“IN noticing the Antonine Wall, which he regarded as the work of Severus, Buchanan thus makes mention of the inscribed stones that are to be found near it: Multa ejus valli vestigia extant, multi lapides inscripti eruuntur, quibus aut testimonia salutis per tribunos et centuriones acceptae, aut sepulchrorum inscriptiones, continentur.1 Unfortunately he gives no examples. This is the more surprising, since continental scholars of the sixteenth century, whose writings cannot have been unknown to him, had recognised the historical importance of such inscriptions and made collections of them. In England, however, Buchanan’s contemporary, Camden, brought together an increasing number of British examples in successive editions of the Britannia, the first of which was published in 1586, four years after the Rerum Scoticarum Historia. He is thus entitled to the honour of being the earliest British epigraphist, although the existence of Roman inscribed stones in the southern part of the island had been noted by Leland in his Labouryeuse Journey dedicated to King Henry VIII.

No Scottish inscription is to be found in the first four editions of the Britannia; but before the publication of the fifth (1600), Camden had come to know of one, and that from a source whence, nowadays, we would scarcely suppose that information of the kind could be drawn – a commentary on the Apocalypse written by Napier, the discoverer of logarithms. On verse 3, chap. xvii., the commentator remarks – “These names of blasphemie, that here are said that the beaste is full of, are said to bee upon the seven heads of the beast. The trueth is, therefore, that these proud, glorious, and presumptuous stiles and superscriptions, are not only set up in sundry monuments upon divers places of these seven hilles, which are her seven heades, but also through all the whole bodie of the beast; even in every part of that Empire, are there infinite of these Temples, Idols and other monuments erected, bearing such proude an blasphemous superscriptions and title dedicatories as Diis manibus, Fortunae, Plutoni, Veneri, Priapo, and even at Mussilburgh among ourselves in Scotland, a foundation of a Romane monument lately found (now utterlie demolished) bearing this inscription dedicatorie, Apollini Granno Quintus Lucius Sabinianus Proconsul Aug.”2 This altar had been discovered, it is now known, thirty years before Napier wrote.3 In 1565 Thomas Randolph, then English ambassador to the Scottish Court, thought it worthy of notice in a despatch addressed to Sir William Cecil; and the following extract from Queen Mary’s treasurer’s account in the same year shews that it had attracted her attention: “Aprile, 1565 – Item to ane boy passand of Edinburgh, with ane charge of the quenis grace, direct to the baillies of Mussilburgh, charging thame to tak diligent heid and attendance that the monument of grit antiquitie, new fundin, be nocht demolishit nor brokin down, xii. d.” Whatever opinions we may have formed of Mary’s character and conduct as a woman and a queen, it is impossible not to contrast to her advantage this enlightened anxiety for the preservation of a relic of bygone times with the scarcely concealed satisfaction which the famous mathematician exhibits over its destruction, and at the same time not to regret that the sentiments of Napier regarding our native antiquities too generally actuated our countrymen in the past days, rather than those of the unfortunate queen.

In the sixth edition of the Britannia (1607) – the last published in his lifetime – Camden was able to record four additional Scottish inscriptions, all of them belonging to the Antonine Wall. One, a sepulchral stone, is now lost, but the remaining three, which were found near Cadder House and were for some time there, have been preserved, two of them being in the Roman Room. Camden himself does not seem ever to have been in Scotland. For the new inscriptions he was indebted to others, especially two Germans whose names when latinized became Cripinus Gericius and Servatius Richelius, only the latter of whom, however, is spoken of by Camden. These Germans appear to have visited Cadder and Kilsyth in the early years of the seventeenth century. 

Both the Roman Room stones mentioned above are legionary tablets. Dealing only with those of the Antonine Wall, we find that such tablets are divisible into two classes: (1) those that have inscribed on them the name and titles of the Emperor Antoninus Pius in the dative or ablative, followed by the name of a legion or detachment of a legion and the number of feet or paces of the Wall raised by them at a particular place, though this last is sometimes left blank; (2) those that simply bear the name of a legion or detachment of a legion with, in one case at least, the feet or paces as before. Of the former class there are fifteen in the Room, of the latter, three. 

In all ancient inscriptions many of the words are abbreviated, more especially honorary or official titles. The stone cutters, besides, must have sometimes been unlettered men who copied conventional forms and abbreviations without knowing exactly what was meant, and thus made mistakes. Owing to this circumstance and to the fact that many of the inscriptions are mutilated or weather-worn, difficulties arise in reading them, some of which are to be met with in the Roman Room. There are none, however, in regard to the name and titles of the Emperor, which, as they appear on every stone of the first class, may be here explained once for all. The letters enclosed within brackets are expansions of the abbreviations. 

