British Collection Highlights:

Chester Altar

This red sandstone altar was found in 1653 during excavation for the cellar of Richard Tyrer in Foregate Street, Chester. It stood in his garden until he donated it to the University of Oxford in 1675.

Inscribed on one side of the altar was a dedication (now illegible) which read:


The altar employs commonly used abbreviations which would have been recognisable to most readers. The Latin transcription runs: Iovi Optimo Maximo Tanaro / Lucius Elufrius Galeria / Praesens Clunia / princeps legionis XX Valeriae Victricis / Commodo et / Laterano consulibus / votum solvit libens merito.

And translated into English: To Jupiter Best and Greatest Tanarus. Lucius Elufrius Praesens, of the voting tribe Galeria from Clunia, princeps of the 20th Legion Valeria Victrix, when Commodus and Lateranus were consuls, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.

The first line records the name of the god being honoured. Dedications to Jupiter Optimus Maximus are common throughout the Roman empire, but the last name is unique. It could come from the Latin ‘tonare’ meaning ‘to thunder’.  It could also be a misspelling for Taranis, a known, though rarely attested, Gaulish deity whose name comes from the Celtic word for thunder. A third possibility is that it is a combination of the previous two explanations.

The next three lines record his name, origin (Clunia in Spain) and rank (the princeps being the second most senior centurion in the legion after the primus pilus). Then comes the date, recorded in the standard Roman way by the names of the consuls for that year, in this case AD 154.

The last line is an abbreviation commonly found on dedicatory inscriptions and refers to the nature of Roman religion (commonly referred to as do ut des – I give so that you may give), whereby the supplicant gives or promises to give an offering in exchange for a favour. In this case, Lucius Elufrius Praesens promised to dedicate an altar to Jupiter.

The remaining three sides of the altar are decorated, each with a different image: a six-petalled flower, a five-petalled flower within a wreath, and a jug.

The altar is on display in the 'Ark to Ashmolean' gallery on the lower ground floor.

Click to enlarge

Chester Altar (Click to enlarge)

Funerary altar from Forgate Street, Chester (ANChandler3.1)

Top of Chester Altar

Top of altar from Forgate Street, Chester (ANChandler3.1)

Two Roman vessels from Oxford potteries          
Anglo-Saxon storage vessel (AN1933.517)          Anglo-Saxon food bowl (AN1923.837)

Four sides of the funerary altar from Chester. First side with inscription, second side with six-petaledl flower, third side with five-petalled flower and wreath and fourth side with a jug (ANChandler3.1).

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Kristina Glicksman
January 2012