The Garigliano Bowl Inscription – A Tribute to Dioscuri?

The Garigliano Bowl is a small impasto bowl with a bucchero glaze, believed to have been created around 500 BC. lt was found along the river Garigliano, situated between the regions of Lazio and Campania in Italy, near the ancient city of Minturnae (modern Minturno).

The bowl bears one of the earliest known inscriptions in the Latin language, making it a crucial artifact for understanding the development and spread of Latin in ancient Italy.

The common reading of the inscription is:

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A: AHUIDIES
B: NEI[- – -]PARIMEDESOMKOMMEOISSOKIOISTRIVOIADDEOMDUO

Most scholars agree that AHUIDIES is a personal name, while ESOM KOM MEOIS SOKIOIS part means “I am with my companions”. The rest is controversial.

Brent vine’s interpretation goes as follows:

Archaic Latin text: NEI PARI MED ESOM KOM MEOIS SOKIOIS TRIFOS AUDEOM DUO[M]
English translation: Do not take me! I am with my three companions (property) of the two Audii.

My Translation of the Garigliano Bowl

In my division of the text, the word NEI is not first but last and I am not the first person to propose this theory. It is clear even from a brief look at the image that the creator intended to inscribe the text in a circular pattern along the rim but ran out of space. As a result, the inscription had to be extended, and the letters NEI ended up above the initial word ‘PARI.’ Before the letters NEI, a few letters are missing, because the bowl is damaged.

My reading would therefore look like this:

A: AHUIDIES
B: PARIMEDESOMKOMMEOISSOKIOISTRIVOIADDEOMDUONEI

Translation:

AHUIDIES – OVIDIES

PARI MED – PROTECT ME
ESOM KOM MEOIS SOKIOIS – I AM WITH MY COMPANIONS

TRIVOI AD DEOM DUO(SKUR)NEI – TRIBUTE TO THE GODS DIOSCURI

Each Line Explained

AHUIDIES – OVIDIES (Ovidius)

Most scholars agree that this is a personal name. Some of the proposed variants are (AfidiusAvidiusAfiedius, AufidiusAufiediusOfdiusAlfidius). In my opinion, this are all just variants of an early, and well-attested Latin name Ovidius. See here.

PARI MED – PROTECT ME

The word MED is not problematic as it appears in many of the early Latin inscriptions, and it is a general consensus that it meant “me”.

On the other hand, I the word PARI is far more problematic. My translation is unique and I based it on the Latin word “pareo” which meant “to protect”.

ESOM KOM MEOIS SOKIOIS – I AM WITH MY COMPANIONS

ESOM: the first person singular of the verb “to be”.
KOM: Likely a preposition or adverb, resembling “cum” in Classical Latin, which means “with.”
MEOIS: A form of the possessive adjective “meus,” meaning “my” in Classical Latin, but in an archaic or dialectal form that differs from the standard.
SOKIOIS: This seems to be an early or dialectal form of “sociis,” the ablative plural of “socius,” meaning “companions” or “allies” in Classical Latin. See here.

TRIVOI AD DEOM DUO(SKUR)NEI – TRIBUTE TO THE GODS DIOSCURI

TRIVOI: My translation of this line of the text is unique for every word. I connect the word TRIVOI with later Latin “tribus, tribuo”, meaning “to grant, to bestow – tribute”.
AD: This is a Latin preposotion meaning “to, for”. See here.
DEOM: “Deom” could be a dative plural form of “deus,” meaning “god,” though the standard form would be “deis” or “diis.” 
DUOSKURNEI: I believe that the missing letters are “SKUR”. In Latin, the word would be written as “Dioscuri,” referring to Castor and Pollux.

In ancient times, the Dioscuri, also known as Castor and Pollux, were revered as protectors and helpers of humankind in various aspects. They were especially known for their role in aiding sailors and travelers. Their mythology included themes of brotherhood, loyalty, and the righting of wrongs, which resonated with many people, regardless of their social status.

Unlike some deities who were worshipped in grand temples and required elaborate rituals, the worship of the Dioscuri was more accessible. They were worshipped at crossroads, where simple shrines could be set up, and offerings could be made without the need for elaborate ceremonies. This accessibility made them particularly appealing to the lower classes, who might not have had the resources or time to participate in the more demanding aspects of state religion.

Moreover, another one of the earliest Latin inscriptions, from the same period as the Garigliano bowl is a dedication to Castor an Pollux from Lavinium. It contains the phrase “Castorei Podlouqueique / Qurois“. This inscription indicates a clear influence from Greek culture as the term “qurois” stands the Greek word “κούροις,” – “youths”, while “Podlouquei” closely resembles the Greek “Πολυδεύκης.

Additionally, this inscription is important as it denotes the period when the twin gods became part of Roman culture. Romans will worship them for over a thousand years. In the 5th-century, Pope Gelasius I who mentiones the enduring “cult of Castores,” which the people were “hesitant to abandon”.

Coincidentally, another ancient bowl bears a striking resemblance to the Garigliano bowl. It dates to the same period as the previous inscriptions, but this one is written in Etruscan. It is a dedication to Dioscuri who are mentioned as Tinas Cliniar – meaning “Heavenly Twins”, or “Sons of Tinia”.

These bowls were a popular choice for votive tributes because of the ritual known as theoxenia, which means “entertaining gods”, and was particularly associated with Castor and Pollux. In this practice, people invited these two gods to a table set with food. This invitation could take place in private homes or in communal spaces like public hearths, or similar areas overseen by the authorities.

Final thoughts

In summary, it seems that the inscription on the Garigliano Bowl is a dedication to the Dioscuri, made by someone named Ovidius, placed in a modest public sanctuary. It appears to be a plea for safeguarding him and those who journey with him.

The timing of this inscription aligns precisely with the earliest documented Latin references to the Dioscuri and the initiation of a millennium-long veneration of the Heavenly Twins. This worship even echoes in Rome’s origin story, symbolized by the twins Romulus and Remus.

The item bearing the inscription was a simple bowl, utilized for the theoxenia ritual, and probably offered by ordinary individuals, possibly soldiers or merchants.

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