Unique Roman “licking dog” to be sold

The glaring loophole in the 1996 Treasure Act strikes again, this time the victim is the unique Roman bronze statue of a dog with his tongue out discovered by metal detectorists in Gloucestershire in August 2017.

The dog is 5 ¼ inches high and 8 ½ inches long and is posed with his head looking upwards, his mouth open and his tongue poking out. Both the front shoulders are engraved with a stylized leaf or feather motif. Fur details are engraved on his jowls, paws, genitals and hind haunches as well. Holes found under his paws and a square hole in its belly indicate he was mounted to a base originally. It dates to the 4th century A.D.

The licking dog is believed to represent healing as the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, had a canine companion. Dogs were believed to be able to heal injuries with their lick. An Iron Age temple to the local Celtic healing god Nodens, who was also a hunting deity and was associated with dogs in that capacity as well, was discovered at Lydney Park, Gloucestershire, not far from where the hoard was found. Seven votive dogs have been unearthed at Lydney and at some at Llys Awel in Wales as well, but none of them are comparable in size, quality of material, construction and decoration to this one. It is unique in the British archaeological record.

The rest of the hoard consists of a group of fragments, one bearing a partial inscription, furniture fittings, vessel handles, wires, mounts and fragments of what was once a figurine of a man wearing an intricately draped garment. There is one coin in the hoard, a follis of Crispus, the son of Constantine the Great, with globe-on-altar reverse. This type of coin was minted at Trier between 321-324 A.D., which means the earliest date the hoard could have been buried was 321. Archaeologists think the large number of scraps in the hoard indicate it was buried by a metalworker who intended to melt them down and never got the chance.

When the discovery was announced in September 2017, the hoard was at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery where experts were studying it. After that, it was slated to go the British Museum for assessment by the Valuation Committee. Since then, I can find no reports of a coroner’s inquest to determine its treasure status, and the record in the Portable Antiquities Scheme database obviously needs updating because the hoard is categorized as “Undergoing further examination at a museum.”

As there is only one coin in the group and everything from furniture fittings to plaque fragments to the dog statue is made of a bronze (so not a precious metal), this unique object of British cultural heritage does not qualify as treasure under the Act. The proposed revision of the act would classify any Roman artifact of any estimated value no matter what its composition as treasure. In fact, the coin alone would qualify the hoard as treasure under the revisions, as single coins between 43 A.D. and 1344 satisfy the criteria.

The entire hoard is going under the hammer at Christie’s Antiquities sale on July 3rd. It is being offered as a single lot with a pre-sale estimate of $37,620-62,700. I can but hope that the price doesn’t skyrocket like it did with the Allectus aureus and that a local museum wins the bidding.

2 thoughts on “Unique Roman “licking dog” to be sold

  1. If that doggy was found near the Nodens/ Nudens/ Nodons sanctuary in Lydney Park, it clearly is a healing dog.

    An ancient gold ring is believed to have inspired JRR Tolkien to write The Hobbit. The ring, which was found in a farmer’s field in 1785, is linked to a Roman curse tablet which echoes the legends created by Tolkien in his fantasy novels. It is now to go on display at the National Trust property The Vyne in Hampshire where the ring, which is inscribed in Latin and inset with an image of the goddess Venus, lay forgotten in the library for many years. The ring, which was found in a field in nearby Silchester, a Roman town with a famous excavation site, is inscribed with the words “Senicianus live well in God”. In the early 19th century, a curse tablet was found at a Roman temple site in Lydney, Gloucestershire, about 80 miles away from The Vyne. Written on it was a plea from a Roman called Silvianus, asking Nodens, the god of the Lydney temple, to return a ring, stolen by Senicianus, and placing a curse of ill health on the thief. The translation reads: “To the God Nodens. Silvianus has lost a ring … among those who bear the name of Senicianus to none grant health until he bring back the ring to the temple of Nodens.”

    …And instead of bringing that ring, they are taking away that Nodens healing dog?!? :no:

    PS: “The name Nodens probably derives from a Celtic stem *noudont- or *noudent-, which J. R. R. Tolkien suggested was related to a Germanic root *neut- meaning “acquire, have the use of”, earlier “to catch, entrap (as a hunter)” (cf. Proto-Germanic *neut-e- “to make use of, to enjoy”, *naut-a- “benefit, profit; possession; livestock, cattle”). Making the connection with Nuada and Lludd’s hand, he detected “an echo of the ancient fame of the magic hand of Nodens the Catcher”. Similarly, Julius Pokorny derives the name from a Proto-Indo-European root *neu-d- meaning acquire, utilise, go fishing.”

    Indeed, the verb ‘nutzen’ stands for utilize, and ‘Nutzvieh’ stands for farm animals -i.e. minus the cats >° °< (unsure about dogs, though). Clearly, Nodens would have banned that silly auction, but obviously Nodens did not expect the British :confused:

  2. Unsure if any cats or dogs were involved, but the (healing) ‘Merseburg charms‘ / or ‘-incantations’ (here the 2nd one) were recorded in the 10th century by a cleric, possibly in the abbey of Fulda, on a blank page of a liturgical book, which later passed to the library at Merseburg.


    Phol ende uuodan uuorun zi holza.
    du uuart demo balderes uolon sin uuoz birenkit.
    thu biguol en sinthgunt, sunna era suister;
    thu biguol en friia, uolla era suister;
    thu biguol en uuodan, so he uuola conda:
    sose benrenki, sose bluotrenki, sose lidirenki:
    ben zi bena, bluot si bluoda,
    lid zi geliden, sose gelimida sin!
    Phol and Wodan were riding in the woods,
    and the foot of Balder’s foal was sprained
    So Sinthgunt, Sunna’s sister, conjured it;
    and Frija, Volla’s sister, conjured it;
    and Wodan conjured it, as well he could:
    Like bone-sprain, so blood-sprain,
    so joint-sprain:
    Bone to bone, blood to blood,
    joints to joints, so may they be glued.

    ..poor thing! 🙁

    You possibly recognize here the ‘ben’/bone, all the double-U’s, sunna era suister (the dative-genitive combination: “to sunna her sister/ Sunna’s sister” is still used in Frankish dialect), geliden/limb, gelimid/glued, renk/ to rick…

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