[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail:
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]
Italiano

[Link to a series of help pages]
Help
[Link to the next level up]
Up
[Link to my homepage]
Home

[image ALT: link to previous section]
previous
chapter
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Roman Era in Britain

by John Ward

published by Methuen & Co. Ltd.
36 Essex Street W. C., London
1911

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.


[image ALT: link to next section]
next
Chapter

p208 Chapter XII

MISCELLANEOUS IMPLEMENTS AND APPLIANCES

Spoons, Ligulae, and ForksLamps and CandlesticksSteelyards, Balances, and MeasuresBellsObjects Used in GamesSpindles, Needles, and Netting-toolsStrigilsOculists' StampsWriting Appliances and Seal Boxes

Spoons (cochlearia)º are frequently found on Roman sites. The bowls are of three shapes — circular, as Fig. 59, C, D; oval, as B; and one that may be described as fig-shaped with a straight upper end, as A. The spoons of the first type are mostly small and of bone, and they are generally regarded as egg-spoons. Those of the second and third are larger and are almost always of bronze and silver; neither, however, are so frequently found as the first. The stems of all are slender and pointed, and Martial refers to their use for extracting shell-fish from their shells. Those of the metal spoons generally have a curious crank at the base, whereas those of the bone spoons are usually straight from point to base, C being exceptional in this respect. This crank is a survival of a hinged joint by which the bowl could be turned forwards upon the stem to render the spoon more portable, and an example is figured in Illustrations of Roman London.1


[image ALT: zzz]
Fig. 59. Spoons, Ligulae, etc. (All ⅔)

The slender spoon-like objects (ligulae), of which three are shown, E, F, and G, are nearly always of bronze. They differ from the spoons in their narrow bowls, and the expanded heads of their stems to serve as counterpoises to their bowls. They were probably used at the table for taking condiments out of narrow-necked vessels, and for other like purposes.

p210 There is no evidence that table-forks were used. The slender bronze implement resembling a hay-fork, H, is one of two in the Guildhall which were probably kitchen implements, as certainly were the flesh-hooks of which there are several in that museum. These are iron implements, consisting of a handled stem from 8 to 15 ins. long, to which several curved claw-like prongs are riveted.


[image ALT: zzz]
Fig. 60. Lamps and Lamp-Stands. (All ⅓)
Lamps are of common occurrence, and they may be divided into two classes, the open and the closed. The first represent an advance on the primitive saucer-lamps in having a lateral open spout for the wick to recline in: the second represent a further advance in being closed in above, except for a feed-hole and a wick-hole. In none is there provision for a vertical wick as in the modern lamps. The typical Roman lamp belongs to our second class. It has a circular oil-container from 2 to 3 ins. in diameter, with a feed-hole (infundibulum) in the top, a covered wick-spout or nozzle (nasus, rostrum) that varies considerably, on one side, and usually a handle, on the other side. The body at first was somewhat globular, with a large feed-hole; but before the conquest of Britain, the feed-hole had become smaller, and was in a large depression (discus), which afforded the chief field for ornamentation. Fig. 60, C, is a simple example of one of these lamps. The earlier handles were simple loops large enough to admit the finger, and the later, rounded vertical lugs usually perforated with a small hole. Occasionally there are two, or even three or more, nozzles. Another occasional feature is a small projection on each side of the top, as in D. These are probably survivals of small perforated lugs for the attachment of two suspending cords or chains, the handle serving for the attachment of a third. Still another occasional feature is a small slit behind the nozzle, as in B and D, apparently for the insertion of a pin to push forward the wick.

