Comparanda Corner


Help Needed With Roman Stud

Small Roman StudSmall Roman Stud

This is a small stud from the fill of a probable cess pit outside the amphitheatre at Chester, but associated with its use. There is a similar one from Strageath which suggests it is a form of Medusa’s head but I’m not sure about this one. Amongst the other finds from the pit there is polychrome mosaic glass, a first-century chalcedony intaglio (of a satyr), amber beads and a coin of Domitian, to name but a few. I would be grateful if anyone could point me in the right direction or knows of any parallels.

Gillian Dunn
Senior Archaeologist (Roman finds)
Cheshire West and Chester Council


Help Needed With Bronze Horse Fragment

Roman Bronze Horse FragmentRoman Bronze Horse Fragment

Roman Barbarian? Horse fragment from Bronze Vessel?The appended photograph shows a fragment, probably from a vessel, depicting a horse and ?barbarian rider in bronze. It is around 5cms in length and well abraded. Although I have consulted several colleagues no one has been able to provide any parallels or suggestions as to what this might be. The best ‘guess’ at the moment is that is from the ornate base or a component of a handle from a jug or similar vessel, but I have been unable to find any close parallels. It is a metal detector find from a particularly rich site in East Yorkshire. There are finds from throughout the Roman period (and beyond). Any help/advice welcome.








Mystery Object

Mystery ObjectMystery Object

    Can you help? Mystery object fragment from Piddington Roman Villa, Northants.
    Leaded bronze, with central groove, deep indentations at terminals, and flattened back. Perhaps part of a baluster? Answers to Roy Friendship-Taylor, please.





Pewter FlagonPewter Flagon
Pewter flagon of probable fourth century date, from the bath house of Piddington Roman Villa, Northants.

 Recent finds are also published within our newsletter, Lucerna; see tab above.







The finds below were first noted by RFG in Autumn 2003.

A Zoomorphic Clasp-Knife Handle from Gloucester

Hunter-god handle from Britain: a new type of spatula?

New Iron Age site in East Leicestershire

Sexing Brooches

Penknives from Newstead: writing accesories

A New Treasure and a New Goddess for Roman Britain

Pasta Shapes

A Zoomorphic Clasp-Knife Handle from Gloucester

Evaluation of an area of land close to Glocester Docks was undertaken by Cotswold Archaeology in November 2002 on behalf of South West Regional Development Agency. The site lies outside of the walls of the colonia, some 100m from the site of the Roman south gate, in an area of back plots within the southern Roman suburb and bordering the road to Sea Mills. Archaeological deposits encountered included pits of medieval date and somewhat truncated Roman deposits, predominantly of third and fourth century date. A ditch, which contained a small quantity of broadly datable Roman pottery and ceramic building material, also yielded a clasp-knife handle of unusual form.

Red deer antler clasp-knife handle, total length 76mm.Red deer antler clasp-knife handle, total length 76mm.

Figure 1. Red deer antler clasp-knife handle, total length 76mm.

lasp-knife handle of red deer antler in the form of a seated horse. The blade and folding mechanism are absent, and there is damage to the head end of the handle and to the animal's tail. Additionally there is damage to the muzzle area, with some suggestion that this was joined to the body to form a suspension loop. A rebate at the head end of the handle was clearly the means of attaching the blade, together with a ferrule and pin. An absence of copper staining to the area of the rebate suggests that the ferrule and fixing pin were of iron. The pivot holes are, characteristically for this class of object, offset from the centre. A groove to accept the folded blade runs the length of the back portion of the handle.

The subject is carved in the round with prominent mane, small forelegs, stubby 'docked' tail and hind legs crossed at the base. Although the pose is stylised, as dictated by the functionality of the object, aspects of the design are naturalistic, particularly treatment of the head and hind quarters. Details such as the strands of the mane, foreleg hooves, nostrils, ?tendons to the lower hind legs and folds defining the hind legs and face are picked out by cut strokes or deeper grooves. The mane is sharply defined, serving to frame the face. Deep-cut grooves, depicting the fall of strands within the mane are carefully executed and paired at the rear. It has been suggested (pers. comm. R. Jackson), that the handle viewed from behind mimics the form of a horse's hoof and is an example of an artistic device sometimes employed by Roman craftsmen. The level of craftsmanship is undoubtedly high, the portrayal lively or even humorous and some familiarity with the equine subject is evident.

Clasp knives of Roman and post-Roman date are reasonably well known finds from Britain. The most simple Roman-dated examples are made from antler tines, with the iron blade attached by means of a ferrule and pin and folding into a groove cut into the side. More elaborately decorated examples, with handles of bone, ivory, antler or cast bronze take the form of anthropomorphic or zoomorphic subjects. The commonest representational designs are openwork hound and hare types which occur in metal and bone.

The most unusual forms occurring in Britain are those of bone, ivory or antler which are carved in the round and depict animal or human subjects often in very elaborate fashion. A later second to mid third-century date is most frequently applied to such objects (pers. comm. N. Crummy). The number of the more elaborately representational knife handles from Britain has in recent years significantly increased, with a number of new discoveries. Representational clasp-knife handles appear to be widely distributed in Britain, though they derive mainly from urban, villa or military sites. Western British sites which have yielded clasp knives include Wanborough, Wilts (Vaughan 2001), Cleeve Hill (Cheltenham), Glos, (Rawes 1986) and Shakenoak, Oxon (Brodribb et al. 1973).

