Traders in Britannia

By Dan Gray (University of Nottingham placement student)

Over the course of my placement with the Roman Inscriptions of Britain in Schools project I have been fascinated by the objects and texts we worked with extensively, for instance the tombstones of Insus and Regina and the ‘Vilbia’ curse tablet.  However, there were two inscriptions that intrigued me the most, namely, Vindolanda Tablet no. 185 and the Bloomberg Tablet no. 45. In the case of the Bloomberg tablet, found in the City of London, this showcases Roman life in Britain after conflict, namely Boudica’s revolt. Though it is not complete, it tells us about a trade deal involving provisions of food being transported from Verulamium (St Albans) to Londinium (London) in AD 62 (specifically: in the consulship of Publius Marius Celsus and Lucius Afinius Gallus, on the 12th day before the Kalends of November, i.e. 21 October AD 62).

In the consulship of Publius Marius Celsus and Lucius Afinius Gallus, on the 12th day before the Kalends of November (21 October AD 62). I, Marcus Rennius Venustus, (have written and say that) I have contracted with Gaius Valerius Proculus that he bring from Verulamium by the Ides of November (13 November) 20 loads of provisions at a transport-charge of one-quarter denarius for each, on condition that … one as … to London; but if … the whole …’

Boudica’s revolt was quelled with Boudica’s death in only AD 61 therefore it seems significant that traders thought it was safe enough to transport a big cargo of provisions so soon after widespread revolt. This could show how quickly everyday life for an average trader in a frontier province might resume after conflict. Perhaps Britannia was not as destroyed as badly as we sometimes imagine or perhaps the inhabitants were used to recovering quickly from conflicts?

                         Bloomberg Tablet No. 45 ‘ Stylus Tablet’ © MOLA

Vindolanda Tablet no. 185, from the Roman fort just south of Hadrian’s Wall, is somewhat similar to the Bloomberg Tablet, and although in this case we do not have a precise date in the text itself, the object can be dated to AD 92-97. The text is laid out in a format like a ledger of goods payments (for barley, wagon axles, wine, fodder, salt, vests etc.).

For lees of wine (?), denarii ½
July (8-13), at Isurium (?)
for lees of wine (?), denarii ¼
July (9-14), …
for lees of wine (?), denarii ¼
July (10-14), …
(lines 17-29) … 8 ..
for lees of wine (?), denarii ¼,
of barley, modius 1, denarii ½, as 1
two, for a carriage, denarii 3½
salt and fodder (?) …, denarius 1
at Isurium, for lees of wine (?), denarii ¼
at Cataractonium, for accommodation (?), denarii ½
for lees of wine (?), denarii ¼
at Vinovia, for vests (?), denarii ¼
of wheat, …
total, denarii 78¾
grand total, denarii 94¾.

What is usual about this account is that it mentions a series of place names: Isurium (Aldborough), Cataractonium (Catterick) and Vinovia (Binchester). The editors of the text wondered whether it was an account of expenditure incurred on a journey. The order in which Isurium, Cataractonium and Vinovia occur is the order in which they would be reached by a traveller coming from York to Vindolanda via Corbridge. This again reminds us that both people and these kinds of goods would be travelling constantly across the country. Who the travel was undertaken by in this text not clear, but the text gives us an insight into normal life and provisioning: the army, but also the local population, would need food and to fix their vehicles. This shines a light on the everyday life of the people living in Roman Britain, rather than the focus being on the battles that we tend to see in the Roman historical texts for the province. There would have been so many people involved across the province, and beyond, to keep the military garrison well provisioned with such a range of food and other goods. They especially liked the orangey-red pottery we call samian ware.

Vindolanda Tablet No 185, ink on wood © The Trustees of the British Museum

Another interesting point to consider is the mode of transport and the time it would have taken to move goods like this around. I would have thought with big quantities of goods that the transportation would have been quite slow. For instance, with the Bloomberg Tablet we know that they are heading from Verulamium to Londinium which according to the Orbis stanford site, ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, is about 35 kilometres and for which the transport of the twenty provisions suggested would take approximately 2.9 days in the Autumn using an ox-cart. With regards to the Vindolanda tablet, the journey between Vindolanda and York would have taken perhaps as many as 15 or so days. (You can choose various major Roman places on the ORBIS website and select mode of travel, time of year etc. I had to find the nearest big place and extrapolate to Vindolanda…) And en route, over long distances and at a slow pace, the traders would have been vunlerable, so might at some times an din some areas have needed military protection.