IMP(erator), properly commander-in-chief, but used as a praenomen by the Roman emperors. 
C or CAES(ar), the cognomen of the Julian gens and assumed by the successors of Julius Caesar. 
T(itus) AELIVS HADRIANVS ANTONINVS, the personal names borne by the Emperor Antoninus Pius after his adoption by Hadrian. 
AVG(ustus), a title of honour conferred by the Senate on Octavianus, and adopted by succeeding emperors as a cognomen. 
PIVS, a surname bestowed by the Senate on Antoninus soon after his accession. 
P(ater) P(atriae), a title of honour assumed by various Roman emperors. 

Of the legionary tablets of the first class it will be sufficient for our present purpose to give short notices of four. 

(1) The Dunnotar Stone. – This is one of the stones said, by Camden, to have been “dug up” on the Wall near Cadder House. Sibbald also states that it was found “at Cadir Mannor.” Before Camden wrote (1607) it had been removed to “the house of the Earl Mareschal at Dunotyre,” where it was seen by Crispinus Gericius. In his notice of Dunnotar Castle, Camden, on the authority, no doubt, of the German antiquary, tells us that “in the portico here is to be seen the ancient inscription above mentioned (i.e., in the account of Stirlingshire) of the Vexillation of the Twentieth Legion, the letters of which the present noble Earl, a lover of antiquity, has caused to be gilt.” This attempt to beautify it drew from Horsley the observation, “I doubt our present antiquaries would scarce thank the noble lord for this expression of his value and zeal for antiquity.” Professor Anderson is still more severe. “It is proper,” he writes, “to take notice of this, lest it should be imagined that his foppery (sic) was added to it after it came into Glasgow College.” 

In 1725, or shortly before that year, the Dunnotar Stone “was presented to the New College at Aberdeen by the Countess Mareschall after it had continued for a long time in the possession of that noble family. When my Lord Mareschall was last in Scotland, the New College at Aberdeen, with his lordship’s approbation, added it to the Glasgow collection” (Anderson MS.). This is said to have been in the year 1761. There appears to be no reference to the gift in the records of the Glasgow Arts Faculty, which, by the kind permission of the Rev. Dr. Stewart, I have had the opportunity of consulting in regard to these stones. 

By a rather singular oversight Gordon includes it among certain others found on the Wall, the exact locality of which was, as he believed, unknown. Somehow he had not traced it farther back to Dunnotar. Unwittingly he thus misled succeeding writers on our antiquities, almost all of whom follow him in this and other particulars of much greater importance without examining his statements. In consequence Horsley, with characteristic caution, goes no farther than the admission that the Stone “is much of the same sort with those usually found upon the Wall.” “Where this stone was found,” says Professor Anderson, “I know not.” And Stuart classes it with those “with regard to which nothing further is known than that they had been disinterred near some of the Roman forts upon the isthmus of the Forth and Clyde.” Yet all the while its history, from the time it was dug out of the ruins of the Wall, had been written so plainly in the pages of the Britannia that he who ran might read it! 

The slab, which has been broken in two, measures 3 feet 21/2 inches by 2 feet 10 inches. In texture the freestone is somewhat coarse. The ornamentation of the border is florid. On the right and left side is a variety of a conventional decoration that frequently occurs on the stones. It is less crescent-shaped than usual, terminating, however, as this ornament often does, in an eagle’s head at each of the four extremities. Within a double moulding is the following inscription:- 


The first four lines have already been explained. Of VEXILLATIO the true meaning is uncertain, but it may quite well be taken as equivalent to “detachment.” “A vexillation,” says Dr. Collingwood Bruce, “is believed to be a body of troops selected, it may be, from various centuries, and even from different legions, for some special purpose, and fighting under a standard of their own. It was more or less numerous according to circumstances. Occasionally it amounted to a thousand men.” (Lapid. Sep. P. 261). LEG = leg(io); VAL. VIC., or simply V V, as on next stone = Val(eriae) Vic(tricis), epithets of the Twentieth Legion denoting courage or success; F = f(ecit); PER, often P, is probably the preposition, though this is not quite certain; MIL = mil(lia); P = p(assus) or p(edes)

Expanded the inscription will therefore read: – Imperatori) Caesari T(ito) Aelio Hadriano Antonino Aug(usto) Pio P(atre) P(atriae) Vexillatio Leg(ionis) Vicesimae Val(eriae) Vic(tricis) f(ecit) per (?) mil(lia) p(assuum) or p(edum) III., intimating that in honour of the Emperor Antoninus Pius, Father of his country, a detachment of the Twentieth Legion, (called) the Valerian (and) the Victorious, raised (the Vallum) for three thousand paces (or feet). 

