Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Roman Era in Britain

by John Ward

published by Methuen & Co. Ltd.
36 Essex Street W. C., London

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.


[image ALT: link to next section]

 p114  Chapter VII



The remains of only a few Roman buildings in this country have been satisfactorily identified as temples, and these, with one exception, the remains of a small temple found at Bath in 1790, have failed to throw definite light upon their superstructures. This temple stood at the north-west corner of the Roman baths, but unfortunately no plan is extant. Sufficient of the sculptured details, however, are preserved to indicate that the façade was about 25 ft. wide, thoroughly Roman in character, with fluted columns of Corinthian type, a richly sculptured cornice, and a rather lofty pediment. The tympanum had for its central feature a medallion supported by two victories, a frequent device in Roman art. On the medallion was a Gorgon's head, with wings and serpents intertwined with the hair as usual, but curiously with moustache and beard as well — possibly the vagary of the sculptor. The rest of the field appears to have been filled in with military trophies, and amongst these was an owl, which, with the Gorgon's head (both attributes of Minerva), leaves little doubt that the temple was dedicated to Sul-Minerva.

The remains of four temples have been found at Silchester. Two of these were in a walled enclosure just within the east gate, and they were square structures, the larger 73 ft. and the smaller 50 ft., each enclosing a square cella. The entrances were probably on their eastern sides, which were only partly explored. The concrete floor of each was raised on a solid substructure representing  p115 the characteristic podium of a Roman temple. The outer wall probably supported a colonnade, and the pieces of moulded plaster and marble linings, found about both sites, showed that these buildings were of an ornate description. A smaller temple near the centre of the town differed in being oblong, 36 ft. 6 ins. long and 35 ft. wide. It had a raised concrete floor and a wide doorway at the east end, with a corresponding one into the cella, and within the latter at the opposite end were the foundations of a shrine. Fragments of columns found near probably belonged to this temple, which, to judge from a piece of inscription, was dedicated to Mars. The remaining temple was polygonal, with sixteen sides, 65 ft. in diameter, and with a large cella of the same type. The whole structure was reduced to below its floor-level, but it is probable that it had a mosaic pavement. No fragments of columns or other architectural details were found, and little else can be said of it, beyond that the polygonal form was favourable for a peristyle, as by it the need for a curved cornice would be avoided.

Remains of other buildings of similar type to the last have been found in this country. One at Weycock, near Maidstone, was octagonal with an inner chamber of the same shape. Another at West Mersea, in Essex, was circular, 65 ft. in diameter, and resembled a cogged wheel, having twelve buttress-like projections, which probably supported the columns of a peristyle, and six internal walls radiating spoke-wise from a small central hexagonal cell. The site is described as somewhat raised, and roofing-tiles lay scattered about.

The remaining temples that have been found in this country were rectangular. The temple of Coventina, at Carrawburgh, referred to on page 106, was 46 ft. long and 44 ft. wide, and the cella was represented by a massively constructed cistern 8 ft. 6 ins. by 7 ft. 9 ins., and 7 ft. deep, which received the water of the spring. The whole structure was reduced to below the level, raised floor. Within the past century worked stones and the shaft of a column lay on the site, indicating apparently that this temple was a substantial stone structure with a peristyle. The remarkable assemblage of altars, coins, and other objects found in the cistern has already been described.

 p116  The remains of two temples of apparently a different type have been found at Caerwent and at Lydney in Gloucestershire. The former was 45 ft. long and 42 ft. wide, with three buttresses on each side, and a square cella which had an apse at its north end, the entrance, of which no trace remained, being at the south end. This temple was about 52 ft. from the north side of the main thoroughfare of Venta Silurum and stood in an open space. Along the street-side were the remains of a narrow building about 64 ft. long with a plain mosaic pavement and an apse at its east end. The entrance to the precincts was in the south side of this structure; and from the opposite side extended a walled walk leading to the temple.

[image ALT: missingALT]
Fig. 33. — Plans of Temples at Lydney Park and Caerwent. (40 ft. to 1 in.)

