Archive for July, 2021

Mosaics found in illegal excavation moved to Zeugma Museum

Friday, July 9th, 2021

A large 4th century mosaic discovered in Gaziantep, southern Turkey, in 2019 when looting activity was reported at a private home has been removed in 98 pieces and transported to the Zeugma Mosaic Museum. The illegal excavation was reported in time to save a massive mosaic covering 1830 square feet, the entire courtyard of the property. It took two days to raise and transport every section of the mosaic to the museum.

The house was secured by the Provincial Directorate of Culture and Tourism and salvage efforts began in 2020. A thorough excavation revealed mosaics composed of white and multi-colored stone and glass tesserae. Panels depicting figures — a kneeling man carrying a sword, a goddess wearing a diadem, carrying a spear and holding the leash of a wild beast — and animals are bordered by geometric designs.

Ayşe Ebru Çorbacı, deputy director of the Gaziantep Museum, who also worked as a restorer in the rescue excavations, said that they could not remove the mosaic as a whole and that they divided it into pieces.

“When we started the work, we detected some deterioration. We did cleaning works and documentation. During the cleaning phase, there was a layer that covered the figures, which challenged us the most. Then we started working to remove it. We protected it by covering a cloth. Unfortunately, we cannot remove it as a whole during the removal phase as there are many different patterns and figures on it. Both the conditions and the structure of the mosaic do not allow it. So we had to divide it into pieces. We made these divisions by considering the figures. We will remove the figures as they are, with no damage. Then we will work on combining them,” she said.

It will now join august company in the largest mosaic museum in the world which contains 18,000 square feet of mosaics. This one mosaic increases that figure by 10%.  You can visit the museum virtually here. It’s a bit clunky to navigate and the information panels aren’t translated, but it gives a glimpse into the vast space and exceptional collection of the Zeugma Mosaic Museum.


Coventry’s medieval civic sword comes home

Thursday, July 8th, 2021

Coventry’s 14th century civic sword has returned to its hometown 550 years after it was removed by an angry king. The sword, or rather, the hilt and a tiny stump of the blade which are all that survive, is part of the Burrell Collection art museum in Glasgow and has been loaned to Coventry for its City of Culture 2021 exhibition.

Carrying a sword in front of a king during processions, coronations and other official occasions was an unambiguous symbol of supreme temporal power in the Middle Ages. The right to a bearing-sword was sometimes extended to powerful nobles (dukes and earls) and by the late 14th century, to mayors of cities. It was a recognition of the growing importance of cities to the monarch, a ceremonial honor that lent city government an aristocratic cachet even as it became a symbol of their civic liberties. London was the first to receive the grant of a mayoral sword. By 1500, 17 cities in England and its overseas possessions (Calais in 1392, Dublin in 1403 and Drogheda in 1468) had been granted civic swords.

We don’t know the precise date when Coventry was granted its civic sword, but it was before 1384 because the City Annals (compiled many centuries later) note that in that year Richard II ordered that the sword be carried behind the mayor instead of in front of him as punishment because the mayor “did not do justice.” Richard restored the mayor of Coventry’s right to carry the sword in front in 1387. Chronicler Henry Knighton of Leicester writing at that time described the Coventry sword as “gladium ornatu aureo” (sword decorated with gold). This is the earliest surviving contemporary record of a civic sword in Britain.

By the 14th century, Coventry was the fourth largest city in England. It was rich in natural resources — timber, stone, arable land, pastures for grazing, the River Sherbourne for water and mill power — and prospered from trade, particularly wool production. Royal charters had granted Coventry extensive privileges, including the right to export merchandise overseas, freedom from certain tolls and both city and county status. The sword was one of those privileges.

Coventry had supported Lancastrian kings Henry V and Henry VI with troops and money. It became a de facto capital when Henry VI and his queen consort Margaret of Anjou moved the royal court there in the 1450s and parliament was called there several times between 1456 and 1460. Henry and Margaret even processed with the Coventry civic sword in front of them. After the defeat of Henry VI at the Battle of Northampton in 1460, the city made peace with the new Yorkist King Edward IV, but it wouldn’t last. The Earl of Warwick, formerly allied with Edward, turned coat and made an alliance with Margaret of Anjou. He occupied Coventry with 3,000 soldiers in March 1471. Edward showed up at the city’s massive defensive walls with his army demanding entry and was denied.

