‘To the Divine Powers of the Emperors and to the god Mars Camulus, Tiberinius Celerianus, citizen of the Bellovaci, moritix of the people of London first ….’
The tablet had been concealed with such care because it was a religious offering, made during a period when two emperors were in power, possibly the AD160s. The man responsible, Tiberinius Celerianus, was a full Roman citizen (he had two names, not one) and came from around Beauvais in northern France, the territory of the Bellovaci.
Mars Camulus seems to have been a god of his homeland, rather than a local London god or one associated with Roman Colchester. He was much worshipped in Reims, not far east of Beauvais, and Celerianus may well have visited his shrines there.
Why was the offering made? Celerianus was either ‘the first of the Londoners’ to do something, or he was their ‘first moritix’. Moritix is not regular Latin but a rare word of Celtic origin, meaning ‘seafarer’. Roman Southwark was a Venetian-style town of imposing buildings on barely-reclaimed islands in the Thames.
At Tabard Street itself large stone structures are coming to light. The tablet, of white marble imported from north-western Turkey, was perhaps set into the wall of a shrine. Had Celerianus been the ‘first Londoner’ to make a special trip of some kind? Did he make this offering in gratitude for a safe return?
A version of this article by Dr Roger Tomlin (Wolfson College, Oxford) and Gary Brown, Pre-Construct Archaeology, first appeared in Archaeology Matters No 19, March 2003