The haruspex stone was found in an
excavation that took place in vaults beneath the Grand Pump Room in
1965. The excavation reached the Roman stone paving of the
temple precinct of the Goddess Sulis Minerva.
The inscription reveals that the stone
was set up by L. Marcius Memor, a haruspex, who was a special kind
of priest for whom no other parallel is known from Roman Britain.
It was dedicated to the goddess Sulis
Minerva and is likely to have supported a statue of her.
There are some interesting points of
detail that we can see on this stone that reveal something of
attitudes and values at the time. For instance, the
inscription has letters that have been laid out in a way that was
Haruspex was originally abbreviated to
HAR and this was set out symmetrically, but it was then expanded
assymetrically to HARUSP with the last three letters at a different
There were only sixty haruspices at
any one time, and it may be that they were so rare in this part of
the empire that the inscription was expanded because people looking
at it did not recognise what it meant.
The original abbreviated form of
Memor, MEMR then had an ‘o’ inserted as an afterthought above the
second M. This suggests the possibility of an illiterate
sculptor, or someone commissioning the stone who subsequently
changed his mind about the layout of the inscription. Was
someone taken off the job? Whatever it signifies, it is
difficult to imagine anyone accepting such a botched inscription
The stone reminds us that the Roman
world was one in which literacy levels were low. It is not
unusual to find spelling and setting out errors in Roman
Another inscription with reversed letters and corrected spelling in
The Roman Baths is that on the tombstone of Calpurnius Receptus, a
priest of the Goddess Sulis. Clearly people did not worry
about this too much!
The haruspex stone
A haruspex was a known to us priest from what is now northern
Italy. He had the special power to advise on the meaning of
omens such as the flight of birds, and might interpret the internal
organs of sacrificed animals, especially the liver.
A haruspex might be consulted before an important event or proposed
course of action to see if it was an auspicious moment, although
warnings were not always heeded.
‘Caesar, beware the Ides of March!’
Calpurnius Receptus tombstone inscription