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Kent Archaeological Review extract

The Reculver Inscription.
by Brian Philp.

It was on the 3rd September, 1960, that the first piece of the famous Reculver Inscription was found. Mr A O Lewington, then in his second year of membership of the Reculver Excavation Group, made the dramatic discovery. He was diligently working in the cellared strongroom of the headquarters building (principia) with other members of the Group where more pieces were to be found in the next few days. To any volunteer this was the perfect 'find,' an hitherto unknown document relating to a remote period of our history and destined to be the most important single find from the entire 350 miles of the "Saxon Shore."

By the end of the 1960 excavation eleven fragments of this commemorative tablet, now known as the Reculver Inscription, had been recovered and these represented about three-quarters of the complete text. The inscription must have been placed on the wall of the sacellum from where it eventually fell into the strongroom below.

DRAWING: Composite of the pieces forming the inscription.


The late Professor Sir Ian Richmond kindly agreed to study the fragments and his reconstruction and interpretation are given here (see The Antiquaries Journal, Volume XLI (1961), page 224).

It seems that the shrine of the standards (AEDEM) of the headquarters (PRINCIPIORVM) together with (CVM) the crosshall (BASILICA) were built under (SVB) the consular governor (COS), A. TRIARIVS RVFINVS. The work was carried out by FORTVNATVS who was probably the commander of the fort. Triarius Rufinus was consul at Rome in AD 210 and Professor Richmond suggested that he probably became governor of Britain in about 210-216.

This inscription may almost be regarded as the 'foundation tablet' of the fort itself as it records the building of the major building on the site, doubtless one of the very first to be built inside the defensive walls of the fort. Happily, this early date agrees very closely with coin and pottery evidence recovered from the fort in 1957 (Arch. Cant., LXXIII (1959), 96), and later. Prior to the present series of excavations, started in 1952, the fort had always been regarded as of late-third century construction in common with many of the other 'Saxon Shore' forts. In recent years, however, it has been possible to show that the fort's structural characteristics are of earlier form. Details such as the rounded corners, lack of external bastions and bonding courses, the formal layout of roads and buildings and the gateways in the centre of each side to name the more obvious.

Recently, Mr R P Harper (Anatolian Studies, Journal of the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, Volume XIV (1964), 163) has suggested that Q. ARADIVS RVFINVS may have been the consular governor of the Reculver Inscription. If so, he would have been in office sometime in the mid 220's.

Either way it is clear that the fort was built in the early-third century and this single fact has necessitated some considerable revision of Roman military history of the third century. Professor Richmond also added about the inscription "epigraphically, its importance lies in the fact that this is the first time the inscribed phrase aedes principiorum can be applied to and identified with the official shrine of the headquarters buildings, hitherto unmentioned in any inscription. It is also the first certain instance of the application of the name basilica to a military crosshall, although the resemblance between these buildings and a civil basilica has often been stressed." So, too, does it add another name (RVFINVS) "to the meagre list of third century consular governors." Mr Lewington can be well satisfied with his find!

Another interesting programme of excavations has been arranged for August 1969. This will involve more work inside the Roman fort when buildings, roads and ditches should be uncovered. For the first time, too, excavations will be carried out inside the famous Saxon church now celebrating its 1300th anniversary since its foundation in AD 669. Visitors will be welcomed between 5th-30th August. An exhibition of finds and drawings will be prepared and guides will show visitors and parties around the site. The site is only four miles from Herne Bay station and there is a frequent 'bus service.

PHOTO: St Mary's Church at Reculver.

St Mary's Church at Reculver. These splendid west towers were added to the ancient Saxon church in the late-12th century. This year, the 1300th anniversary of its foundation, excavations are to take place inside the ruined church.

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