The continental distribution of the elaborate representational clasp-knife handles would seem to indicate an origin in the Rhineland, with workshops most likely situated in Trier or Cologne (Von Mercklin 1940). Von Mercklin illustrates 45 examples of bone, ivory, jet and bronze depicting a variety of subjects including male and female busts, deities, gladiators, wrestlers and erotic scenes. Animal subjects include hare and hound groups, lions, leopards, dogs, dolphins and birds. The sole reference to an equine subject is a horse head scratched into the side of a plain handle.

In most respects the Gloucester knife handle fits well with the artefact class grouped by Von Mercklin. The means of execution and the high level of craftsmanship are certainly comparable. Significantly, the form of the rebate and method of blade attachment would seem to compare well with the illustrated examples (ibid., Tafel XXXVIII, nos 1-2). The subject matter is unusual, although the horse is in other media a not uncommon theme in classical art. In respect of the material used, red deer antler, the Gloucester knife is exceptional, although it is not clear whether Von Mercklin's methods of analysis would have been sufficient to discern antler from bone.

Conservation treatment and identification of material was carried out by Esther Cameron of the Institute of Archaeology, Oxford. I am indebted to Nina Crummy for supplying a copy of Eugen Von Mercklin's article and to Christel Inder for the translation. I would also like to thank Nina Crummy and Ralph Jackson for viewing images of the handle soon after discovery and giving me their opinions.

Ed McSloy,
Cotswold Archaeology,


Brodribb, A C C, Hands, A R and Walker, D R, 1973, Excavations at Shakenoak Farm, near Wilcote, Oxfordshire, pt IV, Site C (Oxford)

Mercklin, E von, 1940, 'Romische Klappmessergriffe' in Festchrifte Victoru Hoffileru (Zagreb), 339-52

Rawes, B, 1986, 'The Romano-British settlement at Haymes, Cleeve Hill, near Cheltenham', Trans Bristol and Glos Arch Soc 104, 61-93

Vaughan, S, 2001 'Objects of Bone and Related Materials' in Anderson, A S, Wacher, J S & Fitzpatrick, A P, The Romano-British 'Small Town' at Wanborough, Wiltshire Britannia Monograph Series 19 (London)

Hunter-god handle from Britain: a new type of spatula?

A figured handle depicting a bearded hunter-god has recently been reported under the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Yorkshire, UK. It was found at Goldsborough near Knaresborough, and has the museum number 'yorym : E03106'. The handle shares some of the distinguishing features of wax spatula handles of A5 type (Feugère 1995, fig 1). The upper part of the figure is full-round, but it tapers to a narrow rectangular section at the base, which is in the form of a split socket retaining the remains of a thin iron blade (Fig 1).

Hunter-god handle front.Hunter-god handle front.

Hunter-god handle back.Hunter-god handle back.

Figure 1. Hunter-god handle front.
Figure 2. Hunter-god handle back.

The figure shows a naked bearded male with his right arm (partly missing) reaching over his shoulder to a quiver passing diagonally across his back. His damaged left arm is reaching forward and would have held a bow. The upper part of the socket has a band of decoration, a line of ring-and-dots flanked by cabled mouldings, and there is another ring-and-dot on his chest.

The angle and form of the quiver precisely matches that carried by the stone statue of a hunter-god from London, who is also carrying a bow in his left hand and reaching behind him for an arrow (Merrifield 1986, figs 1-3). Also from London is an altar with a relief on one face of a hunter in the same position, originally identified as representing Diana (Toynbee 1962, 152, no 64, pl 68), but shown by Merrifield to be a male, and a third figure from London may also be a hunter-god rather than Attis as previously thought (ibid, 87-89).

The Yorkshire handle was fitted with an iron blade, which does not appear to have been of triangular section like a knife blade, but of thin rectangular section like that of wax spatulae. However, unlike the splayed sockets of A5 spatula handles, this is straight-sided, suggesting that the blade was also straight. The handle may therefore be all that remains of a new form of spatula, perhaps more like Feugère's Type C in size.

Bearing in mind the precise suitability of Minerva as a deity to appear on the handles of wax spatulae (Feugère 1995, 332), a similarly appropriate iconography might be expected to pertain here. However, a link between the hunter-god and any form of writing is not immediately obvious, though there are links between hunting and healing (Green 1997, 160-1). As wax was used not only on writing tablets but also for salves and other medicinal preparations, it is worth considering the possibility that the narrower tool represented by this handle was a piece of medical equipment.

Nina Crummy
2 Hall Road
Colchester CO6 1BN

Simon Holmes
Finds Liaison Officer,
Yorkshire Museum,
Museum Gardens,
York YO1 7FR


We are grateful to the finder for reporting this item under the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and to Ralph Jackson, British Museum, who identified it as representing a hunter-god.


Feugère, M, 1995, 'Les spatules à cire à manche figuré', in W Czysz et al (eds), Provinzialrömische Forschungen. Festschrift für Günter Ulbert zum 65 Geburtstag, 321- 38 (Munich)

Green, M, 1997, The gods of the Celts (Stroud)

Merrifield, R, 1986, 'The London Hunter-god', in M Henig & A. King, Pagan Gods and Shrines of the Roman Empire, 85-92 (Oxford)

Toynbee, J M C 1962, Art in Roman Britain (London)

New Iron Age site in East Leicestershire

RFG members may have already seen press reports- including a feature on Channel 4 news - concerning the discovery of a major new Iron Age site in East Leicestershire. At present the location is not being disclosed, because of concerns about site security.

