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Northern Gaul, Germany, and Britain

Abstract and Keywords

Before Roman conquest, few stone sculptures were erected in northern Gaul, Germany, and Britain. The many relief sculptures that indigenous and itinerant residents subsequently commissioned have inspired key debates about the role of art in Roman imperialism. Postcolonial critiques of syncretism have focused on sculpted images of Celtic and Graeco-Roman gods. Reconstructions of multicultural identities have addressed funerary portraits on tombstones. A cross-provincial approach emphasizing the perspectives of patrons and their experiences of empire offers one way to advance these discussions.

Keywords: Gaul, Germany, Britain, Romanization, identity, syncretism, mobility


Supernatural Cernunnos, sculpted with antlers bearing Celtic torques, still draws attention to the earliest major monument in Paris, the Pillar of the Sailors (figure 5.1.1). Such sculptures seldom appear in surveys of Roman art, yet they have been central to debates about provincial art, religion, and identity because of an unusual historical circumstance. The region’s patrons, unlike residents of the empire’s Mediterranean territories, did not commission stone monuments with dedicatory inscriptions prior to conquest. Roman sculptural and commemorative practices offered a new way to perpetuate cultural heritage and express personal perspectives on empire. Cernunnos, for instance, counts among many Celtic deities named for the first time on the Pillar of the Sailors, itself the first of many monuments set up by prosperous indigenous navigators. The pillar and other dedications concerned with cultural memory feature below in the sections “Religious Sculpture and Imperial Syncretism” and “Funerary Sculpture and the Mobility of Provincial Patrons.” The essay begins, though, with an overview of the region’s thematically diverse sculptures, their study, and their evolving role in the field’s debates about Roman imperialism.

Boundaries, Evidence, and Approaches

This essay’s geographic scope heeds recent calls to look across provincial boundaries in order to challenge both scholarly parochialism and the traditional center-to-periphery paradigm of cultural influence (Walter 2000; Stewart 2009; Kampen 2014). No fewer than six provinces—Gallia Aquitania, Gallia Lugdunensis, Gallia Belgica, Germania (p. 472) Superior, Germania Inferior, and Britannia—fall within the region. Nine modern nations—France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, England, Wales, and Scotland—now claim this same territory and foster independent research programs. Yet there are good reasons to consider the lands together: circulation studies suggest that the area formed an interactive zone under Roman rule, while southern Gaul (Gallia Narbonensis; see essay 5.2, Jiménez and Rodà) was oriented toward Italy (Rothe 2012, 247).

The genres, themes, and historiography of the region’s sculptural corpus also distinguish these northern provinces from southern Gaul and Italy. Craftsmen here produced a substantial body of relief sculptures. Those visualizing deities have inspired postcolonial critiques of syncretism, the integration of religious realms. Reliefs on funerary monuments have drawn the attention of scholars reconstructing the identities of the provinces’ residents. Cult statues of Celtic and Graeco-Roman gods and portrait statues of emperors and citizens survive in smaller numbers and have elicited fewer discussions. Historical and state reliefs are extremely rare (see essay 3.5, Sobocinski and Wolfram Thill); figurines in terracotta (see essay 2.5, Erlich), stone, and metal are quite abundant.

More than forty catalog volumes have not yet fully recorded the region’s extensive sculptural corpus. Émile Espérandieu’s catalogs for Roman Gaul and Roman Germany revolutionized study in the early twentieth century (1907–1938; 1931). With (p. 473) supplements (Espérandieu, Lantier, and Duval 1947–1981), new editions (Nouvel Espérandieu, Lavagne 2003–), and an online database (, the series remains the touchstone for Roman Gaul. Catalogs addressing either Roman Germany or Britain now appear in the empire-wide series Corpus Signorum Imperii Romani, published under the direction of national institutes and organized by site and subject. As excavations continue in every province, the catalogs will require attentive updating.

