Diversity of Funeral Customs — Cremation and Inhumation — Tombstones and their Inscriptions
Of the fixed remains of the Roman era in Britain, those which relate to
the burial of the dead are the most numerous. Our archaeological
literature teems with notices of their discovery, and as these casually
meet the eyes of the readers, they give rise to an impression of
bewildering diversity. It is only by the comparison of a large number
of them that the diversity, although great, is seen to have a limit.
But why the diversity at all? This suggests a number of interesting
questions. How far are the differences contemporary — how far
successive? To what extent are they due to local conditions, to the
diverse religious beliefs of the time, and to foreign influences? Are
the modes of burial substantially a legacy of the customs of pre-Roman
natives, or a Roman importation? It is probable that all of these
contributed to the complex, but it is hardly possible at present to
assign their relative shares in bringing about the result.
Diversity of funerary customs, however, long preceded the Romans in the
west. During the two or three centuries before the conquest, both
cremation and simple inhumation were in vogue in England, the latter
preponderating in the north and the former in the south. In Yorkshire,
many skeletons of this period, laid in a contracted attitude or at full
length, in cists, wooden coffins, or simply in graves, have been found,
and some of them were remarkable for the wealth of associated objects.
Of the many urn-fields in the south-eastern counties, one at
was notable. The cremated remains, all in earthen vessels, were in
circular holes, unmarked by mounds; and with most were associated other
vessels, several being bronze ewers and tankards, and these, as also
the smaller objects, were of Late-Celtic type. In another urn-field,
near Haslemere in Surrey,2
the cineraries were generally accompanied with accessory vessels; but
the pottery was of later type and assignable to the period of Roman
influence immediately before the conquest. In both burial-grounds, many
of the graves were arranged in 'family circles.'
The interments of Roman Britain are also of both kinds, burnt and
unburnt, but the former predominate. They occur singly or in small
groups near the houses of the time, and in large aggregates outside the
town walls, clustering especially about the roads leading from the
gates, as at Rome and Pompeii. The chief burial-ground at Colchester
extended for about a mile on each side of the road which issued from
the west gate. The cemeteries of York were also of great extent, and
considerable numbers of interments have been found outside the walls of
Viroconium, Verulamium, and Bath. Contrary to the early Roman laws
which prohibited sepulture in towns, burials took place within the
limits of Roman London and Caerwent, but apparently only few. The
graves were mostly 'flat,' that is, they were not covered with mounds;
but tumuli are known, and some of large size, as, for instance, one of
a group of seven known as the Bartlow Hills, at Ashdon in Kent, and
explored with remarkable results, was 147 ft. in diameter and
47 ft. high. The custom of placing various objects, chiefly
vessels of pottery and glass, with the dead, was as general as in
previous times. Inscribed tombstones were common, but their absence or
fewness in districts where suitable stone was not obtainable, renders
it probable that wooden memorials were also used.
There is little doubt that in the earlier part of the era cremation was
the prevailing, if not the sole, custom in this country. It was so in
Italy; but by the beginning of the 5th century it was so
completely a thing of the past, that Macrobius could learn nothing
about it except from books. There is a consensus
of opinion that it was supplanted by inhumation in Britain by the middle of the 4th century.
This is somewhat confirmed by the fact that in a group of burials, the
interments are occasionally of one kind only. The larger and earlier
burial-ground at Colchester, and that by the side of the Watling Street
at Wroxeter, contained only burnt remains; and similar burial-grounds
have been found at Swanmore in the Isle of Wight,3 near Dover, by the side of the Roman road to Canterbury,4 and at Witham in Essex and Larkfield near Maidstone.5 On the other hand, two hundred graves opened in the Isle of Portland about 1850,6 three hundred half-a-mile east of Irchester, Northamptonshire, in 1873,7 more than seventy on the north side of Great Chesterford, Essex,8 and eleven at Chatham Lines in 1897,9 yielded only unburnt interments.
In most aggregates of graves, there is a large preponderance of the one
or the other, and sometimes their positions indicate their sequence.
