A selection of Roman objects from Perth and Kinross tells us about Roman religious practice engrained in everyday life. Roman religion was generally tolerant and accepted other religions on condition they accommodated the worship of the emperor, who was deemed to have divine status.
Burial markers and architectural fragments
During investigations of Ardoch Roman fort in the mid-17th century, a gravestone was recovered. In 1738 it was donated to the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow (registration no. F.52; Keppie 1998, 112–3, no. 47). Burials were made on the approach roads to forts – as with towns – and this example would have originally stood in that cemetery, perhaps as part of a larger monument. It was clearly reused after the abandonment of the fort as it was found in the Praetorium area of the fort (Christison et al 1898, 402). The soldier named on the tombstone, Ammonius, is probably of Eastern Mediterranean/North African origin, and was serving in a military unit raised in Spain and stationed in northern Britain during the Flavian campaign. The translated Latin inscription reads:
‘TO THE SPIRITS OF THE DEPARTED
AMMONIUS, SON OF DAMIO,
CENTURION OF THE FIRST
COHORT OF SPANIARDS, OF
27 YEARS SERVICE. HIS HEIRS
HAD THIS CREATED’
A piece of well-made architectural moulding (Perth Museum registration no. xxx) was an unexpected find from the souterrain at Shanzie. Presumably originating from the Flavian fort at Cardean, it may have been part of the bathhouse or come from a tomb or temple (Coleman and Hunter 2002). Fragments of Roman stonework are known from three souterrains south of the Forth, but the example from Shanzie is the only identified example from the Tay souterrain group (Coleman and Hunter 2002). Given the abundance of local building stone, the presence of Roman sculpture suggests it had a symbolic nature and value on Iron Age sites.
The most direct piece of evidence for official military religious practice is the portable sandstone altar found in the 1950s by two schoolboys in the north bank of the river Almond beside the fort at Bertha (Perth Museum registration no. 6/1958; Keppie 1983, 402, no. 16). Carved from a block of sandstone, this would have stood in its own shrine at the fort at Bertha. It is inscribed DISCIPULINAE AUGUSTI, ‘To the discipline of the emperor’. Discipulina was a supernatural personification of Discipline, probably created by the Emperor Hadrian, who reformed army discipline. This cult was obligatory and meant to keep the troops loyal through recognition of the divine status of the emperor (the early cult centre attributes for Bertha are discussed in Hall et al 2005).
A carved sandstone head was found by two schoolboys in 1965 playing near a pile of stones at the North Muirton end of the North Inch (MPK3288; Perth Museum registration no. 19/1965; Ross 1966). The head has horns, now damaged, which suggests it may represent the Romano-Celtic God Cernunnos, or a local equivalent, although one should remember that stone heads were a long-running phenomenon into the post-medieval period, and stray finds are very hard to date. The empty eye pupils may have been filled with coloured stones or glass. The head may originally have come from a shrine on the Inch. The regular flooding of this land would have attracted fertility rituals.
Another supernatural attribute linked with Roman emperors, and so the well-being of the state, was fortune or good luck, personified as Fortuna. She is shown on a carnelian gemstone from Ardoch fort which would have been the setting in a finger ring, probably lost by a soldier in the first or second century AD (Perth Museum registration no. 2003.11; Hall and Henig 2002, 90–1, and cf. Henig 1978, nos 316 and 317; Johns 1997, nos 154–6).
An intaglio is a semi-precious gemstone (eg carnelian or jasper) or glass engraved with a design, frequently a deity, set into a finger ring with a bezel. On the frontier, particular deities were favoured by the army including Fortune, Success and goddesses of the Parade Ground. Intaglios were a popular style of jewellery and are found across the Roman Empire and would have been worn by soldiers for luck and protection. Several are known from the Roman fort at Strageath, some set into iron finger rings (Frere and Wilkes 1989, 179–80) including one depicting Cupid (Henig 1980, 93–4, pl. 5.1; Henig 1989, 179, no. 1, pl. XXXVII A), the god of love, who was also a symbol of life after death.
A type of object that speaks to both the mundane and supernatural aspects of everyday life is the bell. The small Roman hanging bell is found in two forms: the circular, supra-chronological and the distinctly Roman quadrangular or pyramidal form, with a suspension loop at the apex. Generally they are made of copper-alloy, usually with an iron clapper (for the type see Clarke 1971, 228–31). Their four small feet suggest their use was not confined to their suspension. Until recently the only Perthshire example came from Perth (NMS registration no. KA 23) and was interpreted as a Roman object which had passed into Caledonian hands, probably through trade and exchange (Clarke 1971, 229) More recently, an example was found by metal-detecting at Spittalfield (Perth Museum registration no. 2016.67), not far from the first century AD Roman fortress of Inchtuthil. In the same vicinity, and discussed above, were found elements of sword furniture. Small bells such as this were used as apotropaic or evil-averting devices – the sound of its tinkling would have diverted evil influence. It could have stood on a piece of furniture or an altar, or it may have been fixed to a horse harness.