Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

The Sound of Magic? Bells in Roman Britain

  • Hella Eckardt (a1) and Sandie Williams (a2)

Abstract

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.

Copyright

References

Hide All
Aeschylus, : Seven against Thebes, trans. Hutchinson, G., Oxford (1985)
Apuleius, : The Golden Ass, trans. Walsh, P.G., Oxford (1994)
Cassius Dio, : Roman History, trans. Cary, E., Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA/London (2000)
Juvenal, : Satires, trans. Rudd, N., Oxford (1991)
Martial, : Epigrams, trans. Shackleton Bailey, R., Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA/London (1993)
Plutarch, , Life of Aratus: Lives, trans. Perrin, B., London (1926)
Plautus, : Pseudolus, trans. Watling, E.F., London (1965)
Suetonius, , Life of Augustus: The Twelve Caesars, trans. Grant, Michael, London (1989)
Allason-Jones, L., and McKay, B. 1985: Coventina's Well: A Shrine on Hadrian's Wall, Hexham
Anderson, A.S., Wacher, J.S., and Fitzpatrick, A.P. 2001: The Romano-British Small Town at Wanborough, Wiltshire, London
Anderson, R.D. 1976: Catalogue of the Egyptian Antiquities in the British Museum. III: Musical Instruments, London
Andringa, W. van, and Lepetz, S. (eds) 2013: Mourir à Pompéi: fouille d'un quartier funéraire de la nécropole romaine de Porta Nocera (2003–2007), Rome
Ashwin, T., and Tester, A. 2014: A Roman Settlement in the Waveney Valley: Excavations at Scole 1993–4, Dereham
Bagnall-Smith, J. 1999: ‘More votive finds from Woodeaton’, Oxoniensia 63, 147–85
Bakushev, M.A., and Ilyukov, L.S. 2012: ‘Bronze hand bells of the Albano-Sarmatian time from the territory of Dagestan’, ВЕСТНИК ЮЖНОГО НАУЧНОГО ЦЕНТРА РАН 8.3, 78–83.
Bekker-Nielsen, T. (ed.) 2006: Rome and the Black Sea Region: Domination, Romanisation, Resistance, Aarhus and Oakville
Bentley, D., and Pritchard, F. 1982: ‘The Roman cemetery at St Bartholomew's Hospital’, Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society 33, 134–72
Biddle, M. 1967: ‘Two Flavian burials from Winchester’, Antiquaries Journal 47, 224–50
Biddulph, E., Seager Smith, R., and Schuster, J. 2011: Settling the Ebbsfleet Valley. Vol. 2: Late Iron Age to Roman Finds Reports, Oxford
Bidwell, P.T. 1985: The Roman Fort of Vindolanda at Chesterholm, Northumberland, London
Birbeck, V., and Moore, C. 2004: ‘Preservation and investigation of Roman and medieval remains at Hyde Street, Winchester’, Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeology Society 59, 77111
Bishop, M.C. 1996: Finds from Roman Aldborough: A Catalogue of Small Finds from the Romano-British Town of Isurium Brigantum, Oxford
Bishop, M.C., and Dore, J.N. 1988: Corbridge: Excavations of the Roman Fort and Town, 1947–1980, London
Blockley, K., Blockley, M., Blockley, P., Frere, S.S., and Stow, S. 1995: Excavations in the Marlowe Car Park and Surrounding Areas, Canterbury
Blunt, R. 2005: Crotal bells http://www.ukdfd.co.uk/pages/crotal-bells.html (Accessed 20/10/2016)
Boon, G. 1960: ‘A temple of Mithras at Caernarvon-Segontium’, Archaeologia Cambrensis 109, 136–72
Boon, G. 1978: ‘More finds from Castle Collen Roman fort’, Radnorshire Society Transactions 48, 1719
Booth, P., and Cool, H.E.M. 2006: The Small Finds from Pepper Hill, Southfleet, Kent, CTRL Specialist Archive Report http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-335-1/dissemination/pdf/PT2_Spec_Reps/03_Small_finds/SFS_research_reports_SmallFinds_Text/SFS_PHL_text.pdf
Borrill, H. 1981: ‘Casket burials’, in C. Partridge, Skeleton Green: A Late Iron Age and Romano-British Site, London, 304–21
Boucher, S., Perdu, G., and Feugère, M. 1980: Bronzes antiques du Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine à Lyon II (Instrumentum, Aegyptiaca), Paris
