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Evidence from Festus

Festus’ prefectures in Campania

Adapted from this map on the webpage on Roman Campania by Jeff Matthews

According to Festus:

  1. “Two different kinds of praefecturae existed:

  2. One kind, to which four prefects were usually sent from the body of 26 magistrates who had been elected by the vote of the [Roman] people: [these included] Capua, Cumae, Casilinum, Volturnum, Liternum, Puteoli, Acerrae, Suessula, Atella, Calatia.

  3. The other kind, to which those (prefects) went whom the praetor urbanus had sent yearly... ” ( ‘De verborum significationeione’, 262 Lindsay).

Thus, we learn that, at least for a time, some towns received four Roman prefects that were selected in the context of the vigintisexvirate (a college of 26 minor magistrates ).  Significantly, all Festus’ examples of of this type of prefecture were in Campania. 

The title of these prefects was probably ‘praefectus Capuam Cumaes’, as indicated by a single inscription (CIL XI 3717) from the colony of Alsium (on the coast of Etruria): this funerary inscription commemorated: 

M(arcus) Herennius M(arci) f(ilius)/ Mae(cia) Rufus

praef(ectus) Cap(uam) Cum(as), q(uaestor)

Annarosa Gallo (referenced below, at p. 349 and note 10) dated it to the period 30 BC - 20 AD.  She noted (at p. 350) that, since:

  1. Julius Caesar had founded a colony at Capua in 59 BC and conferred jurisdictional autonomy on it (as discussed below); and

  2. Herennius had held the post of praefectus Capuam Cumaes before that of quaestor, and was thus probably still a young man at the time;

by this time, the office of praefectus Capuam Cumaes must have been purely honorific .  We know from Cassius Dio that it was abolished before 13 BC:

  1. “... while Augustus was still absent from the city [in 13 BC], a decree had been passed that the vigintiviri ... should be appointed from the equites ... [This college of 20 magistrates was] what is left of the vigintisexviri ..., since the two [magistrates of the latter college] who were once entrusted with the roads outside the walls [of Rome] and the four who used to be sent to Campania had been abolished”, (‘History of Rome’, 54: 26: 5-7).

Simone Sisani (referenced below, 2010, at p. 176 and note 20) observed that the college of the praefecti Capuam Cumaes was not mentioned in the Lex Acilia Repetundarum of 123 BC, and had therefore perhaps been formed thereafter.  However, I wonder whether it was not included because, even by this time, it had no particular legal significance.

The composition of Festus’ list of Campanian prefectures throws some light on the period to which it relates.  As we shall see: 

  1. Capua suffered the confiscation of the ager Falernus in 340 BC and its land was subject to viriatane settlers, for whom the Falerna tribe was established in 318 BC.  It is possible that a Roman prefect administered the legal affairs of these settlers, and that he had his seat at Capua.

  2. However, we have no record for further land confiscation in Campania until after its revolt against Rome in 216 BC, during the Hannibalic War.  Livy recorded that, after the suppression of this revolt in 211 BC:

  3. “... [although] some [Romans] thought that a city that was so powerful, near, and unfriendly should be destroyed, [wiser counsel] prevailed: since its territory was well known to be [among the most fertile] in Italy ... , the city was preserved, so that [presumably Roman] farmers of the land might have some abode”, (‘History of Rome’, 26: 16: 7).

  4. In other words, the entire territory of Capua, and presumably also that of the other erstwhile rebel centres of Campania, became Roman ager publicus that was available for citizen settlement. 

It therefore seems to me that the Campanian centres in Festus’ list were probably constituted as prefectures in ca. 211 BC, with three possible exceptions: Volturnum, Liternum and Puteoli might not have been so-constituted until 194 BC, when citizen colonies were founded in each of these locations.   I discuss this hypothesis below.