The temple at Lydney was not only remarkable in itself, but was one of a remarkable group of buildings on the summit of a knoll over­looking the Severn, and within the lines of an intrenchment of earlier date. The temple itself stood within an open space bounded on the east by a spacious quadrangular house and on the north by a long narrow range of rooms, while away to the north-east was an extensive and intricate bath-building. As already noticed on page 108, it was dedicated to Nodens or Nudens, latinised forms of the British god Nudd or  p117 Lludd. The whole group indicates a sacred site of great importance, as its extent and rich mosaic pavements betoken; and although the buildings were of the Roman era, there is little doubt that the worship of Nudd here dates from an earlier age. So far as is known, there was no large Romano-British population in the vicinity, so it seems likely that the house was a hospitium for the accommodation of visitors to the shrine, many of whom, to judge from the votive tablets, came to be cured of diseases. The temple was 88 ft. long and 62 ft. wide, with the entrance at the south end as at Caerwent. It differed, however, in having two chapel-like enclosures on each side within projecting recesses of the external wall, and in the cella having three internal recesses at the north end. The south end of the cella had disappeared, but on the left side of the site of its entrance was a small apsidal structure of unknown use. The floors were of rich mosaic. At the south-east corner of the building was a room which may have been the sacristan's abode.

In the foregoing examples of temples we can distinguish several types. The temple of Sul-Minerva appears to have been of the ordinary Roman form. Of similar character, probably, were the third Silchester example and the temple of Coventina, except that in their central isolated cellae they were less Roman. More remote still were the Caerwent and Lydney examples, which could hardly have had peristyles. These, however, all agreed in being oblong structures, a form which suggests a longitudinal roof with pedimented ends, and which we may distinguish as the 'longitudinal type.' The polygonal and circular structures belong to another or 'central type,' of which the temple of Vesta at Rome is a familiar example. In these, the front and the back would not be distinguishable so far as their main architectural features went, and the roof would probably be conical. The two square temples at Silchester may perhaps also be classed with these.

The worship of Mithras, as already stated, was firmly planted in Britain, but the only undoubted remains of a temple have been found at Housesteads. This mithraeum was constructed in an excavation in the side of a hill at a spot where a spring issues — an essential in the worship of this god. Of the west end,  p118 which would contain the entrance-vestibule, little remained. The middle portion or body of the structure was 16 ft. wide and about twice that in length. It had a central passage or 'nave,' between two narrow platforms or 'aisles,' at least 2 ft. high, upon which the votaries knelt during the celebration of the mysteries, and near its west end was a sunk tank to receive the water of the spring. The inner cell or sanctuary, which contained the remarkable sculptures and altars mentioned on page 109, was discovered and destroyed many years previously. A curious subterranean chamber of Roman age, discovered at Burham in Kent in 1894, was almost certainly a Mithraic 'cave,' although no remains of altars or other objects to indicate that it had a religious use were found. It was constructed of chalk blocks in a sand-bank, and was 39 ft. 6 ins. by 19 ft. 6 ins. internally, and covered with a barrel vault. At the west end was a passage-entrance which had apparently a zigzag turn in it to prevent the interior of the chamber being seen from without, and at the east end were three round-headed niches in the wall.

The existence of other temples is known from inscriptions, but in only two or three instances are there any remains, and these are scanty and indeterminate. There were temples to Jupiter at Bewcastle and Dorchester, to Mars at Carvoran, to Apollo at Lincoln and Moresby, to Serapis at York, to the Matres at Benwell and Castlesteads, to Roma at Chester, and to Mithras or Sol at Birdoswald, Rutchester, and High Rochester. In some other places, inscriptions record the erection or restoration of temples without naming the gods to whom they were dedicated.


In Italy, every house seems to have had its shrine, where the Lares, the beneficent guardians of the household, the Penates, the protectors of the stores and storehouse, and the Genius, the tutelary divinity of the master of the house, were worshipped daily and to whom sacrifices were offered on special occasions. The first and the last were specially associated and usually  p119 grouped together, and were shown as little figures or as paintings. In Pompeii they were usually enshrined in a small niche in the atrium, kitchen, or dining-room, with an altar or shelf below for offerings. On each side of the latter was nearly always depicted in paint two serpents, which, whatever their origin, came to be regarded as symbolic of the master and mistress, that of the former being distinguished by a crest. In the larger houses, the niche was elaborated into the façade of a small temple, or it took the form of one attached to the wall, or standing free, sometimes in the garden. More rarely, the aedicula was enclosed in a chapel (lararium), which might be a special room in the house or a detached building.