It is to be observed that the boar, the symbol of the Twentieth Legion, is not on the Stone. 

(2) The Chicago Stone. – This Stone is represented in the Room by a cast. The original was discovered in the spring of 1865 by the farmer at Hutchisonhill, near Castlehill, during trenching operations.4 It was lying flat on the “till.” Thrown aside as of little consequence, the Stone after a time attracted the attention of a Glasgow gentleman, who secured it, and from his hands it passed, before its existence was known to the owner of the soil or the local archaeological authorities, into the possession of Professor McChesney, the American Consul at Newcastle-on-Tyne. On the circumstances becoming known, efforts were made to have it restored to Glasgow, but without success. In spite of remonstrances and protests, Professor McChesney sent the stone to the Chicago Museum, where it was destroyed in the fire by which a great portion of that city was burned down in 1871. Fortunately, before it left our shores two casts of it were taken in gypsum by the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-on-Tyne at the instance of Dr. Bruce, and one of them generously presented to the Glasgow Archaeological Society, by whom it has been deposited in the Roman Room. On each side of the tablet is a border with triangular spaces. Two nude winged figures, meant probably for genii, and holding what seems a bunch of grapes in the hand, face each other in a dancing attitude. They are enclosed in an angular space bordered by mouldings. There are roses in each of the four corners. The central portion, which is rectangular and also enclosed in triple mouldings, is thus inscribed:- 


Gordon, followed by Horsley and all our authorities, regards IMP in these wall stones as always standing for Imperatori and makes the inscriptions honorary. On the Dunnotar Stone Caesari seems to be decisive in favour of the dative in that if not in the others as well. It is to be noted, however, that the I is close to the edge and may well be an imperfect E, and that I and E are sometimes confounded on the monuments. In several of the Antonine inscriptions which he has expanded, Dr. Hübner5 reads the ablative, regarding the first clause as absolute and denoting time. It certainly seems more consistent with common sense to suppose that a legion would record that it had completed so many feet of an earthen or turf dyke in the reign of an emperor than in his honour, and that when the dative is used it had slipped in owing to its being the proper case in inscriptions on temples and other public buildings. Conventional usage may, however, have proved so strong that the dative should be read in every case, and the matter had perhaps better be left as a moot point. If we assume that the clause is here in the ablative and expand accordingly, we have:- Imp(eratore) C(aesare) T(ito) Æl(io) Hadriano Antonino Aug(usto) Pio P(atre) P(atriae) Vex(illatio) Leg(ionis) Vicesimae V(aleriae) V(ictricis) fec(it) p(er) (?) p(assus) or p(edes) tria (millia); informing us that in the reign of the Emperor Antonius Pius, a Vexillation of the Twentieth Legion, (called) the Valerian (and) the Victorious, raised (the Vallum) for three thousand paces (or feet).

Below, nearly in the centre, is the figure of a boar in full career. On its left, between the two P’s, rises a tree; to its right are the numerals. The tablet measures 2 feet 10 inches by 2 feet 5 inches, and is almost an exact copy of another found in 1849 near the site of the same fort, which is also in the Room. 



1 Georgii Buchanani Opera Omnia, Ed. Ruddimann, vol. i. p. 9, D: Edinburgh, 1715. 
2 A Plaine Discovery of the whole Revelation of Saint John… set forth by John Napier of Merchistoun, younger, p. 210. Edinburgh, 1593. 
3 Proceedings Soc. of Antiq. of Scotland, vol. xiii. p. 277. Archaeologia Scotica, vol. iii. p. 294. 
4 See Buchanan: Trans. Glasg. Archaeol. Soc. Vol. ii. pp. 14-16 and 27, 28. 
5 C.I.L., vol. vii. pp. 203-205.

2 thoughts on “THE ROMAN ROOM OF THE HUNTERIAN MUSEUM. II. – INSCRIBED STONES., J. MacDonald (Apr., 1895), pp.211-218.

Leave a Reply