Sunday, January 19, 2014


Umberto Laffi, In greco per i Greci: ricerche sul lessico greco del processo civile e criminale romano nelle attestazioni di fonti documentarie romane. Pubblicazioni del Cedant, 12. Pavia: IUSS Press, 2013. Pp. 132. ISBN 9788861980860. €29.00.

Reviewed by Christopher P. Jones, Harvard University (

Version at BMCR home site

The subtitle of this book indicates its purpose. It is a study of Greek equivalents for the Latin terms used to describe legal procedure, whether civil or criminal, as they are attested in inscriptions and papyri; an instance is the unusual μεταπορεύεσθαι employed in documents up to the reign of Augustus, but not thereafter, to render the technical term petere, "pursue at law," "enter a suit against" (LSJ, Supplement p. 208). Laffi excludes themes not germane to his stated purpose, such as legal history or linguistic sociology (pp. 4-5). In accordance with this same purpose, he prints extracts from relevant documents such as the Cyrene Edicts of Augustus, and occasionally whole documents such as the famous edict of an unnamed emperor on tomb-robbery (J. H. Oliver, Greek Constitutions of Early Roman Emperors [1989] no. 2), and then comments on those Greek words or phrases that translate legal Latin relevant to procedure.

After the introduction (pp. 1-5), the main part of the book (pp. 5-88) is occupied by the documents, which are divided into two main groups and numbered sequentially. Nos. 2.1 to 2.13 are enactments and constitutions of various kinds, beginning with the senatus consultum of 78 BCE concerning Asclepiades of Clazomenai (CIL VI 8, 3, 40890), put first as the only document relevant to the inquiry which preserves both the Latin original and the Greek translation. Thereafter the texts in this section are arranged chronologically, from the law on the provinces, known in copies from Delphi and Cnidos (M. H. Crawford, Roman Statutes, BICS 64 [1996] no. 12) down to the so-called Columbia apocrimata (Oliver, Greek Constitutions no. 233). The next section (2.14, nos. 1-12) contains documents relative to the appeal-process, all of the imperial period, with a short bibliographical section on appeals in papyrus (pp. 84-87). There are brief "concluding reflections" (pp. 88-97), and an addendum ultimum (p. 98-99) on three lines of the senatus consultum of about 140 BCE concerning the territorial dispute between Magnesia on the Maeander and Priene (R. K Sherk, Roman Documents from the Greek East [1969] no. 7). The book ends with a bibliography and with several indexes: of passages discussed, of Greek words, of subjects, of grammatical and syntactical peculiarities, and of personal and geographical names.

Laffi is well known for his work on Roman law and government, and two of his major publications involve the Roman administration of the Greek-speaking provinces.1 Not the least merit of the present book is the richness of the bibliography, especially in pointing readers to treatments of Roman legal procedure by Italian scholars, who have a long and distinguished tradition in the field of Roman law. The book will be an indispensable source in the area that Laffi defines as his subject, and there are many valuable observations along the way. There are, however, some drawbacks.

Reviewing an earlier book of Laffi in BMCR, Richard Westall observed, "The standard paradigm for scholarly treatment of inscriptions is to present the text and translation and then a commentary or extended discussion. Laffi fails to follow this paradigm, thereby unnecessarily complicating the reading and consultation of this book."2 The same is true here. For some texts he prints in a footnote an earlier scholar's Latin back-translation ("retroversione") of a Greek text, for instance on the law on the provinces where "come base interpretativa di partenza" (p. 8 n. 11) he borrows the version in Michael Crawford, ed., Roman Statutes I no. 12 (pp. 8-24), leaving to the reader to go to that edition for basic information. For some texts (including those for which he has printed a Latin version) he gives a summary of the contents; e.g. pp. 38-39 for Augustus' first Cyrene edict, pp. 52 -53 for the edict of Ti. Iulius Alexander from El Khargeh. He rarely indicates discussion of disputed readings, and nowhere gives an apparatus.

An author undertaking a close reading of texts must ensure that the texts are properly based, and making one's own translation is the best way to find and confront difficulties, while paraphrases or back-translations made by others tend to hide them. In the Cnidos copy of the law on the provinces, Laffi takes over from Roman Statutes the infinitive μεταπορίπτειν and the back-translation reicere (p. 18 line 18) in a context of rejecting potential jurors. But μεταπορίπτειν is nowhere attested, the single rho is suspect, and in their first edition Hassall, Crawford and Reynolds had printed ΜΕΡΑΕΔΕΗΙΚΙ, with every letter under-dotted (JRS 64 [1974] 206); Crawford and Reynolds later read μεταπορίπτειν after further study of the stone (Roman Statutes I p. 244, cf. pp. 232-233). Laffi observes that in the same line the Greek expresses the same idea with ἀπολέγειν (p. 19), and it would at least be wise to alert the reader to the uncertainty of the reading and the hapax legomenon.

