In 2006, in the compressed flooring material, just to the west of the hearth in a Hadrianic workshop a fantastic object was found. It is a dona militaria or military award for valour.  The phalera is made of silver, gilt and base metal with relief decoration, three chains, leaf terminal and an inscribed brooch fitting. The main plate consists of a very thin circular silver disc, 38mm in diameter with a decorative rope design edging. A second disc is soldered to the first one and is made of base metal with a gilt wash. The outer edge is decorated with a raised ‘pie crust’ design. Suspended on jump rings at the base are three silver box chains with silver leaf at bottom. The leaves each have four small groves which could have taken tiny coloured beads.

The central figure is the god of war, Mars. He is shown wearing undecorated cuirass edged at the base with a single row of semi-circular lappets, decorated greaves and open toes boots. The right hand is missing but it is raised as if to hold a spear and his left had rests on an oval shield. A standard is shown on either side of the god. To the right the shorter standards shows two phalera separated by foliage. The left standard has a possible crown. The tops of the standards and the head of Mars are all missing, and this could be the result of purposeful breakage. This was done as to not upset the deities or the spirit of the symbolic objects.  

The phalera was adapted into a brooch and a clasp was lightly soldered onto the reverse of the object. It bears the flowing inscription:



(Property of) Quintus Sollonius

(in the) century of Cupi(tus)

This punched inscription is in the usual formula and there are some possibilities as to who he was. Quintus Sollonius not doubt served in a legion. The design of the brooch, showing the god Mars, with the shields/standards either side resemble the Dacians shield on Trajan’s Column at Rome and suggest that he served in Trajan’s Dacian wars, for which reinforcements were certainly sent from Britain. Although the centurion’s name, Cupitus, a Latin cognomen (meaning ‘desired’, ‘wished for’) is found fairly frequently, it is worth noting that a centurion of the legion II Augusta was called Cl(audius) Cup(itus) based on a building inscription from Caerleon (RIB344).

It is tempting to suggest that our soldier might have been related to one of two known families of Sollonii who also use the praenomen Quintus, one from Milan (Mediolanum) and the other which spell the name with only one L as Solonius at Nîmes (Nemausus). Both of these towns are originally of Celtic origin as is the name itself probably derived from Sollos, Sollus, Sollius etc., coming from the Celtic word meaning ‘whole’.

The Quinti Sollonii from Milan are known from an inscription (CIL V 5830) which names a Q. Sollonius and his five sons Vervicius, Gavillus, Macer, Tertullus and Victor. Q. Sollonius Tertullus is described as mil. leg. XVI, ‘soldier of the Sixteenth Legion’. This legion disgraced itself during the Batavian Revolt and was disbanded by Vespasian in AD 70 so it can be taken that Q. Sollonius Tertullus served at latest in the 60s AD. If the Vindolanda Quintus Sollonius is related to the Milan family, he was presumably at least one generation later.

There are two inscriptions from Nimes about the other Quniti Solonii, who were much higher in the social scale, being Roman knights, equites Romani. The earlier one (CIL XII 3184=ILS 6981) was set up to Q. Solonio Q. f.Vo[l] Severino, Q(uintus) Solonius, son of Quintus, Vo[l]t(inia tribe) Severiuns, by the town of Forum Iulii (Fréjus), ‘to their patron’. He served as a juryman at Roman and tribune of the legion VIII Augusta and among other distinctions he was the chief priest of the imperial cult for his Provence in Narbonensis. The later man (CIL XII 3165b), Q. Solonius Fabius Severinus, perhaps the grandson of the other Severinus has the rank of e(geregius) v(ir), indicating the he had been procurator. He had donated to the baths and he had been thanked ‘for his past merits and present generosity’. It is possible that these two men were the descendant of the Vindolanda Sollonius as the first man dates to the time of Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-180) and the second to the third century.

This object can be seen on display at the Roman Army Museum. Information taken from Vindolanda Excavations 2005-2005 by Andrew Birley and Justin Blake. Many thanks to Patricia Birley for the description of the object and Anthony Birley for interpretation on Q. Sollonius.