The Wax tablets from Alburnus Maior

54186 (VIII), 54187 (XI)
131 (VIII), 164 (XI)
Trimming, carving
145x70mm (VIII), 143x105mm (XI)

    The wax tablets from Alburnus Maior  

    Dr. Mihaela Simion

    The Wax Tablet XVIII / 54186 / Material: pinewood / Technique: trimming, carving / Sizes: 145 x 70 mm / Dating: 6 February 131 p.Chr. // The Wax Tablet XI / 54187 / Material: pinewood / Technique: trimming, carving / Sizes: 143 x 105 mm / Dating: 20 May 164 p.Chr.

    Two outstanding pieces from the patrimony of the National History Museum of Romania

    The National History Museum of Romania has the privilege to own two pieces of outmost historical and documentary importance, within the collection of Greco-Roman antiquities. The pieces in question are two wax tablets (Tab.Cer.D. XVIII, inv. no. 54186 and Tab.Cer.D. XI, inv. no. 54187), which are part of a special category of discoveries, known in the professional historical-archeological literature as The Dacian Wax Tablets or The Transylvanian Triptychs. The two wax tablets owned by our museum are pieces of exceptional value, due to the fact that one of them is the oldest of the entire well-known batch (Tab.Cer.D. XVIII) and the other is one of the most complete and eloquent historical and documentary sources with respect to the labor law during the Roman period (Tab. Cer. D. XI). 

    Their discovery was brought about by the revival of the mining activity in Transylvania, which started in a well-organized framework during the reign of Maria Theresa (1740-1780) and Joseph II (1780-1790), related to the creation and development of the Mining Treasury by the Habsburg Empire. In this context, in 1786, 1788, 1790, 1820 (1824?), 1854 and 1855, along with the reopening of some Roman mining galleries at Roșia Montană (the ancient Alburnus Maior), a number of over 30 such wax “wood books” were accidentally discovered by miners. Some of them were destroyed immediately after they had been found, because of their critical state of preservation and the contact with the air, whereas others disappeared. 

    As remarkable epigraphic documents due to the uniqueness and the abundance of the provided information, the 25 preserved wax tablets from Alburnus Maior offer precise information regarding the economic aspects, the habitat system, the religious life and the juridical relations which governed the local mining community.  

    Unlike other similar discoveries in the Roman Empire, such as the batches of tablets from Vindolanda (Britannia) or Pompei (Italy), which also include elements of correspondence or literary exercises, the Transylvanian Triptychs are official documents exclusively, namely legal documents-instrumenta, with a strictly particular and individual nature. Therefore, in terms of content, the following categories of documents are distinguished: the record for the self-dissolution of a funeral association (Tab.Cer.D. I), loan agreements (Tab.Cer.D. II; Tab.Cer.D. III; Tab.Cer.D. IV; Tab.Cer.D. V; Tab.Cer.D. XXII), deeds of conveyance (Tab.Cer.D. VI; Tab.Cer.D. VII; Tab.Cer.D. VIII; Tab.Cer.D. IX; Tab.Cer.D. XXI), deeds of conveyance or loan agreements (the state of preservation did not allow the precise identification - Tab.Cer.D. XIX; Tab.Cer.D. XX), employment contracts (Tab.Cer.D. X; Tab.Cer.D. XI; Tab.Cer.D. XII; Tab.Cer.D. XVIII ?), banking documents (Tab.Cer.D.XIII; Tab.Cer.D. XIV;), partnership agreements (Tab.Cer.D. XV; Tab.Cer.D. XVII) and a list of purchases/expenses for organizing an event (Tab.Cer.D. XVI). Due to the lack of information in the preserved part, three of the Dacian wax tablets could not be included in any of the above-mentioned categories (Tab.Cer.D. XXIII; Tab.Cer.D. XXIV; Tab.Cer.D. XXV).

    The deciphering and analysis of these sources allowed the distinction between the functioning mechanisms of the Roman law. This was one of the rare occasions when the discovery of the “applied Roman law” was possible.