Because stone sculptures became prominent only after conquest, they might seem to offer evidence of successful Romanization, a process loosely and traditionally defined as Rome’s transformation of provincial culture through coercive incentives. Yet patrons often commissioned sculptures to commemorate indigenous gods and enduring tribal affiliations and in doing so transformed the parameters of Roman art. Frustrated by the “Romanization” paradigm’s intransigence in the face of contradictory evidence, many scholars now seek to recover diverse provincial identities, despite the risk of merely turning the rejected model on its head by pursuing difference instead of uniformity (Hingley 2005; Mattingly 2014). Martin Pitts (2007) has rightly warned that “identity” is a slippery modern concept to apply to the past, especially when archaeological evidence is considered in isolation, rather than as the result of dynamic social practice. This essay approaches cultural change as a multilateral negotiation at the local level, wherein aspects of Rome’s own hybrid culture were adopted and diversified according to the traditions of communities and priorities of patrons. In considering how patrons and their craftsmen constructed identities in text and image, this essay focuses on relief sculptures grounded in religious and funerary acts of commemoration.

Even a brief survey of the sculptures’ patrons reveals a broad cross-section of society. Affluent businessmen like nautae (shippers) commissioned both funerary and religious monuments, including the sculpture of Cernunnos mentioned above (figure 5.1.1). Local politicians, especially decuriones (city councilmen), funded major monuments like Jupiter Columns in Roman Germany (figure 5.1.2). Troops stationed at the British and Rhineland frontiers commissioned a substantial number of sculpted votive plaques and tombstones, not only for themselves but also for their spouses and former slaves (figures 5.1.3–4). Such soldiers, from Italy and increasingly from the provinces, played a crucial role in transmitting sculptural practices not only within the military but to civilian groups, too.

Less is known about the region’s sculptors. They rarely if ever signed their work and seem to have set up few monuments asserting their own identities. Scholars assume that most were indigenous (Webster 1997, 172; Green 2003b, 47), while a few immigrants may have accompanied mobile military units (Kampen 2006, 130–32). Because anyone with artistic aptitude could be trained to sculpt in a certain technique, attempts to read a craftsman’s geographic origins in his carving remain risky.

Assessing the quality of the sculptures these craftsmen produced has sharply divided specialists, who often lament the lack of naturalism (lifelike proportions and volumes in coherently integrated figures) and recognizable Graeco-Roman styles (like neoclassicism or verism). The damaged and fragmentary Cernunnos relief, for example, reveals (p. 474) a typically mixed approach, with no clear stylistic affiliation: the facial features possess lifelike proportions, but the eyes seem asymmetrical, the ears barely attached to the head, and the neck impossibly short (figure 5.1.1). Earlier generations studied reliefs like the Cernunnos head despite their perceived aesthetic deficiencies. More recently, some have wondered if such appearances might be intentional. Natalie Kampen, for instance, has suggested that the “generic” styles found on construction commemoration plaques (called “legionary distance slabs”) from the Antonine Wall in Scotland “forged a sense of commonality” among international soldiers accustomed to diverse non-elite traditions (Kampen 2006, 132). Miranda Green has gone further and connected naturalism to Romanness and argued that sculptures entirely lacking it reject Rome (2003b). (p. 475) In wholly unnaturalistic sculptures, Catherine Johns sees instead a “naïve” lack of artistic skill and training (2003a). She has also drawn attention to materials: the region’s stones did not hold fine details (Johns 2003b; also Stewart 2010). Ultimately, the act of commemoration (Kampen 2006, 132) and the subject matter (Stewart 2009, 269) seem to have mattered most to patrons. Sculptures structuring religious, funerary, and civic exchanges did not necessarily require flawlessly executed naturalism or recognizable Graeco-Roman styles to function effectively.

