When the CIL team came to record the funerary inscriptions in Oxford in 1886, they discovered that one inscription which had been published in 1763 by Chandler, was nowhere to be found. The gloomy diagnosis was “nunc periit aut latet” – “now it’s either destroyed or hidden“.
Now, after some detective work by Alison Cooley, Principal Investigator at the Latin Inscription Project, it appears that the latter was true, and the plaque to Persania Grapte has been found:
Despite being missing for centuries, the inscription is in good condition, with just a small fragment missing from the bottom right corner and some minor chipping around the edges. Two small circular holes at the top left and bottom right corners seem to be for attaching the plaque to a wall.We think it was probably originally from a columbarium, a communal space where individuals bought the right to have a little niche for their ash urn when they died, often paying in instalments (like a modern-day saving plan for ‘those final funeral expenses’).
The text is generally carefully laid out, but the squashed ‘VS’ at the end of line 3 look like the the stonecutter hadn’t quite managed to plan the positioning of his letters before he ran out of space.
‘dìs man(ibus) / Persaniae Grapte / M(arcus) Mattienus Firmus / b(ene) m(erenti) d(e) <se> fecit
‘To the spirits of the dead. Marcus Mattienus Firmus did (this) for Persania Grapte who deserved well of him.’
The names and the shape of the stone suggest that Marcus Mattienus Firmus set up this plaque to his wife in the second century AD, making this plaque around 1800 years old. We also think that this photograph, taken by the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents in Oxford, is the very first ever taken of the inscription.