Britain and Rome

In parallel to the late La Tene pattern in Continental Europe, and in contrast to the widespread absence of a recurrent insular burial tradition, the south-east of England in the later Iron Age is notable for its cremation cemeteries. Among these, from the Augustan period at least, and continuing into the early years of Roman occupation, is a series of aristocratic or high-status burials, lavishly furnished with the trappings of hearth and home, and including amphorae and vessels for the drinking service imported from the Romanized Continent. Of the earliest, the imported Italic vessels from Aylesford in Kent have already been noted. Similar imports are known from north of the Thames, in the series of rich burials named after two important finds from Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire that belong to the decades before the Conquest. More recently richly furnished burials have been excavated at both St Albans, Hertfordshire, and at Colchester, Camulodunum, in Essex, which post-date the Conquest, with one at Colchester perhaps as late as the 60s or 70s of the first century ad. Probably just post-Conquest at Stanway was a warrior burial, which included imported pottery vessels, a copper jug and handled pan, and gaming pieces, as well as evidence for spear and shield, and a 'doctor's burial', so designated because of the range of surgical instruments included in the grave, though the accompanying board game and a set of copper and iron rods suggested that there may have been a measure of lottery or divination attached to medical practice. At the other end of the doctor's grave was a well-equipped dinner service with Samian cups, flagon and strainer, ensuring the availability to the dead of lavish provision of food and drink. It is an intriguing fact that communities where there had been no archaeologically visible tradition of lavish burial prior to the period when the ruling dynasts came into contact with Roman luxury goods seemingly made their greatest display in funerary ritual at the very moment when they lost their political autonomy. If this was a demonstration of independent identity, it was tempered by a willingness to take advantage of the superficial trappings of Roman civilization.

In terms of La Tene art, the post-Caesarian period certainly saw a continuation if not an actual increase in production, stimulated by the import of wine, oil and a range of Roman provincial goods. Until the Conquest itself, craftsmen apparently maintained their independent traditions to a significant degree in a wide range of products, warrior and equestrian equipment, vessels for feasting and drinking, and items of personal ornament. But by the second half of the first century ad, the new political order had evidently disrupted the structure of production and supply, and the more striking examples of Celtic art come from the fringes of the advancing Roman frontier, from Wales, then from Scotland, where distinctive production continued into the second century beyond the Roman frontiers.

From the first century ad, the range of ornamental motifs becomes more limited and stereotyped. Scabbards for long, iron swords, like those from Battersea or from the Witham at Bardney Abbey, both Group V types in Piggott's (1950) classification, are not extensively ornamented beyond the mouldings of the sleeves that hold their suspension-plates in place. By contrast with the simple chape-bindings of Group V scabbards, northern scabbards of Piggott's Group IV Brigantian series (Group F in Stead's more detailed (2006) classification) are distinguished by the chape-terminals splitting into a pair of pronounced curving 'lips', seen in its most exaggerated form on the scabbards from Asby Scar, Cumbria and Mortonhall, Edinburgh, on which the lips are almost like walrus tusks. The Mortonhall scabbard (Figure 10.7, 1 and 2) is also one of the finest of the series in its ornament, having a panel above the chape on which a pair of trumpet-motifs lead to an elegant, interlocking S-design with high, bossed terminals, itself enclosed by symmetrical, slender trumpets. At the scabbard mouth is a four-fold pseudo-whirligig in which trumpet ends are also incipient and which also has bossed terminals. Among the most recent finds, the hoard from South Cave near Hull (Evans, D., 2006) evidently includes examples with similar chapes and ornamental motifs, but their true significance must await fuller publication. Slender trumpets are also the dominant, effectively the only motif of ornament on the Deskford, Banff, carnyx (Figure 10.7, 3), surrounding the eye cavities of the boar's head.

Apart from weaponry, high-status equestrian equipment continued to be produced in the first century ad, as exemplified at Polden Hills in Somerset (Brailsford, 1975b) and Melsonby (Stanwick) in Yorkshire (MacGregor, 1962). Among items of horse-harness are pairs of two-link bridle-bits, the side links of which are distinguished by their projecting 'lips' or 'ears', and terrets and linch-pins, also with pronounced projecting lips or flanges. Trumpet-motifs and dragonesque S-motifs are recurrent ornamental themes. The bridle-bits from Melsonby differ in their basic typology, however, being of derivative three-link form, in which the side-ring and end-link are cast in one elaborate piece, so that it is effectively of single-link construction. A unique find from the Melsonby hoard is the small bronze mount depicting an equine face (Megaw and Megaw, 2001, Fig. 379; Jope, 2000, Pl. 175, a, b) in front view, its narrow, lentoid eyes, muzzle and nostrils depicted in sharp relief, with an expression that is aristocratic and aloof rather than sinister. The nature of the Melsonby hoard remains an enigma, not least

Figure 10.7 Native art in Northern Britain — 1. A: the Mortonhall scabbard, upper panel (1) and chape (2). B: the Deskford carnyx from above. Photos: copyright Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland.

because its discovery before 1846 left no account of its context. The nearby Stanwick complex (Wheeler, 1954), however, was evidently an important Brigantian centre in the mid-first century ad, though perhaps enjoying the benefits of commercial contacts with the Roman south, rather than being the outpost of resistance as Wheeler believed.

