Colchester Museums re-date Roman gem to the Republican era of Rome

PUBLISHED: 13 January 2021

Date issued: 13 January 2021

An engraved Roman gem, which would once have been mounted in an iron ring, has been revealed to date 150-250 years earlier than previously thought.

The engraved gem – an intaglio – was excavated at Gosbecks Archaeological Park, Colchester in 1995 by the Colchester Archaeological Trust. It was unearthed within the precinct of what would have been a ‘Romano-Celtic’ temple, that was discovered on the site. The carnelian intaglio of deep red colour was mounted in an iron ring and was originally used by its owner to seal letters and documents.
It was not until research for Colchester + Ipswich’s Museum’s recently launched Collections Online database, that this stunning Roman ring can now be dated 150-250 years earlier than previously thought.
Revd. Dr. Martin Henig, an expert on ancient engraved gems, identified the armed figure as the god Mars, but the shape and style of the ring and its gem date it to the second century BC and no later than the first century BC, long before Emperor Claudius’ invasion of Britain in AD 43.
Glynn Davis, Senior Curator for Colchester + Ipswich Museums Service, said: “This is a fascinating object that potentially suggests a long, personal history, changing many hands over centuries, before it reached the capital of Roman Britain. Mars was, perhaps not unsurprisingly, a popular deity amongst the Roman military and this ring might have arrived in Britain on the finger of a legionary, having been handed down generations of their family.
“The revised date of the ring provides the attractive alternative that it was owned by an influential Iron Age Briton, perhaps a hi-ranking chieftain. The name of pre-Roman Colchester – Camulodunon, meaning ‘Fortress of the War God’ – gives an insight into how popular and important the god was to the Iron Age Britons of Essex. The native god of War – Mars Camulos – would have been worshipped here long before the Roman conquest and perhaps the figure on this ring was perceived as such. In either case, of the thousands of Roman rings discovered from Britain, this is one of relatively few dating back to the time of Rome’s Republic.”

Councillor Julie Young, Portfolio Holder for Culture and Performance and Deputy Leader of the Council, added: “Colchester, Britain’s First City, continues to present us with clues to how our ancestors lived and behaved. This incredible object provides a fascinating glimpse back into our historic past. Having such a precious item in the Museum's collection that can now be dated so far back in time to the Roman Republic, is simply incredible.
“The public can get a glimpse of the intaglio online through Colchester + Ipswich Museums Collections online and in person when Colchester Castle can re-open its doors following Government guidance.”
Read more about this discovery by Colchester Museums’ Senior Curator Glynn Davis and expert Revd Dr Martin Henig in Lucerna – the newsletter of the Roman Finds Group here:

Page last reviewed: 13 January 2021


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