After Warwick’s forces were routed and the Earl killed at the Battle of Barnet on April 14th, Edward retaliated against Coventry by withdrawing many of its privileges, including county status, and confiscating its civic sword. The fate of the sword was unknown until it was rediscovered by accident in a rubbish heap in Whitechapel in 1897. It was first in the private collection of Sir Guy Laking, the first director of the London Museum. It later was acquired by Sir William and Lady Constance Burrell who gave it to the City of Glasgow in 1944.

The Coventry Sword today is not the same as the one Henry Knighton wrote about — it dates to around 1460 — but it is still a gladium ornatu aureo. While the blade was amputated, the hilt was in good condition considering its rough life. The ivory grip is intact, as is the bronze crossguard with gilded ornamentation of a Tudor Rose and Edward IV’s badge, the Sun in Splendour. The bronze pommel’s gilded decoration and silver side medallions also survived, to our good fortune. The silver medallions on the side of the pommel bear the Royal Arms and the arms of Coventry (elephant and castle), which is how we know which sword it is.

The sword is on display at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum until November 21st.


Paging Brother Cadfael

Wednesday, July 7th, 2021

Restoration of an effigy in Dundrennan Abbey in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, has shone a flashlight on the penumbra of medieval murder mystery. The “Abbot’s Stone” is installed against the west wall of the nave of the abbey’s ruined church. A robed abbot lies recumbent with his crozier diagonal across his body and a dagger plunged into his chest. His feet rest on the small, contorted figure of a disemboweled man, his entrails spilling out through a gash in his abdomen. The effigy is believed to date to the 13th century,

Mr Cox, formerly of the cultural resources team at Historic Environment Scotland, said: “It seems possible that this memorial commemorates an abbot of Dundrennan who was wounded or assassinated.

“The small figure at his feet likely represents his assailant. The symbolism is rather poignant, the scene depicting the abbot as triumphant over his assailant in perpetuity.”

The carving would originally have covered a tomb chest and is one of number to be recently conserved at the abbey, which sits in a valley around five miles from Kirkcudbright.

The Cistercian abbey at Dundrennan was founded in 1142 by Fergus, Lord of Galloway. It was the first of Scotland’s 13 Cistercian monasteries. The early Gothic church was notable for its three stories and open arcades, an unusual design in Scotland, and considerable remains of it managed to survive the Reformation. There are large sections of the 12th century transepts and early 13th century nave still extant, as are significant portions of the mid-13th century chapter house.

It was not destroyed during the Scottish Reformation; it was just neglected after it. The monks were evicted in 1560, and in 1587 the abbey was annexed by the Crown. Some of the lands were used to create a lordship for James VI’s groom of the bedchamber in 1606. The buildings were used to house livestock. By the 18th century, the abbey was a wreck and numerous visitors wrote about its dilapidated condition.

Records from the Abbey’s are sparse, so much so that we don’t even have a complete list of its abbots. There are just a few grave stones, charters and legal documents and none of them refer to a stabbing or disemboweling, alas. One extremely important record has survived: a certain Adam Blacadder is documented as having been appointed commendator (administrator) in 1541, a role he held until his death in 1562.


Boy wearing warrior’s bronze belt found in southern Italy

Tuesday, July 6th, 2021

The tomb of a boy buried wearing a warrior’s bronze belt has been unearthed in the town of Pontecagnano, six miles from Salerno in the southwestern Italian region of Campania. The boy was between 10 and 12 years old when he died in the 4th century B.C. and was not a warrior quite yet, as evidenced by his young age and the absence of the spear typical of warrior burials in this period. Its association with the warrior class made the belt an important status symbol even if the deceased never fought a day in his life.

The stone-lined box tomb was discovered during a preventative excavation at the site of a new residential housing complex. Excavations at Pontecagnano began in 1962 when tombs from the ancient town’s necropolis, in use from the 5th century B.C. through the 3rd century B.C., were found during housing construction. Because the entire modern town was built over the vast necropolis, archaeological surveys done before construction work have been an uninterrupted source of archaeological material for 60 years. The boy’s grave is the 10,000th to be excavated from the Pontecagnano necropolis.

Box tombs are found frequently in this vast necropolis, but the stone is usually local travertine. The stone slabs that line this tomb are large, thick rectangular pieces of gray Campanian tuff, a material that was an expensive import at that time. The tomb’s cover, which was found in place and complete, was made of three pieces of the tuff. The stones that form the box and cover are finely modeled, the sides perfectly squared.

