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Reading the tombstones of Victor and Regina

Professor Ian Haynes explains how to read the tombstones of Victor and Regina.
Now you’ve actually learned something about how we read Roman inscriptions, and we’ve asked you to look at two very important monuments from the Hadrian’s Wall area– but more specifically from the site of South Shields. These are the monuments of Regina and Victor. And we asked you to try and translate these monuments and see what information you can draw from them. What can you draw from the image? What can you draw from the text? So you’ve now had a chance to do that. Now I’m going to tell you how I read the same objects.
Now what’s interesting about both these monuments is they are actually commemorations of people who had, at some time in their life, been slaves and were subsequently freed. So they give us a glimpse of the complex range of statuses and that crucial division between being slave and free that was so central to defining Roman society in general and were certainly very much part of the experience of people within frontier communities here in Northern Britain. Now the tombstone of Regina is a very dramatic monument, both in terms of how Regina herself is presented and also in terms of what it actually tells us about the complex relationships that could exist between people of widely differing birth across the Empire.
If we start with the monument and we look at the image of Regina, sadly we’re missing her face, but we can still see quite a lot of her. And it’s interesting that she has been depicted here in death in this lengthy gown, a necklace, and bracelets on each wrist but also with the attributes that perhaps made up a certain kind of feminine ideal. She has here in her lap a distaff– and we’ve got here a distaff actually from South Shields and a spindle whorl attached as part of her domestic duties and activities. And that point is reinforced by the basket on her left hand side, and you can see the balls of wool here.
But on her right hand side, there’s another message. What Regina is doing here is she is opening with her right hand a jewellery box to show also her wealth. The wealth that she has received and enjoyed through her marriage to a man called Barates. And it’s Barates who set up this monument. Now what does Barates have to say? Because it’s after all, his record of his wife. We don’t have her account of her life. The tombstone starts in that familiar way with “dis manibus” and then “Regina.” And she is described here as a “liberta,” a freedwoman, “et coniuge.” She’s a freedwoman woman and wife. So this is the scenario that we see not infrequently in the Empire.
A slave is actually freed and then married by their former owner. Freedwoman of Barates. Now Barates comes from Palmyra, Palmyra in Syria. So he’s made a long journey to South Shields. But she is “natione Catuvallauna.” She is from the Catuvellauni, a tribal group that existed at the time of the Roman conquest in Hertfordshire. So she’s come up from southern England. He’s come over from Syria. And she ends up being buried here at Arbeia. She dies at the age of 30. And what’s very interesting about this monument is it’s not just in Latin. It’s also in Palmyrene. And along the bottom, there is in Palmyrene script a message from Barates. “Regina, freedwoman of Barates. Alas.”
How many people could have read the Palmyrene text too here in South Shields best part of 2000 years ago? It’s an interesting question about this kind of cosmopolitan environment. Now if we go beyond that, we can also look at the monument here of Victor. Victor is depicted in a rather different form. It’s what the German scholars tend to refer to as the Totenmahlszene He’s actually on a couch, possibly at his own funerary banquet. So it’s a rather interesting form of representation. He too has a servant beneath him, but he was a slave for much of his life. The monument tells us “dis manibus”– the spirits of the departed, again– “Victor natione.”
And in this case, he’s not of the Catuvellauni, he comes from the Moors, “natione maurum,” as we see here. He dies at the age of 20, “annorum,” there and then the Roman numerals for 20. And he is a “libertus,” a freedman of “Numirianus.” Now who is Numirianus? Well, we find out quite a lot about Numirianus here too. He is of the “ala,” that is to say the cavalry regiment, the first cavalry regiment of Asturs– “ala prima Asturum.” And this rather chipped bit actually here tells us what rank Numirianus held. He was, in fact, an eques. He hasn’t written it as eques there. He’s written it eqitus. But he is a cavalryman of the Ala Prima Asturum.
So this cavalryman had a slave– had a freedman, in fact. Giving you some indication of the levels of wealth and the hierarchies in the military units. Even an individual cavalry trooper could actually have their own slave. And many clearly did. What’s also interesting is the personal touch here. In this case, we have this formula. Qui piantissime proseqvvtus est which means essentially, “devotedly conducted him to the tomb.” Numirianus devotedly conducted Victor to the tomb. So, an interesting, personal human touch there.
In this step Ian talks through his reading of the two monuments.
He starts with the tombstone of Regina (RIB 1065):
Line 4: (Palmyrene script) RGYN’ BT HRY ‘T’ HBL
Line 1: To the spirits of the departed (and to) Regina, his freedwoman and wife
Line 2: Barates, a Palmyrene (set this up)
Line 3: (Regina was) Catuvellaunian by tribe, aged 30
Line 4: Regina, the freedwoman of Barate, alas
Regina Tombstone scan
Scan of Regina’s tombstone. RIB 1065 South Shields held by Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums © NU Digital Humanities)
And then moves on to the tombstone of Victor (RIB 1064):
Victor Tombstone scan
Scan of Victor’s tombstone. RIB 1064 South Shields held by Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums © NU Digital Humanities)
Line 1: To the spirits of the departed (and) of Victor, a Moorish tribesman
Line 2: Aged 20, Freedman of Numerianus
Line 3: Trooper of the Ala I Asturum (first cavalry regiment of Astures)
Line 4: who most devotedly conducted him to the tomb
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Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier

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