By far the larger number of these lamps are of pottery, especially in this country, where few of bronze have been found. They are as a rule moulded. The moulds were in two parts, the one for the top of the lamp and the other for the lower portion. The clay was pressed into the half-moulds, and these being p212brought together, the union of the two clays was effected by pressure. The clay was generally buff or red of fine texture, and covered with a ruddy or dark engobe. Many of the lamps bear moulded ornamentation, and not a few, the makers' names or marks. Out of about 105 London lamps in the Guildhall, 45 are ornamented and 23 are inscribed. The ornamentation is mostly confined to the discus, but sometimes the border is also or alone ornamented; and an enumeration of the decorative subjects will give an idea of their diversity on the lamps generally — Jupiter seated; Diana (bust); Silenus (bust); Venus standing on a shell; Victory (several); Actaeon and his dogs; Cupid armed; Cupid with a bunch of grapes; Sol in his chariot; Charon in a boat; a female with torches; busts of empresses; a centaur with an amphora; saddled horse; running dog; hound and boar; eagle; dolphin (two); two birds; gladiatorial scenes; crescent (for Diana?); masks; and an eight-petalled flower. The following ornamented borders occur — egg-and‑tongue, meander, and 'mulberry' patterns; scrollwork; helmets, spears, and shields; oak-leaves; and a wreath.

Lamps are occasionally inscribed, and the most frequent inscriptions are acclamations and good wishes, as VIVAS, 'Long life,' and AVE ET VALE, 'greeting and farewell!' As they were not only used for ordinary lighting purposes, but for illuminations at public rejoicings, votive offerings, tombs, and new year's gifts, the inscriptions sometimes indicate their destination. SAECVL, combined with circus scenes, evidently refers to the Ludi Saeculares. SACRVM VENERI suggests a votive offering for a shrine of Venus; and ANNVM NOVVM FAVSTVM FILICEM,º or simply FELICITAS, was appropriate for a new year's gift. The maker's name is nearly always placed on the bottom, with or without F for fecit or EX OF. for ex officina; and with or without the name, there is occasionally a single letter, numeral, or simple device as a footprint, a wheel, or a wreath or palm. Some of these may indicate the patterns issued from a pottery, others may be of the nature of trade-marks, and others again workmen's marks. Although a few moulds have been found in this country — there are examples in the Guildhall and Caerleon Museums — the majority of our lamps were made abroad, and p213Italy and other Mediterranean countries appear to have been the chief seat of the manufacture. In Italy and Africa, the later lamps were of the general form of those of the 3rd and 4th centuries, but those of the East were somewhat oval or kite-shaped, and in either hand the handles were solid, the workmanship poor, and the ornamentation often included the 'chi-rho' and other Christian symbols and subjects; very few of these late lamps, however, have been found in this country.

Aberrant forms of lamps are rare. There is a remarkable example in the Guildhall collection, shaped above as a negro's head, the grotesquely protruding lower jaw of which serves as the nozzle, the lower surface having the form of a camel's head; others in the form of a bird and of helmet have been found at Colchester.2 One found at Hexham was of normal character, but had a cylindrical stem below, which may have terminated in a foot or pedestal or have been intended for insertion into the sconce of a candlestick.3 Bronze lamps resemble those of pottery, but differ in their finer manipulation. The handles especially are graceful, and are sometimes provided with ornamented plates or leaves to shield the hand from the smoke of the flame. Few have been found in this country, and there are several in the Guildhall collection.

Lamp-stands, or open lamps as they are often regarded, are shallow vessels with a rounded projection on one side and a handle on the other. E is an earthenware example in the Guildhall, but is deeper than usual. They are often of lead, as F from Gellygaer; and in the Guildhall there is one with three legs, which contained a small red-ware lamp when found. A fine bronze example, with an acanthus screen attached to the handle, was found with one of the Bartlow Hills interments. Iron examples are more frequent, and have been found with interments in the Bartlow Hills, at Rougham, Lockham, and elsewhere.4 G from one of the first is typical. It consists of three parts, the stand, a swivel-piece, and a bar terminating with a spike and a lateral hook. The stand could be suspended by thrusting the spike into a crevice or hole in a wall or by catching the hook upon a shelf or over a nail. Iron and brass hanging-lamps with precisely p214similar arrangements for suspension were in common use on the Continent until half a century ago; and the Scottish oil-cruisie differs only in having two pans, an upper, the lamp proper, and a lower to catch any dribble of oil from the former. The Roman lamp-stand served the purpose of the latter, although it occasionally may have been used as a lamp, for in the Rougham example were found the remains of a wick in its rounded projection.


