A Latin inscription from Beirut, dating to the third century A. D., records a conflict between shipowners from Arelate (Arles) in Gaul and the Roman government:
[- – – I]ulianus naviculariis / [mar]inis Arelatensibus quinque / [co]rporum salutem / [qu]id lecto decreto vestro scripserim / [- – -]S[- – -] proc(uratori) Augg(ustorum) e(gregio) v(iro) subi/[e]ci iussi opto felicissimi bene valeatis e(xemplum) e(pistulae) / exemplum decreti naviculariorum ma/rinorum Arelatensium quinque cor/porum item eorum quae aput me acta / sunt subieci et cum eadem querella la/tius procedat ceteris etiam imploranti/bus auxilium aequitatis cum quadam de/nuntiatione cessaturi propediem obsequi / si permaneat iniuria peto ut tam indemni/tati rationis quam securitati hominum / qui annonae deserviunt consulatur / inprimi charactere regulas ferreas et / adplicari prosecutores ex officio tuo iu/beas qui in urbe pondus quo susce/perint tradant // – – – – – – / Maxi[- – -] / utique [- – -] / et ex[- – -]tor ex[- – -]/cianu[- – -]/nes pr[- – – ha]vicula[ri- – -] / feci / eiusdem [- – -] / legi decret[um naviculariorum – – -]/tes hom[ines – – -]/tiones [- – -] / est ut [- – -] / coni[- – -] / non [- – -] / SES[- – -] / ST[- – -] / R[- – -].
(CIL III 14165.8 (cf. p. 2328.78) = ILS 06987)
In the translation of Fik Meijer and Onno van Nijf:
Claudius Julianus to the navicularii marini (marine shippers) of the five corpora (associations) of Arles, greetings! What I wrote, after reading your decree, to . . . a . . . s . . ., vir egregius procurator of the Augusti, I have ordered, and I want it to be added (thereafter). Fortunate people, may you prosper! Copy of the letter (from (J)ulianus to the procurator). I have added a copy of the decree of the navicularii marini of Arles belonging to the five corpora and likewise (a copy) of the documents from the courtcase conducted before me. And should the same dispute continue further, and the other (navicularii) appeal to justice with what amounts to a formal complaint that they will soon cease to comply with their obligations, and if the injustice continues, I request that provision be made for both a guarantee against fiscal loss in the books and for exoneration of the people providing services for the annona, and that you order the marking of the iron bars, and that escorts from your staff be provided, who will hand over (details of) the cargo weight that they ‘have taken on board’.
As far as one can tell on the basis of this fragmentary text, the navicularii marini, who played a role in Rome’s food supply (annona), felt short-changed or defrauded by Roman state authorities or its corrupt representatives. (Mention of officially administered ‘marking of the iron bars’, among other things, would suggest that previously fraudulent measures were in applied or misappropriation and embezzlement took place.)
In response to the injustice they encountered, the marine shippers relied on their corpora, their corporations or trade unions, so to speak, and made a powerful representation.
They sought, and obtained, a legal decree from the governor, and, to increase pressure on the Roman government, they threatened to disrupt the provision of previously agreed services, should the injustice continue (cessaturi propediem obsequi / si permaneat iniuria) – a veritable threat of industrial action, jeopardising Rome’s food supply.
Threat of such collective action, rather than individual complaints, was enough to gain a favourable outcome – an outcome that was advertised even far away from Arelate, at the other end of the Mediterranean.
There is strength in numbers when one wishes to fight against unfair treatment, and only slaves without the means or the power to revolt have to render services at a cost solely determined by their masters.