The site originally came to light as the result of a Community Archaeology fieldwalking project, established to systematically map the archaeology of local parishes. The discovery of coins and bones found during one of these surveys was followed up with metal detecting by one of the group members, Ken Wallace. This eventually led to the isolation of at least fifteen discrete coin deposits, which were able to be lifted in blocks (although a large number of coins had been scattered in the surface ploughsoil). This work was carried out by the University of Leicester Archaeological Service with funding from English Heritage and the British Museum.

A coin deposit being uncovered.A coin deposit being uncovered.

Figure 1. A coin deposit being uncovered.

The soil blocks are currently being excavated by British Museum conservators. So far hundreds of coins have been removed, and X-rays have shown that there are many more still to emerge, with perhaps around 3,000 coins likely to be present at the final count. This would constitute the largest assemblage of coins ever excavated from one Iron Age site. Other sites have produced larger assemblages in the past, particularly Wanborough, but readers will no doubt be aware that the majority of the Wanborough assemblage was removed by illegal metal detecting (O'Connell & Bird 1994). The East Leicestershire site thus has the potential to offer new insights into coin deposition during the Conquest period.

Most of the coins are Corieltauvian silver units, as one might expect, probably produced in the early decades of the first century AD. There are also some coins of Cunobelin, mostly gold quarter staters, including at least one completely new type, which combines the letters 'CVNO' on the obverse and 'DVBN' on the reverse. It might seem that these are somewhat outside of their expected circulation area, but the Midlands has produced Cunobelin gold before, e.g. the Silsden hoard, Yorkshire.

Coins of Cunobelin from the site.Coins of Cunobelin from the site.Coins of Cunobelin from the site.Coins of Cunobelin from the site.

Figure 2. Coins of Cunobelin from the site.

Figure 3. Coins of Cunobelin from the site.
The new type is on the right.

In addition there are Republican silver coins, and some early imperial pieces, with the latest piece so far of Tiberius. The Republican coins are also not entirely unexpected - hoards in East Anglia sometimes mix Icenian silver units with Republican denarii. Dating, however, has always been problematic. Date of issue is generally not a problem, but how they got to Britain, when this occurred, and subsequent deposition date, are more difficult questions. I personally think they must have been circulating pre-Conquest, but as there are so few Republican coins from stratified contexts, this is impossible to prove. The only site which might have produced some (two coins in fact) is the top fill of an Iron Age ditch from Humberstone, Leicestershire - I reserve judgement on whether or not the proximity of findspots is of any significance1.

In addition to the coins, the site has also yielded the fragmentary remains of a Roman cavalry helmet. This consists of iron fragments of the skull-piece and remains of silver-gilt cladding, which implies it was used for parade. As for parallels, it is of similar type to the one from Newstead (National Museum of Scotland), dated to the Flavian period - on this example only a small piece of silver cladding survived on the neck-flange. The best parallel for the cladding itself, from what we can make out at this stage, is a helmet from Xanten, with stylised hair and laurel wreath (Feugere 1994, 105-8). It is too early to say any more at present, until all the surviving pieces have been extracted from the soil block. The other obvious question as well which will need to be addressed is how the helmet ended up on the site in the first place? This might be helped by an examination of the coins inside the block which contains the helmet, as that may assist with the question of deposition date. Enough coins have been found in spoil to suggest that the site may have continued to be used for deposition even as late as the 3rd century, so perhaps the helmet forms part of a post-Conquest phase of deposition. All the other deposits in the assemblage though very much indicate a pre-Conquest date.

In addition to the coin hoards and helmet fragments, the site has also produced a series of shallow pits containing animal bones, including some complete skulls and carcasses. This adds another dimension to how the site might be interpreted. We might speculate that is was a ritual meeting ground on a prominent hilltop; the animal bones - which exhibit a number of cut marks - suggest it was also used for feasting. The coin hoards and other objects such as the Roman helmet seem to have been offerings - another part of ritual activities. This is all understandably speculative at the moment; a greater understanding of the site will obviously come with further research.

The finds were declared Treasure at an Inquest held on 8 April 2003. The discovery will constitute one of a new series on archaeological finds called 'Hidden Treasures', which the BBC has scheduled for Autumn this year.

Richard Hobbs
Dept. of Prehistory & Europe
British Museum


Thanks to Jonathan Williams in Coins and Medals for his help with this note.


Charles, B M, Parkinson, A, & Foreman, S, 2000, 'A Bronze Age ditch and Iron Age settlement at Elms Farm, Humberstone, Leicestershire', Trans. Leicestershire Archaeol. and Hist. Soc. 74
Feugère, M, 1994, Les casques antiques. Visages de la guerre de Mycènes á l'Antiquité tardive
O'Connell M G & Bird, J, 1994. 'The Roman temple at Wanborough, excavation 1985-1986', Surrey Archaeological Collections 82, 1-168

Sexing brooches

Since brooches in the ancient world were overwhelmingly functional their use is inextricably connected to the clothing they fastened. In many ways they should be viewed as part of the clothing itself, in the same way that buttons are today. The Edict of Justinian shows that cloaks were sometimes sold with brooches (for example, 53-6, 18-9; fibulatorium) and a tomb painting from Silistra of slaves carrying their master's clothes to be put on after he has bathed shows the brooch left attached to the cloak (Croom 2000, fig. 14.2).

