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11-08-2015, 17:48

The wax tablets of the banker Caecilius lucundus (H69-82)

A total of 153 partially legible documents relating to the business affairs of the banker (coactor argentarius) Lucius Caecilius Iucundus have been deciphered from writing-tablets found in V. i.26 in 1875. Generally, the wax has perished from the tablets, but traces of their writing remain visible where the metal pen has penetrated into the wooden surface below. They had been stored in a wooden chest on the first floor, above the north side of the peristyle. This also contained some unused tablets and a large placard. The earliest tablet (H69) dates from AD 15, and relates to the business of the banker Caecilius Felix. He is generally supposed to be Iucundus’ father and precursor in the same job. His identification as a freedman depends upon his cognomen, common among freedmen, or upon the assumption that he is identical with the freedman Lucius Caecilius Felix mentioned in another inscription (CIL X 891, AD 1). A freedman called Felix also dedicated a portrait bust of ‘our Lucius’ in the house (E55). It is also possible, however, that both ex-slave and master bore the same names, and that the banker was not a freedman. The latest tablet (H82) dates from January ad 62, only a month before the town was severely damaged by an earthquake, commemorated on the lararium relief in Iucundus’ house (C3). We can only speculate whether this collection of tablets is an accident of chance or whether it represents an archive of important documents. It certainly does not preserve a complete record of Iucundus’ business transactions.

A collection of 137 documents relate to auction sales. Iucundus acted as a go-between for seller and buyer, paying a sum to the seller for the goods sold at auction a few days later, and extending short-term credit to the buyer. Almost all (tablet 100 may be an exception) probably relate to occasional activity on the part of the seller (such as following on from an inheritance, H71) rather than to regular commercial transactions. Most of these documents are ‘receipts’ from the seller, acknowledging that Iucundus has paid the amount raised by auction and promised by contract. These documents are not ‘receipts’ in a modern sense but are formally witnessed verbal statements that payment promised by contract (stipulatio) has been received. They thus formally release the banker from his obligation to pay.

The amounts paid out by the banker range from 342 to 38,079 sesterces. The median, calculated from the 44 exact and approximate sums known, comes to c.4,500. Only three sales are worth more than 30,000 sesterces. See Appendix 3 for relative monetary values. Their contents include the names of the seller and of Iucundus or a slave acting as his representative, the date, a list of witnesses (all male, with a single exception — Umbricia Antiochis affixes her seal as witness on H76) and the sum paid out. Some receipts are written by the banker or his representative, stating that the seller has received his money before witnesses. Others are written directly by the recipient (the seller at auction) or his/her representative; in these cases, fewer witnesses are needed. It seems that the order in which the names of witnesses were listed reflected their relative status in society. Tablets 81 and 89 show that the ordering of names was a matter for concern, since the same names are erased and then rewritten in a different order. Sometimes they record the amount of commission charged by the banker. Only a few specify what has been sold — it may be that this was included for clarification only when a seller sold more than one item at auction.

In most cases, three tablets are bound together: pages 1 and 6 are often blank, but sometimes contain a summary of the document in ink; pages 2—3 contain the document in full, on wax, which is sealed; page 4 contains witnesses’ names and seals; page 5 reproduces the text in full or in summary. The typical pattern of such documents can be seen in H72 and H74. Each document consists of three parts: a statement of the payment made by Caecilius Iucundus in person, a list of witnesses with their seals, and finally a statement, written on behalf of the seller confirming that the banker has settled his account with him or her.

The tablets present us with a picture of variable literacy among the inhabitants of Pompeii. In Tablet 32, a Latin text is written in Greek letters. In other tablets, their writers do not always display complete competence in Latin. H79 in particular betrays some confusion as to how to designate Roman numerals and adopts idiosyncratic spelling. The fact that women never write for themselves is not, however, a sign of their illiteracy, but reflects their legal status (specifically the requirement that a legal guardian, or tutor, authorize a woman’s participation in a business deal of this kind: compare H38). Consequently, there would be no point in a woman writing in the first person that she is releasing the banker from his promised contract with her for payment of the proceeds of an auction, since she did not herself possess the legal right to do so. By contrast, one of the so-called Murecine Tablets (TP 46 + 44) or Archive of the Sulpicii (found just outside Pompeii but relating to business affairs in Puteoli) documents a slave writing on his master’s orders ‘because he says he is illiterate’.

Sixteen tablets record business between Iucundus and the town (e. g. H81—82). These contain receipts written by a public slave acknowledging that Iucundus has paid sums due to the town. Since they are signed by the public slave in receipt of the money, they are witnessed by only three or four individuals, including at least one duumvir. Payments relate to tax on a fullery for five years, ad 56—61 (H81: tablets 141—4), to the leasing from the town of a farm, the fundus Audianus (tablets 138—40), and to the collection of tax on pasturage, ad 56—61 (tablets 145—7) and on the market (H82), perhaps paid for setting up a stall. Iucundus may have been leasing the fullery and farm from the town for his own benefit or may have been collecting rental payments from a third party.