Bourgeois, L. (ed.) 1999: Le Sanctuaire rural de Bennecourt (Yvelines), Paris
Brailsford, J.W. 1962: Hod Hill, Volume 1: Antiquities from Hod Hill in the Durden Collection, London
Brindle, T. 2014: The Portable Antiquities Scheme and Roman Britain, London
Burnham, B.C., and Wacher, J.S. 1990: The ‘Small Towns’ of Roman Britain, London
Caballero Zoreda, L. 1990: Los bronces romanos en España, Madrid
Casey, J. 1986: Understanding Ancient Coins, London
Clarke, D.V. 1972: ‘Four Roman bells from Scotland’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 103, 228–31
Clauss, M. 2001: The Roman Cult of Mithras, Cambridge
Cocks, A.H. 1921: ‘A Romano-British homestead in the Hambleden Valley, Bucks.’, Archaeologia 21, 141–98
Cojocaru, V., Coşkun, A., and Dana, M. (eds) 2014: Interconnectivity in the Mediterranean and Pontic World during the Hellenistic and Roman Periods, Cluj-Napoca
Cool, H.E.M. 2004: The Roman Cemetery at Brougham, Cumbria. Excavations 1966–67, London
Cool, H.E.M., Lloyd-Morgan, G., and Hooley, A.D. 1995: Finds from the Fortress: The Archaeology of York, the Small Finds 17/10, London
Cowan, C. 1992: ‘A possible mansio in Roman Southwark: excavations at 15–23 Southwark Street 1980–86’, Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society 43, 3193
Crawford, M.H. 2001: Roman Republican Coinage Vol. 2, Cambridge
Crummy, N. 1983: The Roman Small Finds from Excavations in Colchester 1971–9, Colchester
Crummy, N. 2010: ‘The iconography of protection in late Roman infant burials’, Britannia 41, 3793
Crummy, N., Crossan, C., and Crummy, P. 1993: Excavations of Roman and Later Cemeteries, Churches and Monastic Sites in Colchester, 1971–88, Colchester
Crummy, P. 1992: Excavations at Culver Street, The Gilberd School and Other Sites in Colchester, 1971–85, Colchester
Cunliffe, B. 1971: Excavations at Fishbourne 1961–1969. Volume 2: The Finds, London
Dasen, V. 2003: ‘Les amulettes d'enfants dans le monde gréco-romain’, Latomus 62.2, 275–89
Dasen, V. 2005: ‘Protéger l'enfant: amulettes et crepundia’, in Gourevitch, D., Moirin, A. and Rouquet, N. (eds), Maternité et petite enfance dans l'antiquité romaine, Bourges, 179–84
Dasen, V. 2015: ‘Probaskania: amulets and magic in antiquity’, in Boschung, D. and Bremmer, J. (eds), The Materiality of Magic, Paderborn, 177203
Davies, J.L., and Spratling, M.G. 1976: ‘The Seven Sisters hoard: a centenary study’, in Boon, G.C. and Lewis, J.M. (eds), Welsh Antiquity: Essays Mainly on Prehistoric Topics Presented to H.N. Savory upon his Retirement as Keeper of Archaeology, Cardiff, 121–47
Davis, M., and Gwilt, A. 2008: ‘Material, style and identity in first-century AD metalwork, with particular reference to the Seven Sisters hoard’, in Garrow, D., Gosden, C. and Hill, J.D. (eds), Rethinking Celtic Art, Oxford, 146–84
Denison, S. 2000: ‘From a stolen seal to a buried Brahma’, British Archaeology 55 http://www.archaeologyuk.org/ba/ba55/ba55news.html (Accessed 20/10/2016)
Deschler-Erb, E. 1996: ‘Die Kleinfunde aus Edelmetall, Bronze und Blei’, in Beiträge zum römischen Oberwinterthur – Vitudurum 7. Ausgrabungen im Unteren Bühl, Egg/Zürich, 13139
Dierichs, A. 1999: ‘Klingendes Kleinod. Ein unbekanntes Tintinnabulum in Dänemark’, Antike Welt 30, 145–9
Dierichs, A. 2009. ‘Tintinnabulum’, in Cancik, H. and Schneider, H. (eds), Brill's New Pauly: Encyclopaedia of the Ancient World, Leiden, 720–1
Down, A., and Rule, M. 1971: Chichester Excavations I, Chichester
Drescher, H. 1998: ‘Rekonstruktionen und Versuche zu frühen Zimbeln und kleinen antiken Glocken’, Saalburg Jahrbuch 49, 155–70
Eckardt, H. 2005: ‘The social distribution of Roman artefacts: the case of nail-cleaners and brooches in Britain’, Journal of Roman Archaeology 18, 139–60