The objects we have focused on for the RIB in Schools project have been interesting in how they make us think outside the traditional militaristic narratives and focus instead on the range of different experiences and voices within the Roman Empire. For instance, the two tablets discussed here provide an insight into the life of traders and how they go about making their living through trading with the civilian and military populations.


By Alex Mullen

Regina is one of the best known and loved characters from Roman Britain. She is a character in Minimus, had a replica of her tombstone in a South Shields’ carpark, appears in copies in the British Museum and the Great North Museum and features on the homepage of the Roman Inscriptions of Britain Online. She stars in the KS 2 materials we have been making with Classics for All in a new project to bring the Roman Inscriptions of Britain into Schools. She is indeed a ‘long-lived Queenie’.

Reconstructed gateway at the Roman fort in South Shields, photo by Chris McKenna, WikiCommons

And yet we only know her from her second-century CE tombstone found at South Shields, near Newcastle, with its carved image and four lines of text ( We don’t even get to see her face as at some point someone deliberately erased it. Could it have been an angry ex-lover in the Roman period or vandalism in the post-Roman period? We’ll probably never know. Maybe this is one reason why we find her so appealing: we want to give her a face and a voice.

What do we know about Regina and her life? Regina sits in the centre of the large tombstone facing us in a wicker chair framed with a gabled structure and columns. She wears a long-sleeved robe over a tunic and jewellery, and around her head is depicted a large oval-shaped object, which has been called a ‘nimbus’. These are put around heads in images to indicate holiness and/or eminence, but we don’t really know what it signifies here. There’s a basket of wool on her left, she is opening a box with her right hand, and she holds a spindle and distaff in her other. This last feature is often found on the depictions of women from Roman Syria.

An engraving published in Lapidarium Septentrionale

So how might Syria fit into Regina’s story? We have to turn to the text to find out more. DM opens the three lines of Latin. DM stands for dis manibus and is extremely common in funerary texts, it means ‘to the spirits of the dead’. Then we find out that Regina is from the tribe of the Catuvellauni and is a freedwoman (liberta) and wife (coniunx) of Barates. She died when she was only 30 years old (an(norum) XXX). Why was a Catuvellaunian female enslaved and why was she freed? Sadly we know nothing of the background to her changing statuses.

The text section of Regina’s monument, drawing by R. G. Collingwood in RIB I

The monument was set up near the fort at South Shields, but neither of the two people mentioned are from north-eastern Britannia. Regina is from the tribe whose centre was at Verulamium, now St Albans, and Barates, her husband, describes himself as Palmyrenus ‘of Palmyra’. He has come all the way from Palmyra in Central Syria. He added something unique within the inscriptions from Roman Britain: a line of Palmyrene.  Palmyrene is the dialect of Aramaic spoken in central Syria. Aramaic was a Semitic language widely spoken in the eastern part of the Roman Empire and was the mother tongue of Christ.  It is written from right to left and says ‘Regina, the freedwoman of Barates, alas’. He perhaps felt that he had to express his grief in his first language. How did Barates find someone who could write Palmyrene so neatly onto stone? Did he add it himself or did an associate of his?

Palmyra, image by Quim Bahí, WikiCommons

We know that the Roman army was diverse and drawn from all over the Roman world. Indeed the Palmyrenes were one rare group that sometimes included their homeland’s language (in this case Palmyrene) in their inscriptions in the Western Empire (usually other groups would use Latin (and sometimes Greek), no matter what their traditional local language). At Carvoran, further along Hadrian’s Wall in the second century CE there was an auxiliary cohort of Hamian archers, from Roman Syria, these would also presumably have spoken dialects of Aramaic as well as Greek and some Latin. At Corbridge there is even another Latin inscription with a Barates, also referred to as a Palmyrene ( This man died when he was 68 and is described as a vexillarius, which may mean he had been a flag-bearer in the auxiliaries or perhaps for a trading association. Barates is a common name in Syria so there is no certainty that this Barates is Regina’s husband, but the possibility is enticing!