    Apart from the aspect concerning the history of the province Dacia, the Wax Tablets from Alburnus Maior stand out as a category of sources with a major impact upon the Roman law studies, related to the entire Empire and highly regarded amongst Fontes Iuris Romani Antiqui. Nine of the documents were drawn up at Alburnus Maior, two at the canabae of the 13th legion, known as Gemina, in Apulum, and  others in still unidentified places on the field (Vicus Deusara‐ 2; Kartum‐1; Immenosum Maius‐ 1). Furthermore, these documents mention a series of toponyms, which the exegetes attribute to some housing structures attached to the ensemble from Alburnus Maior (Statio Resculum, Vicus Pirustarum), as well as a series of places connected to the native area of the characters engaged in the activities and transactions immortalized in the documents from Alburnus Maior (Kavieretium, Sclaietae, Marcinium?, Nocnetae?, Geldonae).

    The dating of these documents indicates a period of time in the middle of the 2nd century A.D., which covers the last part of the Publius Aelius Hadrianus’ reign (117 – 138 A.D.), the reign of Antoninus Pius (138 – 161 A.D.) and the first part of the Marcus Aurelius’ reign (161 – 180 A.D.). The earliest wax tablet dates back to 131 A.D. (Tab Cer.D XI), and the most recent one to 167 A.D.(Tab. Cer. D. II).

    The specialists’ unanimous opinion is that the tablets were hidden inside some hardly accessible mining galleries at a moment of crisis, probably connected to the Marcomannic attacks on the province Dacia, in 167-170 A.D.. 

    Tab.Cer. D. XVIII (inv. no. 54186), included in the collection of the National Museum of Romanian History, is the oldest one of the Wax Tablets from Alburnus Maior. The tablet in question reveals an employment contract signed on the 6th of February 131 A.D., of which only a part of the fir-wooden triptych is still preserved (part 1 or 3, taking into account that only one side is covered with wax and has the protection frame). The incomplete text is written in Latin, with cursive letters, the tablet sizes being of 145 X 70 mm. The piece was discovered in 1854, in the Ohaba-Saint Simeon gallery, in the Cârnic massif.

    The Latin text: 

    [Po]ntiano [et] Rufino co(n)s(ulibus) VIII idus Februarias Valerius Firmus /s[cripsi rogatus ab] Verzone Beusantis quod (?) di[- -]s nu[- -] /[- - - - - ]Beusantis iure [ - - - ]agro gra[ - - ] quod [ - - - - ] /[ - - ] suos feren[ - - - - ]retio Dasius Verzonis [ - - ]in[ - ]os c / [ - - - - - - - ]r[ - - - - - - ]i[ - - -]id[ - - - ]r[ - - - - - ] / ex viro gra[ - - - - - - ]ide[ - - - - - - - ]* viginti [ - ]q[ - - ] / gro gra[ - - - - - - - - - - - - - ] Beusantis [ - - - - ]f[ - - - ] /  fere[ - - - - - - - - - - - - Al]burno Maiori [ - - - - - - - - ]

    Besides the elements of dating, the legible part of the text reveals the name of a jurist (the one who has written the contract), namely Valerius Firmus, who draws up a contract (an employment contract or loan agreement) for the benefit of some people with Illyrian onomasiology (Verzo, son of Beusas, two characters with Beusantis as patronymic and Dasius, the son of Verzon). It is hard to tell whether they required the services of Valerius Firmus due to the lack of knowledge of the characters from Alburnus Maior (a fact which is actually revealed in other documents from Alburnus Maior), or it is rather a common practice to choose an “authorized” jurist, as standard juridical expressions are involved.   