[image ALT: zzz]
Fig. 61. Candle-Holders of Iron and Pottery. (All ⅓)
Our Roman candlesticks are with few and doubtful exceptions of iron and pottery. A common iron form consists of a tall and tapering socket on three legs, as Fig. 61, A, a Caerwent example. A variant of this form has a circular grease-plate at the base of the socket, as in B, from Cirencester. Less frequent is the 'caltrop' candlestick, of which C is a Caerwent example, consisting of four sockets united at their bases and so arranged that, however placed, three serve as legs. D and E, both from Silchester, are bracket candlesticks, having horizontal spikes to be inserted into the wall. The former has in addition a downward spike, which could be thrust into a hole in a table or shelf, or into a wooden pedestal, the horizontal arm then serving as a handle — a similar example has been found in London. J is a hanging candle-holder from Silchester, the terminal hook of which is missing. This and the bracket candlestick, E, are forms which were in common use down to a century ago, and even more recently in Scotland.

Earthenware candlesticks are rarely more than 4 ins. high, are usually of common red and buff wares. They vary considerably in shape and some resemble medieval forms. The Silchester example, H, represents the prevailing form — a saucer-like vessel on a tall foot, with a socket for the candle in the centre of the cavity. The saucer was sometimes smaller and the foot more spreading, or, as in F, an example from York, the former was larger and deeper. Occasionally it was dispensed with, as in G, another Silchester example. The object of the saucer was to catch any molten fat from the candle. It is a common feature in the medieval candlesticks, and it survived as a slightly concave or flat disc in the earthenware, brass, and pewter candlesticks of the 17th and 18th centuries.

I is a curious combination of iron open lamp and candle-socket p216resting upon a tall stem with a tripod base, found at Silchester. The oil-container is imperfect, and it is impossible to say whether it had a wick-spout.


[image ALT: zzz]
Fig. 62. Writing Apparatus, Bells, and Objects used in Games.
(All ⅔)
The steelyard (statera) and the balance or scales (libra, bilanx) were in common use in Roman Britain. The examples which have survived are of bronze and of small sizes, the larger being probably of wood or iron. Fig. 62, A, is a small but typical example of the steelyard found at Kingsholm, Gloucestershire.5 The graduated beam (scapus) is hexagonal in section, but as often as not it is quadrangular or round. The Roman steelyard differs from the modern in having two handles (ansae), consequently two fulcrums (centra) in different positions. The handles are in the form of hooks of flattened bronze, so that when hooked over the finger the instrument could be supported with comfort. Our example is shown in the position in which the fulcrum nearest the base is brought into operation, and in this position the instrument is adapted for weighing heavier articles than when reversed, with the other handle brought into use. From the base is suspended a hook — a double one in this case — or a pan for holding the articles to be weighed. The sliding weights are often of lead, but bronze examples in the form of busts or animals are not uncommon. The beams are graduated on both sides, the series of notches indicating progressive weights, beginning with that next the handle farthest from the base, and ending on the opposite side with the knob.

Scale-beams are perhaps more frequently found, and there are over twenty examples in the Guildhall Museum. They vary in length from about 4 to 14 ins., and are relatively slender. In its simplest form (as B from Lydney) the beam has a central eyelet to receive a finger-hook, and one at each end for the rings from which the pans were suspended. An improvement was the introduction of an index or pointer, as in the folding beam, C, from London; and the handles of these beams were cleft as at present, for the passage of the index. An ornamented handle of the kind is figured by Mr. Roach Smith.6 A Silchester beam has a small hole in the upper part of the index, which, when p218coinciding with two corresponding holes in the handle, indicated that it was in a horizontal position.7 The folding balances are of small size and were probably used for weighing money. The Lydney beam, like some others found elsewhere, is graduated on both arms; and these are usually ounce graduations on the one, and half-ounce on the other, so that with a sliding-weight on each arm, and a pound-weight in one pan, it would be possible to weigh from an ounce by successive increments of half-ounces to two pounds. Scale-pans are rarely found. A small engraved one is figured by Mr. Roach Smith,8 and there is a large iron one with four rings in the Cirencester Museum.