The skeletal remains of the boy are well-preserved from the pelvis to the feet. Unfortunately the upper body has suffered extensive damage, perhaps due to root growth, perhaps from animals interfering with the grave. In addition to the thick bronze belt worn around his waist, two intact black-glazed pottery vessels were buried at his feet. One held food. The other was a skyphos, a two-handled wine cup. The bronze belt and the skyphos are typical of inhumations from the Samnite culture.

First settled around 5,000 years ago in the Chalcolithic, the Pontecagnano area was colonized by the Etruscans in the 8th century B.C. Etruria’s acquisition of territories in Campania put them in immediate proximity of Magna Graecia, the Greek colonies on the coast of southern Italy. They traded with their neighboring Greek colonies The Etruscan expansion put pressure on the Greek cities and their maritime trade networks, and when the Greeks drew Carthage into the fight, the Etruscans and Carthaginians formed an alliance on land and sea to muscle the Greeks out of the Tyrrhenian and Spain.

Carthage ultimately won out, but not so much its ally. Etruria’s power in Campania waned in the 5th century B.C. and the Samnites occupied the Salerno area after the Etruscans were defeated in battle by the Greek colony of Cumae and its Italic allies. By the late 4th century, the Roman Republic had taken control of much of southern Italy, and Etruscan Amina was replaced by the Roman town of Picentia in 268 B.C. where the Picentine people of northeast Italy were relocated after rebelling against Rome.


10th c. royal church found under Saxony cornfield

Monday, July 5th, 2021

The remains of a church built in the 10th century by the first Holy Roman Emperor have been discovered under a cornfield near Eisleben, in Saxony-Anhalt, northeastern Germany. State archaeologists have been excavating the site of the royal palace of Helfta built by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I west of modern-day Eisleben.

Since digs began in May, the team has unearthed the foundation walls of a classic three-aisled cruciform basilica about 98 feet long and 66 feet wide with a transept and semicircular apse on the east end. Church-related artifacts found so far include a Romanesque bronze crucifix with enamel, a prestigious object made in Limoges in the 13th century, and a large piece of a church bell.

The church was founded around 968 by Holy Roman Emperor Otto the Great who had moved to Rome two years earlier to take a more hands-on approach in his unruly relations with the papacy and widen his sphere of influence in Italy. Building large, showy churches in Germany, especially in his ancestral duchy of Saxony, was part of his program to establish himself as Emperor of the Romans and the newly-minted Holy Roman Empire as the true papal-approved successor to the Roman Empire. (The Byzantine emperor begged to differ.)

Historian Thietmar von Merseburg wrote in his early 11th century chronicle that the church at Helfta was dedicated to Saint Radegund, a 6th century Thuringian princess who dumped her husband Merovingian Frankish King Chlothar I in favor of an ascetic religious life. Theitmar also recorded that Otto the Great had been personally present when the church was inaugurated.

More than 70 graves including brick and stone tombs from the 10th through the 15th centuries have been found inside the church precinct and in the adjacent cemetery. Objects recovered include a gilded belt buckle, coins, knives and several enameled bronze brooches. which was the final resting place for many of the region’s elite. Thietmar’s account describes one such burial. It was his own relative Count Werner von Walbeck, whose remains were transported from Walbeck to be buried in the churchyard in 1014. The body was in an advanced state of decomposition, so Thietmar had the entrails removed and buried in the cemetery in lieu of the fully intact corpse.

Martin Luther was born and died in Eisleben, and it was the Reformation he sparked that cause the church’s ultimate destruction. For 500 years it dominated the landscape and religious life of the area. Come the fury of the Protestant Reformation, its walls were torn down to its foundations and its very location obliterated from the record.

The excavation of the site will continue until early September and will widen the dig area to the area around the church. Archaeologists hope to unearth remains of the settlement and fortifications the grew around the Ottonian royal palace.


King and Queen of Spain found upside down under Emperor and Empress of Mexico

Sunday, July 4th, 2021

Philadelphia Museum of Art conservators have discovered that a pair of portraits of the first Emperor and Empress of Mexico were painted over portraits of the former monarchs of Spain, King Charles IV and Maria Luisa of Parma. The matched half-length portraits of Emperor Agustín de Iturbide and Empress Ana María were painted by Mexican artist Josephus Arias Huarte in 1822, the year Agustín was proclaimed the constitutional Emperor of Mexico.

