Rare 1st Century Roman Finds To Return To Leicestershire

By Graham Spicer | 17 April 2007
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photo of a part of a roman helmet being excavated with a faint image of a man on horseback on it

The helmet is very fragile but in the safe hands of British Museum coservators. Photo Leicestershire Museums Service

Leicestershire Museums Service has received funding to purchase and restore a remarkable Roman helmet along with a hoard of Iron Age coins both found in the county.

The silver and gold cavalry helmet, the finest of its kind to be found in this country, was unearthed along with the hoard of 5,000 silver and gold coins in a field in Hallaton in 2002.

Conservation work on the fragile helmet started at the British Museum after it was found and further restoration is now possible along with the creation of permanent exhibition examining the finds at Hallaton and Harborough Museums. A touring exhibition will also be developed.

The Heritage Lottery Fund gave £650,000 to fund all aspects of the project with a further £100,000 coming from the Art Fund to help purchase the rare items.

The finds date from the 1st century AD and it is not yet known whether the helmet was left there before or after the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43.

It features a detailed image of a Roman Emperor being crowned while his horse tramples a barbarian. Theories abound as to the significance of the finds and how the helmet made its way there.

photo of a hand holiding lots of ancient coins

Some 5,000 coins were found - one of the largest hoards from Iron Age times. Photo Leicestershire Museums Service

“One of the scenarios being floated around was that the helmet was from a local Iron Age nobleman that went off and fought for the Romans,” said Peter Liddle, Keeper of Archaeology for Leicestershire County Museums Service.

“It is also possible that it was won in battle from the Romans,” he explained. “My favourite theory is that it could be a diplomatic gift from the Romans to the king of the Corieltavi, the local British tribe.”

The coins form one of the biggest groups of Iron Age coins found in Britain, most of which are from the Corieltavi. Others, however, are Roman, including silver coins from each of the four Emperors during the civil war of AD 69.

Coins from most of the other coin-producing Iron Age people of southern Britain were also found.

Shows a photo of coins in the ground, partially unearthed.

The finds were originally excavated in 2002. Photo British Museum

“It looks like this is a site visited by people from different regions where they would make an offering,” explained Peter. “We are thinking that this is a key shrine of the elite from the Corieltavi. It could have been a place where Corieltavi kings were crowned or where weddings took place.”

“Around the enclosure pit there was an incredible number of dead pigs which seem to be sacrifices … a tankard handle there also suggests that there was ritual feasting here.”

It is hoped that the conservators from the British Museum will be able to restore the fragile helmet to a state where it can be displayed at Harborough Museum along with the coins, although replicas of it will also be made for the displays.

The touring exhibition is planned to be on the road in 2008 and the permanent exhibitions installed within 18 months.

Additional funding for the project came from the Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund, the Friends of Leicester and Leicestershire Museums, the Leicestershire Museums Archaeological Fieldwork Group and Leicestershire County Council.

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