In Etruria a colony called Gravisca was settled in 181 BC on land which used to belong to the last royal family of Rome, the Tarquinii. Each man was given some land but that year was a difficult one. A scrivener (scribe) called Lucius Petilius had men working on his land when they found two stone chests. Each was eight by four feet and secured with lead. They had Latin and Greek inscriptions which revealed that King Numa Pompilius was buried there along with his books. The box which was supposed to contain the body was empty but the other contained, “…two bundles tied round with cords steeped in wax.” Each bundle had 7 books which appeared new; seven in Latin about pontifical law and seven in Greek on philosophy.
As news of the discovery spread the city’s praetor urbanus, Q. Petilius, wanted to see. They’d known each other before and after Quintus reviewed the books he decided that they needed to be destroyed because they would destroy the religion of the republic if they were made public. Lucius wanted to keep the books but also his relationship and referred the matter to the tribune of the plebs who gave it to the Senate. They agreed with Quintus to burn them in the comitium (an open air assembly) and pay Lucius the amount they thought the books worth. Lucius refused to accept but the books were still burned by the victimarii. We are thus left with only loss in an ancient archaeological discovery. Quintus would die a few years later in a war in Liguria.
Livy, The History of Rome – Book 40, Chapter 29
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