Ancient Roman Politician Celebrated Election Victory With a Sundial in His Name

Fagjun | Published 2017-11-13 02:06

Archaeologists discovered a 2,000-year-old proof that politicians have always been a little full of of themselves, even when they intend to share their victories.

Photo by Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge



An excavation of a Roman town called Interamna Lirenas has revealed the existence of a rare, intact limestone sundial bearing an inscription. Apparently, 2,000 years ago, a Roman citizen named Marcus Novius Tubula won an election and commissioned the creation of a sundial to commemorate his victory. He dedicated this victory monument to his hometown, Interamna Lirenas, and made sure to let everyone know that he paid for the sundial with his own money. In fact, he literally had it written in stone, as it’s part of the inscription on the sundial’s base.


The red circle indicates the spot in the town's theater where archaeologists found the sundial [Image by Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge]



The small town of Interamna Lirenas lay about 50 miles south of Rome, established in the fourth century BC and abandoned in the sixth century AD. Though the town may be long gone, its artifacts will paint us a picture of what it had been like.


Sometime around the first century BC, Marcus Novius Tubula was elected into the office the Plebeian Tribune, which represents Rome’s non-aristocratic citizens. He also paid for the limestone sundial with his own money. Since all these details were inscribed into the base of the sundial, people in Marcus Novius Tubula’s hometown would be reminded of all of it whenever they wanted to check the time.


A portion of the map of Interamna Lirenas. In the image on the right, the purple lines indicate streets while the blue half-circle indicates the theater. [Image by the University of Cambridge]



The sundial has a concave face with 11 hour lines etched into the limestone. There should also be an iron needle that would have helped people tell the time by casting a shadow on the sundial’s face, but that needle is now long gone.


What makes this particular sundial such a rare find?  Sundials with inscriptions are quite rare. “Less than a hundred examples of this specific type of sundial have survived and of those, only a handful bear any kind of inscription at all – so this really is a special find,” said Dr Alessandro Launaro, a member of the Faculty of Classics at Cambridge.

A Monument to Small-Town Achievers

Illustration of the establishment of the plebeian tibune by B. Barloccini



The sundial was probably placed in a spot somewhere near the town’s forum, where people would have been able to see it more easily. However, when Interamna Lirenas was excavated, archaeologists found the sundial by the entrance of the theater. It’s possible that people looting the town for building materials during the Medieval Times moved the sundial from its original placement.


While the sundial may be a monument to a politician’s ego, we can also look at it as a genuine commemoration of his achievements and political success. The existence of the sundial indicated that people from the smaller communities outside of Rome itself had an involvement in how the empire was run. Interamna Lirenas wasn’t a particularly remarkable or significant town, but the discovery of the sundial showed that even individuals from places such as this can aspire to a respectable political career in the capital.

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