The New Inscription from Cirencester: A Few Thoughts

A couple of days ago, the discovery and excavation of a Roman tombstone at Cirencester (Gloucestershire) – largely undamaged and still in its original setting (in situ, as the professionals say) – has been publicised in no unspectacular terms.

The BBC, for example, suggested that this was a ‘unique’ Roman tombstone. The Discovery News praised the ‘rare intact’ Roman tombstone.

Did I say rare? I meant ‘super-rare‘ of course: thank you, Huffington Post, for keeping it real.

At any rate, the Gloucestershire Echo is confident: the tombstone makes ‘archaeological history‘. And of course, wherever something has been found, the ubiquitous, inevitable, and pointless claim that this site is ‘a Pompeii’ must be made (however silly or inappropriate) – like here on the webpages of Culture 24.

Time to step back a bit and to look at the object in question – accompanied by the disclaimer that, so far, I could only see photos of the stone, and that I therefore am very cautious about what I am going to say here: more definitive statements can only be made after autopsy, a principle of current epigraphy that one must not ever discard, even in a digital age.

So here is the best photo that I found published so far (best, as in: most useful):

Cirencester tombstone. – Image source: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B-ri8b9W4AEXBHN.jpg:large

Cirencester tombstone. – Image source: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B-ri8b9W4AEXBHN.jpg:large

The text of the inscription, in a diplomatic, non-judgemental transcription, reads as follows:

I
DM
BODICACIA
CONIVNX
VIXITANNO     5
SXXVII.

To me, the most intriguing aspect of this inscription is the I of the first line, which has not been discussed in any of the releases so far. (Note the ruled lines underneath each line, continuing even after the inscribed part.) From the photos, there cannot be any doubts that it is the exact same shape as any of the other letters ‘I’ of this inscription.

Overall, the lettering and layout is a bit awkward. The first letters of lines 3–5 are detached from the remaining ones (even though they form a unit with what follows). Moreover, the stonecutter, somewhat unfortunately, detached the final -s of the word anno|s (lines 5–6) from the remainder of the word at the end of the preceding line.

All in all, not a masterpiece in layout and design, but no true disaster either.

In the press – apart from those pieces that hoped to find evidence for the name Boudicca (which is NOT in this inscription – deal with it, sensational world!) – two variants for the text of lines 2–6 have been discussed. I now move on from a diplomatic, non-judgemental transcript to an interpretative reading (with translation):

D(is) M(anibus).
Bodicacia
coniunx
vixit anno-
s XXVII.

To the Spirits of the Departed.

Bodicacia, wife, lived 27 years.

Or, alternatively:

D(is) M(anibus).
Bodi Cacia
coniunx
vixit anno-
s XXVII.

To the Spirits of the Departed of Bodus: Cacia, his wife (sc. had this made). He lived 27 years.

Either solution is not without problems: In the first case, one would have to accept a new female name (Bodicacia) – not a huge problem, but something that those who study ancient onomastics are generally rather careful about. Moreover, the phrase coniunx, ‘wife’, is without proper alignment – unless one wishes to assume that the husband originally desired to have his name inscribed underneath (and this never happened).

The second solution is an interesting one, as it would give us names of husband and wife. The syntax is a bit curtailed, but again, not without parallel in the generally very lapidary style of Roman inscriptions. Both Bodus and Cacia are names attested for the Roman empire.

The second solution becomes even more interesting, considering that there is an inscription from Carlisle in which a certain Bodus is mentioned (RIB 953 – the text can be found here).

The one thing that bothers me, however, is the ‘I’ of the first line.

And this leads me to assume a slightly different scenario: principally reverting to the former of the two variants (i. e. with the husband originally planning to have his own name inscribed underneath), one could consider reading –

I(unoni)
D(is) M(anibus)
Bodicacia
coniunx
vixit anno-      5
s XXVII.

To the Spirits of the Departed, Female and Male.

Bodicacia, wife, lived 27 years.

A mere possibility, one first speculation, of course, with others – quite possibly better ones – undoubtedly to follow [Update, 4 March: a much better explanation still has now been found, see below, comments section]. Iunoni is not an altogether unusual female counterpart to the Dis Manibus, and, in fact, tombstones that contain reference to both the female and the male (or gender-neutral) versions of the spirits of the departed (an awkward, technical translation of the Latin phrase ‘to the divine Manes’) have come to light in the City of Rome herself (CIL VI 24745, 37444).

There is, of course, a way of ruling the case: once the skeletal remains that were found together with the tombstone have been examined, we may know whether it was a male (Bodus) or a female (Bodicacia), who was buried there.

In the meantime, we might be better off abstaining from sensationalism and presenting with great(er) care to a highly interested public just what is going on: it does not make the finding any less significant, exciting, or spectacular.

Even without this finding, however, I wish to add that the Corinium Museum at Cirencester is a wonderful one, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Roman world and the history of Roman Britain.

About Peter Kruschwitz

Berliner. Classicist. Scatterbrain.
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6 Responses to The New Inscription from Cirencester: A Few Thoughts

  1. Pingback: The New Inscription from Cirencester: A Few Tho...

  2. kenthumsres says:

    There could be a simpler interpretation for the ‘I’ in the first line. There are over a 100 instances of D(is) I(inferis) M(anibus) across the Roman world – one of them in Britain near Carlisle (RIB-03, 03221) and 2 cases of I(inferis) D(is) M(anibus) in Dacia. It could be part of a variant of the ubiquitous formula D(is) M(anibus)? It would be good to hear your thoughts on this.

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  3. Oooh, I like that explanation a lot, you may have found the right explanation there! Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Antonio Garcia Hurtado says:

    This text starts [yeye matta], and is written in aramaic, not modern latin capital.”דיאדא ל טעב”.
    You are confusing transcription of yod/lamed, “I/L”. there are four lamed.

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  5. That strikes me as highly unlikely.

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