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The Thetford Treasure: A Reappraisal1

  • Dorothy J. Watts

The Thetford Treasure of late Roman gold jewellery and silver utensils was published in 1983 by Catherinejohns and Timothy Potter, who believe it to be connected with the cult of Faunus, an ancient Latian god hitherto unattested in Roman Britain. There do appear to be iconographical links between the jewellery and several of the inscriptions, yet a number of inscriptions would, in another fourthcentury context, have been considered Christian. Johns and Potter have rejected such identification. The purpose of this paper is to re-examine these particular inscriptions and also to investigate the possible use for the silver implements in the Treasure. Such examination suggests a Christian element. An attempt is made to explain the presence of this component in an otherwise pagan hoard against the background of religious instability in the second half of the fourth century.

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2 The site had been occupied sporadically from prehistoric times to the end of the fourth century, with a peak of coin evidence for A.D. 350–75. Two hoards of silver coins found in 1978 and 1981 range from 355–61 to 385. There is slight evidence for a substantial late Roman wooden structure close to where the Treasure was found.

3 I am most grateful to Ms Catherine Johns of the British Museum for her help and additional comments in what has been a long and lively correspondence on the Treasure.

4 Johns and Potter, op. cit. (note 1), 47.

5 Ibid., 52; Hutchinson, V. J., ‘Bacchus in Roman Britain: Archaeological Evidence for his Cult’, unpublished University of Michigan Ph.D. Dissertation (Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1983), 161.

6 See below, note 90.

7 Henig, M., ‘Ita intellexit numine inductus tuo: some personal interpretations of deity in Roman religion’, in M., Henig and A., King (eds.), Pagan Gods and Shrines of the Roman Empire, Oxford Univ. Comm. Arch. Monograph 8 (Oxford, 1986), 166.

8 Johns and Potter, op. cit. (note 1), 50–1.

9 Richmond, I. A., ‘The Roman villa at Chedworth 1958–59’, Trans. Bristol&Gloucs. Arch. Soc. LXXVIII (1959), 22; Goodburn, R., The Roman Villa at Chedworth (London, 1979), 24 and below, note 22.

10 Thomas, C., Christianity in Roman Britain toA.D. 500 (London, 1981), 219–20.

11 Johns and Potter, op. cit. (note 1), 40, 71.

12 Thomas, op. cit. (note 10), 89, 92.

13 Liversidge, J., ‘A new hoard of Romano-British pewter from Icklingham’, Proc. Cambridge Antiq.Soc. LII (1959), 9.

14 Curie, A. O., The Treasure of Traprain (Glasgow, 1923), pls. XXVI and XXVII; see also note 74, below.

15 Read, C. H., ‘List of pewter dishes and vessels found at Appleshaw and now in the British Museum’, Archaeologia, LVI (1898), 712, fig. 9.

16 Liversidge, op. cit. (note 13).

17 Information and photograph kindly supplied by Ms Catherine Johns. I thank Mr Brian Dix of Northamptonshire County Council ArchaeologyUnit for drawing my attention to this find.

18 West, S., ‘The Romano-British site at Icklingham’, East Anglian Arch, III (1976), 63126.

19 Mr Brian Dix has generously provided information on the Ashton site ahead of publication.

20 Hewitt, A. T. M., Roman Villa West Park, Rockbourne (Fordingbridge, Hants, 1971), 11 and pl. VI A.

21 Ibid., pl. XXII A.

22 Examples of the iota-chi in Roman Britain include: a plate from Feature 6 of Lankhills cemetery, with stylized fish on the reverse (G. Clarke (ed.), Pre-Roman and Roman Winchester Part II:The Roman Cemetery at Lankhills, Winchester Studies 3 (Oxford, 1979), 231–2, 429–30); a pewter plate from Stamford and now in theBritish Museum (unpublished—acquisition no.PRB.1927.1–6.1); on a shaped stone, possibly from a nymphaeum, at Chedworth (Goodburn, op.cit. (note 9), pl. 11D); on a compass from Dorset erroneously identified as a chi-rho (Henig, M., ‘A probable chi-rho stamp on a pair of compasses’,Proc. Dorset Nat. Hist. & Arch. Soc. CVI (1983), 142–3); on a candlestick from Kelvedon (Eddy, M. R. and Turner, C., Kelvedon: The Origin and Development of a Roman Small Town, Essex CountyCouncil Occ. Pap. 3 (1982), cover ill.) and on asimilar find from Colchester (Crummy, N., The Roman Small Finds from Excavations in Colchester 1971–9, Colchester Arch. Rep. 2 (1983), fig. 207, cat. no. 4709). The symbol had a long life: an early medieval example, possibly twelfth-century, was found on a hone from an Irish monastery site at Church Island, Lough Currane (Anon, ., ‘Medieval hone from Ireland’, Antiq. J. VII (1927), 322). According to Sulzberger, the iota-chi was the earliest Christian monogram, the letters I and X standing for IHCOYC XPICTOC (Sulzberger, M., ‘La symbol de la croix et les monogrammes de Jésu chez les premiers Chrétiens’, Byzantion, II (1925), 393.

