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Roman Inscriptions in the RCHME

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Over the last couple of months we have published two volumes about Roman remains in England: Roman London and Eburacum, Roman York. These have been part of our current digitisation of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments inventory series for England.

This subject matter is somewhat unusual for British History Online, although we do have similar material elsewhere, as in the Victoria County History volume for Oxfordshire, Volume 1, and as part of the RCHME we will soon be adding a volume on Iron Age and Romano-British monuments in the Cotswolds. But these two latest RCHME volumes have been a bit of a challenge to digitise because of the large number of inscriptions they contain.

Roman writing did not contain such useful things as spaces between letters, punctuation or differences of case. If you owned a book yourself then you could mark it up for reading yourself, to make things easier. Obviously this couldn’t be done with inscriptions, so there was a tendency to add some former of marker between words to make things easier for the reader; here it is done with a mid dot in a dedication tablet from York:

Elsewhere in Roman inscriptions covered by the RCHME a leaf or other symbol is used. Notice that this still doesn’t make the inscription very easy to read: words can spill over onto the next line without any indication that they are doing so, as in the name HIERONYMIANVS above; also, like text messages today, Roman inscriptions tend to be highly abbreviated. Fortunately the RCHME editors have painstakingly transcribed, and then translated, the inscriptions for us, with abbreviations expanded. Here is the above:

DEO ▵ SANCTO
SERAPI
TEMPLVM ▵ A SO
LO FECIT
CL(AVDIVS) ▵ HIERONY
MIANVS ▵ LEG(ATVS)
LEG(IONIS) ▵ VI ▵ VIC(TRICIS)

‘To the holy god Serapis, Claudius Hieronymianus, legate of the Sixth Legion Victorious, built this temple from the ground.’

The editors then give us quite a lot of information about who this Claudius Hieronymianus was:

“Claudius Hieronymianus is identified (Prosopographia Imperii Romani, 2nd ed., II, 206, no. 888) with a vir clarissimusof this name involved in a judgment by Papinian about a will (Ulpian, Digest, 33, 7, 12, 40) and with the praeses of Cappadocia whom Tertullian (ad Scap. 3) mentions at the turn of the 2nd and 3rd centuries as persecuting Christians after his wife’s conversion…”

Thanks to the efforts of the RCHME editors for these volumes, there is a wealth of information of this type – photographs, transcriptions and translations – now available to all.