The smaller weights of the era are usually cheese-shaped, as the two shown in Fig. 62, D, the one a bronze pound from London, and the other a lead two-ounce from Melandra. The denominations are generally expressed by numerals, I standing for a pound or an ounce, and S (semis) for half a pound or ounce, or by punched dots and other symbols. Large weights of stone have been found, as two near Towcester.9

Nearly thirty lead weights have been found at Melandra Castle, most of which are of the cheese shape, the rest being flat discs, some perforated, squares, and a few of nondescript shapes. The marks, especially of the smaller, which are apparently coin weights, are intricate and in some instances obscure. The Roman subdivisions of the uncia were complicated by the introduction of the Greek drachma, but it is outside the province of this book to enter into the intricate subject of the Roman weights. For these the reader is referred to Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, Hill's Handbook of Greek and Roman Coins, and the important articles on the Melandra weights by Mr. Thomas May10 and Prof. Conway.11

Examples of the Roman foot-rule (regulus) have been found at Caerleon,12 Colchester, and Wilderspool.13 They are of bronze and of identical construction, each having a single hinge, and a p219riveted stay on the one arm, which, when the rule is opened, catches into a pin on the other, and so keeps it rigid. Inches are marked by indentations, and the total length is approximately that of the estimated Roman pes of 11·649 English inches.

Bells are occasionally found on Roman sites. They are of cast bronze and of small size, rarely being as large as our table-bells. The prevailing form is quadrangular with rounded corners, four little feet, and a perforated lug on the summit. Fig. 62, K, is a typical example from London, but the feet are sometimes absent. Hemispherical and conical bells, of which J is a London example of the former, are less frequent. The clappers rarely remain and they appear to have been, as a rule, of iron. The quadrangular form was derived from bells made of sheet metal bent into shape, with the edges riveted or soldered together, like the old-fashioned iron sheep- and cow-bells which still linger in use, and many of the larger bells of the ancient Celtic Church of which St. Patrick's is a famous example. Others of these ecclesiastical bells are in cast bronze, but, like the quadrangular Roman bells, retain the parent form, only with more rounded contours. The small size and eyelets of the Roman bells render it unlikely that they were used for the table. Their excellent finish is scarcely compatible with their being sheep- and cattle-bells, and the most feasible suggestion is that they were horse-bells and were attached to the harness in the same manner as at present.

Globular bells have also been found on Roman sites. There are several plain ones in the Guildhall Museum pierced with circular holes and an oblong slit at the bottom; and a small ornamented example was found at Headington, Oxfordshire, and others at Chesterford, Shefford, and Colchester.

Various objects used in games are of constant occurrence. Dice (tesserae, tessellae), identical with the modern, have been found in sufficient number to prove that Roman Britain shared in the general passion for dice-playing. Fig. 62, F, is a bone example, but occasionally they are of ivory and lead. Dice-boxes seem to be rare in this country, but E is an undoubted example of bone in p220the Guildhall. It is probable that small earthenware vases, like Fig. 50, Nos. 3 and 8, were used for the purpose.

Small discs of opaque glass or frit, flat below and convex above, made by pouring the molten metal on a flat surface, are frequently found. They are rarely less than ½ in. or more than ¾ in. in diameter, white, deep blue, or black, usually plain, and when otherwise the upper surface has spots in white or red enamel, as in G. The Romans had similar games to our draughts, and it is probable that these discs were used in these, the marked ones being superior pieces. A stone draught-board, divided into 56 squares, has been found at Corbridge, and portions of others at Chesters and Maumbury Rings near Dorchester.

Wafer-like bone discs, ornamented on the face with concentric circles, are also of common occurrence. The larger sizes are thicker and are often more elaborately ornamented, as two examples from Caerleon, H. There is little doubt that these objects were used in games, the smaller as counters, and the larger as 'pieces' like our draughtsmen. We can hardly dissociate from these frit and bone discs, those made from potsherds and even glass, the former of which are of common occurrence, often with their edges neatly rounded by rubbing on stone, and mostly from ½ to 1 in. in diameter.