Third-century bilingual Latin-Palmyrene inscription from Rome in the Capitoline Museum, photo by Scott Vanderbilt

To return to our text we can gather some more clues. The Latin isn’t quite as we expect it – and it looks as if interference from Greek may have caused the mistakes. So perhaps the first language of the writer was Palmyrene, then Greek, the lingua franca of the Roman East, then Latin. The Latin also exhibits something interesting in the term Catuallauna. This is not how we find the tribal name in Latin where it would be Catuvellauna. Interestingly the change in in the vowel from -a- to -e- in this linguistic context could be a Celtic sound change. So perhaps we have here a clue to the local pronunciation of Regina’s tribal name. Maybe she spoke British Celtic, perhaps alongside British Latin, and her pronunciation had passed on to Barates too.

The language of the monument, both the visual and the textual, can be deconstructed it into its elements: Roman Syrian, Palmyrene, British Celtic, Greek, Latin. But could people reading this in Roman South Shields pick these clues up? If only say 5% of the inhabitants of Roman Britain could read Latin, and the Palmyrene would have been read by many fewer, perhaps much of the message was lost. And what would Regina have felt about her monument and people scrutinizing it centuries after her death? Did she love Barates as much as he, apparently at least, loved her? Or was he her way out of slavery? Was the whole monument much more about Barates, and for his own flaunting of status? In the Palmyrene she is only referred to as a freedwoman and not Barates’ wife, why? And would she have appreciated being styled as a Roman Syrian woman who worked diligently with wool, as all good Roman women should?

Regina, or Queenie, a name that works in both Latin and Celtic, is a wonderful example of the diverse human history of Britannia. There is much more we wish we could know about her, but this eloquent monument is now all that remains of her short life.

Happy Birthday, Claudia Severa, And Many Happy Returns!

By Scott Vanderbilt

The author on a break during excavations, May 2019. (Photo: Pete Savin)

I’ve been asked to mark the anniversary of one of the more famous dates in Romano-British history, namely that of the birthday of Claudia Severa, born on the 11th of September sometime in the late first century CE. Many have commented on the significance of the party invitation letter to her dear friend Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of the fort commander at Vindolanda (Tab.Vindol. 291), and I certainly have nothing original to add that hasn’t been said before. And, yet, having spent more than my fair share of time with the writing tablets from Vindolanda and the inscribed texts of Britannia in general, I never cease to be amazed by the countless examples of the reminders of how the authors of these texts, notwithstanding the nearly two millennia that separate us, are in many important respects not very different from us at all.

One thing that Severa and I share is a close personal bond to Vindolanda and its inhabitants. Though she herself resided elsewhere (Briga?), it’s fairly certain she was at least an occasional visitor. And if the roads are as bad as Octavius would have us believe (dum uiae male sunt, Tab.Vindol. 343.21), perhaps her journey in inclement weather was no less time-consuming than my own 10-hour transatlantic flight from Los Angeles to Heathrow and a six-hour drive up the A1. (Severa no doubt counted herself lucky that she wasn’t born in February, or the unforgiving Northumberland winter might never have allowed her any guests at her birthday parties.)

Tab. Vindol. 291, birthday invitation from Claudia Severa (Copyright: Vindolanda Trust)

I first chanced upon Vindolanda in the summer of 2010, when I conscripted my three children–the youngest of whom was about to ship out to university for the first time and leave me an empty-nester–into a valedictory holiday walking the entire length of the Hadrian’s Wall Path, one of the glories of the English national trail system. On the third day, I managed to cajole the kids into deviating from the path for a short jolly down to Vindolanda (“not another Roman fort”, the middle one sighed with contempt, coupled with the obligatory dramatic eye-roll that she had mastered at an annoyingly young age). My guidebook had tantalized me with the prospect of being able to observe in-progress archaeological excavations.

