Roman hoard holds unique dog statue

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A ‘licking dog’ statue found as part of an extraordinary Roman hoard. It is thought that it might have been used in healing. (Image: Bristol City Council)

A Roman hoard dating to c.AD 318-450 and holding several hundred bronze objects has been found in Gloucestershire. Discovered by metal-detectorists in September, its contents included pieces of a large bronze statue, jewellery fragments, and a coin of ‘Crispus globe on altar’ type, dated to AD 321-324 and minted in Trier, Germany. It is thought that many of the objects in the hoard were deliberately broken before they were placed in the ground – perhaps by a local metalworker who was intending to melt and recast them later.

‘This Roman hoard dates to the 4th century and contains items ranging from small vessel fittings to a large bronze statue’, said Kurt Adams, Finds Liaison Office for Gloucestershire and Avon. ‘Most amazing of all, though, is a complete and finely detailed standing dog statue, which is a unique discovery for British archaeology.’

The detailed pattern on the shoulder of the statue. (Image: Bristol City Council)

The dog statue, with its tongue sticking out, is one of the best-preserved objects in the hoard. There are two holes on the animal’s upper left flank, where pins might have once mounted an object to the statue itself. The body of the animal is decorated with large asymmetrical ovals, some of which are filled with chevrons bisected by a vertical line, giving the appearance of layers of leaves or feathers.

In the Classical world, dogs were often associated with healing, possibly because they are observed to lick their own wounds in order to heal them. This has led to the theory that this may be a healing statue, and interestingly, the remains of the Roman Lydney temple, where several images of dogs have been found, is located close to the findspot. While it is unknown if this particular dog statue is from the temple, it is an intriguing connection.

The monument inscription, which likely to have come from a ‘significant public building.’ (Image: Bristol City Council)

Another unusual discovery was an inscribed monumental plaque reading, ‘[…]V(?)MCONLA[…]’, a rare find for Britain, and for the wider Roman Empire. Dr John Pearce of King’s College London, who helped with the identification said, ‘The fragmentary state of the inscription makes it very difficult to interpret with confidence, but two main possibilities can be proposed. The inscription may record the collection of money by a corporate body (a conlatio) – perhaps the citizens of a community such as Gloucester or its elites – most likely to pay for an honorific statue for a patron. Alternatively, it could record the reconstruction of a building which had collapsed (conlapsum) through age or a similar cause. Whichever reading is preferred, the fragment is likely to come from a significant public building’.

The finds are currently undergoing further analysis at Bristol City Museum. The hoard’s Portable Antiquities Scheme database entry can be found at:

This article will appear in CA 333.

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