An Inscription from the Tomb of the Scipios

MUSEUMS. INSCRIPTIONS, LINGUISTICS, ARCHAEOLOGY. Sirmond, Jacques (1559-1651); Aleandro, Girolamo, the younger (1574-1629)

Vetustissima inscriptio qua L. Cornelij Scipionis elogium continetur Romæ nuper reperta, & doctis explicationibus illustrata.

Rome: Bartolomeo Zannetti, 1617


Quarto: 1 leaf, 29 p., 1 leaf (blank). Collation: A8+[chi]1, B8


Modern cartoncino with patterned paper guard. Engraved arms of the dedicatee, Antonio Maria Salviati, on the title page. Woodcut illustration of the inscription on leaf A3v. Additional, typeset inscriptions on leaf B2r and B5r. A fine copy, minor foxing, occ. light marginal stains. Extremely rare. Only 1 copy in North America (Harvard.)

Sole edition of this analysis of the epitaph of L. Cornelius Scipio (b. ca. 300 B.C.), son of L. Cornelius Scipio Barbatus, brother of Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Asina, and (most notably) the grandfather of Scipio Africanus. L. Cornelius Scipio was consul in 259 B.C, during the First Punic War. He led the Roman fleet to victory against Aleria and Corsica and later vowed a temple to the Tempestates near Porta Capena (cf. Ovid, fasti VI, 193.) In 258 B.C. he was named censor. His various achievements are described in the epitaph.

The epitaph (CIL VI 1287; Dessau, ILS 3; Degrassi, ILLRP 310b), in Saturnian verse, was found in the Tomb of the Scipios, which was discovered and excavated in the vineyard of brothers named Sassi in 1614. While the discovery of the tomb (and its inscriptions) would eventually prove to be of tremendous importance, the sarcophagus of L. Cornelius Scipio was, at the time of the discovery, broken into pieces and the epitaph sold to a stonecutter near the Ponte Rotto. Giacomo Grimaldi saw it in the stonecutter's shop on 25 September 1614. Shortly thereafter, Leonardo Agostini bought it for twenty scudi and gave it (or sold it?) to the Barberini, who set it into the wall of the staircase near the library in their palace.

On leaf A3r, Sirmond provides a woodcut reproducing the inscription as it appears on the actual monument. He then provides a rendering in classical Latin, modifying the archaic forms:










Hunc unum plurimi consentiunt Romae

bonorum optimum fuisse virum

Lucium Scipionem. Filius Barbati,

Consul, Censor, Aedilis hic fuit.

Hic cepit Corsicam Aleriamque urbem

dedit tempestatibus aedem merito.


[This man Lucius Scipio was, as most agree,

was the very best of all good men at Rome. A son of Barbatus,

he was aedile, consul, and censor among you; He it

was who captured Corsica, also Aleria (a city). To the 

Goddesses of Weather he gave, deservedly, a temple.] (trans. A.J. Heisserer)

The Tomb of the Scipios:

"The family tomb of the Cornelii Scipiones near the via Appia, about 400 metres south-east of the point where the via Latina branched off to the east, and at the intersection of a cross road that connected the two great viae. The importance of the family made this one of the most notable monuments of the kind in Rome (cf. Cic. Tusc. i. 13: an tu egressus porta Capena, cum Calatini Scipionum Serviliorum Metellorum sepulcra vides, miseros illosputes ?).Ennius was buried in this tomb, and his marble statue erected by Africanus (Cic. pro Arch. 22; Plin. NH vii. I 14; Suet. de poet. 8; Liv. xxxviii. 56). The statues of Publius and Lucius Scipio are also said to have been placed in the tomb (Liv. loc. cit.).

"As the Scipios regularly followed the practice of inhumation and not cremation (Cic. de legg. ii. 57), the tomb was filled with sarcophagi, arranged for the most part in loculi cut in the tufa rock. (It is probable that there was a quarry here before the tomb was made.) The tomb was opened early in the seventeenth century, and one sarcophagus, that of L. Scipio, consul in 259 B.C., was broken and its inscribed lid removed, but the final excavation of the monument was carried out in 1780 (Piranesi e Visconti, Monumenti degli Scipioni, Roma 1785 =Visconti, Opere varie, Milan 1827, i. 1-70; Nibby, Roma Antica, ii. 561-575). Many of the sarcophagi were then broken and their contents scattered (CIL i². pp. 373-375), though Hilsen, to whom the description of the tomb in CIL cit. is due, considers that much of the damage had already been done in the fourth century; but one, that of L. Scipio Barbatus, consul in 298 B.C., and apparently the first to be buried there, was preserved and is now in the Vatican, together with portions of several others and their original inscriptions. These inscriptions (CIL 12. 6-16=vi. 1284-1294) record the burial of eight members of the family, from Barbatus (vid. sup.) to Paulla Cornelia, wife of a certain Hispallus of unknown date but probably later than 150 B.C. (RE iv. 1600, No. 445). Some of them are written in the Saturnian metre and are extremely valuable for the history of Latin literature and phonology, but they are probably later than the date usually assigned to them. That of Barbatus, for instance, is probably not earlier than the second Punic war (Bticheler, Carm. Lat. Epig. i. Nos. 6-9; W6lfflin, Bayr. Sitz.-Ber. 1892, i. 188-219). Of the sarcophagi, that of Barbatus alone was decorated with a Doric entablature with Ionic volutes. The others were perfectly plain. See LR 323-329; HJ 200, 211 and reff."(Platner and Ashby, Sep. Scipionum)

The authors:

There are two works in this volume: The author of the first text, Jacques Sirmond, was a French Jesuit who lived at Rome, where he served as secretary to Claudio Acquaviva, Fifth Superior General of the Jesuit Order. The second text is the work of the antiquary Girolamo Aleandro the younger, of Friuli. For the attribution of the first work to Jacques Sirmond, see G. Melzi, Anonime e pseudonime, v. 3 p. 215

For the inscription, CIL VI 1287; Dessau, ILS 3; Degrassi, ILLRP 310b. Further reading: Wordsworth, John (1874). Fragments and specimens of early Latin. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 160; P. Kruschwitz. Carmina Saturnia Epigraphica. Einleitung Text und Kommentar zu den saturnischen Versinschriften (Stuttgart 2002) no. 3b; M. Massaro, “Questioni di Epigrafia Scipionica,” Epigraphica 70 (2008) 31-90; AE 2003.178.