An hour later, we were standing at the edge of the barrier and a very friendly excavator stepped away from the trench, brought over a finds tray for us to examine, and cheerfully answered our inane questions. As I recall, there really wasn’t much in it other than some grotty animal bones, heavily corroded nails, and a few desultory pieces of worn terra sigillata. But it might just as well have been the treasure of Tutankhamen, as far as I was concerned. And when I found out he was a volunteer, and that anyone could participate merely by signing up the previous fall, I felt as though I had been struck on the road to Damascus. Of course, I may be over-romanticizing it a bit. But there is no doubt that what transpired that day set in motion a whole series of events, not least of which was the decision to create RIB Online, nine successive annual trips to Vindolanda as an excavator, and serendipitously, the invitation to join the LatinNow team.

An inscribed quern stone fragment excavated by the author.

Excavating at Vindolanda is a fantastic experience and a particular thrill for someone like me who has a special interest in the fruits of these excavations. Most years, it probably doesn’t differ tremendously from a lot of Roman military sites in Britain, apart from the extraordinary density of finds. But in the years when the Scheduled Monument Consent calls for it, certain areas are opened up which allow for exploration of the earlier fort phases and their accompanying extramural settlements that fall below the present water table. At this depth are the oxygen-deprived anaerobic layers that completely arrest any degradation of organic remains and allow for the preservation of artefacts that would have disappeared under any other conditions long ago, including the precious stylus and ink writing tablets.

2019 was one such year, and I had the good fortune to be assigned to one of these trenches during my fortnight session. Employing a time-tested protocol worked out over decades by Vindolanda’s archaeologists, these organic layers are gently spaded in more-or-less 20 cm cubes by a single digger, much as a peat cutter would, and lifted out of the trench and distributed among several diggers kneeling over barrows, who then gingerly sift through the cubes carefully looking for the tablets and anything else that happens to pop out of the black, pungently aromatic organic material. Only bare hands are allowed, as gloves would deny the sifter the tactile sensation required to separate the wafer-thin, highly fragile tablets from the rest of the laminate in which they are found.

While I enjoyed my shifts in the trench doing the spade work, it was incredibly nerve-wracking. The prospect of slicing through a tablet that I knew years later I would see again in a high-resolution infrared photograph in a future volume of Tabulae Vindolandenses as a collection of conjoined fragments, knowing that I was the one who put them asunder, would be almost too much to bear. Thankfully, that fear was not realized, but Dr. Andrew Birley, director of excavations, did spot a small fragment of an ink writing tablet in one of my spaded blocks, perhaps the size of a large postage stamp. It clearly bore traces of ink, but nothing was immediately legible on it. Like all such finds, it was quickly placed in a plastic Tupperware container filled with water from the trench and whisked away to the laboratory for conservation. I hope to see it again, but I doubt I shall recognize it. However, simply knowing something I’ve personally extracted from the ground will end up as one of the Vindolanda Tablets is satisfaction enough.

The author (third from left) with his digging mates and a fine piece of architectural masonry (or possible bench support)?

Sadly, my trip this year for what would have been my tenth excavation season was scuppered by the present pandemic. Of course, as great a pity that is, it certainly pales into insignificance when one considers all the suffering that the world has undergone this year. But I am exceedingly grateful for all that my past journeys have brought me, not the least of which is the many friendships I have been fortunate enough to have developed, both with the tight-knit group of excavators with whom I dig every year, and the members of the LatinNow team.

Which is something else I share with Claudia Severa–the yearning for the company of good friends whom I don’t see nearly as often as I would like, kept apart by impassable roads (or an ocean). Until then, I hold Vindolanda and my friends close to my heart, and anxiously await a return as soon as possible.

“Excuse me sir, do you want to put a curse on someone?”

By Francesca Cotugno

Obsecro, domne, nonne tua interest aliquem defigere? This was probably a sentence which might have been said multiple times, all around the Roman Empire. In order to curse someone in the Roman Empire a curse table was probably a quick and readily available option.

Curse tablets are inscribed pieces of metal, usually in the form of small, thin sheets, intended to influence, by supernatural means, the actions or welfare of persons or animals against their will (Jordan 1985: 151). This might mean subjecting a thief to a nasty fate or making someone fall in love with you. As Roger Tomlin put it in his presentation of the Bath curse tablets they were the “loser’s last resort” (Tomlin 1988: 60).

