, duly noting the various cognomina (Latin, Greek, local/Celtic); as well as the presence and percentage of peregrini, citizens and slaves; foreigners (from other parts of Gaul as well as from other provinces), overall a picture that seems hardly different from other Gallic cities of similar size and orientation.

The third chapter entitled "the chronology" surveys dating criteria, such as style and iconography (human figures, the decoration, and architectural elements of the inscribed funerary monuments), as well as paleography and formulae. The fact remains that only a handful of inscriptions are precisely dated while the huge majority, in spite of all of the above, provide a wide chronological spectrum. As the helpful tables that summarize the dates clearly show, the inscriptions are variously dated to a time between the year 1 and 100; or between 1 and 300; etc., the narrowest chronological corridor being the seventy years between 151 and 220. Here, as elsewhere, the presumed date of the rampart acts as the ubiquitous terminus ante quem.

The fourth and last introductory chapter deals with the discovery and transmission of the inscriptions and provides a nice historiographical overview of the scholars who had undertaken the task of compiling epigraphical collections, culminating with Camille Jullian and his indispensable Inscriptions romaines de Bordeaux.

The editors elected to divide the 400 inscriptions according to 1. Religious matters (30 inscriptions); 2. Emperors and the imperial house (only 4 inscriptions!); 3. Public life (the army, provincial and municipal affairs — 13 inscriptions); 4. Epitaphs in alphabetical order of the dead (265 inscriptions); 5. Epitaphs in alphabetical order of the dedicators (10); 6. Epitaphs according to the age of the defunct (6); 7. Fragments of epitaphs (29). They rejected the arrangement of Jullian, who had divided the inscriptions into two main sections, religious/civil monuments, and epitaphs (officials, foreigners, artisans, citizens, freedmen, and slave) on the grounds of the uncertainty of the defunct's precise status. I must confess a preference for the latter.

The inscriptions are well presented and clearly illustrated. Each is accompanied with a physical description of the monument; location of its discovery; measurements; date; previous editions; text (original, inscribed, translated) and general remarks.

I select a couple to highlight some of the issues that the collection raises. No. 29, now lost, contains a fragmentary poem dedicated to the little known goddess Onuava. It contains an avowal of eternal affinity with the goddess (diva parens) by a 'wanderer', a Bordelais (?) who, in search of truth, had strayed all the way to Italy, there to seek advice from the sybil (?). The date provided (51-300) is hardly helpful. Nor is it clear how Onuava fits into the Bordelais pantheon of the early empire. Similar sentiments of double loyalty, albeit to Rome and Bordeaux, rather than to a Gallic and Italic divinities, were expressed by Ausonius in his poem to Bordeaux. If authentic, the epigraphical poem reveals a little known deity who clearly had an ardent if rather small following. Whether Onuava was also exclusive to this part of Gaul is unclear.

Number 43 is a dedication to Nemetogena, a public slave (ancilla publica) who died at the age of 21, by her husband Apalaustrus and another public slave named Primitivus. It is dated, on stylistic criteria (hairstyle) to the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180). It is interesting on two scores: the unique (Bordelais) name of the defunct; and the first attestation of a public slave in local epigraphy. How widespread was the phenomenon of public slaves in Bordeaux remains unclear. In view of the considerable recent interest in slavery, it would have been useful to understand how such figures fit patterns revealed from elsewhere either in Gaul or in the western provinces at the time. But then, one usually runs into the problem of whether to refer to such matters in the introduction to the collection or/and in the discussion of specific inscriptions.

Let me end with a question. In this age of rapid expansion of electronic databases do we really need a very hefty (15 pounds? 20?) and rather expensive volume of local inscriptions of a city that even in the fond terms of its successful son ranked no higher than twentieth in the order of famous cities (and would have ranked lower by less biased observers)? I am asking not only because epigraphic databases have become widespread and accessible but also because I narrowly avoided a major injury to my feet when I accidentally dropped this large volume on the floor. Over a decade ago John Drinkwater had asked the same question when reviewing another volume in this series (CR 50.2 (2000), 685). It is to be hoped that this contribution will become available soon in a digital format.

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