The excavation of a small burial-ground at Litlington, Royston,
was specially interesting, as it proved that the burnt interments it
contained were, with one exception, older than the unburnt. It was a
rectangular walled space about 390 ft. long, and the burials were
arranged in parallel rows. These originally consisted of burnt remains
in urns, some of which were afterwards displaced and scattered, when
the graves were dug for the unburnt corpses. The exception referred to,
was a skeleton below an urn of burnt bones. That the enclosed
space had been used for a long period was proved by the coins, and it
is clear that during this interval cremation was supplanted by
inhumation, but not suddenly, the skeleton followed by an urned
interment implying an overlap.
This Litlington enclosure is interesting in other respects. Within two
of the corners, the ground was burnt and covered with wood-ashes, and
there is little doubt that the funeral piles were erected on these
spots. Similar ustrina have been observed
in other burial-grounds. But it was not unusual for
the body to be burned over the grave. At Wroxeter, for instance, two or
three interments were in large square pits, the sides and floors of
which were excessively burnt and blackened with charcoal.11
It is probable that we have at Litlington a villa burial-ground, as
traces of apparently a large rural house of the time were noticed in
A smaller walled cemetery was examined at Lockham near Maidstone, in 1842.12
The entrance appeared to be on the north-east side, where also were the
remains of funeral fires. Six undisturbed interments were found,
consisting of burnt bones in glass and earthenware vessels, with which
were associated other vessels, several of bronze, and four iron lamps.
Two of these interments were in built cists or vaults and two in large amphorae
with the necks removed. The enclosure also contained the rms of a
rectangular tomb-house, 14 ft. by 12 ft. 6 ins., and of
another, circular, and 11 ft. 6 ins. in diameter. The latter
was of peculiar interest. Above a plinth of pink cement was a stuccoed
dado 2 ft. high, decorated in colours; and to judge from the vague
description, the scheme consisted of small reddish-brown squares
separated by broad bands of pale yellow on which were parallel
groovings in red. Above this, the wall was painted green and ornamented
with engaged columns and pilasters (presumably alternating) in red,
each with a square blue base. The height of the structure and how
treated above are matters of conjecture. No mention is made of a
doorway, but as the north-east side was excessively ruined, it may have
been on that side, and this applies equally to the rectangular
tomb-house. Both had been rifled, but as a portion of a skeleton was
found in the former, and the interior of the latter was large enough to
contain a sarcophagus or coffin, we may conclude that the interments
At Holwood Hill, Kent,13
near the remains of apparently a large house, were found a small
rectangular tomb-house with an entrance in the west side, and
containing a stone sarcophagus or coffin, two other coffins in graves,
and a circular buttressed
building, 30 ft. in diameter, with an entrance
on the east. This structure had been painted red externally, and with
various colours on the inner side. The interior had been rifled, but a
single trench disclosed broken pottery and charcoal. Possibly this
mausoleum contained burnt interments, but those of the coffins would
certainly be unburnt. Similar large circular buildings have been
noticed at Chedworth and at Wiggenhall in Sussex.
The general rule in the case of cremation was to place the burnt bones collected from the site of the pile or rogus in an earthen vessel. Vessels of various shapes and sizes were used for the purpose; but globose jars or ollae
of the forms of C5, 9, and 11, Fig. 45, were so customary that
these are popularly known as cinerary urns. They, however, were common
domestic utensils of the time, and so far as is known no pottery was
specially made for funerary purposes in this country. The vessels
occasionally had lids, as H11, Fig. 50; more frequently a shallow
saucer or dish, a piece of flat stone, or a tile, served as a cover.
Less frequently glass vessels were used,
especially the large square or cylindrical handled bottles,
and less frequently still the burnt bones were sealed up in cylindrical leaden receptacles or ossuaria, of which there are good examples in the British and York Museums.
As a rule, the cinerary with its contents was simply placed in a hole
in the ground about 18 ins. or 2 ft. deep, with or without
accessories, and was then buried. But frequently some sort of
additional protection was devised. Occasionally the hole or grave was
converted into a small vault by covering it with a large tile or stone.
Or a cist was constructed in it of four tiles on their edges for the
sides, and a fifth for the cover, of which several have been found at
Colchester.14 Or the receptacle was of masonry, as at Lockham. A more carefully made loculus was hewn out of a cubical block of stone with a flat stone for its cover, as one found at Carlisle,15 within which was a square glass ampulla containing the human ashes, with an earthenware
lamp in its mouth and small vessel by its side.
