Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae 6870 (Soukh el Khmis)

[From this you can understand the collusion of your procurator], involves not only Allius Maximus our opponent but practically all the lessees, contrary to natural justice and with unceasing harm to your revenues: he has not only avoided considering our case, although we petitioned more than many years ago and begged him and read out your divine response, but he has even supported to the bitter end Allius Maximus the lessee, who has absolute sway with him by his craftiness, and has sent troops into this same Burunitan estate and ordered that some of us be arrested and harassed, others be placed in chains, and that many, including Roman citizens as well, be beaten with whips and clubs. The only reason why we deserved this was because, in the face of so terrible a wrong, given our modest means, and such a blatant wrong too, when we came to your majesty we employed a somewhat hostile tone in our letter. The obviousness of the wrong done to us, Caesar, can be readily judged the fact that [we are forced] to offer our labour . . . This has forced us pitiful folk once again to beg for your divine foresight: we beg you, most sacred emperor, to help us. Since that right has been removed by the section of Hadrian's law cited above, let the right be removed from the procurators, not to mention the lessee, of increasing their share of produce or of increasing their demands for labour or use of animals. The instructions of the procurators, which are in your archive for the Carthaginian district, have specified in them that we should not owe more than two days' ploughing each year, two days of sowing, and two days of reaping. Let that be accepted by all, certainly when the stipulations are engraved on bronze and are furnished by all our neighbours around in all directions in a continuous pattern down to the present and are duly confirmed by the letters of the procurators, which we cited above. Please help: we are impoverished country folk supporting our lives by the work of our hands but unable to match the influence of the lessee with his extravagant gifts before your procurators, a man who is well known to them as they succeed each other through the terms of the lease. Take pity on us and in your sacred response deign to indicate that we do not need to offer more than what is in accord with Hadrian's law and the letters of your procurators, that is, three occurrences of two days' work. So, through your majesty's generosity, we, your rustic house slaves and the foster-children of your estates, may not be troubled further by the lessees of the lands belonging to the treasury ...
Caesar Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus Maximus to Lurius Lucullus and the others in whose name he made his petition: My procurators, in consideration of customary practice and my decision, will ensure that nothing is wrongfully demanded from you contrary to the established measures.
in another hand: I have recorded this. I have ascertained the the record. This is a copy of the letter of the noble gentleman, the procurator.

Trans: T. Parkin and A. Pomeroy, Roman Social History: A Sourcebook (Routledge, 2007).

Much can be inferred about the relationships between procurators, coloni, conductores, and the imperial government from the inscription found at the Soukh el Khmis site.


The above inscription represents a petition made by both slaves and coloni on behalf of Lurius Lucullus towards the imperial government. According to the petition, the conductor of the estate, Allius Maximus, who had Lucullus and those he represented work as tenant farmers, treated the signees of the petition unjustly and violated their legal rights. In response to their airing of grievances, he had them beaten with whips and clubs. It is important to note that the law prevented this kind of corporal punishment of Roman citizens, who comprised a proportion of the population who served as tenant farmers. Furthermore, had unfairly raised the amount of work required of the farmers in contradiction to the Lex Hadriana law, itself an extension of the Lex Manciana, which stipulated that "each tenant must supply two consecutive days labour for ploughing and two for harvesting, on top of a day supervising the livestock. Labour services could be seconded to slaves or retainers of the tenants." The relatively wealthy conductores were able to use their financial influence to bribe the procurator of the province into ignoring these grievances, so the tenant farmers appealed to the Imperial Government, who responded kindly to their cause.

Notable Inferences:

1. Citizens' Rights in North Africa, and perhaps provinces at large:

As Lucullus states, a number of these tenant farmers were Roman citizens, and therefore entitled to certain civil protections - however, the legal rights of citizens were not always respected in the provinces, as evidenced by the beating of the citizens.

2. Education of tenant farmers in North Africa:

As evidenced by the very existence of the written petition, at least some of the coloni were educated enough to pen such a request.

3. Imperial interaction with provincial corruption.

Lucullus's petition deals with a textbook case of local government corruption - the richer conductores who own the land pay off the procurator to ignore the law. Yet, as evidenced by the note from Commodus at the bottom of the document, the Imperial Government responded to the issue, protecting the rights of powerless citizens in spite of the way in which it could have fractured its relationship with a Procurator which was on the take. This reveals that the Imperial Government at the time had an investment in either fighting against corruption or protecting the rights of its citizens.


Dennis P. Kehoe, The Economics of Agriculture on Roman Imperial Estates in North Africa


How is the worker who writes this grievance literate enough to write in the first place? What does this reflect about education and literacy in the Roman empire at the time?

Was it common for grievances by workers to be addressed directly to Caesar? Did Caesar ever respond to these sorts of grievances in practice? Were the problems ever solved?

What was "Hadrian's Law" and how did it aply specifically to this case?

AKS: Good questions. You might also question whether an intermediary would actually read the relevant letters - look for texts about provincial administration.

Your interpretation of the article's application to Roman life is really interesting. The only comments I have: do you have more sources than just that wikipedia article that you have cross referenced with? Can you elaborate on whether this issue was particularly common? Possible comparisions to revoking of lawful rights in today's society?
Lillian McBee

I agree with Lillian, and thought the analysis of the document was quite informative and helpful. If you have time, it would be interesting maybe to also hear about whether Commodus actually put a stop to all these abuses, as you mentioned in your initial questions. Also, did he take precautions to make sure that similar abuses would not happen again in the future. Were there laws passed by the emperors seeking to ward off corruption? Also, how often were petitions like this successful, as it seems like Rome was too big an empire for the emperor to be able to respond and solve every charge of corruption.
-Nat Roth

I definitely agree with the two earlier comments - the application to Roman life is really quite interesting. I also think that looking into the success of such petitions would be a good next step. From that, the relationship that Roman citizens had (or not) with the emperor could be investigated more. - Taylor Goodspeed