What is it?
This is a Roman stone sundial, a timekeeping device that had become quite common in the Roman world from the 2nd century BC onwards. Carved out of a limestone block (54cm × 35cm × 25cm), the sundial is engraved with 11 hour-lines (demarcating the 12 horae of daylight) intersecting three day-curves (giving an indication of the season with respect to the time of the winter solstice, equinox, and summer solstice). Its gnomon (the needle casting the shadow) is almost completely lost. What makes it exceptional is the inscription, giving us the identity of the person who commissioned the object.
Where was it found, and when?
The sundial was uncovered by students of the Faculty of Classics of the University of Cambridge during the excavation of the roofed theatre of the Roman town of Interamna Lirenas, near Monte Cassino in central Italy’s Liri Valley. The dig is part of a long-standing collaborative Anglo-Italian archaeological project involving the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per le Province di Frosinone, Latina e Rieti, and the Comune di Pignataro Interamna. The sundial lay face down, immediately outside one of the secondary entrances to the building, where it was probably left as the town, completely abandoned in the course of the 6th century AD, was systematically robbed for building materials during the medieval and post-medieval period.
Why does it matter?
Two Latin texts are inscribed on the sundial: they are both perfectly legible and give precise information about the identity of the person who commissioned the object. The base prominently features the name of M[arcus] NOVIUS M[arci] F[ilius] TUBULA (Marcus Novius Tubula, son of Marcus), while the engraving on the curved rim of the dial surface records that he held the office of TR[ibunus] PL[ebis] (plebeian tribune) and paid for the sundial D[e] S[ua] PEC[unia] (with his own money).
The nomen Novius is quite common for this part of Italy, but the cognomen Tubula (literally ‘small trumpet’) is probably very local, being otherwise unattested. Although the existence of local plebeian tribunes in so-called ‘Latin’ colonies (like Interamna Lirenas) is not unheard of before the Social War (91-88 BC), the likely date of the inscription (mid-1st century BC onwards) identifies Tubula as a plebeian tribune of Rome. Therefore, Tubula, hailing from Interamna Lirenas, would have presented his home town with a sundial as a way to celebrate his electoral success in the capital, providing us with a concrete indication of the level of involvement in Rome’s own affairs that individuals hailing from this and other relatively secondary communities could aspire to.
Find out more
For more information on the project, see www.classics.cam.ac.uk/interamna. To explore a 3D model of the sundial, visit https://sketchfab.com/models/5fca8e8414984f988656e221acf44e8f
Text: Alessandro Launaro
Image: University of Cambridge