A large cylindrical example from Harpenden, Hertfordshire, now in
the British Museum,16
rested upon, and was covered by, two oblong blocks of stone 5 ft.
long, and contained a glass cinerary with four other vessels around it.
Other examples of cylindrical loculi have been found, with circular slabs for their covers; and one at Cirencester17 had for its cover a cylindrical block of the same size as the lower one, instead of a slab. Large amphorae
with the necks broken off were occasionally used for the same purpose
as at Holwood Hill, and others have been found at Colchester,18 Lincoln, London, Hemel Hempstead, Stratford-Bow, and Hoo St. Werburgh.19
Cists of a tent-like form constructed of roofing-tiles have been found
at York and elsewhere. In these, two rows of the flat tiles (tegulae) were inclined against one another, roof-wise, the ridge being capped with the half-round tiles (imbrices),
while a flat tile closed in each end. In one at York only burnt bones
were found; in another were several vessels, one containing burnt
bones, all resting on a tiled floor.20
The reader has already learned something of the objects — the
'grave-goods' — associated with cremated interments. Nowhere can these
be better studied than in the Joslin Collection in the Colchester
Museum. The 'finds' from each grave are grouped together. There are 123
groups, and nearly all relate to burnt interments. In the majority, the
cineraries are earthen ollae; in several, small amphorae;
and in one, a basin. Two are glass vessels — a two-handled jar
with lid and a hexagonal bottle; one a cylindrical 'ossuary' of lead;
and another, a wooden toilet or dressing-box with bronze fittings and
lock. With the exception of several cists of tiles, the cineraries and
their accessories were simply buried in the earth.
The accessories are extremely varied. Vessels of pottery are the most
numerous; then follow in descending order, bracelets or bangles,
necklaces and beads, glass vessels consisting mostly of the little
bottles known as lachrymatories, lamps, brooches,
pins, dice and counters used in games, finger- and ear-rings,
coins, dressing-boxes, mirrors, tweezers and nail-cleaners, charms or
amulets, spindle-whorls, spear-heads, a buckle, clay figure of a bird,
piece of bronze chain, nails of sandal, bronze ligula,
and a few other single objects. These were mostly placed at the side
of, or around, the cineraries, as in the Aylesford and Haslemere
graves; but in more than a dozen burials, some were in the cineraries
with the burnt bones, and these were mostly articles relating to
personal attire and adornment which had passed through the fire with
Excluding the saucers and other shallow vessels used as covers for the
cineraries, about 270 vessels of pottery are associated with 92
cremated interments in the collection, representing an average of
nearly 3 to each, but the actual numbers range from 1 to 14, the
prevailing numbers, however, being 2, 3, and 4. These vessels are of
all shapes and wares, but are mostly of the smaller sizes. Of the glass
vessels, 33 out of a total of about 40 are the so-called 'tear-bottles'
which probably contained balsams or aromatic unguents, and ten at least
of them are described as 'fused,' indicating that they had passed
through the fire. All the lamps are of earthenware, but their
distribution is uneven, the 28 examples being associated with 17
interments, one of these having 6. All the objects relating to games,
consisting of square dice and a larger number of 'counters' were found
in one cinerary, and had been burnt. It will be noticed that most of
the remaining objects related to the toilet. The sex and age of the
dead are often indicated by the accompaniments. With women were buried
bracelets, mirrors, dressing-boxes, and the like; and with infants, tetinae or feeding-bottles and small odds and ends which may have been their cherished playthings.