Agustín I’s reign last less than a year. He and his family were exiled. He was persuaded to return in 1824 but was arrested the minute he landed and executed by firing squad. Ana María and their children remained in exile. They moved to the United States, eventually settling in Philadelphia where she died in 1861 and is buried in the cemetery of the Church of St. John the Evangelist.

The portraits have been in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art since 1922, but they are rarely exhibited and were not seriously studied until 2017 when conservator Sarah Mastrangelo examined them for possible exhibition in the museum’s massive new galleries which open this year. With 22,000 square feet of space to fill, conservators have been examining the museum’s holdings for previously-neglected categories like indigenous American art.

Observing the Empress’ portrait under a microscope, Mastrangelo saw there were two “grounds,” the prep layer applied to the canvas. Further examination under a infrared light revealed an eye on Ana María’s belly. The ghostly image was obscured by the red paint of the ground, but an X-ray uncovered an entire portrait flipped upside down. An X-ray of her husband’s portrait revealed the same thing.

The upside down portraits were not done by the same artist. The style and technique in the originals were different, better, and the clothing predated 1822 by several decades. Mastrangelo believes they are good quality copies of portraits of King Charles IV and Queen Maria Luisa of Spain originally painted by Goya. Charles and Maria Luisa reigned from 1788 until the king was forced to abdicated by Napoleon in 1808. They were kept captive in France for four years. In 1812 they were allowed to move to Rome under the protection of Pope and were living in the Palazzo Barberini when they died 18 days apart in 1819.

So they hadn’t been on the throne of Spain for 14 years and had been dead for two when Iturbíde led the fight for Mexican Independence and took Mexico City from Spain. When he was proclaimed emperor a year after that, recycling the portraits of deposed, dead former Spanish monarchs to make coronation portraits of the new Mexican-born rulers was a satisfyingly pointed statement as well as a practical choice as there wasn’t a great deal of canvas available in Mexico at the time.

Mastrangelo consulted curators Mark Castro and Alexandra Letvin, who believe the long-hidden portraits of the Spanish royals were made in around 1799 or 1800 and based on popular prototypes developed by court artist Francisco de Goya. It is unclear if the original compositions were made in Spain or Mexico, but the canvases were in Mexico two decades later when they were reused by Huarte to paint the Iturbides upon their coronation in Mexico City in 1822.


Roman sarcophagus found in Georgian pleasure garden

Saturday, July 3rd, 2021

An ancient Roman stone sarcophagus containing the remains of two individuals has been discovered on the grounds of a Georgian pleasure garden in Bath. Archaeologists unearthed the intact coffin with lid at a site adjacent to a Roman wall on the edge of Bathwick Roman cemetery.

It is approximately 6.5 feet long and is made of native limestone. Inside was one complete skeleton in prone position with a partial one laid at its feet. The coffin’s north-south orientation marks it as a pre-Christian burial. A cremation burial, the first ever discovered at Bathwick, was found next to it, as was a small pottery vessel containing the remains of food, likely a votive offering, and some small red and blue glass beads.

Sylvia Warman, Science Advisor for Historic England has been providing advice about this rare find. Sylvia said: “This is an amazing find – although several Roman stone coffins have been found around Bath in the past, none have been excavated and recorded by professional archaeologists using modern methods until today. This is a first for Bathwick and a really significant find for Roman Bath and the World Heritage Site. When completed, a scientific study of the remains will likely tell us much more about the lives, death and burial practices of the inhabitants of Roman Bath.”

Originally designed by Bath city architect Thomas Baldwin, Sydney Gardens was built in the 1790s, one of a plethora of Georgian commercial pleasure gardens built after the opening of London’s hugely popular Vauxhall Gardens in 1785. It opened in 1795 and offered paying visitors a variety of entertainment environments including a labyrinth, a bowling green, a Sham Castle with moat, a Cosmorama. It was instantly popular. Jane Austen lived at No. 4 Sydney Place when she lived in Bath between 1801 and 1804 and visited the gardens often. She wrote in her letters about enjoying its labyrinth, breakfasts, fireworks and the 15,000 lanterns that illuminated it at night.

The gardens were purchased by the city of Bath in 1908 and opened as a municipal park in 1913. It has been popular for concerts, picnics, lawn bowls ever since, but only a few of the original Georgian features have survived and they’re in need of conservation. Since February 2019, Sydney Gardens has been undergoing a revitalization program to restore the historic buildings, landscape and garden. It is expected to be complete in March 2022.