Historical Background: Conquest, Tribes, and Artistic Precedents

In interpreting the region’s sculpture, outdated notions of first contact between Romans and residents must be set aside: goods and peoples circulated for centuries prior to the slow advance of the empire’s border (Woolf 1997, 2011). Southern Gaul having been annexed by Rome around 120 BC, northern Gaul subsequently fell to Caesar in the 50s. His heir Augustus divided the northern territory into the provinces Gallia Aquitania, Lugdunensis, and Belgica in 27 BC (Wightman 1985; Woolf 1998; Le Bohec 2008; Ferdière 2011). Britannia formed in AD 43, principally in England then spreading west into Wales and north into southern Scotland (Breeze 2006; De la Bédoyère 2006; Mattingly 2007; Hobbs and Jackson 2010). Germania Superior and Inferior officially took shape around AD 85, after more than a century of occupation and combat (King 1990; Wamser, Flügel, and Ziegaus 2000; Carroll 2001; Bechert 2007). By the fifth century AD, the Roman Empire had begun to abandon the northern provinces, many of which had been reorganized and renamed in the intervening years.

Resident tribes possessed distinct names (such as Parisii, Remi, Treveri, etc.), which persisted into the Roman era and are often still employed by their continuously occupied cities (Paris, Reims, Trier, etc.). Greek and Roman authors have caused enduring confusion by inconsistently ascribing these tribes to larger ethnic groups, such as Britons, Celts, Gauls, Belgae, and Germans (Woolf 2011). For rhetorical purposes, they often overemphasized differences, especially in the mixed Rhineland zone (C. Wells 1995; Krebs 2011). Many scholars, responding to perceived commonalities in language and/or material culture, now use “Celtic” as an overarching term of convenience for Iron Age tribes throughout Europe and the British Isles (Koch 2007, 1), yet doing so is highly controversial (James 1999; Collis 2003).

No written treatise of any kind survives from the era of tribal independence, although nascent literacy seems to have preceded Roman rule (Lambert 2003, 71–89; Lacroix 2011). Caesar, writing in the 50s BC, relates that the Gauls used the Greek alphabet for most matters, though the druids insisted on the oral transmission of their own knowledge (BG 6.14). Long before conquest, however, the region’s tribes had shared a preliterate mindset and saw the world in ways literate societies (then and now) struggle to (p. 476) comprehend (P. Wells 2012). The subsequent spread of dedicatory inscriptions reveals a significant shift in mentality, while also capturing, for the first time, the words residents adopted to describe themselves.

Statues were relatively rare prior to Roman rule, as were full representations of the human form. Tribal craftsmen excelled instead at portable metalwork decorated in the abstract La Tène style, which often emphasized the metamorphosis and disarticulation of plants, animals, and humans (Harding 2007; Garrow, Gosden, and Hill 2008; Müller 2009; Garrow and Gosden 2012). Only isolated groups of stone sculpture have been found (none with dedicatory inscriptions). In the fifth and fourth centuries BC, sculptors working primarily east of the Rhine created a few statues and relief sculptures, notably the Hirschlanden and Glauberg warriors, the Pfalzfeld pillar, and the Heidelberg head (Frey 1998; Armit and Grant 2008). In the fifth to second centuries, the warrior elite of southernmost Gaul set up stone statues of seated soldiers holding human heads, notably at Entremont and Roquepertuse (Py 2011, 83–182; Armit 2012, 127–95). A later group, from the late second and first centuries BC, occurs at Paule (northwestern France), where statuettes less than a meter tall portray human figures, perhaps ancestors, with stocky proportions and blunt features (Ménez et al. 1999). Wooden statues of humans and animals, often unnaturally proportioned, have been excavated in greater numbers from sacred springs and sanctuary enclosures (Webster 1995b), where rare anaerobic conditions may have arrested an intended transformation of a spiritually charged medium (Green 2004, 98–102). Dendrochronological dates typically range from the late second century BC to the first century AD in France and Germany; an earlier series exists in Britain (Green 1998, 20–21). As with written words, experimentation with figural sculpture preceded conquest, but developed in radically new directions thereafter.

