Curator's Choice: The Roman Baths Museum

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The Independent Culture
I've not selected my favourite object but the one I find most intriguing because it tells us a lot about Roman Bath from comparatively little. It is the tombstone of a priest called Gaius Calpurnius Receptus, who worked for the temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath. It reads in translation: 'To the spirits of the departed; Gaius Calpurnius Receptus, priest of the goddess Sulis, lived 75 years; Calpurnia Trifosa, his freedwoman (and) wife, had this set up.'

As with all inscriptions, it contains a lot of information. We know that this man was a priest of the goddess Sulis who lived to a great age for the time. We then read in his tombstone that his freedwoman wife had it set up. Now this is fascinating, because clearly her name comes in part from his name, Calpurnius, which was his family name and Trifosa is a Greek word meaning delicious or dainty. It was common practice for slave sellers to give an attractive slave girl a name like Trifosa to try and attract buyers. So you can imagine the scene. The priest goes to the market on his day off and is persuaded by the slave seller to buy Trifosa, the delicious one. He buys her, takes her to work in his household and, we infer from his tombstone, they fall in love, get married and she gains her freedom. She also apparently remains faithful to him, because when he dies aged 75 she pays for a very elaborate and expensive tombstone to be set up in his memory. This rather charming story on a grey slab of stone gives a wonderful and tantalising glimpse into a relationship and into the society of Roman Britain.

Stephen Bird is the Head of Museums and Historic Buildings in Bath. The opening times for the Roman Baths Museum and Pump Room, Stall St, Bath, Avon BA1 1LZ (0225 461111) are Apr-Sept 9am-6pm daily.

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