Graeco-Roman Antiquities & the New Testament
Loving Devotion Preserved in Stone
It is interesting that one of the longest Latin inscriptions, almost 200 lines in length, that contains personal rather than official information portrays the love of a husband for his departed wife. The Latin inscription that is considered the jewel of all Latin inscriptions (Res Gestae Divi Augusti, The Achievements of the Divine Augustus) was authored by the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, and it narrates the great achievements of his long and successful reign. Unlike Augustus, this husband does not narrate his own achievements, but those achievements of his now dead wife, a rare woman named Turia.
This crestfallen husband and his beloved Turia are thought by scholars to have lived early in their marriage in the turbulent times of the late Roman Republic. The fact that his wife preceded him in death just adds additional sorrow to his burden of loss. Toward the end, the inscription reads, “It was fated that you should go ahead of me. You have bequeathed me sorrow, born of my longing for you . . . . Natural grief wrests away my power of self-control. I am drowned by sorrow, and tormented by grief and fear – I stand firm against neither.”
Earlier in this funerary monument the husband remarks, “Marriages as long as ours are rare, ended by death, not broken by divorce. For we were fortunate enough to be together forty years without quarrel. Would that our long partnership had come to an end because of something that had happened to me . . . .”
The qualities of Turia are enumerated by her saddened husband. “Why should I recall your domestic virtues, of modesty, obedience, affability, reasonableness, diligence at wool-working, religion without superstition, sobriety of dress, modesty of appearance? Why should I speak about your concern for your relatives, your devotion to your family, that you looked after my mother as you did your own parents, that you worked to provide the same quiet life for her as you did for your own relatives, and the innumerable other virtues you have in common with all married women who cultivate a good reputation?”
What really qualified Turia as the uberwife was her special service to her husband when he was exiled during a time of political unrest. Turia’s husband calls these acts Turia’s “special virtues.” These “special virtues” are attested in statements like, “you furnished abundant assistance during my flight,” “you begged for my life when I was absent,” and “a gang of men broke into our house to plunder it, but you drove them back and defended our home.”
This Latin inscription also contains additional drama about Turia’s defense of her husband during his exile that is even more dramatic than her “driving back gangsters.” These snapshots of Turia’s virtues contained in these old stones provide insight not only into the life and activities of women in the late Republic and early Empire, but also demonstrate the value of Latin inscriptions for students of the New Testament who want deeper discernment about the world from which some of the early Christians came.
A full translation of this Latin inscription can be found in:
Also consult David Cherry, The Roman World, pp. 54-58; Lefkowitz, Mary and M.B. Fant, Women’s Life in Greece and Rome. A Source Book in Translation.