Vallum Hadriani

Roman Souvenirs From the Wall

Aside from the Ravenna Cosmography and the Notitia Dignitatum there are no other literary sources which contain the names of the Wall forts. Our knowledge is furthered, however, by other inscriptions, some found along the line of the Wall itself (i.e. RIB 1594 at Housesteads), while others have appeared upon several bronze cooking utensils found as far afield as Wiltshire and France.

The Rudge Cup

"To fetch the milk I used to trudge
  Uphill along the road to Rudge,
An antiquated hamlet which
  In local history has a niche
Because it owned, the guidebooks tell,
  A prehistoric Sacred Well,
And careless Romans from the Wall
  Let a precious brass cup fall
Among the bones and odds and ends
  Dropped by other careless friends..."
Above extract from the poem 'Remembered Charms' by Constance Savery (1897-1999)
kindly supplied by Prof. J. Eric Schonblom of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (USA)

This small enamelled bronze drinking-bowl was found in 1725 at Rudge in Wiltshire. It is very important from an epigraphic point of view, as a moulded inscription around the vessel's outside rim confirms the names of the first five garrison forts on the Wall. The cup is also decorated beneath the wording with a repeated stylized design or frieze, which depicts the battlements of the Wall and provides the only contemporary drawing of the monument so far recovered. The date of manufacture for the Rudge Cup is not known for certain, but is generally accepted as being sometime during the first half of the second century.

The Rudge Cup
A MAIS ABALLA VXELODVM CAMBOGLANS BANNA

"From Maia, Aballava, Uxelodunum, Camboglanna [and] Banna."

The Amiens Skillet

A vessel which provides further valuable epigraphic evidence for place-names on the Wall, was discovered in 1949 at Amiens in France, and bears a close similarity to the Wiltshire drinking-bowl. The French item is a patera or Roman cooking-pan inscribed with much the same lettering as the Rudge Cup but with an extra addition:

MAIS ABALLAVA VXELODVNVM CAMBOGS BANNA ESICA

"Maia, Aballava, Uxelodunum, Camboglanna, Banna [and] Aesica."

The Staffordshire Patera

The Staffordshire Patera
RIGOREVΛLI ΛELI DRΛCONIS MΛIS COGGΛBΛTΛ VXELODVNVM CΛMMOGLΛNNΛ

"[Property] of Aelius Draco from Rigorevalis¹ - Maia, Concavata, Uxelodunum [and] Camboglanna."

  1. Rigorevalis may be the home of the owner (Draco) or the site of its manufacture. The place-name is otherwise unknown in Britain.

The latest piece of epigraphic evidence which names forts on Hadrian's Wall was discovered by metal detectorists Kevin Blackburn and Julian Lee on the North Staffordshire Moorlands in February 2004. This enamelled-bronze vessel has been described by Ralph Jacson of the British Museum as a patera or 'frying skillet', now missing its handle and base, these parts having been manufactured separately and soldered onto the pan in antiquity but are now lost. The vessel is remarkable not only for its inscription - the only piece of epigraphy to name the fort at Drumburgh - its Romano-British design which incorporates signature curvilinear devices, its fine state of preservation whereby most of the enamelling remains intact, but also for the number of colours incorporated into its design; turquoise, blue, yellow, red and purple.

It has been mooted that the vessel may have been commissioned by a former member of the Wall's garrison in order to comemmorate his term of service, although his rank and status remain unknown it is almost certain that this fine vessel would not have been the property of a common soldier, more likely a high-ranking official or perhaps a former centurion.

Places Named on the 'Souvenir' Vessels

Roman NameModern NameStaffs.RudgeAmiens
MAIABowness on Solway, CumbriaXXX
CONCAVATADrumburgh, NorthumberlandX
ABALLAVABurgh by Sands, CumbriaXXX
VXELODVNVMStanwix, CumbriaXXX
CAMBOGLANNACastlesteads, CumbriaXX
BANNABirdoswald, CumbriaXX
AESICAGreat Chesters, NorthumberlandX

Conclusions

The intermediate Stanegate forts along the rear of the Wall are patently ignored on all of these items, the Flavian fort at Luguvalium (Carlisle, Cumbria) being superceded by the Wall fort at Stanwix, and the forts at Magnis (Carvoran, Northumberland) and Vindolanda (Chesterholm, Northumberland) were replaced by the forts at Aesica and Vercovicium respectively.

This reinforces the idea that these items were produced purely in celebration of Hadrian's great monument, and in light of the fact that his successor Antoninus Pius advanced the frontier 100 miles furthern north it is unlikely that they were being produced after 138AD.

It is possible that the Staffordshire Patera, the Rudge Cup and the Amiens Skillet were all produced by the same manufacturer, perhaps a number of manufacturers competing for the evident market. These factories were most probably located somewhere near the Wall's western end, possibly at Carlisle. It is very likely that these vessels, and perhaps many others yet to be discovered, were sold to Roman sightseers as mementoes of their visit to the Empire's northernmost frontier.