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.

The back of the figurine.
Figure 1. The back of the figurine.

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 treasure
Figure 2. The treasure

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.

Silver-alloy plaque with embossed inscription,
Figure 3. Silver-alloy plaque with embossed inscription, DEAE SENVA[ FIRMANV[.

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)’.

Gold plaque with punctim inscription.
Figure 4. Gold plaque with punctim inscription.

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.