23 Ibid., 395–6.

24 Origen, Commentary on John, xxi.

25 Psalm xcii:12.

26 Revelation 7:9–17.

27 e.g. Cabrol, F. and Leclerq, H., Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, 15 vols. (Paris,19201953), s.v. ‘croix et crucifix’, III (2), fig.3362.

28 Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus, III, 11, 59, I.

29 Dalton, O. M., Catalogue of the Early Christian Antiquities and Objects from the Christian East in the Department of British and Medieval Antiquities of the British Museum (London, 1901), no. 64.

30 Thomas, op. cit. (note 10), 151.

31 Henig, M., ‘Death and the maiden: funerary symbolism in daily life’, in J., Munby and M., Henig (eds.), Roman Life and Art in Britain, Brit. Arch. Rep. 41 (Oxford, 1977), 352.

32 Middleton, J. H., ‘Notes on some Christian rings and other antiquities, found on the site of a Roman villa at Fifehead Neville, Dorset’, Proc.Soc. Antiq. IX (1882), 66–9.

33 See above, note 22.

34 Toynbee, J. M. C., ‘A Londinium votive leaf or feather and its fellows’, in J., Bird, H., Chapman and J., Clark (eds.), Collectanea Londiniensia: Studies Presented to R. Merrifield, London & Middlesex Arch. Soc. Spec. Pap. 2 (1978), 128–47.

35 Painter, K. S., The Water Newton Treasure (London, 1977), nos. 10, 1227.

36 Cabrol and Leclerq, op. cit. (note 27), s.v.‘ΙΧΘΥΣ’, VII (1), figs. 6058, 6065 and 6101.

37 Dalton, op. cit. (note 29), nos. 34, 35, 39and 9.

38 Giovagnoli, D. E., ‘Una collezione di vasi eucaristici scoperti a Canoscio’, Rivista di Archaeologia Cristiana, XII (1935), 315 and fig. 2.

39 Potter, T. W., ‘A fourth-century silver spoon’,Antiq. J. LXII (1982), 375–7.

40 Charlesworth, D., ‘Roman glass in northern Britain’, Arch. Aeliana, 4th ser. XXXVII (1959), 3358. The fragment from Caerleon Alstone Cottage 1970 is unpublished. I thank Mr George Boon of theNational Museum of Wales for a photograph and information on this find. Thomas, op. cit. (note 10),130, also suggests a Christian identification for similar unpublished finds from Springhead andVerulamium.

41 Cabrol and Leclerq, op. cit. (note 27), s.v.‘ΙΧΘΥΣ’, VII (1), cols. 1991–3.

42 Toynbee, J. M. C., ‘Christianity in Roman Britain’, J. Brit. Arch. Ass. 4th ser. XVI (1953), 17.

43 Henig, op. cit. (note 31), 352.

44 Daniélou, J., Primitive Christian Symbols, trans. D., Attwater (London, 1964), 124.

45 The Roman Inscriptions of Britain, no. 758.

46 Henig, op. cit. (note 31), 351.

47 Johns and Potter, op. cit. (note 1), 121.

48 Thomas, op. cit. (note 10), 91 and fig. 3.

49 DeRossi, G. B., La Roma Sotterranea Cristiana, I (Rome, 1864), pl. XVIII.

50 Northcote, J. S. and Brownlow, W. R., Roma Sotterranea (London, 1869), 229.

51 Cabrol and Leclerq, op. cit. (note 27), s.v.‘croix et crucifix’, III (2), col. 3056.

52 Gough, M., The Early Christians (London, 1961), fig. 10 lines 45.

53 Sulzberger, op. cit. (note 22), 371–5.

54 Hassall, M. W. C. and Tomlin, R. S. O., ‘Roman Britain in 1980: the inscriptions’, Britannia, XII (1981), 389–93.

55 Kajanto, I, The Latin Cognomina (Helsinki, 1965, repr. Rome, 1982), 386.

56 Johns and Potter, op. cit. (note 1), 46.

57 Kajanto, op. cit. (note 55), 135. This interpretation is strengthened by a passage from Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians (6:18) in which he exhorts the faithful to perseverance in prayer. It is possible, of course, that the inscription is in the imperative; in view of the above, this would also suit a Christian identity for the spoon's owner.