Pictorial evidence shows that brooches could be used to fasten both tunics and cloaks. Men are only ever shown using a cloak brooch, while women, at different times and different locations, use them for undertunics, overtunics and cloaks, and at other times never appear to use them at all. There is, for example, no pictorial evidence that women ever wore brooches with the Gallic coat which was worn throughout Gaul and Britain, which must at least heavily suggest that the majority of brooches found during the period when the coat was in fashion must have been worn by those men who still wore cloaks (in particular, soldiers). Tombstone evidence shows that brooches were used in very obviously different ways by different groups, and so presumably helped to distinguish cultural identities.

Crossbow brooches

Evidence clearly suggests that the late Roman crossbow brooch was worn only by men. The tomb painting mentioned above shows a crossbow brooch, whilst the famous diptych of Stilicho shows the general wearing one fastening his cloak. Of the eight crossbow brooches found in graves at Lankhills, the accompanying grave-goods suggest male burials for at least seven, and the crossbow found at the Eastern Cemetery in London was found associated with a man (Barber and Bowsher 2000, 207, no. 3). It has been argued that they became a symbol of official rank or military status (Philpott 1991, 139-40), and as such would be even more unlikely to be worn by women.

If one style of brooch, in this case the crossbow, was only worn by one sex, can other brooch types also be identified as being either male or female items? Philpott's study of Romano-British burial practice lists a large number of graves containing brooches and while some of these may be in the grave-fill or be grave-goods that did not necessarily belong to the deceased, their position on the body suggests that some at least were probably being worn when buried (1991, table A30). However, many of these examples come from old reports where details of either brooch type or the sex of the burial is missing, and others from graves where a lack of accompanying grave-goods or the poor condition of the bones meant that the burials could not be sexed. As women are much easier to identify from accompanying grave-goods, more brooch types can be identified for them: penannular (Colchester, p340, no. 647), plate brooches (York, p346, no. cvi), and 'bow-brooch' (Normangate Field, p343). Of particular interest is a man who was a possible drowning victim whose corpse was left in the flood-silts. As it can be argued that brooches in burials may have been used as shroud pins, this example is significant since as he was not deliberately buried he must have been still wearing his everyday clothes, in this case including a cloak pinned on his left shoulder by a dolphin brooch (Olivier 1982, fig. 14, no. 4).

Tombstones from Pannonia and Noricum showing tube dresses fastened by brooches.Tombstones from Pannonia and Noricum showing tube dresses fastened by brooches.Reconstruction of pagan Anglo-Saxon costume using grave evidence.Reconstruction of pagan Anglo-Saxon costume using grave evidence.

Figure 1. Tombstones from Pannonia and Noricum showing tube dresses fastened by brooches.

Figure 2. Reconstruction of pagan Anglo-Saxon costume using grave evidence.

Romano-British brooches used to fasten a tube dress in a number of ways.Romano-British brooches used to fasten a tube dress in a number of ways.

Figure 3. Romano-British brooches used to fasten a tube dress in a number of ways. Note (with Fig 2) the variety of ways the deceptively simple tube dress can be worn.

Brooches with attachment loops

The tube dress, a tunic fastened at the shoulders, is known in the ancient world from Denmark to Greece and is a long-lived and wide-spread fashion. Fastening the dress by a pair of brooches is known from Germany, Pannonia and Noricum (Fig. 1) and survives into the pagan Anglo-Saxon and Viking periods. Grave evidence shows that they were usually worn at the shoulders (sometimes as low as the collar bone; Fig. 2 ), as illustrated by a recently published example from a grave in London (Barber and Bowsher 2000, 183, B374). Roman tombstones clearly show that they were used to fasten the overtunic rather than a cloak. The brooches from London were connected by a necklace or chain made up of silver rings, 85 glass beads and possibly also copper fittings or links (ibid.). This is a fashion more commonly known in this country from the pagan Anglo-Saxon period (Owen-Crocker 1986, fig. 30; p55; see Fig. 2) where it is found in many inhumation burials.

Parallels therefore suggest that pairs of brooches (not always identical) were most commonly worn to fasten a female tunic on the shoulders, and that they could be linked by jewellery such as chains or strings of beads (eg Allason-Jones 1989, fig. 18). A second-century burial at Gulden Morden may well reflect this fashion; an iron brooch and an enamelled bow-and-fantail brooch with attachment loop were found 'at the throat', with a glass bead corroded to the iron example (Lethbridge 1935, 117, pl VII). Brooches are also found with a copper -alloy chain of varying lengths (Johns 1996, fig 7.7; Wardle 1998, fig. 19). It has been suggested that the those joined by short chains were worn lower down on the chest in a purely decorative way, such ornamental brooches being shown on some tombstones elsewhere in the Empire. However, where chained brooches are worn on the chest they are shown as being of a different design to the brooches worn at the shoulders. Bow brooches were designed to hold together a quantity of cloth, which is not required when the brooch is simply pinned to the tunic for decorative purposes. Romano-British brooches connected by short chains could have been used by girls, or alternatively the brooches were worn close to the neck where a long chain would not be necessary (Fig. 3.1; compare Fig. 1.2). As this style of wearing the brooches would result in a small neck-hole, a brooch would have to be undone to take the tunic off at night (not necessary when the brooches are worn further out on the shoulders. See Fig 3.2 and compare Fig. 1.1); having it safely linked to the other brooch could then be an advantage.

