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A new edition of the imperial regulation from the Lella Drebblia site near Dougga, Tunisia (AE 2001, 2083)

A new edition of the imperial regulation from the  Lella Drebblia site near Dougga, Tunisia (AE 2001, 2083)

Hernán González Bordas and Jérôme France, 2017 - A new edition of the imperial regulation from the Lella Drebblia site near Dougga (AE 2001, 2083), Journal of Roman Archaeology 30, 2017, 407-428.

A new edition of the imperial regulation from the Lella Drebblia site has been recently published.

Found in the vicinity north of Dougga in 1999 by M. De Vos, this inscription of Hadrian times makes part of the Great Agrarian Inscriptions of Africa. The 6 other published until now are also known by the name of the find spot. Two of them, Aïn Wassel and Aïn Jammala, contain, together with Lella Drebblia, the sermo procuratorum, which is an application document of the Lex Hadriana de rudibus agris. While Aïn Wassel bears a consecration to the Severian family and the announce of the setting of the inscription only followed by the sermo procuratorum, Aïn Jammala and Lella Drebblia present many different documents before it. The nature of one of them has recently been discovered: this is the instructions for displaying an epistula in the principal ciuitates and conciliabula.

The text of the second face of Lella Drebblia (l. 6-10) goes : et hanc epistulam | [---] utique primo quoque | tempore {RE} ciuitatibus et concilia|bulis XII primis proponi tabu|lis scriptam iubeas.

It’s the first time that this last word is found in the epigraphy outside Italy and also the first time after the Republic. How does conciliabulum have to be understood in the region around Dougga in Hadrian times?

In latin, conciliabulum can be understood with a common sense as a “meeting place” but it has also an institutional sense, which is most to be found in Italian epigraphy of the second and first century BC, and of what we only have a general, somewhat vague idea: a place in rural context, in which edicts were displayed. Beyond this, a number of historians have arrived to different conclusions. Without being extensive, we would like to show some important examples: Schulten believed they might have possessed a territory, a council, and magistrates with very limited power ; Humbert stated that a conciliabulum is an administration centre and maybe the head of a praefectura ; more recently Sisani has pointed out that in the conciliabula, magistrates didn’t acquire the imperium. Instead of it, they were merely “preferred” by their people.Beyond the fact that there isn’t a clear definition of this concept in Republican times in Italy, we have to admit the possibility of the evolution of the term in Hadrian times in North-Africa.

In the vicinities of Dougga, public epigraphy shows mainly two kinds of urban places: the pagi, of Roman citizens belonging to the pertica of Carthage, and the ciuitates with peregrine population mainly. Some of them, as double communities, share the same or contiguous territories: pagus et ciuitates Thuggensis, Thibarensis etc. In our sequence, on the one hand, the ciuitates are placed before the conciliabula, clearly showing that they are more or equally important. On the other hand, these ciuitates and conciliabula are necessarily separated places : we can hardly imagine that display can be made twice in a same double community. For these reasons, we think that it is not possible to make an equivalence between the ciuitates and the conciliabula of our sequence with the ciuitates and the pagi mentioned in the public epigraphy of the region.

Instead of it, we think that conciliabula are related with rural settlements of the region. Very probably they formed plurifamiliar settlements in or next to the Imperial Estates. We have little evidence, as most of them must have been destroyed, remain unidentified or undiscovered. Some are to be found in Mariette de Vos surveys (De Vos, M. & R. Attoui, Rus Africum – Vol. 1, Le paysage rural antique autour de Dougga et Téboursouk, Bari, 2013): Aïn Wassel (number 25), Hr. Soussa (n. 5, 26 and 27) or the anonymous n. 192. Thus, in the Lella Drebblia inscription, as in Aïn Jammala, the sense of ciuitates is not the same as the one, juridically more precise, of the public epigraphy. Ciuitates here have to be understood as any urban settlement in the region, be it a pagus or a ciuitas in the juridical sense, in opposition to those conciliabula which are more rural-like settlements.

Figure dans les rubriques