Among items of drinking service that continue into the first century ad, and potentially through the centuries of Roman occupation, are tankards, probably inspired by Ornavasso-type originals. The insular examples are stave-built of wood, very occasionally covered in sheet-bronze. Their substantial size — rather larger than modern counterparts - sometimes with two handles, suggests that they were used for a native brew rather than for imported wine. Ornament is restricted to the handles, in the case of the elegant, waisted tankard from Trawsfynydd in north Wales (Megaw, 1970a, 296; Jope, 2000, Pl. 228-9, a-d) including an open-work S-scroll on the hand-grip and four open-work triskeles of which the central boss conceals the rivets to attach the handle to the body of the tankard. The triskeles unwind into trumpet-motifs that lend the whole composition a stylistic similarity to the Mortonhall chape design, with which it probably shares a mid- to later first-century date. A distinctive and unusual technical feature of the Trawsfynydd tankard is the serpentine wire that holds the staves together at their base, a detail shared by another tankard of waisted or concave profile from Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim. Though the design and ornament of the handle of the latter are quite different from the Trawsfynydd tankard, its use of hatched crescentic motifs with a central design that hints of zoomorphism must imply a debt to the Mirror Style of south-western Britain. Indeed, it seems probable that the political and social disruption brought about by the Roman conquest of Southern Britain might have resulted in greater mobility and inter-dependence in the first century ad among the Celtic communities on the fringes of the advancing empire.

Among high-status symbols, bronze collars appear to replace torcs in the first century ad. A particularly fine example is the Wraxall collar from Somerset (Jope, 2000, Pls 158-9), in which an S-chain in relief, linked by loose yin-yang or by tighter circular bosses intended for glass inlay, leads at the terminals of the two halves of the collar into stylized faces, with eyebrows or ears formed with expanding trumpets. At the broader, opening front of the collar, these faces are surmounted by Siamese-twinned faces, each sharing an eye but facing the opposite direction, and from certain aspects reminiscent of the stylized faces of the earlier Plastic Style. Wraxall is undoubtedly the finest - 'a masterpiece of simple expressiveness' (Jope, 2000, 263) - of a series of collars that have been assigned to the Durotriges and Dobunni of south-western England. Their considerable weight, and, in the case of Wraxall, its rather constricted size, have led to the suggestion that they may have been for ritual use, perhaps adorning a wooden figure or totem, rather than being for human use, even for ceremonial occasions. Closely allied to this south-western group is the Stichill collar from Roxburghshire (Figure 10.8), which shares with a pair from Dorset a flattened profile that turns through 90 degrees at the back to provide twin decorated surfaces. The nape section is ornamented by background tooling in the technique of the Irish Bann disc, Cork horns and Petrie crown (O'Kelly, 1961); the design is simple, fine relief S-spirals, balanced like a pair of penny-farthings in the tapering triangular spaces on either side of the hinge. Similar S-spirals are engraved down the pectoral, leading into one side of a zoomorphic eared face, not unlike Wraxall, but in this instance composed of spiral eyes over a peltate muzzle. This theme is taken up in the repoussé ornament of the panels flanking the front

Motifs Vine
Figure 10.8 Native art in Northern Britain - 2. The Stichill collar, Roxburghshire. Adapted from MacGregor (1976) and Jope (2000).

opening of the collar. Described by Leeds as a 'swash-N', these motifs are in effect an opposed paired of lop-sided, eared, zoomorphic faces, made up of pelta and spirals, a variant on the theme that we have seen elsewhere, but here integrated particularly successfully into the Leitmotif of the collar. The fusion in the Stichill collar of techniques and ornamental themes familiar in other regions, and the accomplished execution of the principal design at the front of the collar are surely indicative of a master craftsman rather than of a second-rate technician working in a provincial backwater.

Not surprisingly Roman influence is evident in ornamental metal-work of the first century ad like the bronze mounts from wooden caskets, commonly found in graves, though probably used for jewellery and personal items, rather than as funerary containers as such. The mount from Elmswell, Yorkshire (Figure 10.9, 1; Corder and Hawkes, 1940) depicts as its central motif an omega-lyre concealing a cartoon-like zoomorphic face, with 'ears' formed by trumpets and 'eyes' by berried rosettes. The cast bronze strip with champleve enamel to which the sheet bronze panel was attached bears a vine-scroll design of wholly classical derivation. Rather less inspired is the repetitive design of trumpet-scrolls and berried rosettes on the bronze strip from the Santon, Norfolk, hoard.