Religious Sculpture and Imperial Syncretism

Sculptural dedications from the Roman era reveal that the region’s residents supplicated deities from every corner of the empire. Mithras, a supposedly Persian god popular with the army, received iconographically complex altarpieces throughout the Rhineland and even as far away as London (Londinium, Britannia; Turcan 1993). Egyptian Isis had a temple at Mainz (Mogontiacum, Germania Superior) full of votive gifts (Witteyer 2004). Greek and Roman deities appeared in every major city, and, unusually, even took precedence over historical subjects on the region’s few commemorative arches, including those at Besançon (Vesontio Sequanorum, Germania Superior), Reims (Durocortorum Remorum, Gallia Belgica), Mainz, and London (Walter 1985; Fornasier 2003; Cassibry 2008; McGowen 2010). I focus here, however, on sculptures of the region’s own gods, because they have inspired a substantial debate about syncretism.

(p. 477) Indigenous gods and goddesses are known principally through sculptures and inscriptions of the Roman era (Hatt 1989; Nerzic 1989, 47–68; Green 1995, 465–88; Deyts 1998). For prior centuries, we know neither how residents conceived of the divine realm nor whether they represented aspects of it figurally. Caesar’s Gallic War offers insight into the situation in the 50s BC, a period of crisis not necessarily indicative of earlier times. He claims that the Gauls recognized deities comparable to Mercury, Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva, and that they frequently represented the one like Mercury; he gives no Gallic names, only classical equivalents (BG 6.17). The Germans, he contends, considered forces like the sun, fire, and moon divine (BG 6.21). Though evidence is scant, most scholars assume that the regionally distinct gods later attested in Roman sculptures did exist—at least conceptually—before conquest. They then consider whether such divine beings were empowered or disempowered by being named, represented figurally, and connected to Graeco-Roman partners (Webster 1995a).

Relief sculptures visualize independent, coalesced, and cooperative deities; Latin dedicatory inscriptions preserve valuable information about names. The popular Epona (an equestrian goddess), for instance, appears only with horses on votive altars, plaques, and figurines (Green 2003a, 102–6; Webster 2003, 46–50). Paired deities of the same gender could merge, as in the gilt bronze cult statue of Sulis-Minerva from Bath (Aquae Sulis, Britannia). Gods and goddesses might also be juxtaposed as “married” couples, as on many Mercury and Rosmerta plaques, or in larger groups, as on the Cernunnos, Apollo, and Mercury altar from Reims (both considered below). Three concerns have animated the most promising discussions of this varied corpus: gender precedence, hierarchies of image and text, and the appropriation of Roman sculptural traditions for pre-Roman cult practices.

Gendered power relations have been read in divine “marriages,” which almost always match indigenous goddesses with Graeco-Roman gods. Representations of regional conquest as potential rape—as when the emperor Claudius threatens the female personification of Britannia in the Sebasteion relief from Aphrodisias, Turkey—suggest one interpretive paradigm wherein the male figure, and by extension Rome, dominates (Ferris 2000, 55–60; Rodgers 2003). Jane Webster (1997), however, notes the more prominent political and social roles attributed to Celtic women by classical authors and accepts the hypothesis of a strong “feminine principle in Celtic divinity” (175–6). Analyzing widespread sculptural dedications to Rosmerta and Mercury (primarily in central and eastern Gaul, but also in Germany and Britain), she suggests that their marriage “shows the subversion of a Roman deity to the power of an important local goddess” and that the “Romanized medium of stone imagery” enhances the subversiveness (177). Likewise, Green sees Gallitas (Gallicness) expressed by the female partner and Romanitas (Romanness) by the male, and asserts that the female, “with her consistent imagery of fertility, abundance, and regeneration, may be the dominant partner” (2003a, 97).

Northern Gaul, Germany, and BritainClick to view larger

Figure 5.1.1 Detail of Cernunnos, Pillar of the Sailors, AD 14–37, Paris, France. Paris, Musée National du Moyen Age—Musée de Cluny.