Conquest of Campania (340-38 BC)

Livy reported that, after a Roman victory over the Latins and Campanians at the foot of Mount Vesuvius in 340 BC, during the so-called Latin War:

  1. “The Latin territory, with the addition of that belonging to Privernum, together with the [ager Falernus] (which had belonged to the Campanian people) as far as the river Volturnus, was parcelled out amongst the Roman plebs.  The assignment was: 2 iugera in Latium, [2.75] iugera at Privernum; and 3 iugera [in the ager Falernus]”, (‘History of Rome’, 8: 11: 13-14).

He also reported that, after the Romans’ final victory in this war in 338 BC:

  1. “The freedom of the state was granted without the right of suffrage  to the Campanians, in compliment to their knights, because they had refused to join in rebellion with the Latins. ... It was determined that the people of Cumae and Suessula should have the same rights and be on the same footing as [those of] Capua”, (‘History of Rome’, 8: 14: 11-2). 

In 332 BC, again according to Livy:

  1. “The Acerrans were enrolled as Romans, in conformity with a law introduce by the praetor, Lucius Papirius, by which the right of citizenship with the privilege of suffrage was conferred”, (‘History of Rome’, 8: 17: 12). 

Thus, the fertile ager Falernus, which had probably belonged to Capua, was confiscated and Capua itself, together with the Campanian centres of Suessula, Cumae and Acerra were formally incorporated into the Roman state as civitates sine suffragio (without voting rights).  

Prefects at Capua (318 BC)

The first Roman prefect mentioned by Livy (other than in a military context) was sent to Capua in 318 BC:

  1. “... prefects began to be elected and sent out to Capua, after Lucius Furius, the praetor, had given [the Capuans] laws —both steps being taken at the instance of the Capuans themselves, as a remedy for the distress occasioned by internal discord.” (‘History of Rome’, 9: 20: 5-6). 

According to Terry Corey Brennan (referenced below, at p. 61) two separate steps are recorded here, both taken at the request of the Capuans:

  1. the praetor had given them laws; and

  2. they began to receive prefects who were elected in (and presumably sent from) Rome.

However, Adrian Sherwin-White (referenced below, at p. 43) deduced that this this sending of prefects was not yet a permanent arrangement.  According to Robert Knapp (referenced below, at p. 25):

  1. “After  318 BC, affairs seem to have settled down at Capua.  There may have been some interference from time to time by a Roman prefect, but there is no evidence for this.”

Falerna Tribe (318 BC)

Immediately after his account of the sending of prefects to Capua in 318 BC, Livy noted that:

  1. “At Rome two tribes were added, the Oufentina and the Falerna” (‘History of Rome’, 9: 20: 6).

The names of these two tribes suggest that they were each established for citizens settled on land that had been confiscated in 340 BC:

  1. the Oufentina was given the name of the river Oufens, which ran through its territory of Privernum; and

  2. the Falerna was named for the ager Falernus in Campania.

We might reasonably assume therefore that the level of citizen settlement in the ager Falernus was significant.

There is nothing in the surviving sources to indicate that the prefects mentioned by Livy, who were sent to Capua from 318 BC, had any jurisdiction in this territory.  Nevertheless, as noted above, it is possible that the legal affairs of the settlers in the ager Falernus were administered by a Roman prefect who had his seat at Capua.  If so, then this arrangement presumably ended with the revolt of 216 BC.

Rebellion of 216 BC

According to Livy, after the Romans’ disastrous defeat at Cannae in 216 BC:

  1. “... the loyalty of [their] allies, who had held firm until [that point], now began to waver: ... these are the peoples that revolted [included]: the Campanians [by which, he means the Capuans], the Atellani, [and] the Calatini ...”, (‘Roman History’, 22: 61: 10-11).

Casilinum, which occupied a strategic position on the Volturnus, would also probably have rebelled at this time, had it not been held by force by a Roman garrison (‘Roman History’, 23: 17: 8-11): Hannibal  took it in 215 BC and it:

  1. “... was given back to the Campanians, and a garrison of 700 men from Hannibal's army was placed in it in case the Romans should attack it after Hannibal's departure”, (‘Roman History’, 23: 20: 1).

