Monday, 29 October 2007

The Rewards of Service

A splendid new Latin inscription was discovered this week at Carberry. The find spot is near the Roman fort of Inveresk, which lay on the south coast of the Firth of Forth forming part of the Antonine frontier, and the new inscription may well be contemporary.

Carberry tombstoneThe find is a tombstone belonging to Crescens, a Roman cavalryman, and would originally have sported an ostentatious depiction of the man in action. This part probably broke off when the stone fell over, and perhaps awaits discovery in the earth nearby. The part that remains is the short curriculum vitae appended by Crescens' heir, who erected the stone in his memory.

"To the shades of the departed and of Crescens, cavalryman of the ala Sebosiana, one-time member of the governor's horseguard, who served for 15 years. His heir set this up."

It was common for the men of the auxiliary regiments, both horse and foot, to be selected for the provincial governor's bodyguard, the equites and pedites singulares. Professor Michael Speidel, the pre-eminent scholar of Roman guard units, thought that each province's guards were organised into a mixed numerus singularium ("unit of guards"), but this tombstone specifically states that Crescens was ex numero equitum singularium ("previously in the unit of horse guards"). In 1978, Professor Speidel noted with regret that "no direct evidence for singulares has come to light in Britain yet". Today, he should be delighted.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Wandering frontiers

Antonine Wall Management Plan, p. 15

This one should really have been called "To boldly go ...", I think.

Browsing through the new Antonine Wall Management Plan, I discovered a handy list of the modern countries through which the Roman frontier runs (extract from p. 15 pictured here).

"Remains of Roman frontier installations can be seen", it says, "in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, ..." So far, so good. We appear to be running from north to south down the Rhine frontier (but Belgium?!).

"... Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia ..." Okay, we've turned east to run along the Danube frontier. But Slovenia?! That's not even in sequence: we appear to have leapt back west, to a country well behind the frontier and, more importantly, not noted for its Roman remains. "... Slovakia, ..." Right, Slovakia again: back to our original list? "... Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, ..." Now this is getting silly. Croatia was at least going in the right direction again, and there were legions based there, though to classify their remains as frontier installations might be stretching it a bit. And Slovenia, again!

"... Bulgaria, and Romania." Phew! It seems that the Roman frontier meandered further than I thought.