Reconstructions have shown that single strings of beads can be attached to brooches fastening a tunic by either a small loop at both ends to slip onto the pin of the brooch, or larger loops to go over the whole of the brooch (Fig. 2). A number of Romano-British brooches were designed with a very obvious, integral loop (headloops) for the attachment of strings of beads or chains, and this design may suggest that wearing these brooches with jewellery was more common than wearing them without. This use of brooches with jewellery may be significant. Philpott's study of Roman burial practice has shown that very little jewellery was worn by men, and what there is confined to finger-rings and (occasionally) bracelets (1991, 144). Therefore it could be suggested that brooches designed to be worn with a necklace (ie all those with a loop) should be considered a female style of brooch.

Could a single brooch with a loop still have been worn by a man to fasten his cloak? This seems unlikely if the brooch was designed to both fasten a style of tunic worn only by women, and to incorporate a necklace, also used only by women. In the Mediterranean Roman world men could be ridiculed merely for wearing colours or fine cloths that could be considered 'feminine', let alone for wearing female garments. The Emperor Commodus, for example, was condemned for his 'complete indifference to propriety' in wearing female clothing in public (SHA XIII.4). Whilst Roman women could wield great political influence and have immense wealth, they were still considered to be weaker creatures who were not the equal of men. To be female was to be inferior both physically and mentally, which made it of some importance for men to avoid appearing feminine. In Celtic or Germanic societies it is possible that women were held in higher esteem and that therefore there may not have been the same fear of appearing feminine, but their societies were as much warrior societies as the Romans, and I would argue that any society that honours physical prowess above all else is unlikely to genuinely consider women as equals. It seems likely that their menfolk were just as unwilling to be associated with female clothing or jewellery as the Mediterranean Romans.

Unisex brooches

It is possible that men and women could wear the same type of brooch for fastening the cloak as there is nothing in the cloak itself to identify it as either a male or female item of clothing. However, women are not often showing wearing the cloak in the same way as men (i.e. covering both shoulders and fastened on the right shoulder) and as well as being worn in a different fashion it may also have been fastened with a different form of brooch. Cloaks worn by men, whether civilian, soldier, Roman or barbarian, are always shown fastened by a single brooch on one shoulder.

The penannular brooch may be one such form of brooch worn by either sex. Grave evidence shows penannular brooches could be worn by women; another example to add to this list may well be the penannular brooches reported on in Lucerna 25 since they were linked by a chain (Hill 2003, 11; although since these are a pair they must have been used to fasten a tube-dress). A penannular has also been found in a grave of a possible male in the Eastern Cemetery of London (Barber and Bowsher 2000, p175, B329.1; table 7). This brooch type might therefore have been acceptable for either sex, but there could well still be minor differences in the design between male and female styles. Even nowadays items used by both men and women such as buttons, belts and watches have differing designs for the two sexes, the differences sometimes being slight but obvious to those who know the conventions (consider also such subtle differences, such as buttoning coats etc on opposite sides for the two sexes).


Brooches must surely be a greater source of information than they are currently. It is likely that many subtle differences between who wore what and how have been lost to us (and unless we find a large number of convenient flood victims we may well never be in a position to untangle all the proprieties of brooch-wearing), but there is still much work to be done to see if at least some brooch types can be divided by tribal fashions, function (cloak/mantle/tunic) and use by the different sexes.

Alex Croom
Arbeia Roman Fort
Baring Street
South Shields


My thanks to Margaret Snape and Wulfingas 450-550 Society for permission to use their photographs as the basis for the sketches of dresses worn with brooches.


Barber, B & Bowsher, D, 2000, The Eastern Cemetery of Roman London. Excavations 1983-1990, MoLAS monograph 4 (London)
Croom, A T, 2000, Roman Clothing and Fashion (Stroud)
Hill, , J D, 2003, 'A pair of silver penannular brooches from Wheathampstead', Lucerna 25, 11-2
Olivier, A C H, 1982, 'The brooches', in T.W. Potter and C.F. Potter. A Romano-British Village at Grandford, March, Cambridgeshire, British Museum Occasional Paper 35 (London)
Owen-Crocker, G, 1986, Dress in Anglo-Saxon England (Manchester)
Lethbridge, T C, 1935, Further excavations in the early Iron Age and Romano-British cemetery at Guilden Morden, Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society 36, 109-20
Philpott, R, 1991, Burial practices in Roman Britain, BAR 219 (Oxford)
Wardle, A, 1998, 'Roman London: recent finds and research', in Roman London: recent archaeological work, J Roman Archaeology Supplementary series 24, 83-9

Penknives from Newstead: writing accessories

In 1981, during a three-months stay in Great Britain, I was able to study some finds from the Roman site of Newstead, housed in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, Edinburgh. My visit there was made easier by the kind help of Mrs J. Close-Brooks, then Director of the Museum, and for a few days, J. Tate also agreed to show me the techniques used in the Conservation Laboratories of the Museum. One of my first practical jobs in this matter concerned a knife handle which is now recognized as a penknife.

The cleaning of this object (Curle 1911, pl. LX, 10) clearly showed, with the help of an X-ray (fig 1, 1 & fig 2), that the iron blade had been inserted in the brass handle and then firmly held in place with the help of 3 red copper rivets. As the handle had been sawn to match the exact thickness of the blade, the iron was very precisely inserted in the brass; but, as a consequence, such sawn handles must be very fragile when the object is dismantled.