The evidence for this domestic worship in Britain is very slight; but if the Pompeian custom of mural shrines prevailed here, this is not surprising, as the walls of the houses are almost invariably reduced to too low a level. Small rooms, often with rich mosaic floors, have been identified as lararia; and in one of these at Silchester were the foundations of a small isolated structure which may very well have been the podium of an aedicula. In the courtyard of a large house there, were the foundations of a similar structure which may have been an open-air aedicula. There is no reason to doubt that the small figures of divinities in terra-cotta and bronze seen in most of our collections belonged to domestic shrines; and possibly also the small reliefs of the Mothers, whose worship may have taken the place of that of the Italian household divinities.

The evidence for public shrines is perhaps a little stronger. Just as the Roman houses had their divinities, so had the streets and cities theirs — Lares Compitales and Lares Praesides; and besides these, there were other public shrines. The Pompeian street shrines were as varied as the domestic, and in a general way resembled them. Occasionally, however, the public shrines were of a more elaborate description. In several instances the shrine was within a little street-side room open in front, with a niche for the divinities and altars for their worship, within. It has been supposed that the large female figure which stood in front of the central apse of the basilica at Silchester represented the genius of the town, and that the apse was the municipal  p120 shrine. Perhaps the figure was simply a personification of Calleva or of the civitas of the Atrebates. The position and form of the city sanctuary at Pompeii suggests that a large shallow apse on the north side of the forum may have been the corresponding structure. In a similar position in the forum at Caerwent is a mass of masonry which looks like the podium of a small temple. The remains of a street-side apsidal room between two smaller rooms at Silchester may relate to a public shrine. At Caerwent have been found the remains of possibly another public shrine. They indicated a square room, open in front, but with a kerbing containing mortice-holes as if for a wooden fence or screen. Within was a small platform and upon it a rudely sculptured head, the one suggestive of the podium of an aedicula and the other of a divinity that belonged to it. Altogether these remains recall the arrangement of some of the street-side shrines of Pompeii.

Of the military shrines — those of the forts — sufficient has already been said on pages 55‑56. The nymphaea represent another class. A small isolated building close by the remains of the Romano-Britain house at Chedworth, Gloucestershire, seems with little doubt to be one of these. It is rectangular externally, with an open front, two low side walls with internal pilasters, and an apsidal back, the internal dimensions being about 19 ft. in width and 25 ft. in depth. In the centre of the floor is a sunk octagonal basin, which received the water of an adjacent spring. The original arrangement, as disclosed by a lower floor, was rather different, and a small altar buried in the débris between the two floors goes far to prove the sacred character of the site. Apart from this, the little edifice with its picturesque surroundings must have been a pleasant retreat, the silence broken by the musical plash of the water and the song of the birds, all conducive to meditation.


The only undoubted remains of a Christian church as yet known in this country were uncovered at Silchester in 1892, but as unfortunately they were very scanty, little remaining above the floor-level, the plan, Fig. 34, is necessarily imperfect. The church was a small structure, only 42 ft. long and 27 ft. wide; nevertheless, the plan exhibits all the chief features of a typical early Christian basilica. Its orientation, as in many early Italian churches, was the reverse of the present custom,  p122 the chancel being to the west. It was entered through an internal porch or narthex, at the east end, and was divided into a nave and two aisles by arcades of which the sleeper-walls remain. Two transepts — the prothesis and diaconicum of early Christian writers — were apparently screened off from the aisles, but open to the western prolongation of the nave. The floor was of mosaic, and where the holy table stood was a decorated panel of finer work. The building stood in an oblong space, in which, in front of the narthex, was a square foundation which presumably supported the cantharus, and at its side a small pit, which probably received the waste water. A small building recently discovered at Caerwent has some claim to be regarded as a church. It has a western apse and two transeptal spaces; but the main space to the east is undivided, and there is no narthex.

[image ALT: missingALT]
Fig. 34. — Plan of Church, Silchester, and conjectural restoration. (15 ft. to 1 in.)


Few remains of the Roman era in Britain are more distinctively Roman than the altars. They were introduced by the conquerors, and from first to last retained a Roman character, in spite of the fact that many of them were dedicated to barbaric deities. Their forms were already matured at the time of their introduction, and so far from further development, they tended to degenerate. In fact, they appeal to us as an exotic element — they came with the Romans and they ceased with the break-up of their power.