Eckardt, H. 2014: Objects and Identities: Roman Britain and the North-Western Provinces, Oxford
Egan, G., and Pritchard, F. 1991: Dress Accessories c. 1150–1450. Medieval Finds from Excavations in London, London
Erdrich, M. 2002: Corpus der römischen Funde im Barbaricum 4 (Hansestadt Bremen und Bundesland Niedersachsen), Bonn
Espérandieu, E. 1911: ‘Tintinnabula’, in Daremberg, C. and Saglio, E. (eds), Dictionnaire des antiquités grecques et romaines, Paris, 341–4
Evans, C., and Hodder, I. 2006: Marshland Communities and Cultural Landscape: The Haddenham Project II, Cambridge
Evans, D.R., and Metcalf, V.M. 1992: Roman Gates Caerleon, Oxford
Flügel, Ch. 1993: Die römischen Bronzegefässe von Kempten-Cambodunum. Materialhefte zur Bayerischen Vorgeschichte A63, Kallmünz, 53114
Forrer, R. 1919: ‘Römische Mühlen-, Töpferei- und Handelsbetriebe, Metallwerkstätten und Waffenfunde in Strassburg’, Cahiers Alsaciens d'Archéologie, d'Art et d'Histoire 10, 9881078
Frere, S.S. 1984: Verulamium Excavations Volume III, Oxford
Froehner, W. 1872: Les Musées de France, Paris
Furger, A.R., and Schneider, C. 1993: ‘Die Bronzeglocke aus der Exedra des Tempelareals Sichelen I’, Jahresberichte Augst und Kaiseraugst 14, 159–72
Gorbenko, A.A., and Kosyanenko, V.M. 2015: ‘History of research at Asov and new ancient discoveries’, Naslediye Vekov 3, 113–22 (http://heritage-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/2015_3_Gorbenko_Kosyanenko.pdf)
Green, M. 1975: ‘Romano-British non-ceramic model objects in South-East Britain’, Archaeological Journal 132, 5471
Gudkova, A.V. 1982: Pamiatniki rimskogo i srednevekovogo vremeni v Severo-Zapadnom Prichernomorʹe: sbornik nauchnykh trudov, Kiev
Harland, H. 1891: ‘Notes’, Proceedings of the Society for Antiquaries of London 13, 2930
Harnecker, J. 2008: Kalkriese 4: Die römischen Funde vom Oberesch, Mainz
Harward, C., Powers, N., and Watson, S. 2015: The Upper Walbrook Valley Cemetery of Roman London, London
Henig, M. 1978: A Corpus of Roman Engraved Gemstones from British Sites, Oxford
Hills, C., and Lucy, S. 2013: Spong Hill Part IX: Chronology and Synthesis, Cambridge
Hingley, R. 1991: ‘Past, present and future: the study of the Roman period in Britain’, Scottish Archaeological Review 8, 90101
Hobley, B. 1973: ‘Excavations at the Lunt Roman military site, Baginton, 1968–71’, Transactions of the Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society 85, 792
Horn, H.G. 1989: ‘Ein römischer Spielturm aus Froitzheim’, Bonner Jahrbücher 189, 139–60
Hosler, D. 1993: The Sound and Colour of Power: The Sacred Metallurgical Technology of Ancient West Mexico, Cambridge, MA
Hosler, D. 1995: ‘Colour and meaning in the metallurgy of ancient West Mexico’, World Archaeology 27, 100–15
Jelski, G. 1984: ‘Pendentifs phalliques clochettes et peltae dans les tombes d'enfants de Gaule Belgique’, Revue du Nord 66, 261–79
Johns, C. 1989: Sex or Symbol? Erotic Images of Greece and Rome, London
Johnson, S. 1983: Burgh Castle: Excavations by Charles Green 1958–61, Gressenhall
Kaufmann-Heinimann, A. 1998: Götter und Lararien aus Augusta Raurica, Augst
Keily, J. 2006: ‘The accessioned finds’, in Watson, S. with K. Heard, Development on Roman London's Western Hill, London, 92107
Kitson Clark, M. 1935: ‘A gazetteer of Roman remains in East Yorkshire’, Roman Malton and District Report 5, 1142
Kosjanenko, V.M., and Maslovskij, A.N. 2008: ‘Excavations of the necropolis of the hillfort Krepostnoe in 2005–2006’, Archaeological and Historical Investigations in Asov and the Lower Don in 2006, 331–65
Kostromichyov, D. 2016: ‘Openwork buckles with pelta-form loop and opposite extension’, in Pauli Jensen, X. and Grane, T. (eds), Imitation and Inspiration. Proceedings of the 18th International Roman Military Equipment Conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark, 9th–14th June 2013, Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies 17, 141–55