Visual analysis of juxtaposed deities reveals mostly egalitarian representations. Divine couples like Rosmerta and Mercury appear as figures of similar height standing side by side: neither in pose, nor in scale, nor in composition does one dominate (Green (p. 478) 2003a, 109–110). In contrast, some dedications visually emphasize a native deity. On the Cernunnos altar from Reims, now lacking an inscription, the god appears as an antlered man seated in a cross-legged pose (Pray Bober 1951, 50; Deyts 1998, 120; Altjohann 2003, 69). Central to the composition, he would tower over the flanking Apollo and Mercury if he stood.

Northern Gaul, Germany, and BritainClick to view larger

Figure 5.1.2 Cast of a Jupiter Column, second to third centuries AD, Ladenburg, Germany. Ladenburg, Lobdengau-Museum Ladenburg.

Cernunnos can be identified on the Reims altar and elsewhere because his image is labeled on the Pillar of the Sailors (Pilier des Nautes; figure 5.1.1). The pillar’s Latin dedication honors Jupiter Optimus Maximus alone, but the program of relief sculptures preserves an unprecedented array of regional and Graeco-Roman deities and heroes, all with names inscribed above them (Adam 1984; Lejeune 1988). Scholars alternately prioritize the hierarchical inscription or the visually egalitarian reliefs in their interpretations. William von Andringa (2009) has argued that this pillar and comparable dedications enact a subordination of indigenous gods to the Roman pantheon’s leader. Henri Lavagne (1984) persuasively reads a moment of possibility, when the coexistence of the patrons’ preferred deities from both pantheons seemed feasible. The patrons’ perspective merits further consideration. In the dedicatory inscription, they call themselves the Nautae Parisiaci, a corporation of shippers from the Parisii tribe. With a monument originally rising nearly five meters, they made their mark on the Roman cityscape just beginning to emerge in Paris (Lutetia Parisiorum, Gallia Lugdunensis).

The Pillar of the Sailors has been cited, controversially, as an archetype for the German provinces’ most distinctive and pervasive type of monument, the Jupiter Columns (Hatt 1952). The cult that produced them was regionally circumscribed and may have perpetuated indigenous practices and beliefs. Bauchhenss and Noelke (1981) have cataloged fragments from well over 500 examples in the German region, and at least ten each from Belgium and Britain; the columns also appear in northeastern Gaul (Walter 1970), but practically nowhere else in the empire. Dedications peaked around AD 200, and their enduring value is attested in secondary inscriptions recording restorations (Kousser 2010).

The emphatically polytheistic, highly customized Jupiter Columns could rise to 15 m or more (figure 5.1.2). Dedicatory inscriptions honor Jupiter Optimus Maximus, as do crowning statue groups showing the god either enthroned, often alongside his consort Juno, or on horseback riding down a snake-tailed monster. The latter iconography is inspired by Greek Gigantomachies (battles of gods and giants), though neither Jupiter nor his Greek counterpart Zeus were traditionally equestrian gods. The four-sided bases typically bear relief sculptures of other Graeco-Roman deities. Mercury, Minerva, Juno, and Hercules recur most often, though patrons varied their selections considerably. Above the base, a “Wochengötterstein” (“gods of the week stone”) could also increase the number of gods represented. The column shafts themselves preserve scale patterns and, occasionally, vines and small-scale gods. Corinthian column capitals hold female personifications of seasons.

The monuments’ significance divides scholars, who locate their perceived efficacy either in the Roman era or the prehistoric past. Green (1986) has hypothesized that the columns reimagine rituals in sacred woods; for her, scale patterns conjure bark on (p. 479) skeuomorphs of trees. She argues further that the wheel emblems occasionally borne by Jupiter equate him with indigenous sky gods. Woolf (2001), however, insists that patrons would not have remembered pre-Roman practices so long after conquest. His evocative phrase, “Jupiter Columns rivaled each other like skyscrapers over Manhattan” (127), points to another aspect of their appeal. Jupiter Columns became a prestige monument in Roman Germany and northeastern Gaul, where the eye-catching form found favor with local elites, including city councilmen (decuriones) and their families, as well as soldiers (Woolf 2001, 121–2; Cassibry 2008). Potent divine intercedents, the columns drew mundane attention to those who could afford lavishly effective votive offerings.

