The Jarrow Inscription

Two fragments of a 2nd-century AD Latin inscription (RIB 1051a and b) discovered in St Paul’s church at Jarrow in 1782 may throw important light on Hadrian’s visit to Britain in AD 122.

RIB 1051a

RIB 1051a

RIB 1051a: [Divorum] omnium fil[ius] / [Imp(erator) Caesar Traianus] Hadr[ianus] / [Augustus imposit]a necessitat[e imperii] / [intra fines conser]vati divino pr[aecepto] / [… c]o(n)s(ul) II[I …] (‘Son of all the divine emperors, Emperor Caesar Trajan Hadrian Augustus, once the need to maintain the empire within limits had been placed upon him by divine authority… consul for the third time…’). Dedication found 1782 at St Paul’s church, Jarrow. Now in the GNM. Source: RIB I pp.349-51

RIB 1051b

RIB 1051b

RIB 1051b: diffusis [barbaris et] / provinc[ia reciperata(!)] / Britannia ad[didit limitem inter] / utrumque O[ceani litus …] / exercitus pr[ovinciae … fecit] / sub cur[a A(uli) Platori Nepotis leg(ati) Aug(usti) pr(o) pr(aetore)] (‘After the barbarians had been scattered and the province of Britain recovered, he added a frontier… between both Ocean’s shores. The army of the province built this… under Aulus Platorius Nepos, Emperor’s propraetorian legate’). Dedication found 1782 at St Paul’s church, Jarrow. Now in the GNM. Source: RIB I pp.349-51

Dated to after AD 119 (the year in which Hadrian held office as consul for the third time), the fragments were interpreted by Ian Richmond and R.P. Wright in their publication as parts of one text, separated by about seven lines of missing text. Richmond and Wright restored the inscription to include mention of Hadrian’s eponymous Wall, although that restoration remains speculative and, indeed, contentious. The first section (1051a) contains Hadrian’s names. so clearly belongs at the beginning, whilst the second (1051b), recording the governor’s name, should come at the end. What came between, however, is anybody’s guess, assuming both pieces belonged to the same text (and that is by no means certain). What is clear is that mention is being made of the exercitus Britannicus doing something, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that that something was building the Wall.

Eric Birley¹ was sceptical of Richmond and Wright’s claim for the stones being Hadrianic (mainly on the style of the lettering), preferring a Severan date for them, reasoning that it may have marked that emperor’s reconstruction of the Wall as the occasion for the dedication. Nevertheless, his son Tony Birley has pointed out² that Cantarelli suggested as far back as 1898 that the text may record part of a speech by Hadrian, given to the troops during his visit to Britain. Was this the address illustrated on the exercitus Britannicus coins he issued? Was it also at this occasion that the discharge of veterans from fifty auxiliary units occurred, recorded on a diploma as 17th July 122? We have no way of knowing for sure, for the time being, but these are, at the very least, interesting possibilities.

1. Research on Hadrian’s Wall (1962) 159.
2. Hadrian, the Restless Emperor (1997) 331-2 n.16.


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