As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’m reading Peter Brown’s Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350–550 AD — superb, like everything he writes — and was struck by a word in the very first passage, about the “Harvester of Mactar,” who had his biography recorded in an epigraphic poem on a stele of which we have a substantial chunk. He “made his way up as a foreman of one of the great gangs of laborers … who would spread out over the plateau of eastern Numidia … as harvest laborers” to “the owner of a comfortable farm”; finally, “the income from his property made him eligible to membership of the town council of Mactar. … As a town councillor (a curialis—a member of the curia, the town council—or a decurio, which was a similar term) he became an honestior, a more honorable person.”

I was familiar with the Latin word curia because of its etymology (it’s from Old Latin coviria ‘gathering of men’: co- + vir ‘man”‘) and of course because of the Roman Curia of the Catholic Church, but I didn’t know about this use; the Wikipedia article gives a nice summary:

In the Roman Empire the curia (ordo, boule) was the town council, the governing body of a city and the hallmark of city rank. It was a co-optive body, whose members, the Decurions, sat for life. Its numbers vary greatly according to the size of the city. In the Western Empire, 100 seems to have been a common number, but in the East 500 was customary on the model of the Athenian Boule. However by the fourth century, curial duties had become onerous and it was difficult to fill all the posts, and often candidates had to be nominated. Constantine exempted Christians from their curial duties which led to many rich pagans claiming to be priests in order to escape the duties.

It meant various other things at other times; the whole article is worth a skim.


  1. Hi, all. I’ve been offline all day because I’m having horrible gut problems.No ER involved, but my wife schlepped me to the doctor who said it looked/sounded like a 24-hour flu/bug/whatever and I should try to stay hydrated, get rest, eventually eat bland stuff when I felt up to it. So having had nothing since last night’s dinner but water/tea/Coke (and having gotten zero sleep and spent much of the late night/early part of today throwing up at regular intervals), I just had a single slice of unbuttered toast and a mug of broth and am hoping it stays down. Will post tomorrow if am capable of it. Enjoy your health if you have it!

  2. Get well soon! (and if necessary, avoid reading about pig’s milk.)

  3. marie-lucie says

    Get well soon, LH.

  4. Get well soon, Hat!

  5. Poached eggs and tea for me when that happens. Get better fast. רפואה שלמה!

  6. Get well soon!

  7. Speedy recovery.

    I always look at these kind of things as an opportunity to drop a few pounds (which I do and then promptly gain them back).

  8. I think nobody here is very superstitious, but am I the only one who noticed the date when this unfortunate event took place?

    Be that as it may, Hat, I wish you a speedy recovery: to use a little alliteration, may bread and broth both begin to better your health!

  9. Languagehat, who is ok, asked me to post an update: the first step of his recovery was speedy but surgical; with that complete he is now doing much better, and will surely have a story to tell upon his return.

  10. Henk Metselaar says


  11. Trond Engen says

    Auda! God bedring!

  12. Trond Engen says

    I always thought a decurion was one tenth of a centurion.

  13. I just heard from Hat, who had a successful appendectomy, is recovering very well (according to his surgeon), and is expected home from the hospital tomorrow. He’s not sure when he’ll be able to post again, or manage the site, but he wanted to apologize to those commenters whose comments are stuck in moderation. He’s also of course grateful for the good wishes.

  14. Gute Besserung!

  15. squadron leader squiffy von bladet says

    Gosh, I had missed this drama. The speediest of all possible recoveries!

  16. Sorry to hear that – get well soon! بالشفاء عليك

  17. Go raibh tú ar do sheanléim arís go luath!

  18. “Le deseo una pronta recuperación.”

  19. Stefan Holm says

    Krya på dig!

  20. Blimey, all my best wishes for a swift recovery. Scarcely had I read Feb 11th’s moving tribute, and the comments, than I started reading Peter Brown’s book, which is truly excellent in all respects. I never stop learning from the wonderful LH; one day I’ll get over that and contribute a bit more.

  21. Gosh! In the beginning I was going to say “I had exactly the same thing”, but no. I didn’t. I’m all better. I hope you are recovered soon, Mr Hat. Relax and let time take its time.

  22. Sorry to hear you’re not well. Hope you have a smooth and swift recuperation.

  23. Another update: Hat is home from the hospital and still recovering well — resting. All things being equal, things seem to be going as well as possible, and I imagine the next update will be from the man himself!

  24. I thought to stay out of this, but really Hat not getting any well-wishes in Russian? What an embarrassment! (For us, Russians, I mean). So here goes. Поправляйся поскорее. It’s a little bit ami cochon, but the fully polite version is too stuffy.

  25. Благодарю, мерси, к черту!

  26. I always thought a decurion was one tenth of a centurion.

    In a sense. A military decurion is a commander of ten, and a centurion a commander of one hundred, etymologically, so you might suppose that a centurion has ten decurions reporting to him. But in fact centurions were in the infantry, decurions in the cavalry.

  27. David Marjanović says

    But in fact centurions were in the infantry, decurions in the cavalry.

    Asterix has lied to me!



  28. The etymological fallacy you have always with you.

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