In its general form, the body of the altar is a rectangular block of stone, higher than wide, and wider than deep, with a projecting head or capital and base, and these are usually enriched with mouldings. Its central portion is the truncus of Vitruvius, but now usually known as the 'die.' If the altar is inscribed, the inscription is on its front, but occasionally it begins on the head or ends on the plinth. The back is almost invariably plain, showing that the altar was normally placed against a wall; in rare instances, however, the mouldings of capital and base are continued across the back, and, rarer still, the back is ornamented. The upper member of the capital is usually thickened into an abacus, often attaining a height equalling  p123 or even surpassing that of the plinth. Broadly speaking, the altar never loses its pedestal form. No matter how rudely it may be fashioned, there is a capital and a base, even if only indicated by groovings.

The upper surface of the head is sometimes flat, but it usually has a cavity to receive the offering, circular or square. It may be simply hollowed out of the top, or it may have an elevated rim; more often, however, it is in the summit of a central rising — conical, dome-shaped, or of some other form. The cavity is the focus or 'hearth,' the place of the fire which consumed the offering. But in our altars it is too small for a fire for such a purpose; moreover its interior rarely shows any perceptible effects of burning. When circular, it has frequently a central boss, recalling the pushed-up centre often observed in the paterae of the period; and in several instances — one at Birrens — the raised rim has two handles. It would seem, therefore, that the sculptors regarded the circular cavities as representing paterae to receive libations; and that fire, if used, had degenerated to the small proportions of a merely representative rite.

Another feature of the summit, which is almost always present in the larger altars, is two lateral cylindrical rolls, one on either side of the focus. Their meaning is obscure. They have been supposed to represent two bundles of sticks for the fire, but their ornamentation never suggests such an origin. They were known as pulvini, cushions, and, long before the conquest of Britain, were a usual feature of altars and altar-like tombs, their ends being treated as spirals developed from the upper surface of the structure. Earlier still, they appeared as rectangular ridges or kerbs.

It is mainly in the treatment of these summit-features that the altars differ. As already stated, the focus may be simply sunk in a tabular surface, or it may be raised. Pulvini may be present or absent, and if present, they may be in full relief or be more or less absorbed in the head, and to such a degree as to be scarcely recognizable. The altars with pulvini are mostly small ones, with flat tops. Fig. 35, A, on the other hand, is a large one of the type from High Rochester and dedicated to Roma. A similar altar of equally good design from Corbridge  p127 is now in the British Museum; but, speaking generally, altars of this form are not notable for good workman­ship.

[image ALT: missingALT]
[image ALT: missingALT]
Fig. 35A. — Altar, High Rochester.
Fig. 37D. — Altar, High Rochester.

We now pass to altars with pulvini. In the earlier altars these were rolls flowing out of and, so to speak, resting on their flat tops, the ends being treated as volutes, but such pulvini are very rare in this country. In Fig. 37, D, an altar from High Rochester, they are indicated by volutes, but are buried in the head. In a fine but time-worn Chester altar to Fortuna, Aesculapius and Salus, in the British Museum, they have the ancient form, but terminate in human masks instead of volutes. In our altars the pulvini are almost always of a cylindrical form; but as the attachment of such a form to a flat surface is narrow and weak, various methods of securing a firmer hold were devised. In the fine altar to Fortuna from Chesterholm (Fig. 35, D) the sculptor has provided the requisite support by leaving two claw-like brackets on the outer side of each. Between the pulvini will be noticed the beaded rim of the circular focus.

[image ALT: missingALT]
Fig. 35A. — Altar, Chesterholm.

This treatment, however, is exceptional, the necessary support usually being effected by so raising and enlarging the focus as to coalesce with or die into these features. The exposed front of the 'focus-mount' invites some decorative treatment, and this usually takes the form of a small pediment, well seen in the altar to Mars at Haddon Hall (Fig. 35, C). Scrolly pediments, as in Fig. 36, A and B, altars to the Sun at Rutchester, and Fig. 35, B, to Harimella at Birrens, are not uncommon. In late altars, the pediment is often lofty, and it may survive as a panel, as in Fig. 37, C.

[image ALT: missingALT]
[image ALT: missingALT]

[image ALT: missingALT]
[image ALT: missingALT]
Fig. 35B. — Altar, Birrens.
Fig. 36B. — Altar, Rutchester.

