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Roman or British? Or Romano-British?

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

Copper alloy penannular brooch

Today I would like to share with you another find from the site at East Wear Bay. This is a penannular brooch (sadly the pin has been lost) and dates to the early Roman period; in this instance to later than 140AD (Mackreth, 2011). It is made of copper alloy, so would have been a bronze colour when originally made. The copper turns green when exposed to the elements, much like how iron rusts. Conversely the Statue of Liberty in New York has undergone the same transformation - it was originally a shiny bronze statue!

Penannular brooches were used in Iron Age Britain to fasten clothes in the days before zips, poppers, and elastic. The Iron Age people of Britain were fond of jewelry and would adorn themselves with torcs, bangles, belts, and brooches, partly for practical reasons but mostly because they were renowned for taking pride in their appearance. To use it you must imagine a pin attached to the ring but extending the length of the brooch. To fasten it you pierce the fabric with the pin, flip the open part of the ring over the pin, and then spin the ring to secure. If that makes no sense then this link should help you:

Our little brooch is, however, not Iron Age. Once the Romans had conquered Britain there wasn't an overnight change to assimilate all things Roman into everyday life. In Britain the local population continued using their own material culture well into the new 'Roman' period. In British archaeology this period has the name 'Romano-British' and is actually a sub-culture combining elements of both the Roman and British cultures. Brooches like this one were used for a while after the conquest, then fell out of fashion in favour of the Roman 'bow brooches' (a blogpost on those to follow!). However, they came back into fashion in the 4th century and remained popular throughout the Anglo-Saxon period too.

This brooch tells us that British people were still around East Wear Bay after the Roman conquest and Villa construction. We'll never know who owned this brooch but this discovery proves that the Romano-British people were living alongside the Romans well into the 2nd century AD. Whilst they are unlikely to be occupants of the Villa, it is possible they lived and worked in the surrounding area.

References (there are many articles, books, and papers written about penannular bro0ches. I have used the below in my blogpost)

Mackreth, D.F. (2011) Brooches in late Iron Age and Roman Britain. Volume 1 and 2. Vol. 1 Plate 149, pp. 152, 13081. Vol 2 pp.228. Oxbow Books, Oxford.

Swift, E. (2003). Roman Dress Accessories. Shire Publications, Buckinghamshire.

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