As Michael Fronda (referenced below, at p. 243) observed:

  1. “With [Hannibal’s] capture of Casilinum in 215 BC, the battle lines in Campania were drawn: Hannibal controlled Capua and its subordinate allies [Atella, Calatia and Casilinum]: Rome held the remaining cities in the region, and all of Italy looked on.”

It became increasingly apparent that Hannibal was unable both to protect Capua and to prosecute the war elsewhere in southern Italy.  Livy described the fall of Casilinum in 214 BC:

  1. “Quintus Fabius, the consul, was encamped before Casilinum, which was occupied by a garrison of 2,000 Campanians and 700 of the soldiers of Hannibal.  The commander [of the rebel army] was Statius Metius, who was sent there by Cnaius Magius Atellanus, who was that year meddix tuticus  ... [Casilinum] was captured on an accidental opportunity ... the prisoners, both those who were Campanians and those who were Hannibal's soldiers, were sent to Rome, where they were shut up in a prison.  The crowd of townsmen was distributed among the neighbouring people to be kept in custody” (‘History of Rome, 24: 19: 1-11).

Hannibal’s weakness became manifest in 212 BC, when the Romans laid siege to Capua.  When his direct attempt to raise the siege in 211 BC failed, he staged an apparent march on Rome .  However, when this ruse failed to draw the Romans away from the Capua, he gave up and abandoned the Campanians to their fate.  According to Livy, after a heated debate:

  1. “... the majority of the senate of Capua, not doubting that the clemency of the Roman people,  ... voted and sent legates to surrender Capua to the Romans”, (‘Roman History’, 26: 14: 2).

Livy then described the surrender of the remaining rebels:

  1. “Atella and Calatia surrendered themselves, and were received.  Here also the principal promoters of the revolt were punished.  Thus 80 principal members of the senate were put to death, and about 300 of the Campanian nobles thrown into prison. The rest were distributed through the several cities of the Latin confederacy, to be kept in custody, where they perished in various ways.  The rest of the Campanian citizens were sold [into slavery]”, (‘History of Rome, 26: 16: 4).

Livy described the debate in Rome that decided the fate of Capua:

  1. “Some [Roman senators] were of opinion that a city] so eminently powerful, so near and so hostile [to Rome as Capua] ought to be demolished.  However, i wiser counsel] prevailed: since its territory was well known to be [among the most fertile] in Italy ... , the city was preserved, so that [presumably Roman] farmers of the land might have some abode.   ... The multitude of resident aliens and freedmen and petty tradesmen and artisans was [allowed to remain in the city.  Its] entire territory and the buildings became public property of the Roman people. ... the mass of citizens were scattered with no hope of a return”, (‘History of Rome’, 26: 16: 7-11).

Finally, he reported that Capua was deprived of its civic status:

  1. “It was decided that Capua, as a nominal city, should merely be a ... centre of population, and that it should have no political body nor senate nor council of the plebs nor magistrates.  ... the Romans would send out every year a prefect to administer justice. ; no rage was vented upon innocent buildings and city —walls by burning and [12] demolition. and [p. 65]along with profit they sought a reputation among7 the allies as well for clemency, by saving a very important and very rich city, over whose ruins all Campania, all the neighbouring peoples on every side of Campania, would have [13] mourned. the enemy were forced to acknowledge what power the Romans possessed to exact punishment from faithless allies, and how helpless Hannibal was to defend those whom he had taken under his protection”, (‘History of Rome’, 26: 16: 9-11).

We know from Velleius Paterculus that this administrative vacuum persisted at Capua  until 59 BC, when Julius Caesar arranged for the foundation of a colony here:

  1. “In this consulship, Caesar, with Pompey's backing, passed a law authorising a distribution to the plebs of the public domain in Campania.  And so about 20,000 citizens were established there, and its rights as a city were restored to Capua 152 years after she had been reduced to a prefecture in the Second Punic Wa” (‘History of Rome’, 2:44:4).

However, of the other five Campanian prefectures:

  1. Cumae and Acerrae remained loyal to Rome throughout the Second Punic War, and it is hard to see why they would have been condemned to an administrative vacuum thereafter.  Cumae was still an Oscan-speaking community in 180 BC when, according to Livy (40: 42: 13), its people asked the Senate in Rome for permission to use Latin in certain public affairs, which suggests that they still retained the Oscan magistracy that Capua had lost in 211 BC.