Something similar is true of the very difficult letter of Cn. Domitius Corbulo to Cos, recently republished as IG XII, 4, 1, 261, from which Laffi borrows his own text and Latin version (pp. 66-67). In the upper part of this inscription, first published by G. Pugliese-Carratelli in 1975 and discussed many times since,3 Laffi gives the following text: [λυσιτε]λὲς ἡγησάμην πολλάκις [ὑμεῖ]ν παραστῆσαι, ὅσα ἐν ἐμοὶ μά[λιστα] ἄξια δύναται νομ[ί]ζεσθαι [κρίσεω]ς εἶναι θείας τοῦ Σεβαστοῦ, [πρότερον πρὸ]ς τοὺς ἐπὶ τῶν ἐπαρχει[ῶν προθεῖναι καθὼ]ς ἐντολαῖς ἐπι[τέτακται]. This is back-translated as commodum saepe duxi vobis proponere, quanta in me haberi possunt maxime digna esse sacra Augusti sententia, haec prius ad provinciae procuratores proferre, ut mandatis iubetur. But apart from the oddity of the Greek, why should Corbulo have "often" drawn this to the attention of the Coans? J. H. Oliver's restoration and punctuation,4 even if not secure at all points, seem much more plausible: [οὐκ ἀλυσιτε]λὲς ἡγησάμην πολλάκις [καὶ πόλεσ]ι παραστῆσαι, ὅσα ἐν ἐμοὶ (LSJ s.v. ἐν A I 6) μά[λιστα, ὅτι ἃ] ἄξια δύναται νομ[ί]ζεσθαι [κρίσεω]ς εἶναι θείας τοῦ Σεβαστοῦ, [πρότερον πρὸ]ς τοὺς ἐπὶ τῶν ἐπαρχει[ῶν πέμπεσθαι ἐν ταῖ]ς ἐντολαῖς ἐπι[τέτακται]. Oliver translates: "I have often considered it [useful] to remind [even cities], in respect to as many matters as certainly lie in my jurisdiction, that it has been ordered in the mandata that [whatever] matters are thought to be worthy of the sacred [decision] of the emperor [are first sent to] the provincial authorities."5

Another drawback of Laffi's procedure is that when words recur with the same meaning and the same syntax, they are explained several times over: thus p. 20, "il verbo ἀποφαίνεσθαι corrisponde a pronuntiare," p 49, "il verbo ἀποφαίνειν, al medio, traduce pronuntiare," p.77, "il verbo ἀποφαίνεσθαι rende, secondo l'uso comune, pronuntiare: similarly pp. 69 and 71 on ἐπικαλεῖσθαι. For words that are commonly used in this way, it would have been enough to refer to Liddell-Scott-Jones, and for less usual ones to discuss them under a single rubric, as C. B. Welles did in his Royal Correspondence of the Hellenistic Period (1934) pp. 309-375.

Perhaps the most interesting pages of the book are the concluding reflections (pp. 88-97). Here Laffi observes that the translation of basic terms such as "accuse," "acquit" was comparatively unproblematic; more difficult was the translation of terms relating to penal or criminal law, and even more those relating to civil law. Similarly, there is a discernible evolution between modes of translation in the republican period and the imperial. Renderings tend to become less literal, more reader-friendly, as if the translators had become more sensitive to the needs of the provincials. This may be connected with the entry of Greeks into the Roman system, first by gaining Roman citizenship and then by climbing the ladder of equestrian and senatorial status. Another change is that Greeks become less anxious to obtain juries favorable to themselves as Greeks, as they had been at Cyrene under Augustus (though at Aphrodisias, exempt from the formula provinciae, this concern was still palpable in the reign of Hadrian): instead, their interest is in the modalities of the appeal-process, which allowed them to go over the heads of local judges to the governor or the emperor.

In brief, this is a useful treatment of a very specific subject. It could, though, have been organized more clearly, and might perhaps have formed a long article rather than a short book.


1.   Le Iscrizioni relative all'Introduzione nel 9 a.C. del nuovo Calendario della Provincia d'Asia, SCO 16 (1967) 5-98: Il trattato fra Sardi ed Efeso degli anni 90 a.C., Studi Ellenistici 22 (2010) (BMCR 2010.12.31).
2.   BMCR 2010.12.31.
3.   PP 30 (1975) 102-104; for subsequent bibliography, IG 4, 1, 261 ad loc..
4.   AJP 100 (1979) 551, SEG 29 (1979) 751.
5.   [ταῖς πόλεσ]ι might be preferable to [καὶ πόλεσ]ι, and "can be thought" is needed, not "are thought."

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