Künzl, E. 1993: Die Alamannenbeute aus dem Rhein bei Neupotz, Mainz
Lethbridge, T.C. 1936: ‘Further excavations at the early Iron Age and Romano-British cemetery at Guilden Morden’, Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 36, 109–20
Maguire, H. 1997: ‘Magic and money in the early Middle Ages’, Speculum 72.4, 1037–54
Manning, W.H. (ed.) 1995: Report on the Excavations at Usk, 1965–1976: The Roman Small Finds, Cardiff
Marshall, M. forthcoming: Material Culture from the Middle Walbrook Valley: Roman Small Finds, Coins, Glass and Textiles from the Bloomberg London Excavations 2010–14, London
Martens, M. 2004: ‘The mithraeum in Tienen’, in Martens, M. and de Boe, G. (eds), Roman Mithraism: The Evidence of the Small Finds, Brussels, 2557
Martin-Kilcher, S. 2000a: ‘Eine Glocke mit Votivinschrift an Deus Mercurius aus Aventicum’, Bulletin de l'Association Pro Aventico 42, 135–42
Martin-Kilcher, S. 2000b: ‘Mors immatura in the Roman world – a mirror of society and tradition’, in Pearce et al. 2000, 6377
Marvell, A.G., and Owen-John, H.S. 1997: Leucarum: Excavations at the Roman Auxiliary Fort at Loughor, West Glamorgan, 1982–1984 and 1987–1988, London
Milne, G., and Wardle, A. 1993: ‘Early Roman development at Leadenhall Court, London, and related research’, Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society 44, 23171
Neal, D.S. 1996: Excavations on the Roman Villa at Beadlam, Yorkshire, Leeds
Nicolay, J. 2008: Armed Batavians. Use and Significance of Weapons and Horse Gear from Non-military Contexts in the Rhine Delta (50 BC–AD 450), Amsterdam
Noll, R. 1980: ‘Das Inventar des Dolichenusheiligtums von Mauer an der Url (Noricum)’, Der Römische Limes in Österreich 30, 5126
Nowakowski, W. 1988: ‘Metallglocken aus der römischen Kaiserzeit im europäischen Barbaricum’, Archaeologia Polona 27, 69146
Nowakowski, W. 1994: ‘Tintinnabula auf den Ostseeinseln. Die römischen Bronzeglocken in Gotland und Bornholm’, Fornvännen 89, 133–43
Nuzzo, D. 2000: ‘Amulet and grave in Late Antiquity: some examples from Roman cemeteries’, in Pearce et al. 2000, 249–55
Nylén, E., Lund Hansen, U., and Manneke, P. 2005: The Havor Hoard, Stockholm
Oldenstein-Pferdehirt, B. 1984: ‘Die Geschichte der Legio VIII Augusta’, Jahrbuch des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums Mainz 31, 397433
Ottaway, P.J., Qualmann, K.E., Rees, H., and Scobie, G.D. 2012: The Roman Suburbs and Cemeteries of Winchester, Winchester
Palmer, S.C. 1999: ‘Archaeological excavations in the Arrow Valley, Warwickshire’, Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society Transactions 103, 134–42
Parker, A. forthcoming: ‘The bells! The bells! Approaching tintinnabula in Roman Britain and beyond’, in Parker, A. and Mckie, S. (eds), Material Approaches to Roman Magic: Occult Objects and Supernatural Substances, Oxford
PAS: The Portable Antiquities Scheme Database: https://finds.org.uk/database (Accessed 1/10/2016)
Pearce, J., Millett, M., and Struck, M. (eds) 2000: Burial, Society and Context in the Roman World, Oxford
Pfäffli, B. 2013: Children? Children! Searching for Clues in Augusta Raurica, Augst
Philp, K. 1991: The Roman Villa Site at Keston, Kent. Excavations 1968–1978, Dover
Philpott, R. 1991: Burial Practices in Roman Britain, Oxford
Picker, A. 2015: Die Villa Rustica von Oberndorf a. Lech, Kallmünz
Podossinov, A.V. 2002: ‘Am Rande der griechischen Oikumene’, in Fornasier, J. and Böttger, B. (eds), Das Bosporanische Reich: der Nordosten des Schwarzen Meeres in der Antike, Mainz, 2138
Price, E. 2000: Frocester, Stonehouse