But not all the surviving curse tablets are similar and this is one of the things that intrigues the LatinNow team. We are trying to understand these documents, which sometimes contain the innermost desires of people: how are they differently distributed around the provinces and how did they adapt the feature of cursing someone with a lead tablet to their own culture and language, often creating something new and unique?

These curses are usually called lead tablets but, actually, this is not the only metal that was used for this purpose, as we also find other soft metals like pewter and tin. In general, the tablets are rectangular sheets which were 6-12cm long and 4-8cm wide when unrolled in order to provide a writing surface which was inscribed with a sharp point like a stylus. As you can see from the picture (figure 1), the LatinNow team is producing replicas of these tablets for the forthcoming Touring Exhibition in September and October 2019 (

Figure 1. The Vilbia curse tablet replica in progress.

Curse tablets have been found in different provinces of the Roman Empire, but they belong to different periods and to different linguistic areas and backgrounds. Whereas the Romans spread the habit of written curses, indigenous communities coloured them with their own distinctive features, which may reflect, in some cases, ancient oral practices. This is perhaps evident in the case of the curse tablets from Roman Britain, where the writers adopted the practice of the curses with special concern for theft. In Britain, the richest site for curse tablets is Bath, ancient Aquae Sulis, where they were deposited in the hot spring between the second and fourth centuries AD. Here the writers used a lot of formulaic language, like the form si mulier, si baro (e.g. Tab. Sulis 44), which appears to indicate Germanic influence.

In places such as Germania Superior, among others, theft, as far as we can tell, was not such a major topic for cursing someone. In Mainz, people were cursed in the first and second century AD at the sanctuary of Isis and Magna Mater because the writer was holding a personal grudge and not necessarily because he or she was asking revenge for a stolen good. DTM 1 is one of the few curses in which the curser is asking for a punishment against a thief (in this case, a certain Gemella allegedly stole a fibula). The majority of curses here are invocations expressed in a quite plain language which did not have to be learnt by heart or copied from magic books, but they also include some more formal terminology, and stylistic elements of artificial or popular rhetoric.

Taking into account two different curses, one from Bath, and another one from Mainz, it is possible to note some similarities and divergences.

Tab. Sulis 4 is also known as the theft of Vilbiam. Whether this curse was about a kidnap or a robbery has been discussed by Paul Russell (2006).

Latin – transposed version Translation
ELL[…] M[. 2-3.]TA QVI EAM [……-]
May he who has stolen Vilbia become as liquid as water ..who has stolen it (or her) Velvinna, Exsupereus, Verianus, Severinus, Augustalis, Comitianus, Minianus, Catus, Germanilla, Jovina.


Why is Vilbia not a woman? It is difficult to understand this word as a personal name: firstly, it is not attested elsewhere, and no other British curse tablet is prompted by the theft of a woman. We have curses prompted, for example, by the theft of silver coins (Tab. Sulis 4) or for the theft of a pan (Tab. Sulis 60). I agree with Paul Russell that it is not really likely that it refers to a woman. He suggests that the form may be related to Middle Welsh gwlf, and may refer to some sort of pointed object. Tomlin suggested that Vilbia was perhaps a form of fibula (“a brooch”). In the curse tablets from Bath we have also other curses concerning this kind of item, such as Tab. Sul. 15 made for the theft of a bracelet.

One of the most interesting curses from Mainz is DTM 15: the curse of Aemilia Prima, where this woman is doomed to never bloom again like the sheet (charta) used for cursing her. This curse is probably against Narcissus’ lover, but like in other curses from Mainz, the real motive of the curse is not explicit.

Latin – transposed version Translation (Blänsdorf)
Prima Aemilia Narcissi agat, quidquid conabitur, quidquid aget, omnia illi inversum sit.

Amentita surgat amentita suas res agat.

Quidquid surget omnia interversum surgat Prima Narcissi aga<t>: como haec carta nuncquam florescet sic illa nuncquam quicquam florescat

(Whatever) Aemilia Prima, (the lover?) of Narcissus may do, whatever she attempts, whatever she does, let it all go wrong. May she get up (out of bed) out of her senses, may she go about her work out of her senses. Whatever she strives after, may her striving in all things be reversed. May this befall Prima, (the lover?) of Narcissus: just as this letter never shall bloom, so she shall never bloom in any way

An interesting feature of this curse is that the text uses a magical orientation of the script since it is partially written in a spiral counter-clockwise, creating a “verbal box”.


