Rare Roman altar found at Maryport

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Ongoing excavations at Maryport, Cumbria, have uncovered a Roman altar – the first to be found at the site in over 140 years.

In 1870, landowner and antiquarian Humphrey Senhouse discovered  17 altars buried at the Roman fort near Hadrian’s Wall. Now Newcastle University archaeologists have added an 18th to this number.

Like those found by Senhouse, the altar had been buried, seemingly as ballast to support the walls of a large timber building. It was previously believed that the altars had been carefully interred as part of their dedication – now it appears certain that at some point they lost their status as objects of veneration and were used as building materials.

An inscription on the front of the altar reveals that it was  dedicated to the god Jupiter, beginning with the letters I.O.M. –  Iuppiter Optimus Maximus  – Jupiter, best and greatest.

Beneath this, the text declares that the altar was dedicated by Titus Attius Tutor, then prefect of  cohors I Baetasiorum. This unit from Lower Germany was stationed on the Antonine Wall during the reign of Antonius Pius (r.AD 138-161) and then based at Maryport from the mid 160s until at least the early 180s.

Much is known about Tutor’s life, as this is the fourth known inscription from Maryport bearing his name. He appears on three more altars – one dedicated to Jupiter, one to Military Mars, and one to the Emperor’s Victory – and an inscription in his home town of Solva, in Noricum, now part of modern Austria, records his long and distinguished career.

After serving as Solva’s  decurio (town councillor), Tutor’s first military posting was with the cohors I Baetasiorum.  He subsequently became a tribune, serving with legio II Adiutrix  at Aquincum (Budapest), before holding positions as prefect of two  auxiliary units in Dacia, first  ala I Tungrorum Frontoniana  and then  ala I Baravorum milliaria.

This is the second season of Newcastle University excavations at Maryport, led by Project Director Prof. Ian Haynes, and Site Director Tony Wilmott – Current Archaeology‘s ‘Archaeologist of the Year‘ for 2012. For more information on the current investigations, see the site blog here.

For more on Maryport’s Roman altars, see Jupiter, best and greatest, published in CA 259.

The newly-discovered altar is currently on display at the Senhouse Roman Museum.



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