Column used as base for statue of Diocletian, emperor (so-called 'Column of Pompey'). Alexandria (Aegyptus). 297-302

In four surviving lines:

Τὸ[ν τι]μιώτατον Αὐτοκράτορα, / τὸ[ν] πολιοῦχον Ἀλεξανδρείας, / Διο[κλη]τιανὸν, τὸν ἀν[ίκη]τον, / Πού̣π̣[λιος], ἔπαρχος Αἰγύπτου / [?---]

'Publius, governor of Egypt, [set this up to] the most revered emperor, the guardian-god of Alexandria, Diocletian the invincible (?...).'

Letter height 9.5 cm.

We reproduce the text with the completions suggested by Kayser 1994, 54-6 (where there is also a full critical apparatus on the readings). Misreadings of the awarder's name in line 4 led to the familiar name of the monument as the 'Column of Pompey'. Kayser's reading goes back to Vandersleyen 1958 (see below, 'Honorand, Awarder and Date').

DESCRIPTION (from Adriani 1966 and the published images)
Column of rose granite standing on a rectangular socle of the same material and crowned with a pseudo-Corinthian capital of grey granite. H of the overall monument 26.85 m, of the column shaft alone 20.75 m; diameter of the column 270-280 cm.

The socle, more than 6 m high, is tripartite, the single parts separated by horizontal mouldings. The uppermost part is formed by two blocks, the inscription is carved in the upper of these on its western side. The epigraphic field is slightly cut back and surrounded by a simple frame. The surface is weathered, leaving parts of the inscription difficult to read.

Fragments of a porphyry statue in a cuirass (LSA-1005), found near the site of the column, are almost certainly the remains of the statue of Diocletian which once crowned the monument.

The column is standing in situ at the eastern side of the Serapeum in Alexandria, between the external wall of the Ptolemaic temenos and the stilobate of the Roman enclosure.

Diocletian was Augustus 284-305.

The partly destroyed name of the awarder has been subject of a long debate from the earliest publications of the inscription in the early 19th century. The history of the readings was set out in detail by Vandersleyen 1958, arriving at the conclusion that there are only two possible correct readings that fit the space left by the destroyed part of the name, either ΠΟΣΙΔΙΟΣ (Posidios), or ΠΟΥΠΛΙΟΣ (Pouplios) for Publius (Vandersleyen 1958, 127). A praefectus Aegypti named Publius is known from Oxyrhynchus papyri 1204 (dated 299) and 1416. The latter deals with the visit of an unnamed emperor in the company of Publius to Oxyrhynchus. This most probably occured either in 298, during Diocletian's sojourn in the aftermath of the defeat of the rebellion of Domitius Domitianus, or in 302 when Diocletian was possibly again in Egypt on the occasion of the granting of a corn supply for the people of Alexandria. The unusual description in our inscription of the emperor as 'guardian-god of Alexandria' could suit either occasion.

Vandersleyen argued that the Publius of the papyri and the awarder of our inscription were the same man, since it is unlikely that there was another prefect, Posidius, in the same reign, known only from this inscription. In doing this, he was following an argument first made by the papyrologists B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt (Vandersleyen 1958, 114). Their view has been widely accepted, and is also accepted by us.

Publius' office can not predate 297, since in 16 March 297 a prefect of Egypt Aristius Optatus is attested (Lallemand 1964, 237 no. 1; PLRE I, 650 Aristius Optatus 2), and it cannot postdate 302, since Clodius Culcianus held the office from 303 (possibly already in Nov 302) to 306 (Lallemand 1964, 238 no. 3; PLRE I, 233-4 Clodius Culcianus).

Thiel 2006 suggested that this column was accompanied by one, or possibly even three similar ones carrying statues to the imperial colleagues of Diocletian.

Ulrich Gehn

Main Reference

Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum; , 4681

Inscriptiones Graecae ad Res Romanas pertinentes. Vol. I, Paris 1911, p. 369 no. 1068

Kayser, F., Recueil des Inscriptions grecques et latines (non funéraires) d’Alexandrie impériale, Cairo 1994, pp. 52-7 no. 15

Discussion References

Adriani, A., Repertorio d'Arte dell'Egitto Greco-Romano. Serie C. Vol. I-II, Palermo 1966, 97-8

Jones, A. H. M. et al., The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire. Vol. I 260-395, Cambridge et al. 1971 (1975),

Lallemand, J., L'administration civile de l'Égypte de l'avènement de Dioclétien à la creátion du diocèse (284-382, Bruxelles 1964,

Thiel, W., Die 'Pompeius-Säule' in Alexandria und die Vier-Säulen-Monumente Ägyptens, Die Tetrarchie: Ein neues Regierungssystem und seine mediale Repräsentation (edd. D. Boschung and W. Eck), Wiesbaden 2006, 251-70

Vandersleyen, C., Le préfet d’Égypte de la colonne de Pompée à Alexandrie, Chronique d’Égypte 33 pp. 113-34, Bruxelles 1958,