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ROMAN ROOM OF THE HUNTERIAN MUSEUM. Part 1., J. MacDonald (Mar., 1895), pp.130-135.

“IT need hardly be remarked that the contents of the Roman Room, as it is generally called, form no part of the munificent gift bestowed on the University of Glasgow in 1783 by Dr. William Hunter. The larger portion of these antiquities was already the property of the University, having been brought together during the hundred years or so preceding, and deposited from time to time in the Library of the Old College. When the Hunter collections were transferred to Glasgow and a building was erected for their reception, the Roman stones naturally gravitated towards it. An apartment was appropriated to them on the left side of the large room, known, from the most striking object that met the visitor’s eye on entering, as the Hall of the Elephant. On the removal of the seat of the University to Gilmorehill, a room near the halls in which these collection are lodged was assigned to the stones. Here perhaps they attract less attention than they did before – certainly less than they deserve. Some stray student of ancient epigraphy, aware of their value, may occasionally linger among them for an hour or two; but not a few, it is believed, inspect the Hunterian Museum without caring to know of their existence. It would no doubt gratify Professor Young to see these memorials of the early history of North Britain, now an inalienable part of the treasures under his care, awakening a deeper interest and giving to a more numerous audience that object lesson on the ambition and power of imperial Rome they are so well fitted to convey – a lesson more impressive from its very silence than any that ever flowed from the pen or the lips of a living instructor. 

The origin of the collection in the Roman Room is somewhat obscure; but it would seem that about the year 1694 certain noblemen and gentlemen, some of them alumni of the University, into whose possession inscribed stones found along the Antonine Wall had come, resolved to present them to it presumably for safety, if not also in the belief that from its associations no more suitable resting place could be found for them. It is to the enlightened disinterestedness of these early benefactors of the University and of archaeology that we owe the preservation of so many monuments of great importance in connection with the Roman occupation of the North. We may safely affirm that many of them would otherwise have shared the fate that has befallen not a few of the Wall stones which remained in private hands and have been lost or destroyed. 

Among those who between the years 1694 and 1771 increased the collection by their gifts may be mentioned James, Marquis of Montrose, Lord Charles Maitland, the “Honourable Mr. Drummond at Drummond Castle,” John Graham of Dugalston, James Hamilton of Barns, William Hamilton or Orbiston, Thomas Calder of Shirva, merchant in Glasgow, Sir Lawrence Dundas, Bart., and the Proprietors of the Forth an Clyde Canal – John Graham having been the earliest, and Thomas Calder the most liberal, recorded contributor. Shortly after the last-mentioned year, when the inscribed stones and some uninscribed fragments numbered about thirty in all, carefully executed engravings of them were published at the expense of the University, with the title – Monumenta Romani Imperii, in Scotia, maxime vero inter vestigia Valli, auspiciis Antonini Pii Imperatoris, a Fortha ad Glottam perducti, reperta, et in Academia Glasguensi adservata, Iconibus expressa. No letterpress accompanies the plates, but on each of them one or more particulars are engraved such as the name of the donor or the place where the stone was found. In all probability the editor of the Monumenta was John Anderson, Professor of Natural Philosophy from 1757 to 1796, and founder of the Andersonian College, in the Library of which is preserved in duplicate (one being holograph with corrections and additions, the other a clean copy by another hand) a MS. account by him of the Wall. In this he discourses at some length on its builder, its name, its extent, its dimensions and forts, and the sculptured stones “formerly and lately found upon it,” winding up by inquiring how far it “can be justified upon the true principles of the military science.” 

At the commencement of its concluding section Professor Anderson speaks of the treatise as “observations which I had the honour to read to the Society.” Such, therefore, was the original form of its sections, although throughout the first half of the MS. they seem to have been recast with a view to publication. The Society is not named, but there can be no doubt it was the Literary Society of Glasgow, which during the last half of the eighteenth century met within the University weekly while the session lasted for the discussion of literary and philosophical subjects. In the description of the sculptures the order of the Monumenta plates is followed as far as the twentieth. After that those noticed are not numbered, either because the engraving of the plates had not proceeded farther when the MS. was written or because the idea of publishing the latter as a companion volume to the former had been abandoned. The MS. closes its section on the sculptures with an account of two “recently discovered” Castlecary altars and of four others that had been exposed in 1771 near Auchindavy by workmen engaged in the formation of the canal. Remarks on these altars were sent by Professor Anderson to General Roy in 1771, and are printed as Appendix No. IV. to the Military Antiquities of the Romans in North Britain. The MS. as a whole, which through the courtesy of its custodier, Mr. G. Martin, I have been permitted to examine, contains little of interest that has not already appeared in print. It had evidently been read by Stuart when gathering materials for his Caledonia Romana. Both Gordon and Horsley are laid largely under contribution, though the operations carried on during the formation of the Forth and Clyde Canal, which hastened the complete destruction of so many of the forts, gave the author opportunities for confirming or correcting their statements. 

