Geolocated epigraphy: an introduction

This is an attempt at something a little unusual: providing an account of the inscriptions on stone along Hadrian’s Wall that actually shows where they were found (or, more often, thought to have been found). The data are therefore not only the texts and translations of inscriptions (and even some illustrations of them, although it will generally have to rely on out-of-copyright images such as 19th-century woodcuts or my own photography, where available), but also their geolocation and, moreover, a crude assessment of the reliability of the positional evidence. Thus a piece of an inscription excavated in the last few years will get a green marker as we know its exact position; one said to come from a locality would get a yellow one, indicating a measure of uncertainty; and one just thought to come from the general vicinity would get a red one.

RIB 1638 from Milecastle 38

RIB 1638 from Milecastle 38

Epigraphy, the study of inscriptions, has a long and distinguished history along the Wall, Horsley’s account of the monument in his Britannia Romana, featuring a major study of the then-known examples, most of them illustrated. This was just as well, as more than a few of those he records have since vanished, a warning to all that recovery from the archaeological record is often the worst thing that can happen to an artefact, of whatever size.

The definitive modern account of the stone inscriptions from Roman Britain is Roman Inscriptions of Britain (RIB), a work completed by R. G. Collingwood and R. P. Wright (but which owes much to a study begun by Francis Haverfield). RIB I dealt with the stone inscriptions up to 1955 (1956 in the case of instrumentum domesticum) and was later followed by RIB II dealing with the portable objects, and finally by RIB III which is a supplement to the stone inscriptions, bringing them up to date.

Entries within RIB give locational data, where it is known, so this has been used, together with the 1st edition Ordnance Survey County Series maps to identify the locations as accurately as possible using map regression techniques. Thus RIB 1299 was said to have been found on allotments 300yds to the west of Wallsend fort. These allotments have long since vanished under more recent housing developments, but are clearly shown on older OS maps, so an approximate (yellow) location can be restored for them by comparison with modern maps.

What follows will use the RIB groupings for inscriptions – by fort site and inter-fort lengths of Wall – to organise them, with a blog post for each group. Each blog post will also provide a clickable map showing the locations and the data associated with them (text, translation, and illustration, where one exists). The daily tweets (@perlineamvalli) will report the latest addition to be shown on a Google Map; here the inscriptions are listed in the left-hand margin and clicking on one will reveal the location and information bubble for it.

Inscriptions on Google Maps

Inscriptions on Google Maps

At the end, when we reach Bowness, we shall have a clickable map of all the inscriptions from the Wall which will go onto the Per Lineam Valli website as part of the atlas and which will become part of the Google Earth PLV file for all the components of Hadrian’s Wall.

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