Ancient Roman Stone Votive Altar For The God Vitris - 3rd Century AD

Ancient Coins - Ancient Roman Stone Votive Altar For The God Vitris - 3rd Century AD
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An extremely rare Roman stone votive altar, dedicated to the god Vitiris near the site of Hadrian’s Wall, likely dating to the 3rd century AD.

The altar of classic form, the inscription at the centre, the head embellished with two cylindrical rolls, one on either side of a triangular focus.  The top has a small cavity or bowl for receiving libations. The inscription reads as follows:


“To the holy god Vitris. Lunaris, veteran of the legion, has willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.”

The power of monuments such as this lies not just in their artistry, but their ability to bring to life ordinary individuals who would otherwise have been lost to history. Carved deep into the surface of the stone are the words of a man named Lunaris, veteran of the legions, forever immortalised.

In his testimony Lunaris states that he has fulfilled his vow to Vitris. A little known deity of northern Britain, Vitris was worshipped by the tribes living in the hills, forests and valleys around Hadrian’s Wall. Revered as bard, prophet and warrior, some Roman forces stationed at the very edge of the Empire also sought his assistance from the dangers that lurked beyond the wall.

Beyond its formulaic words, a portrait of the man behind this inscription begins to emerge. As most of the sites where Vitris is named were the stations of Belgic auxiliary troops, Lunaris was likely a Belgic tribesman of north-east Gaul who joined the Roman military in order to gain citizenship upon his retirement. One can imagine what he would have made of being sent to the damp, dreary and dangerous stationing on the wall, indeed it was a posting infamous throughout the Empire as one to be avoided. Why he sought protection from Vitris we can only guess, though the most obvious conclusion would be fear for what the future held.  Many of the tribes north of the wall remained unconquered, and raided the south en masse, often enough to invoke fear in the legionaries. Life on the wall would have been hard, aside from the training against constant dangers, Lunaris would have had to suffer through a far more mundane daily routine; tending to animals, maintaining roads and digging protective ditches.

The name Lunaris is extremely rare, there are only ten recorded individuals across the entire Empire who are known to have borne that name, three in Britain. Remarkably though, there is one other monument set up on the wall by a man named Lunaris, appearing on a tombstone he set up for ‘his dearest wife Pluma’, the Latin word for feather.  Given the extreme rarity of the name, it would appear entirely possible, if not likely that this is the very same Lunaris. Pluma is an equally unusual name and is certainly not traditional, rather it has the feel of a Latin nickname given to a native Briton or slave. We are thus left to imagine Lunaris meeting and marrying a local inhabitant, likely a resident of one of the towns of traders, merchants and prostitutes that sprung up alongside Roman forts.  But before he was able to leave the wall she died, leaving him in his grief to raise a monument to her.

As for this monument, he raised it to thank the god who watched over him, but perhaps he knew that in time it would become a monument to himself, a testament to a life that would otherwise have been lost to history. 

Height: 9  3/4 inches.

Condition: Very good, with some repair to the right cylindrical roll.


Reputedly found in Durham. Ex. British private collection, north-east England. Acquired 1980’s and shown to a professor at Newcastle Univeristy who provided a translation.

Ancient Coins - Ancient Roman Stone Votive Altar For The God Vitris - 3rd Century AD
Ancient Coins - Ancient Roman Stone Votive Altar For The God Vitris - 3rd Century AD
Preis SKU: 27478
US$ 7,500.00
  • € 6,440.25
  • £ 5,875.50
  • AUD 10,652.25
  • CHF 6,937.50
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Wechselkurs: 09/24/20

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