The Joslin Collection is so well representative of the generality of
the cremated burials of the era, that further examples, with the
exception of the remarkable burial-mounds at Ashdon in Essex, are
unnecessary. Of these, six were explored between 1832 and 1840,21
and each was found to cover a single cremated interment, deposited in a
receptacle or tomb, and surrounded with a wealth of grave-goods. Under
the largest mound were the remains of a
wooden chest or tomb, 4 ft. 2 ins. by
3 ft. 8 ins., and 2 ft. high, containing the cinerary, a
square-handled bottle of green glass, and the following objects:
a bronze jug or ewer (Fig. 54, D), inlaid with silver and
lying in a bronze patera; a richly enamelled globular bronze situla;
a bronze lamp; two bronze bath strigils; a folding seat
resembling a camp-stool of iron, with bronze ornaments and indications
of a leather top; a narrow-necked glass flask stopped with some
bituminous substance and containing a partly congealed oil floating on
a sweet liquid with an apple-like odour; another smaller glass flask
which had been stopped in a similar manner; a small square glass amphora
containing decomposed vegetable matter; a tall square
glass-handled bottle; and a small earthen vessel. Just outside the
chest was a large earthen amphora containing earth, ashes, and fragments of burnt bones, apparently the final gatherings from the site of the funeral pile.
The other mounds were of smaller size, but their contents, although
less elaborate, were similar. Four of the receptacles were of wood, and
the remaining one was strongly constructed of tiles and closed in by
larger tiles in overstepping courses. In four of these, the burnt bones
were in glass vessels, and in one they formed a central heap. With
three of these interments, were bronze ewers and paterae
associated together as in the largest tumulus; and with all were glass
and earthen vessels. Among the remaining accessories were four iron
hanging lamps as at Lockham, the metal mountings and other remains of
three dressing-boxes, a small wooden tankard with bronze fittings,22
a small decayed basket, and a sponge. One of the glass flasks contained
a fatty substance, and another traces of a liquid. In one of the wooden
cists, the bronze vessels had been covered with a linen cloth, and the
floor strewn with branches of box.
A similar association of a bronze ewer and patera
has been observed in some other cremated interments, notably in one
near Canterbury and in others at Medbourn in Leicestershire and
Shefford in Bedfordshire. These vessels recall the ewer and patera so often carved on the altars (p127),
and this suggests that they served a like purpose in the funeral ceremonies. We
know from Roman writers that it was customary to
pour or sprinkle wine on the pile and on the remains after the fire;
and it may well have been that the utensils used for the purpose were
often deposited in the tomb. Bronze vessels, it is true, are rarely
found associated with the dead, but ordinary glass and earthen vessels
may have been more generally used. It was also customary to scatter
perfumes and odoriferous gums and spices on the pile, and it is by no
means improbable that these were brought to it in the so-called
'tear-bottles' and other small vessels so frequently found in the
graves. Two of the five Bartlow Hills lamps retained remains of charred
wicks showing that they had been placed in the tombs, lighted — another
ancient and widespread custom, probably of Oriental origin, but
apparently far from universal in this country. The three glass bottles
containing vegetable liquids or their traces, apparently a mixture of
honey and oil in one case, and a vessel containing fowls' bones, are of
special interest, as very few deposits of like nature have been found
elsewhere. Almost invariably the vessels, mostly of pottery, associated
with Roman interments, whether burnt or unburnt, have supplied no clue
whether they were placed in the tombs empty or otherwise. We know that
it was a general practice almost everywhere in an early stage of
culture to place foods and other things useful in life with the dead,
either with a view of propitiating their ghosts or in some way of
satisfying their wants. In our Roman era, the meaning of the custom may
have been so far lost sight of that it was only represented by empty
vessels as a rule. Food-stuffs under ordinary conditions would rapidly
disappear by the ordinary processes of decay, but the exceptional
instances cited above go far to show that the ancient usage was still
in vogue. On the other hand, many objects of personal use, as brooches,
rings, bracelets, and the like, were parts of the attire in which the
deceased was burnt, and in the case of unburnt burials in which he or
she was interred. Others again, as dressing-cases and their contents,
mirrors, and children's toys, we may conceive to be treasured trinkets,
deposited in the grave from no other motive than a loving regard for
the dead. The branches of box in one of the Bartlow Hills tombs may
also indicate a general custom, as leaves of the same plant have been
found in a Chesterford burial, and the remains of foliage in several others.
