Enamelled bronzes from Roman Britain have turned up all over the Roman world.  This poses an interesting question: were Celtic artists making tourist knick knacks for Roman soldiers to take back home? Leading expert Ernst Künzl puts a British ‘souvenir’ into context.


{mosimage}Ancient public opinion regarded Britain as an island of metal. ‘Britain produces gold, silver, and other metals,’ declared Tacitus around AD 100. Philostratus, in the 3rd century AD, specifically referred to enamelled metalwork, reporting that it was a typical product of the people near Oceanus – that is, the north-west coasts of the empire, including the British Isles.

{mosimage}We can identify metalworkers in Roman Britain who have come from the Continent and produce metal artefacts in a ‘Roman’ style. On the other hand, we also find in Britain artists working in a strong late La Tène tradition, and still trained in the lore of Celtic Britain’s metalworking craft.

There was a strong Celtic element in the decoration of some extraordinary enamelled vessels found in Britain, France, and even Spain. All involve non-figural decoration in late La Tène style, where Celtic ornament has been created geometrically using compasses.

{mosimage}The Romans seem to have invented a species of commodity still very much in vogue today: the tourist souvenir. A spectacular variety of the Roman souvenir industry seems to have developed on Hadrian’s wall in the 2nd century. Soldiers could buy paterae decorated in colourful enamel that depicted aspects of the Wall. Some, like the Rudge Cup and a patera from Amiens in France, combined a stylised look at the Wall with a list of military place-names.

For the full article, see Current Archaeology 222.

Leave a Reply