Jul 15, 2007
A new discovery that could change the way we think about Roman Britain has provided archaeologists with the missing link to a bloodthirsty ancient Celtic warrior god.
For years, metal detectorists in and around Lincolnshire have been digging up Roman-era finger rings with the mysterious letters TOT inscribed on them.
The significance of the three letters had been long debated.
“Up until recently there were about a dozen of these rings known, mostly from Lincolnshire,” explained Adam Daubney, Lincolnshire Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which helps record archaeological finds.
Experts in Roman history had for some time suspected that TOT was a misspelled abbreviation of the Celtic deity Toutates, so he decided to research further and found 44 examples of the ‘TOT’ rings, mostly from Lincolnshire and dating from the second and third centuries AD, the time of the Roman occupation of Britain.
The latest find, discovered by detectorist Greg Dyer in Battlesden, Bedfordshire, had an expanded inscription reading DEO TOTAT, deo being Latin for god, showing that TOT must, in fact, have been the ancient deity. The full inscription roughly translates as ‘To the God Totatis, use this and be happy’.
Toutates was one of the principal deities of the Celtic world, although little is known about him.
“There are two main sources that mention Toutates - the first was the Roman poet Lucan, who wrote from between AD39-65, and refers to him as the ‘dreaded Toutates’," explained Adam. "A document in the ninth century also describes worshipers of Toutates offering human sacrifices to him.”
The document goes on to say how followers would kill their offerings by plunging them headfirst into a vat of liquid until they drowned.
Although rings with the names of Roman gods have previously been found in Britain this is the first time that a ring bearing the name of a local god has been identified.
“It is very, very rare to be able to look at an artefact (from this period) and say it is native British and not Roman and with this you can say that,” said Adam.