Funerary Sculpture and the Mobility of Provincial Patrons

Northern Gaul, Germany, and BritainClick to view larger

Figure 5.1.3 Tombstone of Insus the Treveran, c. AD 100, Lancaster, Britain. Lancaster, Lancaster City Museum.

Sculpted funerary monuments with inscribed dedications likewise appeared in the region only after conquest (McGowen 2010, 89–97). Towering pillar tombs with extensive iconographic programs, like those at Bartringen and Igel (both Gallia Belgica), deserve wider renown (Scheid 2003; Kremer 2009). Here, however, I focus on the more modest tombstones, which have illuminated the identities of itinerant Roman soldiers, indigenous merchants, and their spouses. The social and geographic mobility attested in their words and images merits greater consideration in future studies of imperial circulation.

Roman soldiers acknowledged mortality by making provisions for personal monuments (Hope 2001; 2003). A cavalry tombstone, set up around AD 100 and excavated at Lancaster (Britannia) in 2005, offers new evidence for the degree of customization permitted by the genre’s flexible schema (figure 5.1.3; Schleiermacher 1984; Bull 2007; Iles and Shotter 2009, 68–87). After invoking the Roman gods of the underworld (Dis Manibus), the inscription names the deceased “Insus, son of Vodullus, member of the Treveri tribe” (from Trier, Augusta Treverorum, Gallia Belgica) and connects him to the “Ala Augusta,” one of many cavalry units for auxiliary soldiers (who became eligible for Roman citizenship upon retirement, if they lived that long). The relief sculpture follows convention by visualizing Insus in Roman armor, astride a horse, and trampling an enemy; the foe’s decapitation, however, is unique among known cavalry stones. Both rider and horse are carved competently, vigorously, and legibly, rather than with finely nuanced transitions. The composition cleverly collapses the space between viewer and viewed: Insus’s snarling steed leaps beyond the architectural frame. Cavalryman, Treveran, Roman, noncitizen, itinerant—these are just a few aspects of Insus’s identity captured in this monument, which once towered 2 m tall on the road leading into Lancaster’s fort.

Although such military tombstones played a crucial role in spreading general awareness of funerary commemoration, not all civilian communities adopted the habit. Hope (p. 480) argues that in Britannia, tombstones “were of particular relevance to immigrants and outsiders who used the medium to assert their identity in a strange land” (1997, 246). The more plentiful civilian tombstones of northern Gaul and Germany, in contrast, offer insight into the professional pride of indigenous men.

The stele of Blussus from Mainz, for instance, addresses his work as a nauta (shipper), the same occupation claimed by the patrons of Paris’s Pillar of the Sailors. A Latin inscription, unusually repeated on both sides, asserts that Blussus lived seventy-five years, that his wife Menimane initiated the monument during her lifetime, that a house slave lay in the same spot, and that a son called Primus ultimately set up the stele (Selzer 1988, 95–8, 168–9). Primus (“First”) is an unimaginative Latin name contrasting with his parents’ mellifluous indigenous ones; the inscription omits mention of the tribal affiliations their names lead us to expect. The three sculpted figures convey affluence: a bejeweled woman and a man holding a bulging bag of coins sit side by side; a boy (either Primus or the house slave) stands behind and between them. On the back of the tombstone, a small but accurately carved ship further glosses the source of Blussus’ prosperity. In his business, he may have profited from ancestral expertise in navigating the regions’ extensive river networks, which were never fully supplanted by Roman roads (De Izarra 1993). Many other nautae are attested epigraphically, especially at Lyon (p. 481) (Lugdunum, capital of Gallia Lugdunensis), which stood at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers.

