Base for statue of Decimius Hesperius, former governor of Africa Proconsularis and judge appointed by the emperor. Lepcis Magna (Tripolitania). c. 378.

In 13 lines:

(H)esperii v(iri) c(larissimi). / Decimio (H)esperio v(iro) c(larissimo), ex procon/sule provin(ciae) Africae, iudici / sacrarum cognitionum, /(5) prosapiae dignitatm (sic, for 'dignitatem') crescenti (sic, perhaps for 'accrescenti')) / per gradus et merita gloriar(um), / ob honorm (sic, for 'honorem') iustitiae quam / causae Tripolitanorum / deligatae (sic, for 'delegatae') sacro iudici(o) /(10) exhibuit, praestanti / patro(no), (vac. c.4) Lepcimagnen/sis cliens semper ordo / cum populo conlocavit.

'[Statue of] Hesperius, of clarissimus rank. To Decimius Hesperius, of clarissimus rank, former governor (proconsul) of the province of Africa, judge in the imperial court of appeal, who enhances the dignity of his family through high offices and merits of glory; for the honour of the justice which he showed to the case of the Tripolitanians, that that was assigned [to him] by sacred decision [of the emperor], to the outstanding patron, the council of Lepcis Magna, forever his client, together with the people, set this up.'

Letter height 3-6 cm.

Monolithic base of Proconnesian marble, moulded at top and bottom: H 145, W 69, D 69 cm. There are some chips along the margins. The mouldings are executed carefully, but lack the final finish. The lateral sides are decorated with a moulded frame; on the front face this frame has been removed and replaced by a flat frame that is set against the epigraphic field by an incised line. As other examples in Leptis show, such a change of the dimensions of the frame was done to increase the epigraphic field and is therefore a sign of re-use. Our base has had one, perhaps even two phases of re-use. The latest is our inscription that was carved after the base had been turned upside down; the signum is carved on what was originally the bottom moulding. The epigraphic field is extended and deeply cut; which may indicate the erasure of more than one inscription. The form of the base points to a date for its crearion and first use in the later 3rd century.

The base was found on the Severan forum, on the eastern part of the square. It is still lying there today, with the inscribed face to the ground.

Decimius Hilarianus Hesperius, the honorand (Decimius Esperius (sic) in our inscription), was governor (proconsul) of Africa 376-7; this office had ended when our inscription was set up, which provides a terminus post quem for it (lines 2-3). Hesperius is testified to as praetorian prefect of Italy and Gaul in January 378; this office is not mentioned in our inscription which therefore must have been set up in the narrow period after he resigned from the provincial governorship in Africa in the autumn of 377, and January 378 (PLRE I, 427-8 Decimius Hilarianus Hesperius 2; see also the contemporary inscription to Nicomachus Flavianus, LSA-2173).

Hesperius was the son of the poet Ausonius who on his part was the teacher of the emperor Gratian; he belonged to one of the most powerful families of his time. Together with the vicar Nicomachus Flavianus (LSA-2173), he was appointed by the emperor Gratian to settle the case of the provincials against the comes Romanus (‘the case of the Tripolitanians, that was assigned to him by sacred decision - causae Tripolitanorum delegatae sacro iudicio, lines 8-9), a lawsuit that been delayed for more than ten years by the powerful allies of Romanus (on the case see Tantillo & Bigi 2010, 22-24). The court finally gave the provincials justice, and a series of monuments was set up in Lepcis Magna to celebrate: besides our inscription, that to Nicomachus Flavianus LSA-2173; to the comes rei militaris Victorianus LSA-2175; and, in connection with those, also the inscription to Valentinian II LSA-2162, and just possibly the one to Gratian LSA-2161.

The inscription was set up by the council and people of Lepcis Magna (Lepcimagnensis … ordo cum populo, lines 11-13). Remarkably, the ordo alone (not the entire city) is styled as client of Hesperius (Lepcimagnensis cliens semper ordo, lines 11-12).

Ignazio Tantillo & Francesca Bigi

Main Reference

Tantillo, I. and F. Bigi (eds.), Leptis Magna. Una città e le sue iscrizioni in epoca tardoromana, Cassino 2010, 350-353, no. 23, figs. 7.14, 10.27

Reynolds, J. M. & J. B. Ward-Perkins, The Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania. In collaboration with S. Aurigemma, R. Bartoccini, G. Caputo, R. Goodchild, P. Romanelli, Roma 1952, no. 526