A sporting rivalry between two cities turned tragic when a simple incident at a gladiatorial clash turned into a full fledged riot. We are talking about a rather infamous episode in 59 AD that involved the citizens of Pompeii and the nearby city of Nuceria (Nocera), as narrated by Tacitus himself. And now archaeologists have surprisingly come across another reference to this incident, in the form of a 4 m (13 ft) long funerary inscription on a monumental marble tomb.
Touted by the researchers as the longest funerary epigraph ever found, the excavation was conducted as part of the Great Pompeii Project, in the San Paolino area near Porta Stabia, one of the access points to the ancient ruins of Pompeii itself. And while the 13-ft long epigraph in itself is composed in seven narrative registers, it does not contain the name of the mysterious tomb occupant.
However beyond the anonymity of the owner, the extensive inscription does mention many of the personal milestones from his life, ranging from the receiving of the toga virilis (toga of manhood), his wedding to his appointment as duoviro (magistrate). The inscribed narrative complements such events with descriptive scenes of public banquets, largess, holding of gladiatorial games and even battling with large beasts. One of these ‘etched’ events also refer to the aforementioned rioting incident that had serious consequences for the ancient gladiatorial scope of Pompeii. The site general director Massimo Osanna said –
Thanks to the citation of events in the deceased’s life, we have learned very important facts about the history of Pompeii, including in reference to the famous episode narrated by Tacitus that happened in Pompeii in 59 BC, when a brawl broke out in the amphitheater during a gladiator show that led to an armed clash.
Now in case you are wondering what the episode entailed, here is Tacitus’ description of the riot’s context (from The Annals of Imperial Rome, translated by Michael Grant) –
About this time there was a serious fight between the inhabitants of two Roman settlements, Nuceria and Pompeii. It arose out of a trifling incident at a gladiatorial show…During an exchange of taunts — characteristic of these disorderly country towns — abuse led to stone-throwing, and then swords were drawn. The people of Pompeii, where the show was held, came off best. Many wounded and mutilated Nucerians were taken to the capital. Many bereavements, too, were suffered by parents and children. The emperor instructed the senate to investigate the affair. The senate passed it to the consuls. When they reported back, the senate debarred Pompeii from holding any similar gathering for ten years. Illegal associations in the town were dissolved; and the sponsor of the show and his fellow-instigators of the disorders were exiled.
Pertaining to the last part of Tacitus’ description, the tombstone epigraph does make a reference of an exile imposed on some of the magistrates of Pompeii.
Source: ANSA / Images Credit: Special Superintendency for the Archaeological Heritage of Naples and Pompeii