Funerary portraits like those of Blussus and Menimane indirectly preserve evidence for changes in regional dress, as clothes themselves rarely survive (Wild 1985, 366). Blussus, for example, wears the sleeved Gallic tunic falling to mid-calf and the hooded Gallic cape, an indigenous garment that remained popular in the Rhineland and northern Gaul during the Roman era. Menimane is clad in the eponymous Menimane’s ensemble, which included a long-sleeved inner bodice (visible at her wrists), a sleeveless tunic draped from three brooches, and an outer cloak with elaborate folds (Wild 1985, 394–5). To judge from brooch finds and reliefs on other tombstones, her mode of dress was popular in the former territory of the Treveri tribe (originally spanning from Trier to the Rhine river), but fell from fashion by the end of the first century AD, not long after Menimane modeled it on her mid-century tombstone (Rothe 2012, 237–9). Subsequently, women in the area joined those across Germany, northern Gaul, and Britain in favoring the Gallic ensemble, a new mode of dress that reimagined and lengthened the long-sleeved Gallic tunic still worn by men. Ursula Rothe (2012) describes the sartorial invention as a “Third Way” that neither perpetuated prior female dress nor adapted Rome’s own belted fashions for women. Significantly, she sees greater regional integration as the catalyst. For Rothe, the garment “symbolized membership in a cultural sphere that stretched beyond the local community, but not as far as Rome” (244). Innovation could bypass Rome altogether without signifying dissent.

Northern Gaul, Germany, and BritainClick to view larger

Figure 5.1.4 Tombstones of Victor and Regina, second to third centuries AD, South Shields, Britain. South Shields, Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum.

Such regional networks intersected with wider imperial circuits connecting one periphery to another. A tombstone from Arbeia (South Shields, Britannia), the easternmost fort along Hadrian’s Wall, commemorates a freed slave in a way that links this northern frontier to the island’s southern end as well as to a leading city of the eastern Mediterranean (figure 5.1.4; Toynbee 1962, 160). Dated around AD 200, the monument also preserves longstanding tribal and city affiliations. The formulaic Latin inscription honors a thirty-year-old woman named Regina, described both as a member of the Catuvellauni tribe (based in southeast England) and as the freed slave and wife of Barates from Palmyra (Syria). Beneath the Latin, the bereaved husband (whose own tombstone may survive at the Corbridge fort nearby) had a phrase of mourning added in the Palmyrene dialect of Aramaic. Above the text, Regina sits on a wicker chair in a baroque niche of a kind common in the architecture around the eastern Mediterranean but rare in Britain. She gestures to a box and holds what seem to be sewing implements related to the basket of wool on her left. Significantly, she wears the long-sleeved Gallic garment popular in the second century AD. Though damaged, the tombstone still conveys in text, image, and form many aspects of Regina’s identity: emancipated, married, Gallic, Catuvellaunian, Roman, wife of a Palmyrene.

Other inscribed provincial sculptures also help reconstruct empire-wide networks. In Arbeia’s site museum, Regina’s stele stands beside another one controversially attributed to the same Syrian artist (figure 5.1.4; Stewart 2009, 267–9). An inscription gives the deceased’s name (Victor) and identifies him as a freed slave of the Maurish people (North Africa). His master (and perhaps lover) Numerianus of the Ala I Asturum, an auxiliary (p. 482) unit originally recruited from Spain, had him depicted in a banquet scene (Totenmahl), a tombstone motif popular with both soldiers and civilians. Although Victor and his master, along with Regina and hers, typically appear in studies of Roman Britain, their tombstones establish connections to opposite corners of the Mediterranean and illuminate the personal experience of long-distance cultural exchange. They show one way provincial sculptures could supplement commodities, portable art, and inscriptions in the study of the empire’s dynamic circulation.

Conclusion: Rethinking the Canon(s)

Scholars disagree vehemently about the current state of Roman art’s canon and even more about its reformulation (Kampen 2003). Even so, the debate merits mention here because so few sculptures from northern Gaul, Germany, and Britain have appeared in general overviews, especially in the English language. This Handbook’s incorporation of an essay on the topic promises a more inclusive future, as do other essays in the volume. What remains to be seen is whether specialists concerned with regional canons will (p. 483) increasingly pursue connections among them and whether they will find an effective way to integrate more provincial material into a truly empire-wide Roman art history.


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