Colonia Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea: A Marble Plaque with the Name of the Colony at Pula

The Romans turned their attention to the eastern shores of the Adriatic in the third century BCE. Looking to secure unhindered navigation of the northern Adriatic, i.e. to quell piracy, the Romans waged military campaigns against the Histri, Liburnians and the Delmatae inhabiting the present-day regions of Istria and Dalmatia. The fall of the fortified hillfort settlements of Mutila, Faveria and Nesactium in 177 BCE marks the beginning of the Romanisation of Istria, spreading gradually from the west coast to the interior. New settlements were founded, but life also continued in redeveloped old hillfort settlements like Pula.

Pula was founded as an Iron Age Histrian hillfort (11th to 10th century BCE) in a deep and well protected bay and in the immediate vicinity of a source of potable water. It is postulated that this was initially a minor army base and that the subsequent growth of trade was accompanied by the development of civilian life.

After 177 BCE Istria fell under the rule of the Roman governor that administered Cisalpine Gaul. A colony of Roman citizens (colonia civium Romanorum) enrolled in the tribus Velina was founded at Pula following Caesar’s victory over Pompey in the civil war providing land for Caesar’s veterans as a reward for their many years of military service. A colony is the highest form of local government (a municipality) — a community of Roman citizens with full rights, with its proper territory and administrative order. The latest research puts the founding of the colony at Pula, the Colonia Pietas Iulia Pola, during the lifetime of Caesar, in the period from 48 to 44 BCE.

A fragmented plaque of white marble was found at Pula’s Maksimijanova street on the 19th of October 1867 bearing an ornament done in relief on one side and later used for an inscription on the other side that mentions the official name of the colony at Pula, Colonia Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea (CIL V 8139, IIt X/1 85), which is the sole preserved instance of the name. Based on the script it is dated to the second century and is kept at the Archaeological Museum of Istria in Pula.

The plaque bearing the inscription that mentions the full name of the colony was installed by the municipal council of the colony at Pula in honour of Settidius Abascantus, in recognition of his service in the cult of Minerva. It is not known from what point this official name of the colony was in use, but from the mention of Hercules we see that he was revered as the protector of the colony, likely from its founding, or from the time of the erection of Hercules’ Gate in the first century BCE.


Plaque with the full name of the colony at Pula, 2nd century, AMI Pula





Publius Muttienus Priscus and Caius Marcius Hister, municipal duumviri of the time, are mentioned in the inscription on the plaque. During the Roman administration executive authority in the cities was exercised by municipal officials/magistrates: the two duumvirs, two aediles and a quaestor. The duumviri were judicial magistrates and presided over the municipal council and were, in hierarchical terms, the highest-ranking municipal magistrates. They were elected to terms of one year, and could not be elected for two consecutive years. The office of duumvir was open to free Roman citizens (free born), propertied and without prior criminal convictions, that have reached the age of 25, under the condition that they had previously held the office of quaestor and aedile. The aediles were responsible for the supervision of traffic, trade, public cleanliness and safety, municipal activities and public events, while the quaestor was responsible for the supervision of the city’s treasury and finances.

Every municipality employed the services of a number of slaves, which it could later grant liberty to, and these freedmen adopted a family name (the gentilicium or nomen gentile) based on the local toponym or the divine protector of the city. One such example is that of Pollentia Processa (IIt X/1 104), a freedwoman of the Pula municipality who adopted one of the city names as her family name (Pollentia) upon gaining her freedom.

The funerary altar of Pollentia Processa, late 2nd to 3rd century, AMI Pula






The full name of the colony clearly identifies Hercules as the nominal protector of Pula. Hercules is the Latin form of the name of the Greek hero Herakles (Ἡρακλῆς). He was the son of the supreme deity Zeus and Alcmene, queen of Tyrinth (Tiryns). Among the Romans Hercules is revered not only as a hero, but also as the deity of success, winnings, fortunate outcome and victory, and was worshiped by travellers, merchants and soldiers. He is also revered as a healer, and protector of families, sailors, cattle breeders, health and cattle fertility, the underworld of the dead, mines, stone quarries and all that is excavated, i.e. all that lies underground. Hercules was also adopted by the official Roman religion as protector of the Roman state and its order.