Rees, H., Cool, H.E.M., and Crummy, N. 2008: Artefacts and Society in Roman and Medieval Winchester: Small Finds from the Suburbs and Defences, 1971–1986, Winchester
Reiβ, R. 1995: ‘Reiter, Pferd und Glocke im Spiegel frühmittelalterlicher Grabfunde’, Acta Praehistorica et Archaeologica 25, 272–88
Robertson, A.S. (ed. Hobbs, R. and Butttrey, T.V.) 2000: An Inventory of Romano-British Coin Hoards, London
Robinson, P. 2001: ‘Religion in Roman Wiltshire’, in Ellis, P. (ed.), Roman Wiltshire and After: Papers in Honour of Ken Annable, Devizes, 147–64
Rolland, H. 1965: Bronzes antiques de haute Provence, Paris
Ross, A. 1968: ‘Shafts, pits and wells – sanctuaries of the Belgic Romans?’, in Coles, N.J.M. and Simpson, D.D.A. (eds), Studies in Ancient Europe: Essays Presented to Stuart Piggott, Leicester, 255–85
Sarnowski, T. 1988: ‘Das römische Heer im Norden des Schwarzen Meeres’, Archeologia 38, 6198
Sarnowski, T. 2015: ‘Black Sea’, in Le Bohec, Y. (ed.), The Encyclopedia of the Roman Army, Chichester, 97–8
Schlüter, W. 1993: Kalkriese: Römer im Osnabrücker Land, Bramsche
Schoenfelder, M., and Richards, J.D. 2011: ‘Norse bells – a Scandinavian colonial artefact’, Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History 17, 151–68
Schuster, J. 2006: Die Buntmetallfunde der Grabung Feddersen Wierde, Oldenburg
Schuster, J. 2011: ‘Springhead metalwork’, in Biddulph et al. 2011, 189–291
Schuster, J., and Watson, J. 2011: ‘Roman grave goods’, in Biddulph et al. 2011, 276–8
Seeley, F. 1995: ‘Roman doorbells’, Roman Finds Group Newsletter 9, 56
Sherwin, G.A. 1936: ‘A Kimmeridge shale dish’, Antiquaries Journal 16, 202–3
Simonenko, A.V., Marčenko, I.I., and Limberis, N.J. 2008: Römische Importe in sarmatischen und maiotischen Gräbern zwischen unterer Donau und Kuban, Mainz
Stefani, G. 2003: Menander: la casa del Menandro di Pompei, Milan
Stoyanova, A. 2012: Child Burials in the Cemetery of Opushki, Simferopol
Stoyanova, A. 2016: ‘Pendants from the cemetery of Neyzats’, in Khrapurov, I. (ed.), The Crimea in the Age of the Sarmatians, 200 BC–AD 400; 20 Years of Researches at the Cemetery of Neyzats, Simferopol, 122–55
Sulimirski, T. 1970: The Sarmatians, London
Vaday, A.H. 1985: ‘Sarmatisches Gräberfeld in Törökszentmiklós-Surján-Ŭjtelep’, Acta Archaeologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 37, 345–90
Vaday, A.H., and Szőke, B.M. 1983: ‘Sarmatisches Gräberfeld und gepidisches Grab in Endrőd-Szujókereszt’, Communicationes Archaeologicae Hungariae 1983, 79132
Wardle, A. 1980: ‘A Roman bell from the Thames’, Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society 31, 7880
Wardle, A. 1981: Musical Instruments in the Roman World, unpub. PhD thesis, Institute of Archaeology, London
Webster, G. 2002: The Legionary Fortress at Wroxeter: Excavations by Graham Webster 1955–85, London
Wenham, L.P. 1968: The Romano-British Cemetery at Trentholme Drive, York, London
Wheeler, R.E.M. 1943: Maiden Castle, Dorset, London
White, R.H. 1988: Roman and Celtic Objects from Anglo-Saxon Graves: A Catalogue and an Interpretation of their Use, Oxford
Williams, D. 2007: ‘Green Lane Wanborough: excavations at the Roman religious site 1999’, Surrey Archaeological Collections 93, 149269
Williams, S. 2009: Ritual Sounds in Britannia: Bronze Bells in Roman Britain, unpub. MA Dissertation, University of Reading
Wilson, P.R. 2002: Cataractonium: Roman Catterick and its Hinterland. Excavations and Research 1958–1997, Part II, York
York Museums Trust. n.d.: Binnington Carr Hoard http://www.yorkmuseumstrust.org.uk/collections/search/item/?id=1643&search_query=bGltaXQ9MTY%3D (Accessed 12/10/2015)
Zwart, A.J.M. 1998: ‘A bridled horse burial from Beuningen’, Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies 9, 7784

Keywords

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed