A small Roman silver disc, thought to have been part of a signet ring, has revealed evidence of Christian worship in late Roman Norfolk.The disc, circa 312 to 410AD, found near Swaffham in February, is inscribed ‘Antonius, may you live in God’ [ANTONI VIVAS IN DEO].
Adrian Marsden, finds officer based at Norwich Castle Museum, said: “We have practically no other evidence for any Christians in Norfolk.”The disc was declared treasure at an inquest in King’s Lynn.Mr Marsden added: “The disc that would have been set into the bezel from a signet ring constitutes important evidence for Christianity in late Roman Norfolk.
“The inscription, translating as ‘Antonius, may you live in God’, is a Christian formula and we have practically no other evidence – apart from a broadly similar ring in gold from Brancaster* – for any Christians in Norfolk. “On one level, of course, this is good negative evidence, implying that most people at the time worshipped the old gods. On another, it shows there were one or two Christians around.
“The ring would have been a gift to Antonius, perhaps on the occasion of his conversion, coming of age or betrothal/marriage.”
The inquest, led by Norfolk coroner William Armstrong, also declared a rectangular Viking silver ingot and four Iron Age silver units as treasure.
“The Vikings didn’t use coined money at this date but bullion, so these ingots are useful examples of how trade was carried on,” said Mr Marsden.
The 28mm (1.1in) ingot, circa 850 to 1000AD, was found by a metal detector enthusiast near Downham Market last summer and features a decorative motif typical on jewellery of the Viking period.
Mr Marsden added: “The ingot offers some interesting possibilities for metallurgical analysis, to look at how pure they are and what sort of other metals if any might be alloyed with the silver.”
The Norwich Castle Museum hopes to acquire the ingot and Roman disc for their collection.
Other examples of probable evidence of early Christianity in Britain:
The VIVAS IN DEO formula
*The Brancaster ring
The ring has a design of two intaglio confronted heads on the bezel and was found in 1829 in the shore-fort at Brancaster (Branodunum), Norfolk. The legend above and below the design, in reverse reads: VIVAS/IN DEO. The inscription is considered to have been added on presentation to a Christian. Johns (1996) suggests that it may be a Christian marriage ring and cites the fourth century Projecta casket, from a hoard found on Esquiline Hill, in Rome, in the eighteenth century, as a parallel. This casket was decorated with a husband-and-wife portrait and inscribed SECVNDE ET PROIECTA VIVATIS IN CHRI[STO] (‘Secundus and Projecta, may you live in Christ’).
The Richborough Ring is of bronze and is a late 4th century ring found in Richborough Castle, Kent. It has a chi-rho symbol on the bezel and the inscription reads IUSTINE.VIVAS.IN.DEO – “Jusinius, may you live in God”.
The Vyne ring, found near Silchester, has a secondary misspelt inscription SENICIANE VIVAS IIN DE (Thomas 1981:131).
The Brancaster and Silchester (Vyne) rings seem to have been originally pagan objects adapted to Christian use.
The Hoxne Hoard does not have any inscriptions of an overtly pagan nature, and the hoard is considered to have come from a Christian household/s because the religious inscriptions on some of the jewellery and tableware are all Christian. In addition to the common chi-rho monogram, one spoon is engraved with the common Christian phrase, VIVAS IN DEO (“May you live in God”). Thus, the Hoxne hoard adds significant evidence for Christianity in late Roman Britain.
It is assumed that Roman spoons with Chi-Rho monograms or VIVAS inscriptions are either christening spoons, presented at adult baptism, or maybe used in the Eucharist ceremony.
The CHI-RHO monogram (Chi and Rho are the first Greek letters of Christ’s name)
The ‘Brentwood ring’ is made of gold and was found in 1948, at Brentwood, Essex. It has a raised octagonal bezel bearing a chi-rho monogram, bird and tree.
A fourth-century lead font from Wethehill Farm, Icklingham, Suffolk, has a Chi-rho monogram on two places on the side, flanked by an alpha and an omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, another symbol of Christ – ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last’ (Revelation 1:8).
Catherine Johns: The jewellery of Roman Britain: Celtic and Classical tradition (Oxford, 1996)
Charles Thomas: Christianity in Britain to AD 500 (London, 1981)