Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Stories from The Collection #1 – ‘Rothwell boar‘ & ‘late Roman gold solidi’

This is the first in a series of posts in which I will examine some of my favourite objects held in the archaeology collections of The Collection: Art and Archaeology in Lincolnshire.

This first post was published in the Autumn 2011 issue of the ‘Lincolnshire Past and Present’ magazine, published by the Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology.

The Collection: Art and Archaeology in Lincolnshire (formerly known as the City and County Museum) holds the main public archaeological collections for Lincolnshire.  These are estimated to contain some 2 million objects, ranging from the unique to the commonplace.  It is a collection that is always growing, through systematic professional and amateur fieldwork and through casual finds – whether made by someone digging in their garden or searching with a metal detector.  This article will examine two recent, and rather interesting, acquisitions by the museum, which deal with both the beginning and the end of Roman Britain.

The Rothwell boar

Not all of the objects the museum acquires are fresh from the soil.  This chubby and cheerful looking bronze boar statuette was found at Rothwell, near Caistor in 1990, but acquired by the museum in 2007.

It dates to the 1st Century BC / 1st Century AD, and is one of those most interesting of archaeological finds – one that spans two cultures, in this case late Iron Age and early Roman Britain. 

The boar was a potent symbol of the Corieltavi tribe, who occupied Lincolnshire as well as most of the modern East Midlands.  The image of a bristly, aggressive boar appears on their silver coins as well as on the famous Witham Shield, discovered in the River Witham in 1826.

Other examples of boar statuettes are known in Britain, but they invariably tend to be of the spindly, aggressive type that is seen on the coinage, not the more rounded, naturalistic image we see here (for example, see the boars from Hounslow, now in the British Museum).  The prominent dorsal bristles and tusks still mark this boar out as a warrior’s totem, just one produced by a sculptor with a better sense of porcine proportions, or at least one who valued the realistic depiction of the boar over one focussing on its aggressive attributes.  Perhaps the style of the boar suggests that we are looking at a statuette made with the technical skill of Roman manufacture, but adhering to the belief system of the Corieltavi – the perfect example of the gap between two cultures being bridged.

This statuette is complete and free standing, so it was not made to be attached to a vessel or helmet, as other examples are thought to have been.  Perhaps it was produced to be a votive offering, to be deposited in water as the Corieltavi did at the Fiskerton site, or to reside in a shrine?

The boar was purchased by the museum with the kind assistance of The Art Fund and the V&A/MLA Purchase Grant Fund.

3 late Roman gold solidi from Nettleham

Coin 1 - Theodosius I
Coin 2 - Gratian
Coin 3 - Valentinian II

Traditionally, history textbooks present the end of Roman Britain as occurring in AD410.  In reality the situation is far more complicated, and far more interesting, than that.  The big question about the end of Roman Britain basically comes down to how long a Roman way of life continued after the withdrawal of Rome’s official support systems.

These three gold coins, all in superb condition, are of a denomination known as a solidus.  They were discovered together by a metal detector user and seem to have formed part of a small hoard, perhaps contained together in a bag.  The coins range from AD378 to AD392, and represent some of the last official coinage to enter Britannia.

The chronology of the later Roman Emperors is far more complicated than their predecessors of the 1st and 2nd Centuries, as these coins attest.  The coins were struck at a time when the eastern and western elements of the Roman Empire had split, and combinations of co-emperors and junior Emperors were common.

Coins 1 and 2 were produced at a time (AD378-AD383) when the Emperor Gratian was ruling the western Empire with his younger half brother Valentinian II, but had given control of the eastern Empire to Theodosius I, a general who had served in Britain.  They are struck in the names of Gratian and Theodosius I.

Coin 3 is slightly later in date (AD388-AD392), and was produced after Gratian had been killed, and when Theodosius I had named his son Arcadius co-Emperor in the east.  It is struck in Valentinian II’s name.

Despite the changes in Emperors, the coins all bear the same reverse image – that of two emperors holding a globe between them while an angel looks over them (this being the time of the Christian Emperors the winged figure is an angel rather than ‘victory’).  This image of peace and harmony was no doubt not taken too literally by the people living in an age of uncertainty and strife.

The coins were purchased by the museum with the kind assistance of The Art Fund and the Friends of Lincoln Museums and Art Gallery.

No comments:

Post a Comment