Roman influence was strong, the dead body, when buried unburnt, was
almost invariably laid at full length in the grave. To what extent the
prehistoric custom of burying it in a contracted or flexed attitude
passed into Roman times is uncertain. Lieut.-General Pitt-Rivers
exhumed many contracted and extended skeletons about the sites of the
Romano-British villages at Woodcutts, Rotherley, and Woodyates in
but as these villages were any of pre-Roman origin it may well be that
some of the burials were older than the conquest. Still, it is
noteworthy that the few objects which were undoubtedly Roman, or had a
Roman facies, were mostly associated with the extended
skeletons. Seven or eight of the extended skeletons had hobnails about
their feet, showing that they had been buried in their shoes or
sandals, and presumably in their clothes as well. In the graves of
about as many there were iron nails in positions to imply that they
belonged to wooden coffins of which no other traces remained.24
Vessels of pottery were few. With five of the seventeen Woodyates
burials there were Roman coins, and three of these were found by the
heads of the skeletons, leading the General to consider that, in
accordance with a well-known Roman custom, each had been placed in the
mouth of the deceased as a fee for Charon to ferry him across the Styx.
Coins in similar positions have been found in graves elsewhere in this
country, showing that the custom was observed; but, however common in
Italy, it does not seem to have been general with us. The heads of the
skeletons of these three villages pointed in various directions, some
to the north, but more generally the extended skeletons lay in
directions roughly east and west, with the heads mostly in the latter
direction, and this appears to have been the prevailing orientation in
Wooden coffins or chests were certainly in common use during the Roman
era, as the frequent presence in the graves of not only nails, but of
iron or bronze bindings, hinges, and other mountings, prove, but very
few remain. A good example of a rectangular coffin was found at
Stanley Grange, Derbyshire,25
in 1903. It was constructed of oak boards which appeared to have
been pegged together, as there were no nails or other metal details.
The skeleton was extended at full length with the head to the
east-north-east, and on its right side was a small hexagonal bottle of
glass. Occasionally a wooden coffin was enclosed in a cist constructed
of flag-stones or tiles, and examples of both have been found at York.
Coffins hewn out of a single rock of stone were much used, especially
where suitable stone was at hand, Bath stone being especially adapted
for the purpose. These coffins are usually wedge-shaped; sometimes they
approximate to the modern form, and rarely are rectangular.
Occasionally they were rounded within at the head or the foot. They
appear to have always had covers, flat, rounded, or slightly coped, and
of a single piece or several. They were usually roughly hewn into shape
and were intended to be buried; but occasionally they were carefully
finished, with or without inscriptions, and more or less decorated, and
these were certainly not buried.
A good example of the latter sort was found in the Green, Westminster Abbey, in 1869.26
It was 7 ft. long, 2 ft. 5 ins. wide at the head, and
2 ft. at the foot, and 18 ins. high, and it had a coped
cover. One side and the cover alone were ornamented, the former having
an inscription to the deceased, and the latter a cross of a common type
of the 11th or 12th century in relief. Apparently it originally
occupied a recess, the cover and front alone being exposed to view. The
Christian emblem indicates that it was re-used at the time it was
carved. This was no uncommon practice, and Bede27
records an instance. When the remains of St. Etheldreda, abbess of
Ely, were translated to the new church in the 7th century, they
in a marble coffin most beautifully wrought, which
was found outside an abandoned city called Grantecester. This
'abandoned city' was Roman, and there is no doubt that the coffin was
from its cemetery.
Marble coffins, although frequent in Italy and Gaul, must have been
rare in this country, for apparently there is no example in our
collections. Still, several highly ornamented ones in stone are known,
the finest, perhaps, being one in the British Museum from Haydon
It would be better described as a coffer or sarcophagus than a coffin,
for it is rectangular, with a coped cover. On the front is a large
panel filled with a wavy godrooned pattern, with a central medallion
containing the profile-bust of a boy in low relief, and on each end a
basket of fruit, while the slopes of the cover have a handsome foliated
design. The cover was originally fastened down by an iron strap or
clamp at each end. This sarcophagus contained a leaden coffin in which
were found the remains of a boy. As the back is quite plain, it
evidently stood against a wall, perhaps the back of a small tomb-house,
as those at Holwood and Lockham. Remains of these structures have also
been found at York and elsewhere.
Lead coffins have been frequently found, but comparatively few have
escaped the melting-pot. They were wedge-shaped or rectangular, and
were usually made of a single sheet of lead with the corners so cut
that when the sides and ends were beaten up, the cut edges either met
or the one could be doubled over the other, the joints being fused or
soldered. The covers overlapped the sides and were often made in the
same manner. They were occasionally plain, but more often decorated.