Romano-Celtic provincial art is perhaps best illustrated by small personal items like brooches. The dragonesque brooch (Figure 10.9, 2) is based essentially on an S-motif with terminals developed to form the head of a sea-horse, the central focus of the brooch being embellished with polychrome enamel inlay. In Britain, they are distributed quite widely in northern England and Scotland south of the Forth, with few in the west of England or Wales; on the Continent they are found across Europe from France to Hungary. Their dating spans the first and second centuries. Trumpet brooches (Figure 10.9, 3) are a distinctively Romano-British provincial type, probably derived from Continental late Iron Age antecedents. In the Roman military zone they last into the second century in a variety of forms, including some with polychrome enamelling. Outstanding among earlier variants is the silver-gilt example from Carmarthen in Wales (Boon and Savory, 1975) that combines relief ornament on bow and trumpet-head with open-work on its catch-plate foot. Finest of all perhaps are fan-tail brooches, of which the prime example is unquestionably the massive silver-gilt Aesica brooch from the Roman fort at Great Chesters in Northumberland (Figure 10.9, 4), doubtless a later first-century product notwithstanding its discovery in a later hoard. Its ornamental design combines trumpets, peltae, S-scrolls and even suggestions of comma-leaf motifs, so skilfully, as to suggest zoomorphic or ornithomorphic images that defy consensual identification.

Jocelyn Toynbee (1964) saw these late masterpieces as evidence of the stimulating effect of Romanization, rather than regarding Romanization as an agency directly or indirectly for the suppression of the creative originality of insular Celtic art. It is significant, therefore, that some of the finest examples of Celtic art from the period of Roman occupation are from the northern or western fringes of the expanding military zone. Contrary to an older conventional perception, there is really no compelling reason for regarding these as the products of southern workshops, carried north and west to cultural backwaters that were incapable of independent production. Doubtless northern and western regions had been reinforced by displaced elites and their entourages from further south, whose products may have become symbols of native initiative. Though the routine products of Romano-British art are pedestrian and uninspired, the finest pieces suggest that continuing manufacture of high-quality and high-status products in the pre-Roman artistic tradition, perhaps deliberately invoking the memory of styles of a long-past era, was a potent means of re-asserting the independence and identity of the native aristocracy.

The trumpet motif is also integral to the finest of the Scottish snake armlets, that from Culbin Sands in Morayshire (Figure 10.10, 1) being the most northerly of the

Armlets Culbin Sands Moray

Figure 10.9 Native art in Roman Britain. 1, Elmswell casket-mount, adapted from Corder and Hawkes (1940); 2, dragonesque brooch with blue, red and yellow enamel from Norton, near Malton, Yorkshire, adapted from British Museum (1951); 3, silver trumpet brooch from Chorley, Lancashire, adapted from British Museum (1951); 4, Aesica brooch, Great Chesters, Northumberland, photo copyright Museum of Antiquities of Newcastle upon Tyne, University of Newcastle upon Tyne and Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Figure 10.9 Native art in Roman Britain. 1, Elmswell casket-mount, adapted from Corder and Hawkes (1940); 2, dragonesque brooch with blue, red and yellow enamel from Norton, near Malton, Yorkshire, adapted from British Museum (1951); 3, silver trumpet brooch from Chorley, Lancashire, adapted from British Museum (1951); 4, Aesica brooch, Great Chesters, Northumberland, photo copyright Museum of Antiquities of Newcastle upon Tyne, University of Newcastle upon Tyne and Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Figure 10.10 Scottish cast bronze armlets: unrolled drawings of ornamental designs.

1, spiral 'snake' armlet, Culbin Sands, Moray; 2, massive 'folded' armlet, Bunrannoch, Perthshire; 3, massive 'oval' armlet, Castle Newe, Strathdon, Aberdeenshire. Adapted from MacGregor (1976).

Figure 10.10 Scottish cast bronze armlets: unrolled drawings of ornamental designs.

1, spiral 'snake' armlet, Culbin Sands, Moray; 2, massive 'folded' armlet, Bunrannoch, Perthshire; 3, massive 'oval' armlet, Castle Newe, Strathdon, Aberdeenshire. Adapted from MacGregor (1976).

distribution. Others in the series are less lavishly ornamented, with simple transverse ribbing. At Bunrannoch in Perthshire, a snake armlet was found in association with a 'massive' armlet (Figure 10.10, 2), the 'folded' form of which is divided length-wise by two angled grooves, implying a skeuomorphic derivation from the snake armlet form. The second principal variant, the massive 'oval' armlet (Figure 10.10, 3) lacks this diagonal disposition. Though doubtless high-status products, and testifying to considerable technical skill on the part of their bronze-smiths, massive armlets display a limited range of relatively simple motifs repetitively deployed. The distribution of both armlet types, and that of the so-called Donside terrets, has sometimes been equated with the distribution of souterrains, though they do not extend to northern Scotland, nor to the Northern and Western Isles, where souterrains or earth-houses are common. Equally terrets and occasional massive armlets are found well south of the souterrain distribution. There is an apparent coincidence between the metal-work distribution and Class II cross-slab symbol-stones, or Pit- place-names, but both categories are considerably later, and we should beware of drawing superficial conclusions on the likelihood of continuity in artistic traditions into the later Iron Age.

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  • stefan
    How to construct roman celtic Pelta?
    8 years ago

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