  2. Volturnum, Liternum and Puteoli were small coastal colonies that were founded in 194 BC, possibly under the auspices of Scipio Africanus (who retired to Liternum).  Of these, only Volturnum was founded de novo:

  3. Livy, in an account of the events of 217 BC, referred to:

  4. “... the sands and hideous swamps of Liternum”, (‘History of Rome’, 22: 16: 4).

  5. He also reported that, in 214 BC:

  6. “Meanwhile Tiberius Sempronius, the Roman consul, having purified his army at Sinuessa,... crossed the Vulturnus and pitched his camp in the neighbourhood of Liternum”, (‘History of Rome’, 23: 35: 5).

  7. He also recorded that, when the siege of Capua was resumed in 212 BC:

  8. “A store of corn was collected at Casilinum;

  9. -at the mouth of the Vulturnus, where a town [Volturnum] now stands, a fort was constructed; and

  10. -a garrison was stationed in Puteoli, which Fabius had formerly fortified, in order to have the command of the neighbouring sea and the river. 

  11. Into these two maritime forts, the corn recently sent from Sicily ... was conveyed from Ostia, to supply the army during the winter”, (‘History of Rome’, 25: 20: 1-3). 

  12. According to Robert Knapp (referenced below, at p. 27), there is epigraphic evidence that, by 105 BC, the chief magistracy of Puteoli was the duovirate (the usual magistracy at colonies).  Since this magistracy had probably been introduced at the time of the foundation of the colony, Knapp concluded that:

  13. “Puteoli is a good example of a community with [its own magistrates that nonetheless had] a prefect to settle major legal problems.  We can suppose that Volturnum and Liternum had local governments of the same sort.”

According to Festus, all ten of the Campanian prefectures in his list received prefects elected at Rome within the context of the vigintisexvirate.  However, what he does not say is that this arrangement had applied to any or all the Campanian prefectures from 211 BC.  In fact, the election of four magistrates from among the vigintisexvirate was probably a relatively late development: as Robert Knapp (referenced below, at p. 26) pointed out, this college is epigraphically attested (as the praefecti Capuam Cumaes) only from the early 1st century BC.  He suggested that:

  1. “... there was only a sole prefect sent to the dissolved [rebel] towns [of Campania] in 211 BC.  Then, at some time in the 2nd century BC, a need was recognised to supervise directly all of Campania, and the [praefecti Capuam Cumaes] were created.”

Simone Sisani (referenced below, 2010, at p. 176 and note 20) suggested that this college of the praefecti Capuam Cumaes was probably created after 123 BC (since it was not mentioned in the Lex Acilia Repetundarum of that year).  From that point, these prefects presumably exercised jurisdiction over the ager Campanus from Capua and Cumae.

If this is correct, then we need to consider the nature of the changes in Campania in the 2nd century BC that might have led to this administrative development.  Our starting point must be Livy (above), who said only that Capua received a sole prefect in 211 BC, whose role was specifically (perhaps exclusively?) to administer justice.  We might reasonably assume that the same or similar prefect(s) exercised the same function at the other rebel centres.  Elsewhere in Campania:

  1. It seems to me that Cumae and Acerrae were probably unaffected by the retribution of 211 BC and retained their traditional magistracies throughout the 2nd century BC.

  2. As noted above, Volturnum, Liternum and Puteoli were probably administered by duoviri from their foundation of colonies in 194 BC.  However, given their small size (perhaps 300 citizen families were settled at each of them), they might also have received (perhaps shared) a prefect who was sent from Rome to administer justice.

We might reasonably assume that the subsequent establishment college of the praefecti Capuam Cumaes was related to a marked increase in the number of Roman citizens in the region. 

  1. Saskia Roselaar (referenced below, 2008b, at p. 579, p. 582 and note 17) described the process of selling or leasing land in the ager Campanus, that had been confiscatedin 209 BC: in short, it proceeded in fits and starts until its completion in 165 BC. 