Parallel traces appearing on the iron blade in the two rectangular hollow windows suggest that these parts were filled with wood inserts, making the handgrip more comfortable as well as producing a nice coloured effect with the brass. It could also have been bone, but such appliqués were never described on similar archaeological finds, so the most likely material for the appliqués is wood. The X-ray fluorescence analysis of the metal parts of the handle gave the following results :

Cu (%) Sn (%) Zn (%)
Handle 82 1.7 16.4
Rivets 99.6 0.4 -

The use of (nearly) pure copper for the rivets is logical when considering the mechanical properties of this metal. But within the type (a short handle followed by volute-shaped appliqués to protect the finger on the back of the blade), different methods of fastening the handle and blade together were in use on the same site. Another find from Newstead (Curle 1911, pl LX, 12; FRA 276) is a blade, lacking most of the handle (fig 1, 2); the only surviving traces of the fastening system are two volute appliqués and their three copper rivets. Contrary to the former case, the volutes were not cast with the handle; one of them is complete and shows a straight edge, perpendicular to the blade. The hidden part of the blade is also shorter than before, and ends at about 10 mm from the rivets.

Three penknives from Newstead.Three penknives from Newstead.

Figure 1. Three penknives from Newstead.

Only one end of a third knife handle from Newstead is preserved (fig 1, 3), but clearly the handle was not fixed as on our first example. Thus three objects, apparently belonging to a single type, actually display three different constructions, and this in a limited period of time.

Parallels to each type are numerous, suggesting that those were usual versions of a rather current object. For example, handles with sawn slots for the blade were found in London on the Walbrook site (Bank of England; Museum of London, 13.827) as well as in grave II at Winchester (Biddle 1967) ; in London, right in the middle of the rectangular opening, the iron blade is perforated, probably for the fastening of wooden side-pieces. Another handle, but not sawn, comes from the same area (Tokenhouse Yard, inv. A.28342). The complete knife from Berlingen, tomb 26, with sewn handle, also shows the same feature (Roosens & Lux 1973; Božic 2001, fig 1, 3) and so does a handle from Vechten (fig 2, 1; Rijksmuseum van Oudheiden, VF 760). Two handles with cast appliqués and rectangular windows are known in Neuss (Bonner Jahrb 111/112, 1904, pl XXXIII, 32, length 71 mm, and 36, length 53 mm, the later with two openings instead of one in the handle.

Penknives (parallels to the Newstead finds)Penknives (parallels to the Newstead finds)

Figure 2. Penknives (parallels to the Newstead finds) from : 1, Vechten (NL) ; 2, Alba (F).

The second type is also illustrated among the Walbrook finds, with a very well-preserved handle also ending 10 mm behind the rivets (Bank of England, inv. 13696). Other parallels can be mentionned from Gaul (fig 2, 2 : Alba, " La Plaine ", excavations J.-C. Béal and A. Buisson 1981), etc... The parallel from Vindonissa, already reproduced by Curle at the beginning of the 20th century (1911, 282, fig 40, left) shows a solid bone handle, probably reproducing the shape of bronze ones. The possibility that some knives of this form may have been fitted with wooden, instead of bone, handles, is still open. I shall not attempt to list more similar finds here, but this short examination shows that a classification of such handles could be made using their construction details. It would be interesting to check whether this difference is linked to chronology or to another aspect of the production.

Lucerna readers will know that the function of such utensils was recently the subject of many discussions; there is good reason to suppose that they were used as penknives, used to sharpen the calamus during the writing process, rather than razors as it was previously supposed (Garbsch 1975, as most later authors). The need for a knife during the process of ink-writing was long ago noticed by authors dealing with this activity (Merten 1987, 311, 315), but it is not until very recently that D Božic (2001) established the true nature of this particular form of knife. This new interpretation (see also Božic & Feugère forthcoming) is based on several sources; first, the presence of such knives on the famous relief of L Cornelius Atimetus in Rome, a retailer whose shop offered many writing instruments for sale (Zimmer 1982, 180-182, no 114 ; Božic 2001, 28, fig 2); second, the association of the type with other typical writing utensils in a number of Roman graves of the early Empire.

Among such funerary contexts, of which a complete list still has to be established, let us mention here only some clear cases. A rich grave in Winchester (grave II) produced two such knives as well as a wax-spatula, two iron styli and a bronze seal-box, as well as other objects such as board-game counters (Biddle 1967, fig 9, 20, 21, 26-29, 36-53) ; in London, a grave contained a penknife with two or three styli, a seal-box and two possible copper-alloy pens (seal-box: Holmes 1995, and J Hall, pers comm).

Many more cases appear on the continent. In Grave 26 at Berlingen, a penknife was deposited with an inkwell, a wax-spatula, a stylus, a bone ruler, a compass and a folding rule (Roosens & Lux 1973, fig 14, 16, 10, 20, 37-38). Among the numerous graves from Wederath-Belginum, two of them, containing penknives, are worth reproducing here (fig 3). Tomb 2363 (Cordie-Hackenberg & Haffner 1997, pl 653) had a penknife and a bronze needle, an object which is considered typical of female graves. Such a context is in contradiction with the ancient interpretation of the short knives as razors, but fits with the new idea of a penknife. The second grave, tomb 2448 (ibid. , pl. 673), shows a penknife with another sewing needle, a possible hair-pin, and three styli.

Two graves from Wederath-Belginum containing penknivesTwo graves from Wederath-Belginum containing penknives

Figure 3. Two graves from Wederath-Belginum containing penknives (after Cordie-Hackenberg & Haffner 1997).

For a study presented at the EAA congress of Esslingen in September 2001, I made a list of seven early Roman graves which contained both a penknife and an inkwell, both utensils connected with ink-writing. But of course writing on wax was even more frequent, and funerary contexts often associate utensils of the two writing techniques. Four of these graves come from the necropolis of Nijmegen-West (Koster 1997; unpublished information from A Koster and D Božic), others are from Berlingen (B), Ergolding (D) and Alba (I).