58 Kajanto, op. cit. (note 55), 290, 310, 314, 318, 356.

59 Hassall, M. W. C. and Tomlin, R. S. O., ‘Roman Britain in 1979: the inscriptions’, Britannia, XI (1980), 413.

60 Sherlock, D., ‘An inscribed spoon from Canterbury’, Arch. Cantiana, C (1984), 84.

61 Wright, R. P., ‘Roman Britain in 1954: the inscriptions’, J. Roman Stud, XLV (1955), 147. This inscription reads VTEREEELIX; the second E is an error for F.

62 Milojčič, V., ‘Zu den spätkaiserzeitlichen und merowingischen Silberlöffeln’, Bericht der Römisch-Germanischen Kommission, XLIX (1968), 139.

63 Cabrol and Leclerq, op. cit. (note 27), s.v. ‘feuilles de lierre’, V (1), col. 1464. The ivy leaf also occurs on two spoons dedicated to Faunus, nos. 52and 74.

64 The Roman Inscriptions of Britain, no. 812.

65 Sherlock, op. cit. (note 60), 85.

66 Painter, K. A., The Mildenhall Treasure (London, 1977), nos. 27 and 28 (vivas), nos. 2931 (chi-rho).

67 Haverfield, F., ‘Roman silver in Northumberland’, J. Roman Stud. IV (1914), 112, figs. 2 and 3.

68 Johns, C. M. and Potter, T. W., ‘The Canterbury Late Roman Treasure’, Antiq. J. LXV (1985), 335 and nos. U.3, U.1 and C.5.

69 Sherlock, D., ‘Zu einer Fundliste antiker Silberlöffel’, Bericht der Römisch-Germanischen Kommission, LIV (1973), 206.

70 e.g.: on rings from Brancaster (Toynbee, op.cit. (note 42), 19), Richborough, (Cunliffe, B. (ed.),Fifth Report on the Excavation of the Roman Fort at Richborough, Kent, Soc. Antiq. London Res. Rep. 23 (London, 1968), 98–9 and pl. XLII), and Silchester (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, II. 1305); a spoon from Edmund, Caistor St (D.Sherlock, ‘An inscribed Roman spoon from Caistor St Edmund’, Norfolk Arch., XXXVII (19781980), 346–9); and an openwork bone mounting from a grave inYork (Roy. Comm. Hist. Mon., Eburacum (London, 1962), 73, pl. 65.150).

71 Hassall and Tomlin, op. cit. (note 59), n. 110, interpret this as viri boni s(u)m.

72 For the Hama Treasure see Diehl, D., ‘Unnouveau trésor d'argenterie Syrienne’, Syria, VII (1926), 105–20.

73 See below, note 92, for a brief mention of the debate on the Canoscio Treasure.

74 Curle, op. cit. (note 14), no. III and pl. xxviii. This treasure, published in 1923, contains several Christian elements and should, I believe, be thoroughly reappraised in the light of more recent discoveries.

75 Bushe-Fox, J. P., Fourth Report on the Excavation of the Roman Fort at Richborough, Kent, Soc.Antiq. London Res. Rep. 16 (Oxford, 1949), pl. XCIX, 126.

76 Brown, P. D. C., ‘The church at Richborough’, Britannia, II (1971), 225–31.

77 Toynbee, op. cit. (note 42), 22.

78 I am most grateful to Bro. Eoin de Bhaldraithe, Bolton Abbey, Co. Kildare, for making the fruits of his research on early church ritual available ahead of publication. The material for notes 78, 79, 80, 87 and 92 has been specially prepared by him for this paper. On this part of the liturgy he writes: ‘The subdeacon usually carried the strainer as a kind of status symbol, during processions and at the mass, especially while singing the epistle at the ambo (Braun, J., Das christliche Altargerät (Munich, 1932), 457).’

