Mysterious ancient Roman ‘crown’ to go on display at Colchester Castle Museum

The crown is one of two found at Cavenham, Suffolk, in 1925

Date issued: 22 July 2019

A mysterious Roman priest’s headdress goes on display at Colchester Castle from Saturday 27 July, as part of its new exhibition Adorn: Jewellery, the Human Story.

Adorn is the first exhibition to be held at Colchester Castle since it reopened in 2014 following a major refurbishment and has been two and a half years in the planning.

The crown is one of two found at Cavenham, Suffolk, in 1925, and is believed to have been ritually buried. It is exceptionally rare and of unusual design making its use and what it represented hard to interpret. This fascinating ancient object is being re-explored in ‘Adorn’ and will, for the first time, be displayed alongside a replica of what it may have looked like when it was worn by a Roman priest more than 1600 years ago.

These headdresses are poorly understood and probably represent a fusion of Roman and Celtic religious practices.  A far older crown in a burial in Deal, Kent even implies a possible link with the enigmatic druids who were supposedly wiped out by the Roman invaders. Is the Cavenham crown a lost link with this ancient religion?

The mystery doesn’t end there. Colchester Museums’ curators now believe that the crown may date to the 4th century AD adding to growing evidence of a pagan revival at a time when Christianity was dominant in Britain. The crown would have originally dazzled: appearing golden and was probably adorned with metal feathers and glass or gems. Its front would have been decorated with Roman or ancient British gods, pictured in their temples.

Glynn Davis, Senior Curator for Colchester + Ipswich Museums Service said: “This is an extraordinary object. It may not be as obviously beautiful as the other jewellery in the exhibition but the mystery behind its wearer and what it would have represented make it intriguing.

“Was it indeed worn by a Roman priest? And if so, what power would this individual have held in ancient Roman society?”

Councillor Julie Young, Portfolio Holder for Culture and Performance and Deputy Leader of the Council added: “The Cavenham crown is one of more than 200 fascinating artefacts on display in the Adorn exhibition, each with their own story to tell but for me, it is its mystery that makes it stand out."

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