3. The Lapidarium: Roman inscriptions from the area of Bergamo

On display in the Lapidarium are inscriptions discovered around Bergamo, and also in Valcamonica (from the Simoni collection), all dating from the 1st to 3rd century AD. The texts, in Latin with many abbreviations, are engraved in stone, precisely laid out on variously shaped slabs that nearly all come from quarries in Zandobbio, near Trescore Balneario (BG).

Most of the inscriptions are funerary or religious, and a few are honorary.

The funerary inscriptions commemorate people and families who lived in the vicinity of Bergamo during the Roman period. Males are usually designated by tria nomina (three names): the praenomen or forename; the nomen, which indicated the gens and is equivalent to a modern surname; the cognomen, a sort of nickname often linked to physical or personality traits, or to birth order. The cognomen is often preceded by a patronymic and by an indication of the tribe the man belonged to; the inhabitants of Bergomum were members of the Voturia tribe (abbreviated as VOT).

Gaius Cornelius, commemorated on a slab from Grassobbio, is referred to as C(aius) CORNELIVS C(ai) F(ilius) VOT(uria tribu) CALVOS.

Women had the name of the gens in female form, the patronymic and the cognomen. Freedmen, i.e. slaves who had been set free, took the praenomen and nomen of their patron (ex-owner) and kept their own slave name as a cognomen; instead of a patronymic they had L(ibertus).

A family’s social level is indicated by members who were public office-holders (many inscriptions record quattuorviri, men who had held the most important post in the Roman municipium), the opulence of the monument and the possession of Roman citizenship. The most widespread families were the Cornelii, Aurelii, Flavi and Sulpicii; many of the gentes were also present in Venetia (regio X) and around Piacenza, whose inhabitants belonged to the Voturia tribe like those of Bergomum.

The memorial inscriptions were situated on out-of-town roadsides where they would be seen by passers-by, who – attracted by the decoration or the Latin text – might pause to read them: in this way remembrance of the deceased was ensured.

The religious inscriptions are dedications made to deities in order to obtain their protection or in thanks for a request granted or benefit received. In the Bergamo area they are found on private altars used for worship; most date to the first two centuries of the Roman Empire.

The fundamental component of a religious inscription is the deity’s name, the form of which may indicate belonging (Mercuri = of Mercury) or being the recipient of an offering (Mercurio = to Mercury). The text often names the person making an offering and usually ends with the formula V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens) M(erito): freely and rightly fulfils this vow.

Dedications to Jupiter, Minerva, Mars, Mercury, Diana, Juno and Neptune demonstrate the spread of official Roman cults in Bergomum and its area. Devotion to some rural divinities persisted, represented by Silvanus and Priapus, referable to Celtic cultural roots.

The honorary inscriptions concern people of particular merit, living or dead, and were made for display in public places. From Scano (Valbrembo) comes a slab dedicated to Marcus Maecius Maximus, a quattuorvir who had become the town’s patron, and to whom Pliny the Younger wrote two letters between AD 103 and 105. The final abbreviation D D indicates that the inscription was produced by decree of the decurions, members of the town senate.

Honorary inscriptions dedicated to members of the imperial family are extremely rare in the Bergamo area. The only known examples are a small fragment of an inscription in honour of the emperor Antoninus Pius found in Stezzano, and a milestone from Verdello that once stood at the side of the road between Ljubljana and Milan, which refers to the emperors Valentinian and Valens.