Crowns torcs and personal display

Stylistic similarities can be traced with both Torrs and Newnham Croft in some of the prestige metal-work that accompanied one of the most richly-furnished burials discovered in modern times, uncovered in 1988 at Mill Hill, Deal (Parfitt, 1995). The burial, in an elongated pit, just sufficient to accommodate an extended, adult male inhumation, yielded no evidence of coffin, nor of a barrow mound or marker. Grave-goods, however, included an iron sword in its decorated bronze scabbard, a decorated suspension ring, possibly from the belt that held the scabbard, and an elaborate brooch of a kind not unlike the Newnham Croft example with coral inlay. Around the skull were the remains of a bronze crown, comprising a thin band joined in two sections that encompassed the temples, with a further band crossing the top of the head. The horizontal panel was engraved with a rather spindly tendril design with infilling of dotted circles, elements of which afford a striking parallel to the ornament of the Sutton Reach scabbard. The crown itself is not without parallel, though examples as early as this are hard to cite with confidence. On the basis of the typology of the scabbard chape, the likely date of the brooch and the stylistic affinities of the group as a whole, the Mill Hill warrior grave should be assigned to the third century bc rather than later. In fact, it stands physically apart from but chronologically at the head of a series of inhumation burials and later cremations in the adjacent cemeteries that continued in use until the Roman Conquest.

Just as parade armourers in south-eastern England were highly skilled, specialist craftsmen, in much the same way torc-makers were most probably dedicated jewellers, operating under princely patronage rather than in a market system. The quantity and sheer wealth of the products ensured their prestige and even symbolic status, as may be inferred from the quite outstanding series of finds from Snettisham in Norfolk (Clarke, 1954). First exposed by ploughing in 1948, and substantially supplemented by new finds since 1990, the number of torcs from Snettisham now totals some 75 complete examples and fragments of more than a hundred more. The special significance of torcs has long been implicit in their representation on stone sculpture, like the head from Msecke Zehrovice, the sandstone statue from Euffigneix (associated with another potent Celtic image, the boar), or even the Dying Gaul from the Pergamon frieze. On metal-work the so-called Cernunnos figure on the Gundestrup cauldron is the most celebrated example. Literary references like Polybius' (2.29) description of Celts, naked except for their torcs, at the battle of Telamon, or Cassius Dio's record of Boudicca wearing a great twisted gold necklace (62.2.4) reinforce the belief that the torc was imbued with special status or symbolic significance. Cassius Dio's account, referring admittedly to events several generations after the presumed date of the Snettisham torcs, but nevertheless in the same geographical region, could well have described the great electrum torc from Hoard E (Pl. 10a). Twenty centimetres in diameter, the torc was made of eight twisted cables, each comprising eight wire strands, with its ends soldered into hollow cast terminals bearing chased and punched decoration. Within one terminal was a worn quarter stater of Gallo-Belgic Dc type, an issue which was probably minted before 50 bc, but in its worn condition this example could well have been in circulation for a couple of generations before being deposited with the torc. The decorative design of the terminals consists of raised, simple curves, slender trumpets and concentric circlets, enclosed within beading and raised wavy bordering.

Characteristic of the style is the use of broad matting and small bosses, each bearing three fine punched dots that serve almost as a signature of the Snettisham craftsman. Other finds from Norfolk suggest a local workshop or master craftsman responsible for these prestigious products, but one fragment from Cairnmuir in Peeblesshire, found in a hoard with Belgic 'bullet' coins, bears the stylistic hallmarks of the Snettisham school, and must surely have been a diplomatic gift or trophy, so far from its apparent source. The more recent discoveries (Stead, 1991b; Stead and Selkirk, 1991, 1993) included novel types with a variety of ornamental devices, among them stylized human faces incorporated into high-relief designs.

The most remarkable and indeed unique aspect of the Snettisham hoards is the dominance of one particular type, the torc, which is present in no less than six variant forms. Tubular torcs, together with those that have buffer-, ring- or loop-terminals are all well-known types; those with cage-terminals and reel-terminals are rarer, and perhaps suggest a regional specialist production centre. The nature of the deposits has excited no little controversy. There is little evidence in the way of industrial waste to suggest that the site itself was a production centre, though the fact that several pieces from Hoard F were in a semi-molten condition, and others bore droplets splashed from a crucible suggests the proximity of a workshop. Equally, the inclusion of ingots and broken fragments might indicate that they were being collected for re-working. The excavator of the recent finds did not regard the pit-deposits as overtly votive (Stead, 1991b), though he did not exclude altogether the possibility of ritual deposition, and quite correctly pointed out that torcs seldom feature in clearly votive deposits such as the sanctuary site of Gournay-sur-Aronde. A singular aspect of the Snettisham site is the variety in the nature of the pit deposits (Pl. 10b). Some had an upper and lower compartment within the pit, in which the upper deposit was plainly intended as a decoy to protect the wealthier, lower hoard, some were tightly packed 'nests' of torcs in very small pits, while one was buried in a bronze container. As regards the dating of the hoards, the torcs are hardly definitive, either typologically or stylistically, but on the basis of their associated coins, the recent excavators favoured a date for the deposit of Hoards B and F a generation before Caesar. Whether the entire series was buried at the same time, or over a longer period is less easily determined, and clearly is dependent upon which view is taken of the hoards' function. The principal options are that the hoards were indeed votive, that they were an adjunct to an important production centre, or that they were a treasury of accumulated wealth, personal, familial or communal. Quite extensive excavation revealed no evidence of settlement, nor even any sherds of late Iron Age pottery, but this need not militate against the production centre option, since metal-working sites, and especially those dealing in precious metals, are likely to have been located away from domestic settlements. Hoards of torcs are certainly known elsewhere; at Ipswich in Suffolk (Brailsford and Stapley, 1972), five were found in a hoard (with a sixth nearby) in 1968, among which two ornamented examples showed close affinities to the Snettisham style. But the sheer quantity of the Snettisham finds sets them apart from all other torc-hoards, testifying to the spectacular wealth and craftsmanship available to the Icenian dynasty of late pre-Roman Iron Age.

The stylistic relationship between the Snettisham torc ornament and that on the bronze helmet from the Thames at Waterloo Bridge (Jope, 2000, Pls 122-126) has been widely remarked. The helmet, distinguished by its pair of undecorated horns, is unique in bronze, though there are Roman documentary references to, and Gallo-Roman sculptural representations of, horned Celtic helmets. The thin sheet bronze of the Waterloo helmet, like that of the parade shields, in any case suggests a ceremonial rather than a functional role for these prestigious pieces. The slender, trailing and essentially asymmetrical repoussé ornament of the helmet includes elements like the shallow crescents, curving leaves and trumpet-ends that also characterize Snettisham, while the use of broad, punched basketry hatching suggests that the helmet was the product of the same regional tradition, if not the same workshop. This perhaps argues for a later first-century bc date rather more convincingly than the technical rendering of the domed bosses, with their surface cross-scored to receive enamel inlay, a technique that has conventionally been regarded as diagnostic of a late (not before first century bc) date.

0 0

Post a comment