Figure 2. DTM 15 (from Blänsdorf et al. 2012)

We must take into account the converging and diverging features of so-called ‘curse tablets’. On the one hand, both of these two documents share an grudge towards someone, expressed through formulae that echoed the juridical style, as if the writer were making a contract with some superior being, in order to curse someone. On the other, the details are quite different: the one who stole vilbia is doomed to become liquid as water while Prima Aemilia will wither and never bloom. In one case we are dealing with a theft, in the second perhaps a bitter lover. Also, there are linguistic features which are rare and we must try to interpret, like the use of amentita that appears as a neologism, in Mainz, or vilbiam, in Roman Britain.


Blänsdorf, J., Lambert, P., & Witteyer, M. (2012). Die defixionum tabellae des Mainzer Isis- und Mater Magna-Heiligtums: Defixionum tabellae Mogontiacenses (DTM). Mainz.

Tomlin, R. S. O. in Cunliffe, B., Davenport, P., Care, V., & Tomlin, R. (1985). The temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath (Tab. Sulis). Oxford.

Jordan, D. R. (1985) ‘Defixiones from a well near the Southwest corner of the Athenian Agora.’  Hesperia 54.3, 205–255.

Russell, P. (2006). VILBIAM (RIB 154): Kidnap or Robbery? Britannia 37, 363-367.



Violent interactions: the Lancaster inscription

By Alex Mullen

I have been thinking again recently about the north-western Roman horse rider reliefs, which are concentrated in the Rhineland and, to a lesser extent, Britain (now boasting over 20), and have a primarily military focus. My favourite is that of Insus, found in Lancaster in 2005. The tombstone has been dated to c. AD 100 and its relief depicts a proud-looking mounted eques brandishing the head of a decapitated naked enemy who is kneeling below. The tombstone was discovered around 8 m from the Roman road leading south from the fort. The stone was not found intact: ironically, given the decapitation featured in its image, Insus’s head had been separated from the rest of the scene in one of the two major fragments. It reads:

Dis | Manibus Insus Vodulli | [fil]ius ciue(s) Treuer eques alae Aug(ustae) | [t(urma)] Victoris curator Domitia […]

‘To the shades. Insus, son of Vodullus, citizen of the Treveri, cavalry man of the cavalry regiment Augusta, [troop] of Victor, curator. Domitia …’ (Roman Inscriptions of Britain vol. III 3185)

Lanaster monument

Insus’s tombstone, Lancashire Museums

Insus, a citizen of the Treveri, whose main population centre was Augusta Treverorum, modern Trier (Germany), stands out with an impressive plumed helmet, a cloak fanned out in the wind fastened by a rosette brooch, and a chunky sword in his right hand. His horse, also neatly kitted out, rears up and bears its teeth. Compared to the crouched figure, still gripping his sword, but with his eyes firmly closed in his decapitated head, the Treverian exudes movement and power.

Lancaster simon james

Simon James’s reconstruction of how the tombstone may have looked originally (Bull 2007 p. 20)

The closest comparison to this Lancaster carving can be found in the Ribchester inscription-less rider stone, found in 1876, in which the rider, this time with spear rather than sword and no beheaded adversary, and horse are so similar that some have suggested the same sculptor produced both. The representation of a beheaded adversary is unusual, with only a couple of other examples of decapitation in iconography attested anywhere from Roman Britain; the closest parallel in Britain for the decapitation may be the Bridgeness ‘distance slab’ which shows a rider plus lance and four adversaries, including one decapitated in one of the two aedicula on either side of the inscription (Roman Inscriptions of Britain vol. I 2139).rib002139pl.jpg

Bridgeness ‘distance slab’, Roman Inscriptions of Britain vol. I 2139

Insus can be compared with his comrade Apollinaris, also from Trier, whose epitaph, found in the eighteenth century in the excavation of a cellar in Pudding Lane (now Cheapside), Lancaster, closely parallels that of Insus, though no associated iconography is attested (the stone is only known from a manuscript drawing).