The most important and largest monument honouring Hercules in Pula is the Hercules’ Gate. It was erected in the forties of the first century BCE, made of massive blocks of dressed limestone, at the site of the old entrance to the Pula hillfort on the route connecting it to Nesactium. The city gate was installed at an angle of 68 degrees in relation to the alignment of the city walls. The gate is 3.58 metres wide and has a current height of 5.37 metres, standing 70 centimetres taller than during the Roman period. The arch of the gate is formed of dressed blocks formed into wedges with a thickness of two metres, while the pillars, with grooves for the wings of the gate, measure 2.5 metres thick. The name of this city gate comes from the relief of a club and the bearded head and neck of Hercules carved into the stone blocks to the left and right of the keystone. The club—along with the hide of the Nemean lion and an apple (the golden apple from the garden of the Hesperides)—is the chief attribute of Hercules, the symbol with which he is depicted.


Hercules’ Gate, 1st century BCE





Figurines of Hercules, 1st to 2nd century, AMI Pula




He is depicted standing in a number of ways: wearing the hide of the Nemean lion, with the head of a lion’s hide on his head worn as a hood, lion’s paws in a knot around his neck and the remainder of the hide bound at the chest; cloaked with the hide, i.e. with the hide draped over his body; or naked, with the hide draped over his arm. As at the Hercules’ Gate, he is depicted with a beard and curly hair, although he is also depicted clean shaven and youthful, depending on the political mood in the empire and the will of the emperor, during periods when some of the emperors showed particular reverence for Hercules and depict themselves in his image. He is also at times depicted with other motifs related to his labours, as is the case of the votive altar of Titus Annius Philargyrus (CIL V 3, IIt X/1 4), which bears a depiction of a club and a boar, symbolising his battle and victory over the Erymanthian boar.

Traces of the Herculean cult in Pula are found in stone altars and religious inscriptions, in bronze votive figurines and carved in stone. An inscription dedicated to Hercules Augustus (Herculi Aug(usto) Sacrum) (IIt X/1 6) has been recovered, as has an inscription on a limestone altar (ara) dated to the first century as a votive gift to Hercules by a private individual whose name has not been preserved ([…]rus Herculi Sacr(um)) (AMI Pula, Inv. no. A-26732). An inscription detailing the decision of the municipal council to permit the erection of a shrine to Hercules (IIt X/1 5) supports the hypothesis that there was in fact a shrine in Pula dedicated to Hercules. It is held to have been located in the Sveti Teodor district, at Kandlerova street, and is dated, like this inscription, to the third quarter of the first century BCE. The complex of the Herculean shrine consisted of a temple, a fenced-in courtyard surrounding the temple, and a well. A depiction of a club with a flat truncated head and bearing depressions, rather than toothed, done in relief on a dressed limestone block was found at the northwest corner of the temple courtyard.


The altar of Titus Annius Philargyrus, 2nd century, AMI Pula




The plaque bearing the full name of the colony at Pula was installed in honour of Settidius Abascantus, in gratitude for his service to the cult of Minerva. She was venerated as the goddess of wisdom, war, medicine, commerce and crafts, and the Romans declared her to be the protectress of Rome. Settidius Abascantus served in some capacity at the insula Minervae, which is associated with the shrine to Minerva and on the basis of which there is an effort to determine its location. Although there is no archaeological confirmation of a shrine dedicated to Minerva, it is postulated that one did exist in Pula based on the number of recovered epigraphs that honour her. As there is no confirmation yet of the existence of a temple of the Capitoline Triad, Minerva was perhaps revered independently here. Given that gravestones raised by servi Minervae (assistants to the priests or temple staff) (IIt X/1 158, IIt X/1 160) in memory of their spouses were found near the site where the plaque bearing the full name of the colony at Pula was recovered, it is possible that a shrine dedicated to Minerva may have been located in this area. Some Christian churches were raised at the site of earlier pagan temples, maintaining the continuity of these cult sites, which may be the case here, and based on these indications a shrine to Minerva should be sought at the site of the basilica of St Maria Formosa or in the area between it and Monte Zaro.