As we can see from these examples (and the archaeological literature no doubt contains many more), the new interpretation of such short knives as writing utensils brings us to quite a different view of many archaeological, and in particular funerary contexts, some of them long ago described and studied. Of course the analysis of other types of contexts containing penknives does also benefits from this new interpretation. One such is the discovery of penknives in military contexts. In Newstead, and on many other sites, penknives should be added to the list of documents illustrating the use of writing. This will, no doubt, increase the importance we attribute to the army in the diffusion of writing among the soldiers and, finally, the civilian society in Roman times.

Michel Feugère


Biddle, M, 1967, 'Two Flavian Burials from Grange Road, Winchester', Antiq J 47, 224-250
Bozic, D, 2001, 'Über den Verwendungszweck einiger römischer Messerchen', Instrumentum 13, 28-30
Bozic, D, & Feugère, M, forthcoming 'Les instruments de l'écriture', in Dossier 'L'écriture en Gaule', Gallia, 2004, forthcoming
Cordie-Hackenberg, R, & Haffner, A, 1997, Das keltisch-römische Gräberfeld von Wederath-Belginum, 5. Gräber 1818-2472, ausgegraben 1978, 1981-85 (Mainz)
Curle, J, 1911, A Roman frontier post and its people. The Fort of Newstead, (Glasgow)
Garbsch, J, 1975, 'Zu neuen römischen Funden aus Bayern, 1. Römische Rasiermesser', Bayer Vorgeschichtsblätter 40, 68-85
Holmes, S, 1995, 'Seal-boxes from Roman London', London Archaeologist 7.15, 391-395
Koster, A, 1997, Description of the Collections in the Provinciaal Museum G M Kam at Nijmegen, XIII. The Bronze Vessels 2 (Nijmegen)
Merten, J, 1987, 'Die Esra-Miniatur des Codex Amiatinus. Zu Autorenbild und Schreibgerät', Trierer Zeitschrift 50, 301-319
Roosens, H, & Lux, G V, 1973, Grafveld met gallo-romeinse tumulus te Berlingen (Archaeologia Belgica 147) (Brussels)
Zimmer, G, 1982, Römische Berufsdarstellungen, Archäol. Forschungen 12 (Berlin) 

A New Treasure and a New Goddess for Roman Britain

A fascinating new Roman temple treasure has been discovered near Baldock in Hertfordshire. Found by a metal-detectorist in September 2002, it comprises twenty-six gold and silver objects, including gold jewellery, a silver figurine and votive plaques of silver alloy and gold. Aware of the importance of his discovery the finder immediately contacted Gil Burleigh, local archaeologist and authority on the archaeology of the region. Gil arrived at the site shortly after the removal of the last pieces of the hoard and was able to establish and record the precise finding circumstances, to help to ensure the retrieval of all remaining fragments of the hoard and to initiate the Potential Treasure process: the district coroner was notified; the find was taken to the British Museum for report and scientific analysis; and, on 20th March 2003, the hoard was declared Treasure at a Coroner's Inquest. Meanwhile, a highly-successful focused programme of fieldwork by Gil has shed valuable light on the context of the find.

From the finder's account it would appear that the hoard had been placed in the ground in a compact and ordered manner. The first object he located was the silver figurine which lay on top of the items of gold jewellery and two silver model arms. Beneath those were the closely-stacked gold plaques and under them the silver-alloy plaques. No trace of any container was found.

The silver figurine, almost fifteen centimetres high, is of hollow construction and was evidently of good quality, but it has suffered badly from corrosion and damage, especially on the front. It shows a standing woman dressed in a full-length garment, her left shoulder bare, and her left arm supporting a fold of drapery. Her hair is parted on the crown and formed into a bun on the nape of the neck, but her arms, feet and face are lacking, and no distinctive attribute survives to identify her as a particular deity. Nevertheless, there is good reason to believe that the image was intended to represent a goddess named Senua.

The back of the figurine.The back of the figurine.

Figure 1. The back of the figurine.

Figure 2.Figure 2.

Figure 2.

Silver-alloy plaque with embossed inscription,Silver-alloy plaque with embossed inscription,Gold plaque with punctim inscription.Gold plaque with punctim inscription.

Figure 3. Silver-alloy plaque with embossed inscription,

Figure 4. Gold plaque with punctim inscription.

What is the evidence? Well, it comes both from a study of the hoard's votive plaques and from the fieldwork. There are nineteen plaques - twelve of silver alloy (badly corroded, brittle and fragmentary) and seven of gold - of the 'leaf' type known from sites in Roman Britain and elsewhere in the Roman Empire. They are made from very thin sheet metal, with embossed and incised decoration, and were intended for dedication at a temple or shrine, to one or more gods or goddesses. Of the nineteen plaques in the present hoard five are still stuck together, but of the remaining fourteen twelve have an embossed image of a deity and all except one of those depict the goddess Minerva (the one exception is a most interesting and detailed image of Roma). It was somewhat surprising, therefore, to discover that all five of those that had an inscribed text recording the deity to whom they had been dedicated named not Minerva but Senua (also given as Sena and Senuna; e.g. DEAE SENVA[...../ FIRMANVS[...../ V[SLM] ). Furthermore, during the excavation of the hoard's context a silver base for a figurine was found adjacent to the findspot. It is almost certainly the missing base for the silver figurine, and it, too, is inscribed with the name of the goddess Senua ( D(eae) SENVA[E......). This goddess has not been encountered before, and she is a completely new deity for Roman Britain and, indeed, the Roman Empire.

