Posts in Category: Roman

September - We hope this won't boar you 

Thursday, August 24, 2017 5:36:00 PM Categories: Accessories Animals Clothing Copper Metal Roman

This month we have a rather nice zoomorphic (animal-shaped) enamelled Roman strap fitting to show you. At first glance it looks very much like a plate brooch, but an examination of the fittings on the reverse show this not the case. Instead of hinged lugs and an opposing catchplate, characteristic of a brooch, the fitting has two T-shaped projections for attaching it to a strap.

Photograph of Romano-British strap fitting in the shape of a boarIt is made in the shape of a right facing boar. The facial features are moulded in relief and one ear is projecting slightly from the top of the head. The eye is recessed and inlaid with black enamel. The mouth is shown by a groove just below the snout with a moulded tusk projecting from the edge. A series of fine grooves across the head indicate the texture of bristles. The head is divided from the body by a line of punched holes. The body has a recessed area filled with blue champlevé enamel and three spots of white enamel; one at the shoulder, one at the top of the foreleg and one, larger spot on the flank. This last spot has a central hollow with traces of a red substance within. The finder notes that it originally had a dark-coloured enamel filling when discovered, but this dropped out and was lost in the soil. The large hole in the centre of the find would have originally held a loop for a pivoting copper alloy ring. Both of the legs end in cloven trotters. Two projecting stubs at the rear of the animal indicate the position of the missing tail.

The boar is a relatively common figure in Roman iconography, with many examples recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database including: WILT-5D5B17 & SUSS-DB2C32. The banners of several Roman legions depicted a boar. Notably the XX legion used a jumping boar. The boar is said to be a symbol of strength and an embodiment of the warrior spirit.

The full record can be found at www.finds,org using the reference NMS-F70707 in the search field. 

June - Panned Out Well 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017 11:48:00 AM Categories: Accessories Brooch Copper Food Religion Roman

June's find of the month is a rather nice and very unusual copper alloy Roman brooch.  It is of a type that is representational of an object, which are collectively known as skeuomorphic brooches. 

Figure 1. Roman Patera brooch

Figure 1. Roman Patera brooch

This particular example (Figure 1) was found near Marham in Norfolk and is very unusual in that it represents a small Roman vessel called a Patera (see Figure 2). The exact purpose of the Patera in Roman life is not entirely clear but it is believed that they were used as simple cooking utensils and/or ceremonially to pour libations or make offerings of food to a chosen deity. There are many other types of representational brooches produced by inventive Roman craftsmen; these include for example amphora, horse and riders, axes, and sandal soles.


Figure 2. Examples of Roman Paterae

Figure 2. Examples of Roman Paterae

To date, there is only one other Patera brooch recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database which was found on the Isle of Wight. Both records can be viewed in full at www.finds.org.uk using the search reference NMS-2104DA for the Norfolk example, and IOW-1EE0B7 for the Isle of Wight example.

November - Broaching the subject 

Monday, October 10, 2016 11:26:00 AM Categories: Accessories Bronze Brooch Grooming Metal Roman

Photo of fragment of enamelled Roman chatelelaine plate brooch

Our object this month is a rather nice red, yellow and blue, enamelled fragment of a Roman chatelaine plate brooch found in Great Melton. 

These types of brooches were probably worn exclusively by women and as well as being an adornment the brooch was multifunctional, in that they were also used to suspend a variety of useful toilet or cosmetic implements, made up of such things as tweezers, ear scoops and nail cleaners.  A more complete example is shown below (image courtesy of the British Museum) and illustrates how the various utensils were suspended from a bar that was fixed by perforated lugs at either end of the bottom edge.

 

Photo of complete Roman chatelaine brooch from the British Museum

This bar is missing on the Norfolk-found example, as of course are the various instruments that would have been suspended from it. The utensils attached to a brooch in this way are highly impractical for use and they are presently believed to have served more as status symbols or statements of personal hygiene.

Chatelaine brooches of this type typically date from the 3rd to the early 4th century AD.  A full description of this Norfolk example can be found on the Portable Antiquities website (www.finds.org.uk) using the reference number NMS-2B9212.