The decoration was simple and characteristic, consisting of straight
beaded lines in relief, arranged in bold zigzags, saltires, or other
rectangular figures, and the intervals often contained simple devices,
of which the scallop was the most frequent. The ornamentation was
effected by stamps which were pressed into the sand-bed on which the
lead sheet was cast. There are fine examples in the Colchester and York
Museums. A rectangular one found at Bexhill in 1871 had, in
addition to the ordinary ornamentation, small reliefs of a lion, ewer, and
Medusa's head repeated several times; and another found in the Kent
Road, London, had figures of Minerva in its compartments. There are
several instances of these coffins being enclosed in shells of stone or
wood, and probably the latter was customary. Lead coffins are more
frequent in the east and south-east than in the west.29
A remarkable burial-mound known as Eastlow Hill, containing a
skeleton in a leaden coffin, was opened at Rougham in Kent,
in 1844. The coffin, enclosed in a wooden shell, was in a tomb
built in the form of a small house, 12 ft. long and 6 ft.
6 ins. wide, of masonry with a tiled roof, upon a concrete
platform. The only object associated with the skeleton was a small coin
near the head; but a small chamber at one end of the 'house' contained
broken glass and other vessels.30
There was a curious custom both here on the Continent, of covering the
corpse in the coffin with liquefied lime, or, according to other
statements, plaster of Paris. The result is that the hardened material
often retains a perfect impression of the body and its clothing, and
actual portions of the latter are sometimes preserved. There are
several examples of these calcareous fillings in the York Museum. One
covered the body of a lady and her child, and the garment in which she
was buried was of a velvety texture ornamented with crimson or purple
stripes. Another indicates that the corpse was entirely covered with a
coarse canvas. In another example, the body had been habited, the legs
crossed, and the feet shod; and, upon the limy matrix being removed,
the following objects were found above the left shoulder —
a portion of a gold ring and two jet rings, two gold ear-rings,
two bracelets, several bronze rings, and two bead necklaces. In another
example, a young lady had been entirely enveloped in a coarse cloth,
and deposited in a leaden coffin enclosed within a stone one, her head
apparently resting on a pillow; the most interesting feature is that
the calcareous environment preserved her coiffure intact. Her auburn
hair had been slightly twisted and coiled at the back of the head in
the circular fashion in vogue during the Constantine period, and
secured by two jet pins.31
The tombstones, like the Roman altars, are 'good, bad, and
indifferent.' Some found in the vicinity of the military centres are,
we can well imagine, the products of men who were better soldiers than
stone-cutters; others, notably at London and Colchester, were certainly
made by skilled masons. Like the altars, too, they exhibit no
Late-Celtic traits in their ornamentation. With few exceptions, they
are, like our headstones, slabs of stone bearing on their fronts the
epitaphs. The simplest are rectangular slabs, sometimes quite plain,
but more often panelled in front; and the panel may be rectangular, or
have a gabled head, in which case the head may be converted into a
pediment by a horizontal line of moulding across its foot. There is a
good London tombstone of the latter type in the British Museum in which
the tympanum is ornamented with a trident and two dolphins, each
external spandrel having a roundel. Another found at Great Chesters has
the pediment of an unusual ogee outline and containing a two-handled
More often the summit of the slab is shaped
to the pediment, and most of finest tombstones are of this type. In
these a definite architectural effect was often obtained by flanking
the front with two pilasters. In another British Museum example, the
pilasters are panelled and ornamented with floral scrolls, and have
quasi-Corinthian capitals, the tympanum being filled with foliage. The
pilasters are sometimes fluted, and occasionally they simulate engaged
columns. The pediment is sometimes flanked with ornaments, and these
are usually lions, as in tombstones at Wroxeter and Benwell, the latter
having a curious rayed human head in the tympanum.