Figurine of Minerva, 1st to 2nd century, AMI Pula








Description of the artefact: A fragmented plaque of white marble with a decoration done in relief on one side and an inscription on the other. The lower left corner is missing. It is decorated on one side with a vegetal frieze beneath which there are two framed coffered fields separated by a groove in the form of the letter T. The coffered fields are decorated with rhombi, the sides of which are also done with a groove in the middle. The insides of the rhombi are decorated with a floral motif and outside the rhombi, in the corners of the coffering, the decoration consists of acanthus buds. On the other side of the marble plaque is an inscription in seventeen rows: the heights of the letters range from four centimetres at the beginning of the text, to 1.4 centimetres at the end, i.e. the bottom of the plaque.

Inventory code: A-6384

Material(s)/technique: marble, sculpted

Dimensions: height 56 cm, width 42 cm, thickness 4 cm

Site/date of find: Pula, Maksimijanova ulica, 19 October 1867

Date: 2nd century

Text of the inscription on the plaque:

In colonia Iulia Po/la Pollentia Herculanea, / referentibus P(ublio) Muttieno Pris/co et C(aio) Marcio Histro duoviris, / 5 Non(is) Sept(embribus). / Quo[d v]erba facta sunt Settidium / Abas[ca]ntum praeter probita/tem

v[itae c]um ea sollicitudine / adq[u]e in[dus]tria delegatum sibi / 10 officium [in] insula Minervia

tueri / ut non [tan]tum contentus sit cura ac / dilige[ntia r]eligioni publicae satisfa/cere verum [et]iam quaedam proprio sum/[t]u suo ad excolendum locum excogitet / 15 [et ei i]mpenda[t] et propter hoc talis adfecti/[onis merita decret]o publico remuneranda / [esse ---] illis por(?) public(e?) gra(tias) [---]

Secundum CIL V, 8139 supplevit et in linguam Croatam transtulit Milena Joksimović

Text of the inscription in English:

In the colony of Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea, at the proposal of the duumviri Publius Muttienus Priscus and Caius Marcius Hister, on the 5th of September. It having been said that Settidius Abascantus, besides living honourably, has with such attentiveness and assiduousness performed the service entrusted to him in the house of Minerva, that he endeavours not only to heedfully and diligently serve the public cult, but also contrives various affairs to improve the site at his own cost and invests into it, they have therefore found that this dedication merits public reward and public gratitude (by the installation of a plaque)...





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Colonia Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea: A Marble Plaque with the Name of the Colony at Pula


Carrarina 4, Pula

Window to the Past

4. 4. – 4. 6. 2019.

Exhibition and text author by: Tomislav Franić

Organizer and publisher: Archaeological Museum of Istria

For the organizer and publisher: Darko Komšo

Editorial Board: Darko Komšo, Adriana Gri Štorga, Katarina Zenzerović

Set up & graphic design: Vjeran Juhas

Photographers: Tanja Draškić Savić, Silvana Petešić, Tomislav Franić

Latin translation: Dr. sc. Milena Joksimović

Exhibition coordinator: Monika Petrović

Translation in Italian: Elis Barbalich-Geromella

English translation: Neven Ferenčić

Proofs: Irena Buršić, Adriana Gri Štorga, Milena Špigić, Katarina Zenzerović

Print: MPS Pula

Print run: 500

Pula, 2019.




Typo3 site by Ulisys d.o.o. , 2010.