Regarding the Wall itself it is unnecessary at present to say much. “This vallum, dyke, defence, or wall, as it is commonly called,” observes Professor Anderson, who saw it when it was more perfect than it is to-day, “consists of five parts: (1) a rampart of earth towards the north; close by it (2) a great ditch; to the south of this (3) another (and larger) rampart of earth (sods); at certain intervals upon this last rampart (4) stations; and to the south of them (5) a causeway for the march of the troops.” The number of stations and the exact length of the Wall are matters of uncertainty. Some of the former that are supposed to have existed, especially towards the east, have long since disappeared without leaving any visible traces. Inscribed stones have been found at, or in the neighbourhood of, West Kilpatrick, Duntocher, Castlehill, Bemulie, Kirkintilloch, Auchindavy (including Shirva), Barhill, Westerwood (including Croyhill), Castlecary, Rough Castle, Mummerils (near Falkirk), and Carriden. At these places, therefore, Stations had been built, the defences of most of which were to be seen in Gordon’s day. But with the exception of Rough Castle, whose ramparts still invite attention from the explorer’s pick-axe and spade, they are now all very nearly obliterated. Time and the agriculturalist have dealt hardly with the Wall, in particular east of Falkirk. Scarcely a vestige of rampart or ditch is left between that town and its termination. In various localities, however, towards the west considerable portions of the ditch and turf wall remain. 

According to one of the minor Roman historians, a wall of turf was built across our northern isthmus in the reign of Antoninus Pius (about A.D. 140), by his lieutenant Lollius Urbicus. That some such rampart was raised there in the reign of that emperor, the inscribed stones in the Roman Room bear ample testimony. But Bede, justly regarded as the most veracious of our ancient chroniclers, says that the Romans, on the eve of their quitting the island, advised the Romanized Britons dwelling south of that isthmus to build a wall across it as a defence against the inroads of their implacable foes, the Scots and Picts; and that the Britons being incapable of constructing a wall of stone raised one of sods. Whether, therefore, the Wall and its adjuncts in their latest form is the murus cespiticius referred to by Julius Capitolinus can hardly, in view of Bede’s statement, be regarded as a settled question. For the purpose before us, however, the matter is one of secondary importance. 

The first antiquary who traversed the Antonine Wall was Timothy Pont. Towards the end of the sixteenth century he made observations on it which were turned to some account by Gordon of Straloch. Camden’s references to it are brief and second-hand. It is the subject of a chapter in Sibbald’s Historical Inquiries (1707). But the first to describe it with care and minuteness was Gordon (1726), who was followed by Horsley (1730) and by Roy (1795). In 1845 Stuart brought our knowledge of what remains of it up to the time at which he wrote. 

In the course of the last hundred years but few additions have been made to the stones in the Roman Room, all of which probably belong to the Wall. Most of the stones of this class that during that time left private hands have gone to the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. The collection of Roman inscribed stones in Edinburgh is now nearly as large as the Hunterian; but it has been contributed by different parts of the south of Scotland, only a few being from the Wall. It is much to be desired that those memorials of the Roman invasion of North Britain that are still outside the two museums should, in order to secure their preservation, find a place within the one or the other. 

To speak geologically, the Antonine Wall runs through the carboniferous formation. Accordingly, the sculptures found along its course are wrought in stones that have all the characteristics of that system, and vary in texture from the coarser examples of millstone grit to the finer sandstones of the limestone series. The rock crops out in many places and has been wrought from very ancient times. The Romans would find easily-quarried stone for their several stations and other purposes wherever they required it. 

In the Roman Room there are now upwards of 40 stones. Of these 18 are legionary tablets, 10 are altars, and 4 sepulchral stones. The rest are uninscribed sculptures or fragments. Whether by accident or not, the legionary tablets have – with a few exceptions, one of them the finest of all, if not the finest Roman stone in Britain – been found towards the west, while altars are more numerous towards the east. The sepulchral stones have been mostly met with at Shirva, between Auchindavy Fort and Barrhill. There are no centurial stones, though two from the Wall are in Edinburgh. Comparing these numbers with those of the Southern Wall, we find that along it altars are by far the most numerous class of antiquities. This may be accounted for by the much more secure hold the Romans had of the country, which led the stationary garrisons to regard it as their permanent home. Centurial stones are also comparatively more numerous, and so, as might be expected, are sepulchral monuments. The outstanding feature of the northern mural sculptures as distinguished from the southern is the number and character of the legionary tablets. Since both Walls were raised by the same legions or detachments of them, one naturally looks for greater uniformity in these respects. But while none of the designs are exactly alike. Not only are the tablets of the Northern Wall more numerous in proportion, but many of them bear what appears to be a record of the distances done at different parts of it by the troops employed on the work. On scarcely any of the southern tablets is such information given. 

Artistically the designs are creditable to the taste of their designers, who were not likely professed draughtsmen but officers or common soldiers; so is the lettering of most of the inscription, which are also fairly correct as to language and grammar, and were probably written out at first by men with more than the education of the average legionary. Probably the same rule applies here as on the Southern Wall – the ruder the sculpture, the later its date. 

As some of the Antonine stones are of more than ordinary interest, short notices of a few of them may be given in succeeding papers, to which this maybe considered as introductory.


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