In the most elaborate tombstones, the panel or in lieu thereof a
shallow round-headed niche or alcove contains a sculptured subject, the
inscription being at the foot. There are several
types of these sculptured stones. In the most
frequent, the deceased is represented standing at full length. There is
a notable example in the Colchester Museum (Fig. 39),32
in which the deceased, a centurion of the Twentieth Legion, Marcus
Favonius, is represented in military dress with his left hand on his
sword and holding in his right the insignia of his office, a staff.
This tombstone is specially interesting because it was found fallen
over the lead ossuary which contained the ashes. Another fine example
of the type was found at South Shields. It presents the deceased, a
woman, seated, and apparently knitting, in an alcove, which is flanked
with two panelled pilasters supporting an elaborate pediment
(Fig. 39). Of much simpler character is the tombstone of a boy
aged five years, found at Old Penrith. The figure of the deceased has a
whip in one hand and in the other what seems to be a toy, and it
occupies a deeply sunk panel. Occasionally there are two figures, as
those of a centurion and his wife at Chester. A tombstone at York
has four figures, those of a soldier, his wife, and his infant son and
FIG. 39. TOMBSTONES AT COLCHESTER AND SOUTH SHIELDS
Another type of these
sculptured monuments presents a horseman riding over a fallen barbarian
and often in the act of spearing him — a device of Greek origin
and presumably confined to the graves of soldiers. There are several
examples in the Chester Museum, and others have been found at Hexham,
Wroxeter, Bath, Cirencester (Fig. 40), and elsewhere. A third
type, known as that of the 'sepulchral banquet,' is of great antiquity
and has an Eastern origin, and probably it originated in ancestor
worship. The deceased is represented as reclining on a couch, with a
small tripod table in front, and holding a goblet in the right hand;
and there is usually a juvenile attendant before or behind the couch.
There are several examples at Chester, others at Corbridge, York
(Fig. 40), South Shields, and elsewhere.
FIG. 40. TOMBSTONES AT CIRENCESTER AND YORK
Sufficient has been said
to give the reader a general idea of the funeral monuments of the era.
The exceptions in this country are few. There are a few instances of
memorials in the form of a pilaster or stele. One in the Guildhall
Museum is a hexagonal pedestal inscribed to a lady, Claudia Martina,
and it was probably
surmounted with her statue, as a female head of
stone was found with it. Others are mural tablets which were probably
affixed to tomb-houses, and we have already described several carved
and inscribed stone coffins which were evidently intended to be
exposed, and thus to serve as the memorials of the dead. The sculptured
subjects, instead of conforming to the three types given above,
occasionally depict scenes from mythology or from daily life.
The epitaph generally records (1) the name of the deceased mostly with
some brief particulars as to his or her station or condition; (2) the
age at death, and, in the case of a soldier, the length of his service;
and (3) the person or persons who raised the monument. It is usually
prefaced with D. M., Dis Manibus,
'To the gods of the shades,' but probably it came to have no definite
meaning and is best rendered, 'To the memory of.' It sometimes ends,
especially in the earlier monuments, with H. S. E., Hic situs est,
'He or she lies here.' The name of the deceased is usually in the
nominative, and when not so in the dative. More particulars, as a rule,
are given of the soldier than the civilian. The length of his service
is nearly always stated, and often his legion or cohort, his
birthplace, and 'tribe,' and if an officer, his rank. The age is
expressed by an abbreviation of vixit annos, as VIX. AN. XXIV, 'He lived twenty-four years,' or of annorum, as VIX. AN. XXXI., 'Thirty one years (of age)'; and the soldier's service by an abbreviation of stipendiorum, as STIP. XIII, 'He served thirteen (years).' If the heir erected the monument the formula is H. F. C., Heres faciendum curavit, 'His heir caused this to be made'; if a father did this — PATER F. C. The same may be expressed by F. for fecit or P. for posuit — thus VACIA SOROR F., 'The sister made this'; CAEC. MVSICVS LIB. EIVS P., 'Her freedman, Caecilius Musicus, placed this.'
The following examples will give the reader a general idea of the epitaphs of the era:—
At Chester — D. M. P. RVSTIO FABIA CRESCEN. BRIX. MIL. LEG. XX. V. V. AN. XXX STIP. X GROMA HERES FAC. C.
"In memory of P. Rustius Crescens of the Fabian tribe from Brixia, a
soldier of the Twentieth Legion, 'The Valerian and Victorious,' aged
thirty years and served ten. Groma, his heir, had this (stone) made." (Brixia, now Brescia, in Italy.)
