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XVI. Account of the Collection of Sepulchral Vessels found in 1821, in a Roman Ustrinum, at Litlington, near Royston; and now preserved in the Library of Clare Hall, Cambridge. In a Letter from Alfred John Kempe, Esq. F.S.A. addressed to Sir Henry Ellis, K.H., F.R.S., Secretary

  • Alfred John Kempe


I have lately had an opportunity of inspecting the numerous collection of Roman sepulchral vessels preserved in the library of Clare Hall, Cambridge, and which were found in the year 1821, on one of the College estates at Litlington near Royston, contiguous to that part of the Ickenild Street called the Ashwell Street Road. I hardly need observe, that this ancient way, crossing the kingdom from Norwich towards Old Sarum, had its appellation from the district of the Iceni, in which it began its course, and from its great antiquity was known in the Saxon times as the Iken-eld Strete, that is, the old street or way of the Iceni.



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page 370 note a See Plate XLIV. fig. 1.

page 371 note b See Plate XLV. figg. 24, 28.

page 371 note c Plate XLIV. figg. 5, 6.

page 371 note d Plate XLV. figg. 23, 27.

page 371 note e Plate XLV. fig. 6.

page 371 note f Plate XLV. figg. 11, 24.

page 372 note f The stamps which are legible (for frequently the softness of the material, the action of the fire in baking, or accidental pressure, has rendered such brief attestations of the potter otherwise), are, Primvli. Cracissa F. Pater F. Divicatvs. Elvilli. Calava F. Saceno F. M. Titivs. S. Jvnivs. Mar ….

page 372 note g If this ornament represents a leaf in a general sense, and not a particular species, it may be taken to indicate the herbs or leaves with which the ancients adorned the altars of their gods. When Davus makes Mysis lay the child at the door of Chremes, in the play (Andria, Actus IV. Scena vi.) he gives her this direction:

Ex ara hinc sume verbenas tibi

Atque eas substerne——

Verbenæ have been defined by classical commentators and antiquaries to be any of the green herbs employed for the decoration of altars. On solemn festivals, these were each adorned with leaves or branches of the plant peculiar to their respective gods. Virgil calls the garlands with which the altars were distinguished torques, because they were twined round them:

Sæ;pe deum nexis ornatse torquibus aræ.—Georg. iv.

To Jupiter the beech was sacred, to Apollo the laurel, to Minerva the olive, to Bacchus the ivy, to Pan the pine. These festivals were termed in the general way verbenalia; so prescriptive has the custom become, that it is still retained by us at the great Christian festival of the nativity of our Lord, when we decorate our houses and churches with green branches. The leaf above delineated, I am, however, disposed to think was peculiarly the ivy, an appropriate ornament for the wine cup or patera for libation, the vegetable sacred to the God of Wine. When placed in the hands of deities, in which position its intention has been a question with the learned, or the altar consecrated to the manes of the dead, it indicated, I think, an evergreen immortality. Such was, perhaps, its symbolic meaning in other places. It is found by the force of custom on the tombs of the primitive Christians in the catacombs at Rome. An erudite and voluminous writer on the Cemeteries of the Martyrs, &c. in that city, has strangely mistaken these sacred leaves for hearts, although he had the proof to the contrary before his eyes in the very inscription, which he copied thus: and on the subject of this groundless fancy he observes, “Apud primævos igitur Christianos frequens sepulchris imago cordis insculpta cernitur, ad ainoris videlicet, ut enarratum est quo defunctum prosequebantur, vel certe ad innocentiae symbolum apte edocendum.”—Roma Subterranea Pauli Arringhi, lib. vi. cap. i. 379.

page 373 note h I may be here permitted to remark, in incidentally recollecting the large hoard of coins found in an earthen vase lately exhibited to the Society, that such a mode of depositing treasure is recognised by the classic writers: thus Horace:

“Oh si urnam argenti fors quà mihi monstret! ut illi,
Thesauro invento qui mercenarius agrum,
Ilium ipsum mercatus aravit.”
Hor. Sat. lib. ii. sat. vi. lin. 10, et seq.

page 374 note i See Archæologia, vol. XXII. p. 348.

page 375 note k These sepulchral chests were of a cubical form. They were called loculi, or from their shape cubi.

page 375 note l Some of the principal sacrificial vessels, of which many have been found deposited with the urns of the dead, may be here enumerated: Acerra, the box for containing incense, which was taken out for use with the Ligula or spoon. Thuribulum, the censer in which it was burnt. Præfericulum, a brazen vessel in which the wine was placed for libations. Patera, into which it was transferred and thence effused on the altar, or in which the blood of the victim was received for the same purpose. Simpulum, the use of which appears to have been much the same as the Præfericulum. It was, I believe, either of earthenware or of glass; sometimes formed with a spout, to effuse precious liquors in a long and minute stream. Figg. 7 and 8, Plate XLV. of the Litlington vases, are probably Simpula. See Archæolog. vol. XXV. pi. xxiv. p. 202. Capedines, Capedunculæ, vessels with two handles, used in sacrifices; the second is a diminutive of the first, and means a little pitcher; their bottoms were flat. A fine example, is preserved in the Guildhall library, lately found in Walbrook. Discus or lanx, a large dish or bowl; in such vessels the bowels of the victim, or portions of the flesh, were placed. The large brazen vessels with long handles, terminating with an animal's head, of which Mr. Gage found a fine specimen at the Bartlow hills, were probably for such purposes. Large brazen ollæ, or culinary pots with sacrificial knives, wore recently dug up at Honey-lane market, Cheapside. Lustricum, the vessel for containing consecrated water. Aspersorium, Aspergillum, the sprinkle used for scattering the lustral water. The Romish Church admitted and has preserved this ceremony among its rites. The lamps carried at the funeral ceremonies, which generally took place at night, and many other vessels and instruments employed, were deposited in the tomb, as consecrated by the occasion to the manes.

XVI. Account of the Collection of Sepulchral Vessels found in 1821, in a Roman Ustrinum, at Litlington, near Royston; and now preserved in the Library of Clare Hall, Cambridge. In a Letter from Alfred John Kempe, Esq. F.S.A. addressed to Sir Henry Ellis, K.H., F.R.S., Secretary

  • Alfred John Kempe


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