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Via @perlineamvalli comes this interesting set of mapping data for the RIB (Roman Inscriptions of Britain) that have been found at Chesters Roman Fort along wall mile 27:

View PLV Inscriptions (Chesters) in a larger map

You can find much more data for many inscriptions found along Hadrian’s Wall at the blog perlineamvalli.wordpress.com – there are great maps and colour-coding as to the precision of the known location of each inscription.[1]

Now the reason this is of particular interest to me is that some years ago now, when I was doing my Master’s degree, I wrote a paper analysing the location of the inscriptions in the RIB classified by deity name. Now I didn’t have the time, resources, or luxury to research to exactly where every inscription was found, so instead I used the county listed in the RIB as an approximate guide to the location, plus any general information I could glean from papers where the inscriptions were either the subject or incidentally, but authoritatively mentioned.

Initially I was looking for patterns in male/female deity distribution, but the major thing I stumbled upon was that the Jupiter inscriptions (along with inscriptions to the imperial genius, &c.) are all mainly found in the region of the wall (generally northern, “military” areas). Whereas inscriptions to Mars especially (this includes the syncretic agglomerations of Mars and other gods which seems to occur more frequently in the RIB than for Jupiter, excluding that were explicitly imperial cult) are in the main found in the southern “civilian” areas. In fact if you turned up an altar with an inscription in Gloucestershire (just to pick a southern county not quite randomly) my guess it would most likely be either to Mars or Mercury (or one in a smaller but still significant group of rather miscellaneous deities). Jupiter is nearly always up in the north (although this may be biased by large and distinct groups of altars to Iupitter Optimus Maximus that seem to have been buried in or near forts on the wall for reasons not quite clear to me).

Now this might be entirely unremarkable except for the fact I kept turning up assertions in the literature that indicated the opposite was occurring in Gaul; i.e. that Mars was a distinctly “military” deity with Jupiter being the “Romanising”[2] god that civilians preferred to pick for local syncretion. So there’s some process of local adaption going on beyond the differences often noted between the Greek East and the Gallic Western/Northern parts of the Empire.

This was my only real venture into any sort of archaeological data analysis, something you’d think I’d be good at given my computer science background, but after dabbling in it for a semester I rather abandoned that type of research for a more literary-historiographical focus for both my Masters dissertation and now my PhD thesis.[3]

[1]. This tweet also confirms that the entire dataset will be available from perlineamvalli.org.uk

[2]. Scare quotes deliberate. This is a loaded and highly contested term which I’m just going to hand-wave away for the purposes of this blog post.

[3]. In the main because my institution doesn’t have a lot of ways it could support such a research focus; also I’ve always been drawn to the classical literature first and foremost.