In the altar to Jupiter from Old Carlisle (A, Fig. 37) we have another and not uncommon treatment. Here the pediment, if the term is now admissible, fills the whole space between the pulvini, and little of the curvature of these is exposed. They have, so to speak, so far sunk into the head, that if their ends were not expressed as discs they would hardly be recognized as pulvini. In the large altar to the Sun-god from Housesteads (Fig. 36, D), for instance, they may be regarded as simply portions of the scrolly pedestal; and in the small altar from Risingham (Fig. 36, C) they are flattened and are less reminiscent of their origin.

[image ALT: missingALT]
[image ALT: missingALT]

[image ALT: missingALT]
[image ALT: missingALT]
Fig. 36D. — Altar, Housesteads.
Fig. 36C. — Altar, Risingham.

Contrariwise, they may be wholly absorbed in the head  p127 and be only represented by medallions, as in the crude and uninscribed altar (Fig. 37, B) from Rutchester. They are subject to other vagaries. For instance, the sculptor of the large altar toº Minerva at High Rochester (Fig. 38, A) has doubled their number and a central medallion almost suggests a fifth. Occasionally there are short transverses pulvini between the normal ones; and a most elaborate altar at Maryport4 has three on either side, stacked one above the other. In the altar to Jupiter, also at Maryport (Fig. 38, B),​a we have an extreme departure from the traditional form, and except for its dedication and focus it would hardly be taken for an altar at all.

[image ALT: missingALT]
[image ALT: missingALT]
[image ALT: missingALT]
Fig. 37B. — Altar, Rutchester.
Fig. 38A. — Altar, High Rochester.
Fig. 38B. — Altar, Maryport.

Every part of an altar received decorative treatment, but some parts less than others. The front of the die, for instance, being appropriated to the inscription, is rarely ornamented. Occasionally it is panelled by a moulded or cabled border, as in Fig. 36, A. One of the altars to Mithras at Rutchester​5 has the word 'Deo' of its inscription within a wreath, and the name of the dedicator on a standard or banner below, the whole being between two incised palm branches. A beautiful altar to Neptune at Newcastle​6 has the name of the god within an ansate panel on the head, the rest of the short inscription being continued on the panelled front of the die and divided vertically by a trident and dolphin, emblems of the god. Occasionally the figure of the god to whom an altar is dedicated takes the place of an inscription, and five small altars in the British Museum from Kings Stanley in Gloucestershire are good examples. Less frequently the front is sculptured with an appropriate subject other than a god, as that of a man in a paludamentum in the act of sacrificing, on a fine altar at Carlisle.​7 The sides of the die are more often ornamented, and the favourite devices are sacrificial implements, as the axe and the knife used in slaying and cutting up the victim, and the urceus or jug and patera, the one to hold the wine and the other to receive the portion for a libation; and to these is occasionally added an ox or its head to represent the victim. And combined with, or instead of, these, the emblems or figures of gods are occasionally introduced. The Chester altar,  p130 referred to above, has its front and sides panelled and festooned, and the latter are sculptured with an unusual array of objects, among which may be distinguished a jug, patera, and knife, a rudder, the attribute of Fortune, the staff of Aesculapius, and a cornucopiae.º The sides of two large altars to Jupiter at Walton House​8 bear the thunderbolt for Jupiter and a wheel, which possibly equates the Jupiter of these altars with the Gaulish 'wheel-god.' On an altar to the Genius Loci, found at Chester, are represented, on the one side, the genius holding a cornucopiae, and on the other, acanthus leaves arising from a vase. The decoration, however, like the acanthus leaves just referred to, sometimes has no apparent symbolism, as in the case of a fine altar to Minerva at Birrens,​9 the sides of the die and the front and the sides of the abacus and plinth of which have panels filled with an arabesqueº of ivy.

The mouldings and the abacus are occasionally enriched with cables, guilloches, foliage, rosettes, or geometrical patterns. An altar at Birrens has its abacus and plinth panelled and containing dolphins.​10 The plinth of another raised to Cocidius near Lanercost,​11 by the Twentieth Legion, is sculptured with a boar amidst foliage — a subject which equally befits the woodland god and the legion whose symbol was a boar. The curious Maryport altar (Fig. 38, B) has a well-carved horseman on its panelled base. The pediment is sometimes ornamented with a boss, rosetted medallion, foliage, bust, or some device of a symbolic nature, as a vase, ewer, crescent, swastica, etc. The pulvini are often encircled with a belt or band and are otherwise plain, but occasionally they are enriched with overlapping leaves. The front ends are usually ornamented with bosses, rosettes, or concentric circles.