Cirencester — RVFVS SITA EQVES CHO. VI TRACVM ANN. XL STIP. XXII HEREDES EXS TEST. F. CVRAVE. H. S. E.
"Rufus Sita, horseman of the Sixth Cohort of Thracians, lived forty
years and served twenty-two. His heirs, in accordance to his will, had
this erected. He is laid here" (Fig. 40).
Great Chesters — DIS M. PERVICAE FILIA F. "In memory of Pervica. Her daughter erected this."
Silchester — MEMORIAE FL. VICTORINAE T. TAM. VICTOR CONIVNX POSVIT. "In memory. To Flavia Victorina, Titus Tamphilus (?) Victor, her husband, placed this."
York — D M SIMPLICIAE FLORENTINE ANIME INNOCENTISSIME QVE VIXIT MENSES DECEM FILICIVS SIMPLEX PATER FECIT LEG VI V.
"To the divine shades. To Simplicia Florentina, a most innocent thing,
who lived ten months. Filicius Simplex of the Sixth Legion, 'The
Victorious,' the father, erected this."
Chesters — D. M. S. FABIE HONORATE FABIVS HONORATIVS TRIBVN. COH. I VANGION. ET AVRELIA EGLICIANE FECERVNT FILIE DVLCISSIMME.
"Sacred to the gods of the shades. To Fabia Honorata, Fabius
Honoratius, tribune of the First Cohort of Vangiones, and Aurelia
Egleciane, raised this to their daughter most sweet."
Housesteads — D. M. ANICIO INGENVO MEDICO ORDI COH. PRIMAE TVNGR. VIX. AN. XXV. "To the memory of Anicius Ingenuus, physician in ordinary to the First Cohort of Tungrians, lived twenty-five years."
The Author's Notes:
1. Archaeologia, lii, p315.
2. Proc. Soc. Ant. xxi, p217.
3. Brit. Arch. Assoc. xxiii, p213.
4. Arch. Jour. xvi, p297.
5. Proc. Soc. Ant. 2, xvii, p94.
6. Arch. Jour. x, p60.
7. Vict. Hist. Northamp. i, 183.
8. Arch. Jour. xvii, p117.
9. Proc. Soc. Ant. 2, xviii, p39.
10. Archaeologia, xxvi, p368.
11. Uriconium, p346.
12. Arch. Cantiana, lxii, p76.
13. Archaeologia, xxi, p336.
14. Brit. Arch. Assoc. v, p134.
15. Arch. Jour. xxi, p88.
16. Arch. Jour. ii, p251.
17. Brit. Arch. Assoc. iv, p70.
18. Ib. ii, p275.
19. Arch. Jour. ii, p255; Archaeologia, xii, p108; xxvii, pp412, 434.
20. Archaeologia, ii, p177; Arch. Jour. xxv, p294. Several have been recently found at Newstead.
21. Archaeologia, xxv, p1; xxvi, pp300, 462; xxviii, p1; xxix, p1.
22. The handles of similar tankards have been found at Caerwent and Newstead.
23. Excavations, i, p33; ii, p190; iii, p204.
24. Of eleven interments at Chatham, most yielded the large nails of wooden
coffins, and five of the skeletons had hob-nails at the feet. Arch. Cantiana, xxiii, p14.
25. Derbyshire Arch. Jour. xxvi, p227. See also Arch. Jour. vi, p109; xii, p197; Brit. Arch. Jour. 1858, p336.
26. Arch. Jour. xxvii, p103.
27. Hist. Eccl. bk. iv, xix.
28. Arch. Jour. x, p255; Price, Roman Antiquities, Mansion House, plate iv.
29. Arch. Jour. x, pp61, 255; xii, pp78, 283; xvii, p99; xx, p99. Brit. Arch. Jour. ii, p297; xx, pp88, 200. Collect. Antiq. iv, p173. Archaeologia, xvii, p333; xxxi, p308.
30. Arch. Jour. lvii, p97.
31. Arch. Aelian. viii, 127.
32. Brit. Arch. Assoc. xxvi, pp26, 240.