One of the historic (but not original) buildings slated for restoration is Minerva’s Temple, a large garden shelter built of local limestone ashlar for the 1911 Festival of Empire at the Crystal Palace in London. It was a promotional structure, a replica of the Temple to Sulis Minerva found at the city’s iconic Roman Baths, serving as an advertisement for Bath stone. After some debate over the expense of moving it, the Temple was permanently installed in Sydney Gardens in 1913. It is now a Grade II listing building in its own right.

Minerva’s Temple will house new information panels about the history of Sydney Gardens. The Bath City Council is considering installing the recently-discovered stone sarcophagus, emptied of its human remains, of course, in Minerva’s Temple for permanent display.


Signer’s copy of Declaration of Independence found in Scottish attic

Friday, July 2nd, 2021

A rare facsimile of the Declaration of Independence that was presented to signatory Charles Carroll in 1824 was rediscovered in the attic of a Scottish estate. It was found in a pile of dusty documents by Cathy Marsden, Specialist in Rare Books, Manuscripts & Maps for auction house Lyon & Turnbull, who recognized it as one of only 52 surviving examples of the 200 special prints and the only example belonging to a signatory of the Declaration of Independence still in private hands.

A brief timeline of the birth of the Declaration of Independence:

  • July 2, 1776: Twelve of 13 colonial delegations in Continental Congress resolve that the United States is “Free and Independent.” New York abstains (courteously).
  • July 4: Thomas Jefferson’s final draft of the Declaration is approved.
  • July 4 PM: Official printer to Congress John Dunlap receives the approved text and prints it as broadsides signed by President of the Second Continental Congress John Hancock and Secretary Charles Thomson.
  • July 9: New York approves the resolution of independence
  • July 19: The last straggler state corralled, Congress orders that the Declaration be “fairly engrossed on parchment, with the title and stile of ‘The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America,’ and that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress.” The elegant, clear hand that quills the manuscript is likely that of Timothy Matlack, Thomson’s clerk.
  • August 2: Engrossed Declaration signed by all delegates present at a signing ceremony.

The engrossed Declaration with its iconic header and John Hancock signature is now in the Rotunda of the National Archives, protected by a custom state-of-the-art encasement, but it was not so gingerly handled when it was young and the ink is barely legible today. It went with the Continental Congress during the War of Independence, rolled up, folded, transported in chests and saddlebags. Between 1776 and 1790, it lived a transient existence, touching down in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Philadelphia again, Lancaster, York, Princeton, Annapolis, Trenton and New York. It spent another decade being moved around to different locations in Philadelphia before making its way via river and ocean voyage to the newly-founded capital of Washington, D.C. It had to be hustled out of the city in a farm wagon only days before the British attack on Washington in August 1814. It returned for good in September.

By the time it achieved geographic stability, the Declaration’s iron gall ink was already destabilized and it got worse quickly. For decades it was exposed to moisture, faded in the sun, palpated by visitors, historians and copyists. In the 19th century, copies were made using a “wet transfer” method in which a damp sheet of paper was pressed into the manuscript until enough ink was absorbed so it could be transferred to a copper plate. Every pressing by design removed ink from the original.

One of those copies was so meticulous a reproduction that it has become the most widespread and recognizable image of the Declaration of Independence. It was commissioned in 1820 by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams who wanted a full-size, exact copy — no extra ornament, nothing missing, everything the same including the signatures — on a copperplate so the State Department (then the custodian of the archives) could release replica prints on parchment without inflicting further damage on the original. D.C. printer William J. Stone spent three years engraving the image on a copperplate. In May 1824, Congress ordered 201 copies of the Stone engraving for distribution to luminaries and institutions. Just 52 of them are known to survive today.

Six of them were gifts for the surviving signatories. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Charles Carroll each received two copies. Adams’ copies are now in the Massachusetts Historical Society. Jefferson’s are lost. On August 2, 1826, less than a month after Adams and Jefferson died within hours of each other on the Fourth of July, Carroll gave one of his copies to his grandson-in-law John MacTavish, diplomat and scion of a Scottish-Canadian fur trading dynasty who had married Carroll’s granddaughter Emily Caton. MacTavish gave it to the nascent Maryland Historical Society in 1844 when he served as British Consul to Maryland.

