Keep a Sharp Eye Out for Totatis [Treasure Hunting, January 2009, Page 44]
by Brett Hammond of TimeLine Originals

Lincs FLO, Adam Daubney, has a special interest in an enigmatic series of finger rings inscribed on the bezel with the letters "TOT", (or a slight variation) Almost 50 of these have come to light as detectorists’ finds in eastern England, mainly from Lincolnshire. A study of these discoveries has resulted in a paper by the archaeologist titled "The Cult Of Totatis" in which he discusses the rings, which date from the 2nd-3rd centuries and which are distinctively Romano-British in style.

The quality of the lettering - crude in comparison to standard Roman workmanship - suggests that some of these rings were originally purchased as blanks, with lettering added later by wearers dedicating their purchase to a favourite deity. Totatis, associated with the Roman god Mars, clearly had a loyal following in what we now call Lincolnshire, though his name seems to have been found so far in Britain only on finger-rings.

In his paper Adam Daubney writes: The series of ToT rings provides us with a fascinating insight into the religious and territorial characteristics of the Corieltavi in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. It not only opens up new avenues for research but also offers fresh perspectives on existing Iron Age and Romano-British religious material culture from the region. Although a national survey of dedicatory finger rings has not been undertaken at the time of writing, the number of rings dedicated to Totatis seems to be greater than that any other deity, including Mars, Mercury, Minerva and Jupiter. This trend is certainly true of the finger rings recorded through the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act, which combined has only recorded two rings inscribed to other deities, both of which are dedicated to Mercury. With every new discovery of ring and inscription the deity who was once just an enigmatic abbreviation becomes more established as a key tribal deity in Roman Britain.

The archaeologist also point out that: - The standard inscription contains three neat letters across the bezel reading ToT. Quite often the lettering is worn to the point of being almost illegible; however, the shape and layout of the letters often make identification possible. Distinctive features are usually confined to the split terminals of the Ts, which are often engraved slightly deeper and thus survive more often, as does the ‘o’ when reduced to a single pellet. In most cases the Ts have split terminals of either two or three spikes, and the ‘o’ is usually shown as a lower case letter. Only on a few rings is the letter ‘o’ reduced to a pellet or indeed a circle of pellets...

Within the past few days yet another TOT ring has been added to the catalogue, thanks to co-operation between the archaeologist and TimeLine Originals, who recently acquired an interesting Roman ring from an old Lincolnshire collection. At first it was thought that this silver ring (the majority of TOT rings are bronze) was inscribed YOY ; but closer examination by Adam Daubney and Brett Hammond of TimeLine Originals indicated that the inscription does indeed read TOT. I hope readers of this magazine will look again at old finds and fragments of finds in hope of finding lettering that looks remotely as though it might be a variation on TOT. Please contact the archaeologist at adam.daubney@lincolnshire.gov.uk with your news.


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