An inscription with a chip-carved border, A.D. 179

Museo de León, Castro Ventosa, Los Cacabelos, El Bierzo.

Without the inscription to which it is attached, this piece of crisp chip carving might not immediately appear Roman. It might be assigned instead to the Visigothic period or later.

It can be dated precisely to the year A.D. 179 when Commodus, joint ruler with his father, Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and Martius Verus were consuls. The find was recorded in 1895 at Castro Ventoso (El Bierzo), a Roman military site. The site is close to the road that linked Lugo, Astorga and León and was ideally placed to protect the onward transport of the gold mined at Las Médulas to the south. Another piece of this dark-grey slate with chip carving can also be found in the Museo de León; yet another piece that may be related, but is much more worn, has been located in the wall of a house by the church at Los Cacabelos.

This may seem a small and not very significant piece, but its style and execution problematize ideas of Roman art in Hispania. It represents – at quite an early date – a taste for such work amongst the military elite stationed in and around León.