|Photo by Sebastia Giralt, 2009
The things that makes them interesting are their inscriptions:
Casius Longinu(s) quei Catilinae <su>
Cassius Longinus who gives his support to Catiline (My translation)
M(arcus) Cato quei petit tribun(at)u(m) plebei (CIL VI 40904 = AE 1979, 64)
These inscriptions, assuming they are authentic, indicate that these bowls were used as election propaganda in 63 B.C.E.. They would have been filled with food and give out to the people to remind them to vote for the candidate whose name was scratched into the interior. In his defense of L. Licinius Murena, consul-elect for 62 B.C.E., against charges of electoral bribery (ambitus), M. Tullius Cicero argues that the provision of entertainments, gladiators, and banquets are traditional and should be viewed as generosity rather than bribery, (Pro Murena, 77).
We know that in 63 B.C.E L. Sergius Catilina was standing for the consulship of 62 B.C.E. He had also run the previous year, 64 B.C.E. and lost to Cicero and G. Antonius Hybrida. L. Cassius Longinus had also run for consul in 64 B.C.E., but he seems to have stood down in 63 B.C.E. and thrown his support over to Catiline. We know quite a bit about Catiline thanks to the fact that, after the elections in 63 B.C.E, he resorted to an attempted coup, which was ferreted out by Cicero and cost Catiline his life. This conspiracy is recorded for us in Cicero's own speeches against Catiline (In Catilinam) and Sallust's history of the events (Bellum Catilinae).
Also in 63 B.C.E., Cato the Younger was running for the office of tribune of the plebs. Things turned out rather better for Cato. He won. Plutarch, (Life of Cato the Younger, 20-23), tells us that Cato made a point of learning and remembering people's names while campaigning, rather than use a nomenclator to remind him. Cato also supported Cicero against Catiline. Sallust provides us with a speech by Cato endorsing the execution of the Catilinarian conspirators. After the elections in 63 B.C.E., Cato prosecuted Murena, consul-elect for 62 B.C.E., for ambitus.
So we have here two bowls that would have been used not as electoral bribes, but to "get out the vote" for Cato and Catiline in the elections of 63 B.C.E.. These are tangible evidence of Roman campaigning practices. Or are they? I've known about these bowls for a number of years and thought it odd that they haven't made it into popular handbooks on the Romans, but I have never really looked into the scholarship on them. It turns out that there isn't very much available. The inscriptions are listed in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) and there is a bit of discussion of them in L'Année épigraphique (AE 1979, 63-64). They are said to have come from the Monte Sacro quarter of modern Rome, at the northern edges of the city, just east of the Tiber River and identified as a type of pot that is commonly handed out as gifts during festivals, gladiatorial games and banquets. But their authenticity is called into question ("si elles sont authentiques!"). This sort of inscription could be easily forged, as it is scratched into the surface of an already fired pot. Also, the diminutive size and common fabric of these bowls would make them likely candidates for surviving intact for roughly 2000 years. So, it wouldn't be hard to imagine someone acquiring a couple of uninteresting, little bowls and making them much more interesting by inscribing the names of two famous Romans, Cato and Catiline, on them.