Dis Mani|bus | L(ucius) Iul(ius) Apol |linaris | Trever an(norum) | XXX eq(ues) al|ae Au[g(ustae)] |h(ic) [s(itus) e(st)]

‘To the shades. Lucius Iulius Apollinaris, the Treveran, 30 years old, cavalry man of the cavalry regiment Augusta lies buried here.’ (Roman Inscriptions of Britain vol. I 606)


Lancaster Pudding Lane inscription, Roman Inscriptions of Britain vol. I 606

Both Insus and Apollinaris presumably joined the ala on the Continent before it was transferred to Britain. Insus is not a Roman name and its presentation here in non-tria nomina format and with no reference to veteran status may suggest that Insus has been killed whilst still serving. The most straightforward assumption is that Insus has died in Britain and that the headless enemy is a Briton. Given what we know about bilingualism in the north-western provinces, it is likely that someone named Insus, son of Vodullus, from Gaul in c. AD 100 came from a family that was at least partly Celtic-speaking. Trier was capital of Gallia Belgica and we know that the Celtic languages of northern Gaul were closely related to the British Celtic spoken in Britannia. This Treveran citizen, who is proudly presented in a north-western Roman military and Latin guise, would perhaps have found much more in common linguistically and culturally with the beheaded Briton than this portrayal might lead us to believe. Our work on multiple identities and bilingualism in the Roman empire can sometimes be neglectful of the violence and trauma of some of the changes that pitted communities against one another. This monument is a reminder of some of those violent entanglements.

Futher reading:

Bull, S. 2007. Triumphant Rider: the Lancaster Roman Cavalry Tombstone. Lancashire Museums. See pp. 39–51 of this volume for an overview of other horse-rider tombstones and fragments found in Britain.

This little Romano-British piggy went to market

You don’t necessarily need a Midas touch to turn lead into gold.

Last year, amateur metal detectorist Jason Baker made the news when he found a Romano-British lead ‘pig’ near his home in the Mendips, Somerset. A ‘pig’ is a large lead ingot, around half a metre in length, and usually inscribed with some sort of short Latin text. To his surprise, Mr Baker’s pig was expected to sell for around £60,000 – not bad for a bit of casual hobbying! In fact, many important archaeological finds connected with Roman Britain have been found in such a way by amateur enthusiasts. After having been registered and recorded properly by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), they constitute a large part of our primary evidence from this fascinating period of Britain’s history.


The pig in question reads:


This refers to the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, who reigned as co-emperors between AD 161-169. The title Armeniacus was an honorific adopted by both in recognition of their victories in the Parthian war. We know from other historical sources that Lucius Verus took up the title in AD 163 and Marcus Aurelius in AD 164, so this helps us to date the piece even more precisely to AD 164-169.

But an object like this can do a lot more for us than just dating: it tells us something about the Romano-British economy. Lead ore could be mined in Britannia in one of five locations across the province: Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Flintshire, Shropshire, and the Mendips. Pigs are often found near old Roman roads or rivers, and this suggests that they were transported by road or boat from the lead mines for market export. By analysing the type of ore against the distribution of pigs, we can therefore make some guesses about which regions supplied various the towns with their lead. The current assumption is that ore from the Mendip area was used across the whole south-west of Britannia, and that some was even exported to Londinium.


A lead pig may not be the most glittering treasure, but it is a goldmine for telling us about the socio-economic factors which surrounded writing and object production in the second century AD.

This blog post has been written in order to support the content of the OCR Ancient History GCSE  topic ‘Community Life in the Classical World: Roman Britain’ and the OCR Ancient History A level module ‘Ruling Roman Britain’. It also links to KS2 national curriculum topics ‘Roman Britain’ and ‘Local History’

Further reading:

Elkington, D. 1976. The Mendip Lead Industry. in Branigan, K. & Fowler, P.J (edd.) The Roman West Country. London, David & Charles.

Gardiner, V. 2001. ‘An analysis of Romano-British lead pigs’ Institute for Archaeo-Metallurgical Studies Newsletter 21. 11-3

Raistrick, A. 1931. ‘A Pig of Lead, with Roman inscription, in the Craven Museum’ Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 30. 181-2.

For more Roman inscriptions from Mendips, see:

RIB online 184, 185, and 186