Kent Archaeological Review extract

The Inscribed Bowl from the Saxon Grave.
by E J Heap, MA Cantab PHD Lond.

The bowl presumed Rhineland or Gaulish found in a 5th century Saxon grave and illustrated on page 61 of the Kent Archaeological Review for Autumn 1978 arouses much interest. I have attempted a translation of the inscription on the base but first I would make it clear I claim no acquaintance with such artifacts or inscriptions of the region concerned. I hope someone who does will look at my suggestions and offer criticisms and alternatives. I am hampered also by not having seen the find but I am assured on good authority that the inscription is clear and accurately reproduced in the Review article. I have read a certain amount of Medieval Latin and made some study of the contents of RIB Volume 1. I have for reference the list of inscription abbreviations in Collingwood and Richmond The Archaeology of Roman Britain and Latham's Revised Medieval Latin Word List. Latham's examples are dated much too late to be of use for the 5th century but they do confirm the ecclesiastical usage of the words suggested. I would here point out that the four gospels of the Authorised Version had been adopted by the Church before the end of the second century AD and Christian phraseology must already have incorporated many of the traditional words and texts by the date of the bowl as presumed. I think the inscription is a prayer or invocation or possibly a spell. This last I discount. Quite early as I worked I was reminded of John XIV 6 "I am the way the truth and the life."

DRAWING: Reverse Image of Bowl as Published in KAR Number 53.

Reverse Image of Bowl as Published in KAR Number 53.

If the mirror image of the Review illustration be reversed by holding it up to a looking-glass or some other simple means the CHI-RO symbol monogram becomes correctly orientated and affords an axis for the whole inscription giving a 'top' and 'bottom' and a 'right' and 'left'. The upper arc of the circle then shows two well-known initials R I standing among other things for REX INVICTUS or INVICTE (if you speak to someone in Latin the ending of certain words may have to be altered). In English these are 'Unconquered King.' Next is the word VITA 'life' continually invoked by Christians from the very beginning: Latham has 'Eternal Life' as first meaning for this dated to 730 AD. Then if my surmise as to the nature of the inscription stands, we have two short words IN TE 'in thee' which might be read with VITA or the following T VIA. VIA 'way' seems to occur naturally in a Christian invocation; Latham has "earthly pilgrimage" as second meaning but dated late. T does stand for titulus but no meaning of this seems to fit. Could it stand for TOTA which in a standard dictionary is translated "all", "entire", or even "body and soul"? Again the list in The Archaeology of Roman Britain does not help with S and R which follow but it is not claimed to be comprehensive. Latham has 'salus' and 'salvatio' (1090 AD) both having an ecclesiastical meaning of 'salvation', while under R are found 'redemptio' and 'resurrectio' (earliest dating 826 AD) I suggest for these two letters the genitive forms SALUTIS and REDEMPTIONIS to be translated 'of Salvation' 'of Redemption'. Next comes the double V (VV). Latham has 'orthodox belief' circa 730 AD for VERITAS and VERIFICATIUS as adjective with meaning 'accurate' 1326 AD. VERITAS is found in the classical dictionary but not VERIFICATIUS. Then we have IN DEI V. If V stands for VERBO we have "in the Word of God" which would seem appropriate in a Christian context.

I propose then the following reading:-

O King Invincible Eternal Life in Thee the Whole Way of
Salvation and Redemption the Very Truth of the
Word of God.

E J Heap reserves the copyright of this article.

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