The Finds of Roman Northamptonshire

A review of ‘The Finds of Roman Northamptonshire’. A talk by Julie Cassidy, Finds Liaison Officer for Northamptonshire

By Louise Hannam

Thursday 14th May 7.30pm

Coming from an Archaeology/ Egyptology background and holding an interest in local history, I was especially looking forward to attending ‘The Finds of Northamptonshire’ talk held at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. As I had discovered a further understanding of Northampton history whilst working at the museum, I felt that this was not an evening to be missed. I was proved right, as Julie Cassidy did not disappoint!

The talk began by explaining the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and the distribution of Roman finds throughout Northamptonshire. Important Roman towns were established throughout the county such as Towcester, Kettering, Duston and Irchester. Roman villas in Northamptonshire included Brackley, in which a villa and bath house were situated.

Map of Northamptonshire

Map of Northamptonshire

Image reproduced from ‘The Archaeology of Northamptonshire’ (2004) Northamptonshire Archaeology Society. Edited by Martin Tingle.

The mention of the bath house particularly interested me as I had previously excavated a Roman Bath house with the University of Sussex in Barcombe, East Sussex.  This experience thus enabled me to identify with the finds that Julie continued to show throughout the evening.

It was exciting to see an abundance of high quality, well preserved objects from this era, deriving from another county that I was now living in. It really brought home how this culture had spread, not only from Rome and across Europe, but across the country, as parallel objects and sites were to be found in the Midlands, as well as London and Southern England, of which I was already familiar with.

There were various finds that particularly stood out to me; the first was the head from a statue of Marcus Aurelius with pointed beard and intact glass eyes. It was found at Brackley and had since resided on a farmer’s mantel piece until being identified as an authentic Roman find.  Few Roman statues maintain their original glass eyes due to their value, so it is not surprising that the find is now on display in the Ashmolean Museum.

Statue Head of Marcus Aurelius

Statue Head of Marcus Aurelius

Portable Antiquities Scheme (BERK-E24C84)

The second object that I found extremely intriguing was the frog lamp fitting found in Wilby, near Wellingborough. The find consisted of a metal frog with a lion’s head attached but its use was unknown. Once the object was researched however, a parallel was found. This was a lamp from Pompeii dating to 79 CE, now displayed in Kelsey Museum of Archaeology in the University of Michigan.  The parallel revealed that the Wilby frog was also originally from a high status lamp, and not locally made, meaning it was a Roman object imported to Britain. This therefore demonstrates the importance of discovering such finds, as they can widen our understanding about the history of our local area.

Frog lamp fitting found Wliby

Frog lamp fitting found Wliby

Portable Antiquities Scheme(NARC-81E575)                

The final finds that should be mentioned, were the references to a ‘raven’ or ‘eagle’.  These were in the form of a bronze figure of a bird (use unknown), and a finger ring with a carved depiction of a bird and man running away from it. Although there is evidence to suggest that representations of eagles and ravens were present in the Roman British era (Durhama & Fulford 2013) (Serjeantson and Morris 2011), I couldn’t help thinking that the bird in fact represented a falcon, or a form of Horus; the ancient Egyptian god of kingship.

Bronze Figure of a Bird

Bronze Figure of a Bird

Portable Antiquities Scheme (NARC-BE3893)

Finger Ring

Finger Ring

Portable Antiquities Scheme (BUC-2D8DA5)

It was not uncommon for Egyptian Gods to be assimilated into Roman religion. The cult of Isis for example, spread through the Roman Empire and was worshipped at various sites within the Romano-British era. Horus was therefore incorporated into the Roman British religion in the form of Harpocrates; a human version of the deity (Potter 1997) also known as the god of silence (Aldhouse-Green 1983, 25).  However obscurer versions of the god were also portrayed within this era, such as the falcon form. An example of this was demonstrated by a figurine at Farley Heath in Surrey (Aldhouse-Green 1983, 26). Therefore, this could suggest that the bird representations on the finds shown by Julie were a form of Horus or Harpocrates, but further research would need to be undertaken in order to confirm this.

This entry is just an example of what can be taken away from archaeological finds that Julie comes across on a daily basis as Finds Liaison Officer. It must be a truly enthralling career to have, and this was certainly reflected by Julie’s enthusiastic manner throughout the talk. I thoroughly recommend attending similar talks in the future and I will be looking to become more involved within the Portable Antiquities Scheme myself, whether it be through volunteering to record finds or assist with the talks.

To find out more about the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Northamptonshire, visit www.finds.org.uk or email Julie Cassidy directly on: FLO@northamptonshire.gov.uk

Bibliography

Aldhouse-Green, M.J. 1983. The Gods of Roman Britain. Osprey Publishing.

Durhama, E.and Fulford, M. 2013, ‘Symbols of Power: The Silchester Bronze Eagle and Eagles in Roman Britain’, Archaeological Journal 170, (1) ,pp 78-105.

Potter, T.W. 1997. Roman Britain. 2nd Edition. London: British Museum Press.

Serjeantson, D. and Morris, J. 2011, ‘Ravens and crows in Iron Age and Roman Britain’, Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 30, (1), pp 85-107.

 

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