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The Sound of Magic? Bells in Roman Britain

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 March 2018

Hella Eckardt
Department of Archaeology, University of
Sandie Williams
High Wycombe, Bucks.


Bells are recorded in many published excavation reports from Roman sites, but there has been no previous study of the British material. This paper explores the significance of bells in the Roman world from both a ritual and a functional perspective. We create a first typology of Romano-British bells, provide an understanding of their chronology and examine any spatial and social differences in their use. Special attention is paid to bells from funerary or ritual contexts in order to explore the symbolic significance of these small objects. Bells from other parts of the Roman world are considered to provide comparisons with those from Roman Britain. The paper demonstrates that small bells were used as protective charms and may have been preferentially placed into the graves of children and young women. The paper identifies a new, probably Roman type of bell that has no parallels within the Empire, although similar pieces occur in first- and second-century graves in the Black Sea region.

Britannia , Volume 49 , November 2018 , pp. 179 - 210
Copyright © The Author(s) 2018. Published by The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies 

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