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Artifact: Romano-British Brooch Volume 61 Number 5, September/October 2008
by Fraser Hunter

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(Courtesy Fraser Hunter, Department of Archaeology, National Museums Scotland)

This brooch reflects the complexities of life on Rome's northern frontier, where native Celtic and classical cultures converged. Its curving animal heads and bright enamelling are typical of Celtic art in northern Britain, yet it dates to a time after the invasion of the country by the Roman emperor Claudius in A.D. 43. WHAT IS IT?
Romano-British
"dragonesque" brooch

PURPOSE
To fasten clothing

DATE
A.D. 80-175

DISCOVERED
In a hoard on Lamberton Moor, Scottish Borders, UK

MATERIAL
Copper alloy, enamel

DIMENSIONS
2.3 inches long
Prior to the arrival of the Romans, Celtic brooches were almost universally safety-pin-type. The Celts combined new Roman styles, including animal-shaped and flat brooches, with local styles of decoration familiar from jewelry and horse gear to create a new indigenous type. The "dragonesque" brooch shows the hybridization of cultures and the innovation of Celtic art on the edge of the Roman Empire.

Some 250 of these brooches have been found, mostly in the frontier area. But a few were scattered across the Empire, perhaps the property of troops who had served in Britain or souvenirs of visits to the northern frontier. This one, unearthed around 1840 with a hoard of metalwork, comes from a peat bog about 50 miles north of Hadrian's Wall in what is now Scotland. Unfortunately, much of the hoard was lost soon after its discovery. The surviving pieces include a matching pair of safety-pin brooches, two finger rings, and a torque (neck ornament)--probably a jewelry set--and a large number of bronze vessels, both Roman and Celtic in origin. The hoard's deliberate burial in a bog suggests that it was a votive offering, likely made by a local leader. The mixing of artifacts in the hoard and styles on the brooch show how Celts were adapting to the new world of Rome in the frontier areas.

Fraser Hunter is Principal Curator, Iron Age & Roman Collections, Department of Archaeology, National Museums Scotland

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