Sometimes the abacus is merged into the head, thus enlarging the field for decorative display, as in an altar from Risingham (Fig. 36, C). The front of the head has a sunk triangular panel — the survival of the pediment — containing a fir-cone; two medallions, reminiscent of the pulvini; and a geometrical diaper in 'chip-carving'; while the sides of the head display  p131 similar carving. An altar to Egarmangabis found at Lanchester​12 in 1893 is remarkable for its rich display of 'chip' and other carved work which covers every available space except the back and the front of the die.

Occasionally the head is treated architecturally, as an altar at Walton House (Fig. 38, D), which presents a simple arcade of three arches singularly anticipative of Norman or Early English work. An altar to Fortune at Risingham (Fig. 38, C) has its abacus ornamented with a colonnade of balluster-shaped columns supporting a flat architrave, the middle intercolumniation having a semicircular arch.

[image ALT: missingALT]
[image ALT: missingALT]
Fig. 38D. — Altar, Walton House.
Fig. 38C. — Altar, Risingham.

The head of another altar to Fortune, from the same place, has a similar but more elaborate treatment. More elaborate still is the head of an altar dedicated to the Discipline of the Emperor at Birrens.​13 Here, instead of the colonnade, is a broad band of 'chip-carving,' and the central arched recess is certainly intended to represent an alcove with a semi-dome. The arch is supported by two balluster-shaped shafts, and between these are two panels in mitred frames, possibly to indicate that the alcove-wall is encrusted with marbles, but more likely they represent low wooden doors or gates. The altar was found in the well of the headquarters, and this, together with its dedication to the Discipline of the Emperor, suggests that it originally stood in or by the sacellum where the genius, the emperor, and the standards were reverenced. In this case the recess may well have represented a sacellum, and its introduction would have an appropriate significance. With these altars may be classed an uninscribed one at Chesterholm.​14 The angles of the die are capped with square pilasters with foliate capitals, and the mouldings of the capital and base are simple and elegant. On the one side is a wreath and palm-branch, and on the other apparently a club. The central arched recess of the head is lofty, supported by two small columns, and contains the figure of a warrior. On each side of the recess is a single intercolumniation containing a scallop-shell; and on each side of the head is a similar shell with a festoon below it.

The inscriptions, like Roman inscriptions generally, are  p132 terse, and the words are often clipped or are reduced to initials only, as in the formula, V. S. L. M, with which they usually end, and which may be extended thus — Votum solvit libens merito, "He fulfills his vow, willingly, dutifully."​15 Similarly, I. O. M. stands for Jovi optimo maximo, "To Jupiter, the best, and greatest"; D. D. for donum dedit, literally, "He gave the gift"; and P. may mean posuit.​b Words that may reasonably be inferred are frequently omitted altogether. The inscription ordinarily names (1) the god or gods to whom the altar was dedicated, and (2) the person or persons who raised it; and to the latter is often added the reason or motive of the act.

For brevity, the inscription on the altar to Neptune at Newcastle can hardly be surpassed —

VI     VI
P       Fº
(Neptuno. Legio
Sex, Victrix
Pia Fidelis)

"To Neptune — the Sixth Legion, 'Victorious, Pious, Faithful.' " The next is the inscription of an altar raised by a soldier of the same legion at Chesterholm (Fig. 35, D)

P       R
Populi Romani.
Caius Julius Ralticus, Legionis VI Victricis.)

"To Fortune of the Roman People. Caius Julius Ralticus of the Sixth Legion, 'The Victorious' (has raised this altar)." The next, from Housesteads,​16 gives not only the name but the condition of the dedicator —

V S L M.
Quintus Florius
Praefectus Cohortis
Primi Tungrorum
V. S. L. M.)

 p133  "To the god Silvanus Cocidius. Quintus Florius Maternius, Prefect of the First Cohort of Tungrians (placed this). He fulfilled his vow, willingly, dutifully."

Several inscriptions giving the circumstances of the erection of an altar will now be given. One at York​17 was on the occasion of the erection of a temple —

(Deo Sancto
Templum a so-
lo fecit,
Claudius Hierony-
mianus, Legatus
Legionis VI Victricis.)

