Five from the Frontier: Star objects from the new Roman Frontier Gallery at Tullie House

By Culture24 Staff | 21 June 2011
A photo of an angular slab of blue stone
Blue glass from a commemorative cup given to Roman charioteers - the sports stars of their day
The Roman Frontier Gallery, Tullie House’s hotly-anticipated new space, will tell the story of Roman occupation around Carlisle and the historic Hadrian’s Wall region. Ahead of its opening, we reveal some of the star objects and the stories behind them…

Blue glass from charioteers commemorative cup (1st Century AD):

Charioteering was the mass sport of the Roman area – the equivalent to today’s Premier League football or Formula 1.

Charioteers were great heroes in Roman society, living short lives but earning lots of money. This piece of blue glass is a fragment from one of the mass-produced commemorative cups that were made as souvenirs from the competitions.

The glass was blown into a mould, and a raised design around the outsides depicted a competition, while the names of famous charioteers were inscribed around the rim. The Romans brought glass to Britain, and this is thought to have been brought to Britain by a Roman soldier.

A photo of a Roman ring in terracotta stone
The Finger Ring features the head of a goddess
Finger ring made from a single block of amber (2nd/3rd Century AD):

This finger ring is unique in Britain. It was imported from Aquileia in what is now the extreme North-East of Italy, where they specialised in this type of luxury item.

The head of the goddess Minerva is carved in relief on it. She was the goddess of wisdom and righteous warfare and a particular favourite of women. The ring is mentioned in the book of dream interpretation by Artemidorus, which says dreaming of rings was favourable to women.

The fragility of this item may mean that it was worn to promote good dreams. The ring is further evidence that rare and luxury items were imported from across the Empire to Carlisle.

Tombstone of Gaius Cossutius Saturninus (3rd Century AD):

This tombstone was found during the ploughing of a field near the fort of Birdoswald on Hadrian’s Wall in 1961, and is thought to have come from the cemetery.

It reads: Sacred to the Spirits of the Departed. Gaius Cossutius Saturninus, from Hippo Regius, soldier in the sixth Legion Victrix Pia Fidelis.

The tombstone is proof of the existence of Africans at Hadrian’s Wall. Saturninus is known to have been a Roman citizen as he has the three names a citizen would have had. Hippo Regius was an important Roman city in North Africa – these days it’s known as Annaba, in Algeria.

When Emperor Septimius Severus came to Britain at the beginning of the 3rd century, he brought with him reinforcements for the 6th legion from Africa. 

Label on Amphora for Fish Sauce (1st Century AD):

This fragment of pottery is a label from an amphora containing the famous fish sauce which featured in all aspects of Roman cookery.

It says: Old Tangiers tunny relish, ‘provisions quality’, excellent, top-quality.

Besides showing that this exotic ingredient was being imported into Carlisle in the 1st century, it is a rare example of a Roman advertising label – comparable to the well-known words on the HP Sauce bottle.

The presence of this fragment shows that Carlisle was connected to the wider Empire from near its beginning and able to import luxury items. Equally, it shows that someone with Roman taste in food was stationed in the city, as this sauce would not have been known to the pre-Roman inhabitants, let alone have been seen as desirable or essential.

Inscription commemorating building work at Birdoswald at the time of Emperor Severus (AD193-211):

This inscription shows that even in the very late stages of Roman Britain, repairs were being made to Hadrian’s Wall and it still played a significant role in the Roman Empire.

The inscription refers to Emperor Septimius Severus, a 3rd century Emperor from Libya. With his two sons, Caracalla and Geta, he came to Britain to resolve an ongoing dispute with the Caledonians, but he was an old man and died in York. His two sons then returned to Rome to fight over who would become Emperor.

The inscription would originally have listed Severus and his two sons, but after Caracalla won the battle for power between the two brothers, the name of Severus’ youngest son, Geta, was removed in an act of Damnatio memoriae.

The stone’s inscription dates repair work done to Hadrian’s Wall: the stone was found used as a flooring slab, facing upwards, explaining why the inscription is very worn.

This stone shows that repair work was being done at Hadrian’s Wall during the century after the inscription, towards the end of the Roman Empire, so Hadrian’s Wall was still in use.   

  • The Roman Frontier Gallery opens on Saturday (June 25 2011). See Culture24 for more star objects, Curator's Choices and features from the gallery.
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