The Hinterland of Hadrian’s Wall and Derbyshire


The Hinterland of Hadrian’s Wall and Derbyshire is the last of 11 ‘fascicules’ produced under the auspices of the British Academy’s Corpus Signorum Imperii Romani, which aims to catalogue all the sculptures of Roman Britain. This project has taken almost half a century to complete, and only now, with Lindsay Allason-Jones’ majestic contribution, can it take its place alongside The Roman Inscriptions of Britain (RIB) and Roman Mosaics of Britain as a valuable resource towards understanding the culture, art, and religion of the province, both in the military zone in the north and in the more civilian south.

This fascicule is a truly remarkable achievement. Not only is it one of the longest but, with the exception of the famous Senhouse Collection at Maryport, Cumbria, the vast region that it covers is one of the least known. Items are scattered in numerous museums, churches, or on private property. Even though some are already in RIB, Allason-Jones has added to the history and bibliography of these items – sometimes entertainingly, such as an episode in 1867 when the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of England tried to establish exclusive rights to take grouse on Bollihope Common, Co. Durham, on the grounds that it had been the successful hunting ground of a Roman Cavalry regiment who had taken a fine boar there in the 3rd century, as recorded on an altar (no.90) found a century before.

All of the sculpture in this region is of sandstone, and much of it consists merely of ornament on the sides of altars. Some are more elaborate, like the altar from Ribchester, Lancashire, to Apollo Maponus (no.5), which depicts the god on one side and Britannia Inferior and a territorial god on the other. Figural sculpture provides some interesting funerary reliefs, including the recently found head-hunting cavalryman from Lancaster (no.184), and the banquet tombstone of the daughter of an imaginifer [a soldier who carried the emperor’s image into battle] from Kirkby Thore, Cumbria (no.191). In contrast with southern, south-eastern, and eastern Britain, dealt with in other fascicules, art of superior quality is rare here, and the two Victories holding a wreath on a 20th-legion building inscription from Lanchester, Co. Durham (no.223), stands out as a masterpiece of the same order as the best distance slabs from the Antonine Wall.

Lindsay Allason-Jones
Oxford University Press, £105
ISBN 978-0197266892