Let us remember that this has happened

After the disintegration of the Roman Empire in the fifth century A. D., most of the Iberian peninsula eventually became part of the Visigothic Kingdom. A successor state to the (Western) Roman Empire, the Visigoths had gained control over Rome’s Iberian provinces as well as over parts of southern Gaul, and their influence was to be felt for some 300 years, from the early fifth to the early eighth century A. D.

While the Visigoths managed to control most of the territory of the Iberian peninsula, there were certain areas that remained notoriously contentious, controlled by independent Iberian tribes – areas in which armed conflict, campaigns, and skirmishes lingered for sustained periods of time.

Testimony to this period and its conflicts in this area is a Latin verse inscription, dating to the seventh century A. D., which was discovered in the vicinity of Córdoba/Corduba, in the province of Baetica, and which commemorates one Visigothic nobleman named Oppilanus.

Oppilanus’ inscription reads as follows (CIL II ed. alt./7.714 = CLE 721; for a drawing of the inscription, which does not appear to have survived, follow this link; further on this text cf. also here [in Spanish]):

Haec cava saxa Oppilani
continet menbra (!),
clarum in ortum natalium,
gestu abituq(ue) conspicuum.
opib(u)s qu(i)ppe pollens et ar-
tuum virib(u)s cluens
iacula vehi pr(a)ecipitur pr(a)edoq(ue)
Bacceis destinatur.
in procinctum (!) belli necatur
opitulatione sodalium desolatus.
naviter cede perculsum
cli(e)ntes rapiunt perem(p)tum,
exanimis dom{i}u(m) reducitur
suis a vernulis humatur.
lugit (!) coniux cum liberis,
fletib(u)s familia pr(a)estrepit.
decies ut ternos ad quater
quaternos vixit per annos,
pridie Septembium (!) Idus
morte a Vasconibus multat(u)s
(a)era sescentensima et octagensima.
id gestum memento.
sepultus sub d(ie) quiescit
VI Id(us) Octubres (!).

This hollow stone contains the limbs of Oppilanus, of noble birth and notable bearing and composure. Mighty in his strength and renowned for the strength of his limbs, he gets taught to throw javelins and prepared to become a marauder in the country of the Baccei.

Prepared for war, he gets killed, deprived of his fellows’ help. Severely beaten up in an ambush, loyal helpers carry him away as he is wounded. Lifeless, he is taken back home and buried by his servants. His wife mourns him, together with his children, his family resounds with fits of weeping.

When he was forty-six years old, he was mortally wounded by the Vascones on the 12th of September in the 680th era [i. e. A. D. 642].

Let us remember that this has happened.

Here he rests, the date of his burial was the 10th of October.

Oppilanus, according to his epitaph, was trained to operate as a (presumably militarily otherwise unaligned?) Visigoth marauder (praedo) in the territory of the Vascones – a term that is at least etymologically related to the ethnic and geographical term ‘Basque’, though not (necessarily) straightforwardly synonymous to the Basque people and their territory of our age.

Fully prepared to go to war, he soon fell victim to a skirmish, in which he was mortally wounded. Despite his loyal servants’ best efforts, his life could not be saved: lugit (!) coniux cum liberis, | fletib(u)s familia pr(a)estrepit – ‘his wife mourns him, together with his children, his family resounds with fits of weeping’.

Oppilanus, according to his epitaph, was a highly trained combatant – he was ready to fight as a praedo, ready to ambush and kill the enemy. His inscription takes great pride in this, praising both his manly physique and his fighting skills, which proved to be of no use to him after all, for things turned out the other way: it was Oppilanus himself who fell victim of a skirmish, and thus his family was devastated.

Did Oppilanus himself, did his wife, his children, his familia ever spare a single thought for the families of those whom Oppilanus had set out to fight?

We cannot know.

What we do know, from the inscription, is what his relatives wanted to remember.

Of course, they wanted to remember Oppilanus, their husband and relative, and they wanted to remember him as a noble fighter.

But his end was not noble.

It was brutal and horrendous, and even his friends could not prevent Oppilanus’ dire fate – his getting ambushed by those whom he himself had set out to attack. All that there was left for his loyal helpers to do was to pick up Oppilanus’ mutilated, lifeless body, to carry it all the way back home (from close to the peninsula’s north to Córdoba in the south), and to see to its getting buried.

It is the aspect of failure, suffering, and death at the hand of the enemy that this inscription places at its very centre: it is this aspect that constitutes, quite literally, its core message.

And this core message gets reinforced subsequently.

The key phrase, to my mind, is id gestum memento, ‘let us remember that this has happened’, referring to the entire unfortunate string of events and how it had turned out for Oppilanus and his family.

‘Lest we forget’ is a phrase in common use nowadays in the context of our commemoration of those who died in armed conflict; we use it in conjunction with ‘we will remember them’.

Id gestum memento, ‘let us remember that this has happened’, goes substantially beyond that, reminding us not only of the people, but of what happens when armed conflict seems like the noble and the right thing to do.

Id gestum memento, ‘let us remember that this has happened’, is a much better way of putting it, linking the events (and their motives) to those who took part in it.

Let us remember that this has happened, and that the inevitable outcome has been, and will always be, that –

lugit (!) coniux cum liberis,
fletib(u)s familia pr(a)estrepit.

His wife mourns him, together with his children, his family resounds with fits of weeping.

About Peter Kruschwitz

Berliner. Classicist. Scatterbrain.
This entry was posted in Carmina Epigraphica, Epigraphy, Poetry, Prose and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Let us remember that this has happened

  1. Those who live by the sword…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The trouble is that all those around them, who might not want to live that way, suffer, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Unfortunately remembrance is only simulated by human beings during memory days and events, but a lessons-learned-effect is often not visible. This becomes very obvious when you observe the actual civil war in Syria and what the allied forces from the West are actually practising in this conflict. Throwing bombs will not lead to peace, it will only destroy cities and infrastructure, it will kill innocent civilians, it is another form of terror already practized in World W,ar II by all parties. Therefore it is good that the German government till today does not participate in such action. War is never noble, this is propaganda which shall cover all the suffering.

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  4. So very true. I collected a good number of Roman tomb inscriptions that commemorate individuals killed in war, and I might put them on here soon. Collective, state-organised mourning, while putting things into perspective, seems like a way of controlling and restricting people’s emotions as well, which is why I like the personal approach of this text as well as others. As for Syria … What a horrible mess and humanitarian disaster!

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