Charles Carroll, the only Catholic and last living signatory of the Declaration of Independence, died in 1832. The fate of Carroll’s second copy was unknown, but now that it’s been found in the attic, John MacTavish’s inscription makes it clear that the second copy stayed in the family via Emily Caton and was passed down through the Scottish branch of Carroll’s descendants.

The inscriptions in the lower left corner of the example here tell the story of Carroll’s disposition of both of the copies he was given: “Presented to his friend John/Mac Tavish Esquire by/the only Surviving Signer/of this important State Paper,/exactly half a century/after having affixed his/name to the Original Document./(Signed) Ch. Carroll of Carrollton/ Doughoregan Manor/1826, August Second.” The signer wrote that inscription on his other copy before giving it to MacTavish, who copied it onto this document (so Carroll’s “signature” here was penned by MacTavish), and then added: “The Original presented/to the Hist: Soc: of Md/November 30/[18]44./JMc T.”

The Carroll copy was offered in a single-lot auction on July 1st at Freeman’s auction in Philadelphia, blocks away from Independence Hall where the original Declaration of Independence was signed. The pre-sale estimate was $500,000 – 800,000. Surprisingly absolutely no one, it blew past those figures and sold for $4,420,000.


Safe passage coin hoard found in Brabant

Thursday, July 1st, 2021

University of Leiden researchers have found evidence that a group of Romans coins found near the River Aa in Brabant, the Netherlands, were deposited as offerings by travelers seeking safe passage across the river. The hoard was discovered by metal detectorist brothers Wim and Nico Schaijk in a field in the village of Berlicum in November of 2017. They found 107 coins — 103 bronze sesterces and axes, four silver denarii — in freshly turned soil on the bank of the River Aa in Berlicum. Most of them date to the 1st and 2nd century.

They reported their discoveries and in 2018, the find site was surveyed by archaeologists. A single test trench revealed that the coins originated in a soil layer thick with natural iron concretions. Most of the coins are encrusted with a thick crust of iron consistent with the ferrous layer in the soil, indicating they were in that spot together for a long time. The excavation also unearthed two more Roman copper alloy coins, a the head of a hair bobbin and a broken metal curved piece that may have been finger ring.

The oldest identifiable coin is a silver denarius from the Roman Republic minted by Calpurnius in 90 B.C. The other three denarii were minted under Vespasian and Trajan. There are many unidentifiable coins because the 105 coppers are extremely corroded. The most recent that can be dated was minted under Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.), but that doesn’t put an endpoint on the deposition date because 2nd century Roman copper coins were in circulation in North Brabant well into the 3rd century as the supply of new coins dwindled to nothing..

The date range and distribution of the coins suggest they were deposited slowly and regularly for more than a century, an accumulated deposition rather than a hoard buried in a single event. Coins and jewelry were deposited on the banks of a river in an area that flooded regularly and was consistently soggy. Votive deposits were often left in or next to bodies of water as rivers, lakes, waterfalls and wetlands had ritual significance.

Chemical analysis found that the ferric hydroxide crust began to form on the coins very soon after they were deposited. There is no evidence of erosion or flushing as the coins were found on the marshy shore and would obviously have shifted down the bank to the bottom of the river if subject to erosion or flushing. Any washout that occurred had minimal impact on the positioning of the coins, at most shifting them only slightly vertically and/or horizontally.

The coins were found on the shore of a narrow, shallow part of the river. There is no evidence of a dam or bridge or any other construction there, but it was likely a ford in the river. Archaeologists hypothesize that the coins were tossed into the water at the shore to ensure safe passage by people about to ford the stream.

The coins are evidence that Roman activity in what is now the Netherlands wasn’t just concentrated along the fortifications on the Rhine and the Waal rivers. Even in the interior, spots like the ford were well-frequented transit areas between important Roman centers like the monumental temple complex of Hercules Magusanus at Empel, just five miles north of Berlicum, or Nijmegen, the oldest city in the Netherlands, less than 30 miles to the northwest.

Leiden University researcher Liesbeth Claes:

“In the 1832 entry in the land registry – one of the Netherlands’ oldest detailed maps – my colleagues noticed that at that time there was a path cutting across the river. Apparently there was a ford on this spot, where people could wade through the river. Later, the ford fell into disuse. This information, together with the find of the coins, convinced us that travellers in Roman times brought offerings here for a safe crossing. It may not have been a particularly rapidly flowing river, but for traders in particular it was important to be able to transport their goods safely to the other side. And there’s also the fact that in ancient times rivers always had some sacred connections.”





July 2021


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