79 ‘Two strainers were used at the papal mass, according to the Ordines Romani (Andrieu, M., Les Ordines Romani du haut moyen âge II: Les Textes (Louvain, 1948); for interpretation of the communion rite see Jong, J. P. de, “Le rite de la commixtion dans la messe romaine”, Revue Bénédictine, LXI (1951), 1537). The first text (I 21) refers to both strainers being carried in procession before mass, the second (IV 74) to the wine being strained as it is being put into the holy chalice; for this the large strainer is used. The third (IV 47) refers to the rite for consecrating the ministerial chalices which were used to give communion to the people. A piece of the host is broken off and dropped into the chalice (this much is still done in the Roman Catholic mass where it is now an unintelligible piece of ritual debris). Then the subdeacon takes it out again with the small strainer and puts it into the ministerial chalice. This rite, called “consecration by contact” is well known to liturgists and was used also for communion at home on weekdays and, according to my own conclusions in an unpublished paper, for the rite of the fermentum, used for a ritual joining of the eucharist in the bishop's church with that of nearby presbyteral churches.’ (de Bhaldraithe.)

80 Cattaneo, E., ‘“L'intinctio nella liturgia ambrosiana”, Ephemerides Liturgicae, LIV (1940), 182205, describes the Canoscio strainers and has an intriguing footnote on page 186: in 1401, there was donated to the cathedral of Milan a forceletawith some eucharistic use similar to that of the strainers. He is at a loss to know what it might be especially as the meaning of forceleta is not clear to him. Furca was “fork” in classical Latin and furcilla the small hayfork; the table fork was unknown. This would become forcella in Italian. So the eta seems to be an added diminutive and the word parva is also used after it. Soon after reading this I saw an illustration of the St Ninian's “prong”. It seemed to fit the description exactly. The instrument would serve almost as efficiently as a strainer for taking a piece of bread out of liquid. This hypothesis is the most intelligent use yet proposed for those instruments—certainly better than “earpicks” [so Martin, M., “Weinsiebchen und Toilettgerät”, in H., Cahn and A., Kaufmann-Heinemann (eds.), Der spätrömische Silberschatz von Kaiseraugst (Derendingen, 1984), 97 ff.]. Like much of the Christian liturgy, its origin is probably Jewish—cf. the “dipped morsel” in John 13:26. The rite could have been imitated or paralleled in pagan rituals asin the text from Cyprian, De Lapsis, 25. Most instruments of this kind are well illustrated in Cahn and Kaufmann, 123–8.’ (de Bhaldraithe.)

81 Ibid., nos. 36 and 39.

82 Dalton, O. M., ‘Roman spoons from Dorchester’, Antiq. J. II (1922), 90.

83 Painter, K. S., ‘A Roman silver treasure from Canterbury’, J. Brit. Arch. Ass. 4th ser. XXVIII (1965), 89.

84 Bushe-Fox, op. cit. (note 75), pl. XCIX, 127.

85 McRoberts, D., ‘The ecclesiastical character of the St Ninian's Isle Treasure’, in A., Small (ed.),The Fourth Viking Congress (Edinburgh, 1965), 224–46.

86 Cf. Frend, W. H. C., ‘Syrian parallels to the Water Newton Treasure?’, Jahrbuch für Antike and Christentum, XXVII–XXVIII (19841985), 149. Milojčič illustrates three representations from the eleventh and twelfth centuries of the administration of the wine with a spoon (Milojčič, op. cit. (note 62), pls.19 (1, 2) and 20 (2)). However two sixth-century representations of the Communion of the Apostles—one on the Stuma paten from Syria, the other an illuminated manuscript, the Codex Purpureus Rossanensus, from Constantinople or Antioch—clearly show the distribution of both bread and wine: no spoon is used (Schiller, G., Iconography of Christian Art, trans. J., Seligman, 2 vols. (London,1972), pls. 56, 57–8).