The combination of the name Senua with the image of Minerva would suggest the twinning of a local British deity with the popular Roman goddess of wisdom and the crafts. Minerva also had warlike protective powers and an association with healing and with springs, as at Bath, where, twinned with Sulis, she controlled Roman Britain's only thermal spring. Senua might have been likened to Minerva for any one, or more, of these perceived powers. A watery connection seems probable. Perhaps Senua presided over a sacred spring, or perhaps she was a river goddess: certainly, the Ravenna Cosmography lists a river named Senua which has not yet been located more closely than southern Britain. In addition to Sulis, one thinks also of Dea Sequana, the goddess of the source of the Seine, whose name was also that of the river. It remains to be seen whether the results of fieldwork will provide any further clues to Senua's identity. Meanwhile, the inscriptions on the plaques reveal the names of some of the votaries: Cariatia (or Cariatus), Celsus, Firmanus, Lucilia. Two complete inscriptions record the same vow: 'Servandus Hispani willingly fulfilled his vow to the goddess Se(nua)'.

Votive objects - gifts to a deity in return for favours requested or already granted - took many forms, and it is very probable that the small group of gold jewellery, like the plaques, figurine and model arms, had been dedicated to the goddess Senua. There are two large circular brooches with coloured glass settings, a neck-ornament comprising a pair of small enamelled discs linked by a gold chain, and, most impressive of all, a large oval clasp with fine gold ornament and a carnelian gemstone engraved with the figure of a standing lion, its paw resting on an ox-skull. All utilise fine gold beaded wire filigree and appear to have been made as an ensemble.

Much work remains to be done on the hoard and on the investigation of its context, and it is likely that there will be new and significant revelations. For the present, although it is impossible to determine unequivocally the reason for its burial we can date the hoard to the later third or fourth century AD and we can suggest that it was connected to a temple or shrine of the goddess Senua.

The hoard is of national importance and has been acquired by the British Museum. Its purchase was generously funded by the British Museum Friends and the National Art Collections Fund (Art Fund). It will be on display in the Weston Gallery of Roman Britain (Gallery 49) from mid-September and it will be included in the British Museum exhibition Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past which will open on 21st November 2003.

Ralph Jackson
Dept. of Prehistory and Europe
Briish Museum


I am most grateful to Gil Burleigh, Richard Hobbs, Catherine Johns, Sue LaNiece Jim Peters and Roger Tomlin for their contributions, discussions and kind assistance.

Pasta Shapes

The vexed question whether the ancient Romans ate pasta is nowhere near a solution. Finds of spaghetti remains are a pretty unlikely occurrence. That said it is no reason not to indulge in some blue sky research.

The invention of pasta, basically a combination of a variety of flours with either water or egg, certainly precedes the introduction of the tomato though the two are now firmly associated. Pasta can be seasoned with a variety of tomato-less sauces from stewed meat to all sorts of vegetable concoctions like pesto.

There are four basic methods of making pasta.

By far the most widespread, these days, is dry pasta, a mix of durum wheat and water. The dough is then processed by mechanical means into the shapes we are familiar with (spaghetti, rigatoni, penne etc.) and dried. Until we find the right machinery in the Roman archaeological record we can forget about it.

The other three methods are more promising as they can be executed by hand as well as by mechanical means.

The first one requires a flat surface and a rolling pin. The starting point is a stiff dough of eggs and flour (it does not have to be durum wheat). This is rolled out to a fine sheet and cut in ribbons. The end result are tagliatelle and papparelle and so on.

Even less technologically challenging is the family of pastas mixed and shaped entirely by hand. One example are 'trofie' They have recently hit the UK market: you see them in your local Sainsbury's (but in the dry form which is wrong, in Italy they are fresh). Trofie are still hand made in Liguria by the local housewives out of a dough of wheat and chestnut flour mixed with water and rubbed between the fingers into narrow spirals that are about two inches long. They are traditionally eaten with pesto. I suspect that a fact finding mission in the unspoilt rural depth of Italy, for which I volunteer for a small fee, would uncover more instances of this family.

Finally there is a technique which I have encountered in a recent visit in Germany in the Stuttgart region in the Suabian Alps, in an area not far from the German and the Raetian Limes which had a strong Roman presence. There I was introduced to a traditional local dish with a German name I have forgotten and was acquainted with yet another way of making pasta.

The dough of egg and flour, in this case, is rather soft. It is placed on a board and shaved in slivers with a thin tablet with a sharp edge (suspiciously looking like the wooden lunate slickers from Carlisle and from Vindolanda, which according to the commentators, were used for scraping and stretching hides).

The pieces are then dropped into boiling water. As it cooks, each bit about three inches long curls up at the edges (fig. 1). The pasta is retrieved with a perforated ladle and seasoned traditionally with the sauce of a meat stew.

Figure 1.Figure 1.

Figure 1.

The shape of the final product is very similar, if not identical, to a kind of pasta I had come across in central and southern Italy but only in the dry machine-made form. It bears the bizarre name of strangolapreti or strozzapreti (something to do with the strangling or choking of priests). I had always been intrigued by its design (and by its name for which I have no ready explanation). Although it is now machine made, it maintains an irregular format which suggests it was originally hand -made, perhaps by the method I witnessed in Germany. It is tempting to think that it was introduced there by the military on the move and that the method and recipe became incorporated into the local traditions.

Paola Pugsley

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