New Book Chronicle

By Hummler, Madeleine | Antiquity, September 2005 | Go to article overview

New Book Chronicle


Hummler, Madeleine, Antiquity


This quarter, the focus is on Britain, with a range of books, scholarly and popular, about Roman and prehistoric Britain.

Tempus Romanorum

First, it is a pleasure to welcome two meticulous and durable pieces of research on Roman Britain from English Heritage (brooches) and the British Museum (Hoxne).

JUSTINE BAILEY & SARNIA BUTCHER. Roman brooches in Britain: a technological and typological study based on the Richborough Collection (Report of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London 68). xv+297 pages, 185 figures, 24 colour plates, 28 tables & CD-ROM. 2004. London: Society of Antiquaries of London; 0-85431-279-X hardback 40 [pounds sterling].

P.S.W. GUEST. The Late Roman Gold and Silver Coins from the Hoxne Treasure. 160 pages, 67 figures, 22 plates, 22 catalogue plates, tables. 2005. London: The British Museum; 0-7141-1810-9 hardback 60 [pounds sterling].

A superb study of the 440 fibulae recovered at Richborough (Kent), augmented by research on a further 3000 brooches from Roman Britain, forms the core of Roman brooches in Britain. JUSTINE BAILEY & SARNIA BUTCHER adopt a three-pronged approach--metallurgical, typological and geographical--to redefine not only the historic and economic place Richborough occupied at the gateway to the province, but also to elucidate trends throughout Britannia in the first to fourth centuries AD. Particularly revealing is the combination of metallurgical analysis and typological approach, which identifies the preference for certain alloys, e.g. brass for its golden appearance or leaded bronze for its ease of casting, and relates it to certain types, from empire-wide brass Aucissa fibulae to leaded bronze enamelled zoomorphic brooches, used perhaps in British votive contexts. This beautifully produced Society of Antiquaries Research Report (the line drawings and colour plates are excellent), with full documentation of the data in the form of distribution maps, catalogue, appendices and tables in print and on CD-ROM, should become a treasured reference work, on the shelves of academics specialising in provincial Roman archaeology as well as in finds departments in museums, portable antiquities schemes and archaeological units.

Equally thorough and full of insights is PETER GUEST'S report on the 15 234 gold and silver coins from the Hoxne hoard, discovered, together with late Roman silver tableware and jewellery, in a wooden chest in Suffolk in 1992. More than a catalogue, a feat that took 13 months to complete, The Late Roman Gold and Silver Coins from the Hoxne Treasure offers groundbreaking research on silver siliquae (most of the coins) and the peculiarly British custom of clipping these coins, probably undertaken under semi-official control in order not to reduce the amount of coinage available yet procuring silver for other high quality objects (p. 113). Guest's conclusions are far-reaching: deposited in or after AD 407-408, the Hoxne hoard 'may represent ... a gift to the owner ... or an accumulation of several such gifts', 'a store of wealth measured by weight' (p. 26). The coins were in circulation for some time before deposition (p. 114). The board's burial, though related to the turbulent events of the beginning of the fifth century AD, is not seen as a simple response to a threat; it was deliberate, the intention being to leave it there. The context for such an act is in part historical ('the sundering from the imperial system of reciprocal gift-giving and taxation', p. 31), partly geographical (Hoxne is part of an East Anglian tradition). The author does not guess further why in this part of Britain 'the population ... buried hoards fully intending to leave them in the ground' (p. 32), hut it is tempting to think of them as placatory acts, in a region rich in prehistoric deliberate deposits.

The popular thirst for things Roman--to wit the 'Big Roman Dig' on UK television in summer 2005--needs a steady supply of books.

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