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votive and other religious inscriptions
The philosophy behind Roman religion was 'do ut des' (I give so that you will give)
i.e. if a person wanted something - such as a safe journey, a successful business deal or healing for an injury or illness - from a god or goddess, he would give an inscribed altar or other offering.
The name of the god or goddess would be at the top, (again with -o, -i, or ae as the ending of the name, meaning to the god), and the name of the person making the offering would also be mentioned.
This stone can be seen at the Roman Baths museum in Bath, and would probably have stood next to a statue of the goddess Sulis (identified with the Roman Minerva) which had been commissioned by the priest (Haruspex) Lucius Marcius Memor.
To the goddess Sulis
DEAE SULI rather than 'Dea Sulis' because the changed endings mean to the goddess Sulis
Lucius Marcius Memor, Haruspex,
D[ono] D gave [this] as a gift
A Haruspex was a senior priest whose duties involved examining the entrails of sacrificed animals in order to interpret the wishes of the gods.
Mercury was the god of businessmen and communications (and also of thieves!) It is a pity that we can't see any more of him than his feet on the carving, but the formula D D is visible, and so is the god's name DEO MERCURIO with the ending -o to show that it means 'To the god Mercury'.
This altar is at Caerleon.
Another common formula on religious inscriptions was V S L M votum solvit libenter merito = kept his promise freely to [the god who] deserved it.
The beautiful altar below shows that the Optio Aelius Claudianus (optio was the rank below centurion) repaid his promise to the god (Sacred Genius) of his Century. We do not know what the optio had asked the god for, but he clearly felt that his prayer had been answered, so he presented the god with this lovely altar.
The first picture is the genuine altar, now to be seen in the Grosvenor Museum in Chester, and the second is a replica of the altar, which has been painted as it would have been in Roman times.
The problem with the way the stone is displayed in the museum is that it is now very difficult to see the carvings on each side of the stone.
On one side is an axe and a very businesslike knife for carving up sacrificed victims and on the other there is a jug and a 'patera' (a small saucepan-like dish) for making offerings of wine or honey.
Only half of Chester's amphitheatre can now be seen, and originally the seats would have risen to a great height in tiers beyond the wall of the arena. The recess shown to the right of the two figures used to be a shrine to the goddess of Vengeance, Nemesis, the gladiators' goddess.
The amphitheatres in Britain would probably have been used more for military training than for gladiator shows or beast-hunts.
To the goddess Nemesis,
Sextus Marcianus [dedicated this]
EX VISU following a dream (or vision).
N.B. There is an interesting collection of 'curse-tablets' which can be seen in various museums, notably Bath. The Romans would ask gods or goddesses to punish their enemies, and would often suggest a selection of punishments they deemed suitable! The curses would be scratched onto pieces of lead, with each word written backwords, presumably to increase the magic power and secrecy.
Christianity in Roman Britain
The artefact below can be seen in the Corinium museum in Cirencester and there is a similar one in London.
It is not really an inscription, but a piece of wall-plaster from the dining-room of a house in Roman Cirencester which has a strange message scratched on it.
R O T A S
O P E R A
T E N E T
A R E P O
S A T O R
The sentence hardly makes sense : Arepo the ploughman holds the wheels carefully.
However, you will notice that this is an acrostic or word-square, whose words can be read in several different directions. It contains the letters of the first two words of the Lord's Prayer (pater noster) twice, plus A and O (alpha and omega in Greek), and has been interpreted as a secret sign showing that the owners of the house were Christians during a time of persecution when they could not be open about their beliefs.
This picture shows a freshwater spring at Chedworth villa. In Roman times the octagonal pool would have been part of a Nymphaeum, or shrine to the water-nymphs.
This carving, discovered on one of the blocks surrounding the pool, shows that the owners of the villa later became Christians and re-dedicated the spring.
X P (written as a monogram), are the first letters of Christ's name in the Greek alphabet "CH, R".