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Understanding Roman Inscriptions Image Credit: Treasure Hunting magazine
Understanding Roman Inscriptions Image Credit: Treasure Hunting magazine

Understanding Roman Inscriptions

Decoding the Latest Discoveries from the Portable Antiquities Scheme

John Pearce & Bethany Waters

In the summer of 2017, the bronze tablet (Fig.1) which recorded the award of Roman citizenship to a soldier of British origin, Velvotigernos, was put on permanent display in Palace Green library, University of Durham. Found by Mark Houston a year earlier, it was reported to the then Durham Finds Liaison Officer, Ellie Cox, who arranged for its analysis and later acquisition by the museum. Its 370 words, inscribed over two bronze sheets, make the diploma the longest Latin text so far documented by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). Below we consider the light it sheds on the experience of a Briton joining the Roman army.

It is one of more than 150 objects bearing writing, mainly in Latin, which have been reported to the PAS (excluding of course the many thousands of Roman coins). More typical than diplomas are names, numbers and slogans on metal objects, some very big, for instance the Westbury lead ‘pig’ (discussed later in this article), others portable, including rings, brooches, amulets, curse tablets and vessels. Most of these are copper alloy objects, but writing is also seen on precious metals and lead. Some texts were created when the object was made, others were stamped or incised later. In this article we select recently-reported objects which show the operation of Roman power in Britain after its conquest began in AD 43.

In all cases the provenance information enriches the stories of the individuals whose lives can be glimpsed in these


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