"To the holy god Serapis. Claudius Hieronymianus, Legate of the Sixth Legion, 'The Victorious' erected the temple from the ground." The inscription of the altar already referred to at Carvoran (Fig. 36, A) similarly commemorates the restoration of a temple of Mithras. Another at Carvoran was the outcome of a vision, perhaps in a dream —

(Fortunae Augustae.
Pro Salute Lucii Aelii
Caesaris, ex Visu,
T(itus?) Flavius Secundus
Praefectus Cohortis I Ham-
iorum Sagittariorum
V. S. L. M.)

"To Fortune the August.​c This altar was raised for the safety (or welfare) of Caesar Lucius Aelius, by Titus Flavius Secundus, Prefect of the First Cohort of Hamian Archers, having been directed to do so in a vision. He payed his vow, etc." This inscription is also interesting, as its date can be fixed within the narrow limits of two years, Lucius Aelius, the adopted son of Hadrian, being created Caesar in 136 and dying in 138. Sometimes the names of the consuls are given, and these supply the actual year. The Carvoran inscription also illustrates that an altar might be raised by one person for the benefit of another. It is not unusual for the dedicator to include his family — PRO SE  p134 ET SVIS, or, as on an Housesteads altar, his son — PRO SE ET PROCVLO FIL (for himself and his son Proculus).

The notable capture of a wild boar, which had long terrified the countryside, led to the erection of an altar near Stanhope,​18 appropriately to Silvanus. The inscription is long, but the abbreviated words are few —


Its purport is as follows — "Sacred to Silvanus the Invincible. Caius Tetius Veturius Micianus, Prefect of the Sebosian Ala (erected this), in consequence of the capture of a wild boar of extraordinary size, which many of his predecessors had not been able to destroy. He fulfilled his vow, etc." It certainly has a ring of self-advertisement!

One would have thought that the religious conditions of Britain were too complex to have left room for intolerance or persecution, but an altar at Bath records such an outburst, exceptional though it may have been. Its inscription may be rendered, "This holy piece, wrecked by insolent hands, has been cleansed and dedicated anew to the excellence and numen of the Emperor, by Gaius Severius Emeritus (Centurian?)."

Occasionally the name of the god is not given, and in these cases we may assume that the altar was associated with an image or some other inscription which identified it with some deity, or that the dedication was an open one leaving it to the user to address what god he pleased. This applies equally to the large number of uninscribed altars. Several examples of altars inscribed to more than one deity have come before the reader's notice. The remarkable Maryport altar, described on page 127, was dedicated by the tribune of a cohort hailing from the province of Mauritania Caesarum,º to no less than four deities — the local Genius, Fortune, Eternal Rome, and Good Fate; and a certain Frumentus of  p135 Birrens was either so sceptical of the individual infallibility of the gods, or so catholic in his faith, that he addressed himself to all gods and goddesses! In a few instances the name of the dedicator is omitted, and in a few others it is placed first; but, notwithstanding the general rule that the name of the god is first, the chief concern of most of the altar-inscriptions is the dedicator.

The Author's Notes:

1 For more detailed particulars, see Rom.-Brit. Buildings and Earthworks, chap. x.

2 Rom.-Brit. Buildings and Earthworks, chap. x.

3 For further details, see Rom.-Brit. Buildings and Earthworks, chap. x.

4 Bruce, Roman Wall, p410.

5 Roman Wall, p127.

6 Black Gate Museum, Newcastle.

7 Roman Wall, p296.

8 Roman Wall, p278.

9 Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot. XXX, p153.

10 Ib. p153.

11 Roman Wall, p268.

12 Brit. Arch. Assoc. l, p105.

13 Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot. xxx, p131.

14 Roman Wall, p216.

15 Sometimes reduced to V. S., which may be rendered, "He pays or paid his vow"; or even to L. M., the V. S. being understood.

16 Roman Wall, p193.

17 In Museum.

18 Roman Wall, p393.

Thayer's Notes:

a At least three altars to Jupiter have been found at Maryport. For one of a pair of very similar altars found together, see this page at Athena Review.

b I.e., not that maybe it might mean that, but that P. sometimes does — but only among a number of other possibilities, as in the two very next inscriptions reproduced in the text.

c This curious phrasing cannot be a typo, and is surprising. Fortuna Augusta is the well-known goddess protecting the Emperor.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 14 Dec 20