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The Lapis Satricum

June 1, 2014

After many weeks of typing and editing I submitted my assignment on Early Rome and Italy last Monday and am back to blogging. I thought that for my first post since April I would give a bit of insight into what I have been writing about over the past six plus weeks.

‘Rome at the beginning was ruled by kings. Freedom and the consulship were established by Lucius Brutus’ (Tacitus The Annals 1.1). According to literary tradition Brutus led the revolution against the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, following the rape of Lucretia by Sextus Tarquinius. Romans considered this ‘traditional’ account fact and it was accepted, without question, that the republic immediately succeeded the monarchy. The assignment I wrote explored this in detail but, for the purposes of this post, I intend to focus on one piece of archaeological evidence that raises questions about the literary tradition.

The Lapis Satricum inscription, discovered in 1977, reused in the foundations of the Temple of Mater Matuta is dated to 500 BC. The inscription, though damaged, reads, ‘dedicated by the companions of Publius Valerius to Mars’ (Galsterer, 2006). Scholarship is divided between those that suggest the inscription refers to Valerius Publicola (Publicola) one of the first consuls of Rome (Wiseman, 2008:311; Cornell, 1995:140; Versnel, cited in Bremmer, 1982:134; Raaflaub, 2005:8) and those who are non-committal (Holloway, 1994:153; Smith, 1996:198, 236-7; Forsythe, 2005:199). It appears Forsythe (2005:199) infers that the inscription may be from a later date as he notes Livy’s reference to the consul P.Valerius who led a military mission against Satricum in 377 BC. This is unlikely as Smith (1996:235) states that the inscription had been found upside-down.

Lapis Satricum

Lapis Satricum

The Lapis Satricum is significant contemporary evidence that indicates the existence of a group who aligned themselves with Publius Valerius, not a state or city (Forsythe, 2005:199). The group acted as a retinue or companions for a Roman or resident of Satricum (Bremmer, 1982:147; Cornell, 1995:144; Richardson, 2010:35). There are accounts of other individuals who had followers who were allied to them such as Attus Clausus (Livy History of Rome 2.16.3-5), Mastarna (ILS 212 transl. Cornell, 1995:133-4) and the Fabii (Livy History of Rome 2.48.8-2.49.9); amongst others. The groups are comparable to the followers of Homeric heroes as the lifestyle of raiding and making war was similar (Forsythe, 2005:199). Cornell (1995:144) describes them in terms of a private army, moving freely within the Italian peninsula, whose allegiance could change as necessary; citing the Fabii’s private war against Veii with only the support of family, clients and companions as an example. Bremmer (1982:136) and Forsythe (2005:200) question this interpretation suggesting Livy’s description indicates the family and companions waved off those headed to war instead of providing military support. However, Livy’s account may be based on his contemporary experiences of family groups leaving for war. Arguably the actions of the Fabii represent a developmental stage of Roman society where the state was not yet able to enforce authority over the aristocracy (Forsythe, 2005:200; Cornell, 1995:144). Therefore, if the Roman state had not yet evolved to the point of being able to control powerful families it might be proposed that the traditional account of governmental revolution could be questioned. It is suggested by Alfoldi (cited in Forsythe 2005:105) that Rome may have intermittently been ruled by ‘Etruscan adventurers’. Arguably individuals such as Mastarna, King Porsenna of Clusium and, possibly, Publicola might have been such rulers of Rome, either by consent or force. If the period of time was short they may not have been remembered as kings (Cornell, 1995:144-5). The literary tradition, through oral retelling and reinterpretation, would have developed to explain away such anomalies.

The existence of the Lapis Satricum indicates the continuation of state evolution during the sixth century as groups of individuals continued to align themselves to a leader. During this period it might be inferred that though states existed they were not fully formed and powerful families such as the Fabii and Valerii may have continued to operate autonomously. Furthermore, it is possible Rome may have continued to have been conquered and ruled by powerful individuals and their followers. If the individual in the inscription is Publicola it might be suggested that he ruled Rome as king. This period of rule would have been after the traditionally accepted date of the end of the monarchy and so instead of king he would have been accorded the position of consul in the literary accounts.

The Lapis Satricum is one small piece of an exceptionally large puzzle. Other pieces of evidence, such as the consular fasti and the reference by Livy to an office of Praetor Maximus, might be considered alongside the Lapis Satricum to argue that instead of revolution there was a gradual evolution of government. There is a vast amount of scholarly debate on this subject. If you want to investigate this in greater detail the bibliography below will provide a good starting point.


Primary Sources

Livy History of Rome, Translated by Roberts, C. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co, 1912. Perseus Digital Library [Accessed: 3 April 2014]

Tacitus The Annals – Complete Works of Tacitus, Translated by Church, A. and Brodribb, W., S. Bryant (ed) New York: Random House, 1942. Perseus Digital Library [Accessed: 1 April 2014]

Secondary Sources

Bremmer, J. ‘The suodales of Poplios Valesios’, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, 47, 1982, pp. 133-147. Available at: [Accessed 20 April 2014]

Cornell, T. The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000-264), London: Routledge, 1995.

Forsythe, G. A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

Galsterer, H. ‘Lapis Satricanus’ Brill’s New Pauly. H. Cancik and H. Schneider (eds) Brill Online, 2014. [Accessed: 5 May 2014]

Holloway, R. The Archaeology of Early Rome and Latium, London: Routledge, 1994.

Raaflaub, K. ‘The Conflict of the Orders in Archaic Rome: A Comprehensive and Comparative Approach’, in K. Raaflaub (ed), Social Struggles in Archaic Rome: New Perspectives on the Conflict of the Orders (2nd ed), Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2005, pp. 1-46.

Richardson, J. ‘The Oath per Iovem lapidem and the Community in Archaic Rome’, Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, 153, 2010, pp. 25-42. Available at: [Accessed: 17 March 2014]

Smith, C. Early Rome and Latium, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.

Wiseman, T. Unwritten Rome, Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2008.



From → Artefacts

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