AD 120 – The city of Tomis honours Hadrian with a bilingual inscription (#Hadrian1900)

One thousand nine hundred years ago, the city of Tomis, a Greek colony on the west coast of the Euxine (Black Sea), honoured Hadrian with a large bilingual inscription carved on what was probably the pedestal of a statue carrying the Emperor’s effigy.

The inscription (CIL III, 7539), found in two fragments in Constanța (Romania), begins with Hadrian’s titulature and bears the full name of governor Ummidius Quadratus Severus Sertorius. The town of Tomis set it up during the fourth tribunician power of Hadrian, ie. AD 120 (it is assumed that Hadrian held tribunician power for the fourth time from 10 December 119 to 9 December 120).

The inscription honouring Hadrian was donated by the city of Tomis during the governorship of Gaius Ummidius Quadratus in AD 120 (CIL III, 7539).
National History and Archaeology Museum of Constanta, Romania.

While the left fragment is housed and displayed in the National History and Archaeology Museum of Constanţa, the right fragment is kept in the Archaeological Institute in Bucharest. A reconstruction of the inscription reveals the full text in Latin and Greek.

Latin: Imp(eratori) Cae[s(ari) divi Traiani Pa]rthici / filio divi N[ervae nepoti Traian]o Hadria/no Aug(usto) pontif(ici) [max(imo) trib(unicia)] pot(estate) IIII co(n)s(uli) [I]II res p(ublica) Tomita(norum) / C(aio) Ummidio Quadrato S[allustio Serto]rio leg(ato) Aug(usti) pr(o) pr(aetore)

Greek: Αὐτοκράτορι Καίσαρ[ι θεοῦ Τραϊανοῦ] Παρθικοῦ υἱῷ θεοῦ / Νέρουα υἱωνῷ Τραϊανῷ [Ἁδριανῷ Σεβαστῷ] ἀρχιερεῖ μεγίστῳ δη/μαρχικῆς ἐξουσίας [τὸ δ ὑπάτῳ τὸ γ] βουλὴ δῆμος Τομειτῶν / Γ(άϊος) Οὐμμίδιος Κοδρᾶτος [Σαλλούστιος Σε]ρτώριος πρεσβευτὴς τοῦ / Σεβαστοῦ [καὶ ἀντιστράτ]ηγος καθιέρωσεν.

Traduction: The Republic of Tomis, under the governorship of Gaius Ummidius Quadratus Sertorius Severus, put the inscription for Emperor Caesar Trajan Hadrian Augustus, son of the deified Trajan Parthicus, grandson of the deified Nerva, pontifex maximus, holder of the tribunician power of the fourth time, a consul for the third time.

Tomis on the Tabula Peutingeriana.

In antiquity, the western coast of the Black Sea was dotted with Greek cities founded on sites of previously existing Thracian settlements. Among these were Istros, Callatis, Dionysopolis, Odessos and Tomis. The first record of a Greek settlement is at Tomis, founded in the late 6th century BC by Greek settlers from Miletus in Ionia on the western coast of Anatolia in present-day Turkey. The Romans annexed the region at the end of the 1st century BC, and in the 1st century AD, the Greek cities along the Black Sea littoral became part of the enlarged Moesian province.

Statuary group of Fortuna and Pontos, deities protecting the city of Tomis. 2nd century AD.

The ancient city of Tomis has not been excavated systematically because it lies under the modern city, but there have been chance finds of epigraphic and architectural monuments. Also, archaeological research has yielded monumental wall discoveries, including the 3-metre thick circuit wall that protected Tomis. The epigraphy tells us that Tomis had the structure of a Greek city, and the city organisation was Greek too, with a body of archons (chief magistrates). There was an agora inside the town, a theatre, and a few temples (for Apollo, Isis and Serapis). The most significant monument is the so-called Roman Edifice with Mosaic, a warehouse edifice nearer the sea dating back to the 4th century AD and covered with a polychrome mosaic covering an area of about 2000 sq. m (see images here). Originally, it was a vast complex of commercial buildings designed on three levels, a place for the city’s economic and trade activities.

Tomis is best known for having been the place of exile of the Roman poet Ovid from AD 8 to 17. Ovid draws a bleak picture of Tomis and the surrounding area. In his account, Tomis was a city full of barbarians and under permanent threat of barbarian excursions. He said no Latin and only a barbarous form of Greek was spoken there. He says the countryside was ugly, harsh and treeless, and the food and water were bad. He describes the biting cold by evoking the snow, the ice, the sub-zero temperatures and the frozen Danube. In Tomis, he wrote the Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, which consisted of letters reflecting on his exile and trying to secure a return to Rome. Ovid spent the rest of his life at Tomis in misery and frustration and died there, aged 59. His depiction of Tomis as an uncivilised and generally unattractive place may have been part of the poet’s strategy to be allowed to return to Rome.

The statue of Ovid in front of the Museum of National History.