July - Hold your horses 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016 10:25:00 AM Categories: Animals Copper Grooming Iron Metal Roman Tool

July's Find of the Month is very unusual in several respects. First, we are breaking the mould slightly as, in our enthusiasm to show it to you, the Portable Antiquities record is not yet complete and the object is still undergoing research.  Secondly, because of its rarity and the circumstances under which it was recovered.

It was found with a metal detector in a field in North Norfolk buried in a hoard together with a number of Roman pots.  It was included within a concretion of tools, soil and iron oxide that was excavated complete. The object was then fully revealed in a controlled off-site stage excavation of the concreted assemblage.  Shown in figure 1 below is the mass from which the object emerged, a tiny part of it can just be seen at the edge in the one o’clock position.

Concretion of tools, soil and iron oxide which contained the find

Figure 1

Projection of the butteris

Figure 2

The find that emerged is shown above in figure 2 and below in figure 3, and along with the other artefacts that emerged is now undergoing further research before being recorded onto the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. It has been identified as a Roman farrier’s tool called a Butteris and it was used to maintain and pare horses’ hooves.

Three quarter view of the butteris

Figure 3

The more usual form of a Roman butteris is a plain construction of iron, but this example has a wonderful composite design with a copper alloy moulded handle and an iron blade. The copper alloy handle appears to have some associated symbolism, as the eagle terminal and the projecting human head are repeated on other examples such as the smaller butteris handle shown in figure 4 that was found in Belgium.


A similar example from Belgium

Figure 4

As a result of a much worn Roman nummus coin found in the assemblage, the deposition of the hoard can be placed right at the end of the Roman occupation of Britain.  Credit is due to the finders who realising the significance of what they had found contacted the Historic Environment Service to enable a controlled excavation to be carried out.

June - Nothing too quackers 

Tuesday, June 03, 2014 10:18:00 AM Categories: Animals Brooch Copper Metal Roman


Photograph of enamelled duck brooch

Roman brooches must be one of the most commonly recorded metal artefacts, and although there is a wide variety of types known including plate, penannular, disc and bow, within this variety huge numbers of very similar brooches are recorded. Roman brooches were both decorative and functional acting as a dress fastener to hold clothes in position.

This example is a well-known variety of zoomorphic (animal shaped) brooch in the form of a duck with brightly coloured enamelled decoration. The surface is now corroded to a dull green but the enamel would have stood out against a shining yellow-bronze surface when it was new. Other types of zoomorphic brooch depict animals including other birds, fish, horses, hares, lions and even flies. 

NMS-B3698D

May - Don't shoot the messenger 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014 9:00:00 AM Categories: Copper Furniture Metal Religion Roman

This beautiful 2nd century copper alloy mount in the form of a youthful male bust has features which suggest a dual identity – a wreath of vine leaves indicating Bacchus, god of wine, and a winged cap indicating Mercury, messenger of the gods.

Picture of Roman mount

Although the mount clearly decorated a high status object it was discovered at a site with no other Roman finds and in an area with very little evidence for Roman activity, strongly suggesting it was accidentally lost in transit. An object produced with such fine artistic skill may have been imported from somewhere else in the Empire.

Illustration of Roman mount

Illustration by J. Gibbons 

Whoever owned this object valued Roman taste and fashion and could afford to buy good quality work, but we can’t know if they got to appreciate it, or if it was lost before it was even delivered.

HER51187. NMS-800B35.

February - Dressed to impress 

Saturday, February 01, 2014 11:08:00 AM Categories: Accessories Copper Grooming Metal Roman

Photograph of Roman cosmetic set

Cosmetic sets were used in the Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval periods and were made up of several personal grooming tools hung from a ring so they could be carried around conveniently.

This Roman example, which is probably 3rd or 4th century, has a nail cleaner with two prongs to scrape under the finger nails, tweezers for removing unwanted hair and a third, broken tool which was probably a tiny spoon called an ear-scoop for removing wax from the ears. Some cosmetic sets also included a straight tool with a pointed end for use as a toothpick.

We might not carry around ear-scoops with us today, but modern manicure sets are not so different from these 1600 year old tools and almost every bathroom contains cotton buds, dental tape and tweezers.  

The full find record can be found on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database here: NMS-4FE992

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