    The second piece, namely Tab.Cer.D. XI(inv. no. 54187), is included in the same batch of wax tablets discovered in 1854, in the Ohaba-Saint Simeon gallery in the Cârnic massif. The piece was donated by the mining technician L. Diószegi to the Museum in Cluj and later became part of the collection at the National Museum of Romanian History. Dated on the 20th of May 164 A.D., the document is an employment contract (labor force renting) and is also part of a triptych (part 1 or 3, taking into account that only one side is covered with wax and has the protection frame). In some places, we notice traces of a previous writing, because the tablet was “reused” for the present form of contract. Its sizes are of 143 x105 mm and it is made of fir-tree wood. The holes for its assemblage in a triptych form are preserved. 

    The text, written in Latin and with cursive letters, is quite well preserved and it also contains particular and local language and writing forms (considered to be “absurd” by the first editors of the document- for example: “it quod” instead of id quod, “dixsit” instead of dixit, “inpedierit” instead of impedierit).

    [Macri]no et Celso co(n)s(ulibus) XIII Kal(endas) Iunias Flavius Secundinus scripsi rogatus a Mem/mio Asclepi quia se lit[ter]as scire negavit it quod dixsit se locas[se] et locavit / operas s[ua]s opere aurario Aurelio Adiutori ex ha[c] die [in] Idus Novembres / proxsimas [|(denarios) se]pt(u)aginta liberisque |(denarios) [ - - HS  - - mer]c[ede]m per [t]empora accipe[re] / debebit qu[as] operas sanas v[ale]ntes [ed]e[re] debebit conductori [s(upra) s(cripto)] / quod si invito condu[c]tore decedere aut c[e]ssare volue[rit dare] / debebit in dies singulos [H]S V num(mos) (a)ere octus[s(is)] c[ond]uct[or]i [si laborem] / fluor inpedierit pro rata c[o]nputare de[bebit c]onduc[tor si t]empo/re peracto mercedem sol[v]endi moram fecerit ead[em] p[oena] / tenebitur exceptis cessatis tribus / actum Immenoso Maiori / Titus Beusantis / qui et Bradua / Socratio Socra/tionis / [M]emmius Asclepi


    „During the consulship of Macrinus and Celsus [164 CE] May 19th, I, Flavius Secuninus, wrote this, asked by Memmius, son of Asclepius because he did not know letters, who said he had contracted himself and contracted his labor in the gold mine to Aurelius Adiutor from this day until this next November 13th, for 70 denarii and 10 for his children. During this time he may receive pay. He will be responsible to give healthy and strong labor to the conductor named above. But if he decides to leave or to be inactive against the conductor’s will he will be responsible to give for each day a fee of 5 sesterces 8 asses to the conductor. If a flood hinders work, he will be responsible to calculate pay as fixed. If by the end of the term of the lease the conductor delays making payment, he will be held to the same penalty with the excepted three day delay. 

    Recorded at Immenosus Maior.

    Titus, son of Beusan, who is also Bradua 

    Socratio, son of Socratio 

    Memmius, son of Asclepius”

    Tab.Cer. D XI is one of the most important documents regarding the Roman world, which has been preserved up to the present day. The ethnic blend and the social heterogeneous composition stand out as a juridical statute, specific for an area in which gentes ex toto orbe romano are mesmerized by gold, in a genuine “California of Antiquity”, as Vasile Pârvan very eloquently described the Alburnus Maior area. The leaseholder, namely Aurelius Adiutor, is a Roman citizen like the jurist “writer” Flavius Secundinus, but it is difficult to identify their native area. The contract holder, namely the peregrine Memmius of Asclepios appears to have an oriental origin, although his patronymic is Greek. The other two characters immortalized in the document as witnesses, namely Titusal of Beusantis, also known as Bradua and Socratios of Socration, are also peregrines and their onomasiology indicates an Illyrian-Dalmatian origin for the former and a Greek-Oriental origin for the letter. 

    As a juridical document, Tab.Cer.D. XI brings forth significant clarifications regarding the organization of the mining activity, the remuneration of the specialized labor, as well as the rights and obligations of each party; thus, it is one of the most important sources concerning the origin of “labor legislation”, as well as the history of Dacia - Augusti Provinciae.