After the division of the Moesian province during Domitian’s Dacian Wars (ca. AD 86), the coastal cities became part of Moesia Inferior (named according to the river flow), with Tomis as its chief city. From Moesia, further campaigns against the Dacians were launched under Trajan. The province became a frontier region garrisoned by Roman troops along the Danube River while the existing cities were included in the fortified defending system (limes) with Tomis as the residence of the provincial governor. The province held three legions: the V Macedonia at Troesmis, the legion in which Hadrian had served as military tribune twenty-two years earlier (as shown by his career preserved on the famous inscription from Athens), the XI Claudia at Durostorum and the I Italica at Novae. There, they protected the border with Dacia and allied Greek cities in Crimea, as shown by inscriptions found in Charax (CIL III 14215). A Roman fleet, the classis Moesica, patrolled the northern shores of the Black Sea and the Danube Delta.

Map of the Limes in Moesia Inferior.
Wikipedia Commons: Author Ziegelbrenner

By 118, Hadrian had taken to the field as major disturbances occurred shortly after he ascended to the throne. The Sarmatians (namely the Roxolani and the Iazyges), active in the northern Danube Basin, rebelled and waged war, during which the governor of Dacia was killed. When Hadrian heard the news of the Sarmatians’ incursions and Bassus’s death, he set out for Moesia himself (read here) and may have resided at Tomis.

Coin commemorative of Hadrian’s arrival in Moesia with the legend ADVENTVI AVG MOESIAE
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Tomis was the object of special attention among all the West Pontic cities. It is considered the province capital and had the status of civitas libera (free city) revoked temporarily under Vespasian. This status, thought to have been regained during Hadrian’s reign, increased the city’s development possibilities.

Inscription (IScM II 47) was discovered in Tomis’ territory, proving that the “re-establishment of liberty” (line 5) occurred during Hadrian’s time. AD 129/138.
Courtesy of Ubi Erat Lupa

The official dedications made by the respublica tomitanorum and the senatus populusque Tomitanorum (CIL III 765) suggest that some privileges were granted to Tomis by Hadrian, who, in gratitude, was honoured with more statues and the epithet Ελευθέριος/Eleutherios (IScM II 47). The local mint also celebrated the Emperor.

Hadrian AE20 of Tomis, Thrace. AYT KAIC TPAI AΔPIANOC CEB, bare head right / TOMITWN, Nike walking left holding palm and wreath, eagle before her. SGI 1122.
With permission of (link)

From the inscription, we learn that during the fourth tribunician power of Hadrian (AD 120), the governor of Moesia inferior stationed at Tomis was a man called Gaius Ummidius Quadratus Sertorius Severus, who Hadrian had appointed as ordinary consul at the beginning of 118, sharing the office with him. Quadratus was a member of a distinguished family of senatorial rank from Casinum in central Italy. He first emerges in 106 as a young man of promise, a friend of Pliny the Younger who praises him for his rhetorical skills and strength of character (Pliny, Letter 6.11.2).

He is a young man of exceptional qualities, who challenges the affection of others besides those who are related to him. In the first place, he is particularly handsome, but he passed through boyhood and youth without a breath of scandal. He married when in his twenty-fourth year, and would now have been a father had Providence permitted. Pliny, Letter 7.24.1

The parents of Quadratus probably perished when he was young, so Quadratus lived with his grandmother, Ummidia Quadratilla, who had entrusted her grandson’s education to Pliny (Letter 7.24.5). Ummidia Quadratilla was a wealthy woman who owned a group of pantomime actors and sponsored public games and dramatic shows. Pliny, who depicts Ummidia’s character by way of an obituary notice in letter 7.24, expresses his disapproval of her employment of a troupe of pantomimes and criticises her for her extravagant lifestyle, noting that her grandson had stayed away from her morally questionable pursuits.

The epigraphy also tells us that she was an important benefactress. She is mentioned in two inscriptions discovered in her hometown of Casinum, which record that she funded the construction of an amphitheatre and a temple (CIL X, 5183) and repaired the local theatre, celebrating its dedication with a public banquet (AE 1946, 174). Substantial remains of the amphitheatre and theatre still exist, but no evidence of the temple has been found. Ummidia Quadratilla died in AD 107 at almost 80, leaving two-thirds of her fortune to her grandson Quadradus and the other third to her granddaughter (Letter 7.24). The vaulted mausoleum built of large stone blocks between the theatre and the amphitheatre of Casinum is believed to be hers (it is referred to as the Tomba di Ummidia Quadratilla).

The amphitheatre of Casinum that Ummidia Quadratilla built (or rebuilt) with her own money.
Rjdeadly / CC BY-SA (

Ummidius Quadratus’ governorship of Moesia Inferior appears to have lasted until AD 124 when he was succeeded by Hadrian’s other friend, Bruttinus Praesens (suff. 118 or 119). There is no trace of him during Hadrian’s reign until he is recorded as holding the African proconsulate in 133/4 (Syme). Several inscriptions from that province attest that Quadratus assisted several persons in becoming Roman citizens.

Ummidius Quadratus is named only once in the Historia Augusta (Hadr. 15.7) among the friends whom Hadrian came to dislike and discard towards the end of his reign (Ummidium Quadratum et Catilium Severum et Turbonem graviter insecutus est). Ronald Syme points out that the Ummidii were caught up in the politics and intrigues of 135-8. We don’t know when Quadratus died.

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