Life of earliest known veteran of Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD revealed by ancient tombstone

Life of earliest known veteran of Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD revealed by ancient tombstone

Roman soldier Lucius Valerius Geminus came from the Alpine foothills of northern Italy, but died in the town of Alchester, Oxfordshire, aged 50.  His tombstone is now set to go on public display for the first time.

The tombstone, found in fragments in 2003 by archaeologists excavating the site of long forgotten Alchester, reveals the life of one of the first Roman legionary veterans to retire and settle in the newly conquered province of Britannia.

Lucius Valerius Geminus, almost certainly a Roman citizen from birth, came from Forum Germanorum (‘the market place of the Germans‘), a small frontier town at the foot of the Alps in north-west Italy.

It was at the German frontier, sometime during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius (14 – 37 AD), that Lucius joined the army, probably in his late teens or early twenties.  He went on to serve with the Legio II Augusta (Second Augustan Legion) based at Argentoratum (modern Strasbourg) and it is likely that he was involved in fighting against the Germanic Chatti tribe, one of Rome’s most powerful opponents during the 1st century AD.  Lucius then took part in the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD, under the command of the future emperor Vespasian.

The tombstone inscription
The tombstone inscription

Lucius retired from military service at some point between the legion’s occupation of Alchester in 44 AD and its relocation to Exeter around 60 AD.  A legionary’s period of service at the time usually amounted to at least 25 years, and Lucius’ ties to what became Oxfordshire’s largest Roman town must have been much stronger than to the home he had left behind at least a quarter of a century before.  So, like thousands of Roman veterans were to do after him, he lived out his retirement in Britannia.

We know that Lucius left an heir (possibly a family member whose descendants are still around to this day), because this individual had the tombstone erected in accordance with Lucius last wishes.  Its Latin inscription reads:

To the souls of the departed: Lucius Valerius Geminus, the son of Lucius, of the Pollia voting tribe, from Forum Germanorum, veteran of the Second Augustan Legion, aged 50[?], lies here. His heir had this set up in accordance with his will.

The tombstone was probably deliberately broken up around the late 3rd century AD and reused in the foundations of Alchester’s new town walls, which is why Lucius’ remains were not found nearby in the 2003 excavation.

Many of his comrades presumably had similar grave markers, but surviving tombstones from the early period of Roman Britain are very rare.  Ironically, it was the smashing of Lucius’ tombstone and its reuse in the town wall which ensured that his memorial survived, hidden from view for 1,700 years.

Now that its reconstruction is complete, the tombstone of Lucius Valerius Geminus will go on public display for the first time at the Oxfordshire Museum from 20 July 2013.  Dr Chris Ferguson, the museum’s curator of archaeology, said: “His biography is probably the earliest for a veteran in the entire province of Britannia, and he is certainly the earliest for this region of Roman Britain.”

Stations in the life of Lucius Valerius Geminus
Stations in the life of Lucius Valerius Geminus

Source: BBC

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