87 ‘I am convinced that spoons were used for giving communion from the chalice to infants carried in the arms. All baptized children received communion in the West until about the year 1200, when communion from the chalice was discontinued for adults also (Martimort, A. G., L'Eglise en Prière (Paris, 1961), 565). Evidence for the early church comes from Cyprian, De Lapsis, 25, where he tells a famous story: A child, whose parents had fled persecution was given bread mixed with wine(panem mero mixtum) which had been offered to an idol. When persecution ceased and the mother returned, she took the child to Holy Communion. As the deacon was offering the chalice “faciem suam parvula instinctu divinae maiestatis avertere, os labiis obdurantibus premere, calicem recusare. perstitit tamen diaconus et reluctanti licet de Sacramento calicis infudit”. Then the infant began to vomit because the eucharist could not remain in the defiled body. TheLatin text quoted can only be understood of a baby carried in the arms and the consecrated wine being poured into its mouth with a spoon.’ (de Bhaldraithe.)

88 Cabrol and Leclerq, op. cit. (note 27), s.v. ‘cuiller’, III (2), col. 3175.

89 In a recent paper on the Treasure Ms Johns writes: ‘the positioning and spacing of the inscriptions makes it quite certain that they were put on…at the time of manufacture’ (C. M. Johns, ‘Faunus at Thetford: an early Latian deity in late Roman Britain’, in Henig and King (eds.), op. cit. (note 7), 96); however, she does not expand on this and the evidence adduced in the monograph cannot support the conclusion that all spoons were engraved before being finished (Johns and Potter, op. cit. (note 1), 42).

90 But the two Restituti spoons 76 and 77 also fall into this category; and while a Christian identity for this pair is nowhere nearly as positive as for the other spoons with vivas, uti felix or Christian symbols, the association of Restitutus with them must carry some weight towards such identification. However, the pair are unique in several ways: they alone of the spoons with personal names have no vivas or cross; they alone of this group appear to have been made ‘to order’; if Professor Jackson's reading of Ingenuae is correct (K. Jackson, ‘The inscriptions on the silver spoons’, in Johns and Potter, op. cit. (note 1), 46), they are the only ‘secular’ names in the genitive—all the others are the god's names; they comprise the only ‘secular’ inscriptions in a number dedicated to Faunus, said to be engraved by the one hand—Group A in the monograph. (It is felt that spoon 73, DEIFAVASECI, should also belong to Group A, or at least that it was engraved by the same hand as 55—but this does not detract from the argument above.) One wonders, too, if there is any significance in the name Restitutus. It was, after all, also the cognomen of a Bishop of London who had attended the Council of Arles in 314.

91 Johns and Potter, op. cit. (note 1), 35. We are told that a further fifteen spoons showed slight signs of wear (ibid.), but such evidence has been too indeterminate to be of use in developing this line of research. (Ms Johns has made additional comments on this aspect of the Treasure in litt.)

92 On ladles Bro. de Bhaldraithe writes: ‘Another instrument carried in procession was the cantatorium (Ordines Romani, I.21), which I interpret as “ladle” from the late Latin canto. We are very fortunate to have a perfect sample of all three—ladle, large and small strainers—in the CanoscioTreasure. All three are in the Hama Treasure as well, but with two small strainers. Hama is certainly ecclesiastical, as we see from the inscriptions. The fact that Canoscio has the same three instruments whose function is so clearly described in the Ordines puts it beyond doubt that it also is ecclesiastical. Engemann has declared that, on the basis of the symbols (crosses, fish, etc.) and inscriptions, it was not demonstrably (erweisbar) Church treasure (Engemann, J., “Ammerkungen zu spätantiken Geräten des Alltagslebens mit christlichen Bildern, Symbokn und Inschriften”, Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum, XV (1972), 160). Mango, in her magnificent catalogue of the Kaper Koraon Treasure (which includes Hama) goes even further and states that it is “clearly domestic” (Mango, M. M., Silver from Early Byzantium: The Kaper Koraon and Related Treasures (Baltimore, 1986), 120, 250 and 277). But those archaeologists cannot be expected to be familiar with all the ritual involved. More reliable is Milojčič, op. cit. (note 62), but he was unaware of de Jong, op. cit. (note 79).’

93 Toynbee, op. cit. (note 42), 13.

94 Toynbee, J. M. C., ‘Pagan motifs and practices in Christian art and ritual in Roman Britain’, in Barley, M. W. and Hanson, R. P. C. (eds.), Christianity in Britain, 300–700 (Leicester, 1968), 181.

95 Johns and Potter, op. cit. (note 1), 40.

1 This paper is a reconsideration of the monograph by C. M. Johns and T. W. Potter, The Thetford Treasure: Roman Jewellery and Silver (London, 1983). Specific page references to that text will be avoided, as far as possible. This paper forms part of a doctoral thesis for the Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Queensland, Australia.

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