  2. However, Saskia Roselaar (referenced below, 2008a, at p. 47) pointed out that further land distribution took place in Campania (albeit outside the ager Campanus) under the auspices of the Gracchi in the late 2nd century BC.

This long process probably led to a dispersed presence of Roman citizens whose legal needs could be most conveniently addressed at sittings of the praefecti Capuam Cumaes at Capua and Cumae.  It is entirely possible that this new arrangement left the earlier administrative arrangements in the urban centres of Campania unaffected.  According to Edward Bispham (referenced below, at p. 12):

  1. “It is not clear whether [prefects that had their seats in their seats in municipia or colonies did so] because they dispensed justice in those communities, [but they certainly did so] to Roman ... citizens  settled ... in outlying areas.”

I wonder whether Cumae, for example, catered for the legal needs of its own residents, albeit that it also acted as the seat of the prefects who met the needs of Roman citizens in the settled nearby.

According to Livy:

  1. “... according to the decree which had been passed the year before, the censors compelled [the Campanians] to be assessed at Rome (for previously it had been uncertain where they should be assessed).  They requested that they should be permitted:

  2. to take Roman citizens as wives and that any who had already married Roman citizens should be allowed to keep them; and

  3. that children born before this day should be legitimate and capable of inheriting from their fathers.

Both requests were granted”, (‘History of Rome’, 38: 36; 5-6).

We know from later records that Capua and Cumae nevertheless retained their Oscan magistracies for decades: until 211 BC for Capua; and until at least 180 BC for Cumae.

Livy, 215 BC

  1. “Marius Alfius, the medix tuticus, that is, the chief magistrate of the Campanians”, (‘Roman History’, 23: 35: 13)

Livy, 214 BC

  1. “Quintus Fabius, the consul, had his camp near Casilinum, which was held by a garrison of 2,000 Campanians and 700 of Hannibal's soldiers.  In command was Statius Metius, who had been sent by Cnaeus Magius, of Atella (who was the medix tuticus that year), and Metius had armed slaves and plebeians without distinction, in order to make an attack upon the Roman camp while the consul was occupied with the siege of Casilinum”, (‘Roman History’, 24: 19: 1-2)

Read more:

M. Fronda, “Between Rome and Carthage: Southern Italy during the Second Punic War”, (2010) Cambridge

A. Gallo, “M. Herennius M.f. Maec. Rufus (ILLRP 441) e la Tribù dei Coloni di Alsium”, in:

  1. M. Silvestrini (Ed.), “Le Tribù Romane: Atti della XVIe Rencontre sur l’Epigraphie du Monde Romaine (Bari, 8-10 Ottobre 2009)”, (2010) Bari, at pp. 349-54

S. Sisani, “Dalla Praefectura al Municipium: Lo Sviluppo delle Strutture Amministrative

Romane in Area Medio-Italica tra il I sec. A.C. e l’ Età Imperiale” , Rendiconti, 21:1-2 (2010) 173–226

E. Bispham, “From Asculum to Actium: The Municipalisation of Italy from the Social War to Augustus”, (2008) Oxford

S. Roselaar (a), “Public land in the Roman Republic: a Social and Economic History of the Ager Publicus”, (2008), PhD thesis, Leiden University

S. Roselaar (b), “Regional Variations in the Use of Ager Publicus”, in:

  1. L. de Ligt and S. Northwood (Eds), “People, Land and Politics: Demographic Developments and the Transformation of Roman Italy, 300 BC - 14 AD", (2008) Leiden, pp. 573-604

T. Corey Brennan, “The Praetorship in the Roman Republic: Volume 1: Origins to 122 BC”, (2000) Oxford

R. Knapp, “Festus 262L and Praefecturae in Italy", Athenaeum, 58 (1980) 14-38

H. H. Scullard, “A History of the Roman World: 753 to 146 BC” (Fourth Edition)”, (1980) New York

A. N. Sherwin-White, “The Roman Citizenship (Second Edition)”, (1973) Oxford

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