Larger discs chipped out of stone or coarse pottery, ranging from about 2 to 5 ins. in diameter, were probably used in some game akin to quoits. The stone ones are of common occurrence where thin flagstones abound, and considerable numbers made of the local pennant-stone have been found at Caerwent, Gellygaer, Llantwit Major, Merthyr Tydfil, and Ely near Cardiff. Small ornamented triangular, square, and lozenge-shaped (as I, from Lydney) plates of bone are occasionally found, and they may be 'pieces' in some table-game.

There was a pastime, indulged in by Greek and Roman women and children, known by the Romans as talus. It received this name because the game was ordinarily played with the knuckle-bones (tali) of sheep and goats. Five were required, and they seem to have beenº used precisely as in the modern game of 'five-stones,' now almost obsolete. A Herculanean painting depicts two women playing the game, and one is shown in the act p221of catching three on the back of her hand, while two are falling to the ground. These knuckle-bones were imitated in ivory, bronze, agate, and other materials, and there are two of lead in the Guildhall Museum. The actual bones may also have been used in Britain, but it would not, of course, be easy to determine whether those found on our sites were thus used or were refuse of food.

That gladiatorial contests, combats with wild animals, chariot-racing, and other scenes of the amphitheatre were popular in Britain, are proved by the remains of amphitheatres and their frequent delineations on mosaics and pottery. Hunting, also, must have been extremely popular, for wild animals and hunting scenes were also favourite subjects. Inscriptions, too, bear witness to this, as also the bones and tusks of the wild boar and the antlers of the red-deer which are almost invariably found on Roman sites.


[image ALT: zzz]
Fig. 63. Spindle and Whorls, Strigil, Hand-Mirror, and Combs. (C, ⅓; the rest, ⅔)

The art of spinning with the distaff and spindle is probably as old as the stone age, and it still survives, even as near to us as some of the outlying islands of Scotland. Of the ancient distaffs and spindles very few remain, but the perforated discs or whorls, the momentum of which prolonged the twirl given to the spindle by the finger and thumb, are common objects in our museums. These are mostly of stone, but also of other materials, as shale, steatite, Kimmeridge coal, lead, bone, and pottery; flat or more or less convex or conical on one or both sides; from 1 to 1½ ins. in diameter; shaped by hand or turned in the lathe; and plain or slightly ornamented. Fig. 63, A, is an example of a turned spindle-whorl. They are frequently found on Roman sites, but as a rule these cannot be distinguished from those of earlier or later times, unless they are made of pieces of recognizable pottery of the era. There are many bone and wooden spindles in the Guildhall that have been found in London, and one of these with its whorl, B, is shown. This whorl is the sawn-off upper portion of the head of a long bone, probably of an ox.

Bone and bronze needles and bodkins are seen in most collections of our Roman antiquities. They are, as a rule, carefully made, from 3 to 6 ins. long, and the eyes are nearly always in the form of narrow slots. Most of the examples in Fig. 68 are p223from Silchester, the first group, F, being of bronze, and the second, G, of bone. Bronze netting-needles are rare, but several may be seen in the Guildhall. Thimbles are also rare, and they differ from the modern in being shorter and more hemispherical. Fig. 68, I, is a bronze one from Aldborough, and is perhaps unusual in being faceted.

The strigil or bath-scraper (see p. 95), the use of which was an occasional subject in Greek and Roman art, approached a sickle in general form, but with the point gently curved back, and in the Roman examples the blade may be described as an attenuated scoop. Few have been found in this country, and these are of bronze or iron. Of the former material is Fig. 63, C, from Reculver. Its handle is tubular, of sheet bronze, with oval bosses so as to ensure a firm grip in the hand. A pair of similar strigils were among the grave-goods of one of the Bartlow Hills (p. 143). In a more frequent form, the handle has two narrow openings or slots, one on each side, to serve the same purpose as the bosses, and there are several examples of these in the Guildhall.

Oculists' stamps have been found at St. Albans, Wroxeter, Cirencester, Kenchester, Gloucester, Bath, and several other places.14 They are little oblong or tabular blocks of schist, slate, or other fine stone, engraved with names of medicaments and their makers, and often with those of the complaints for which they were specifics, the inscriptions of course being reversed. Ancient medical writers refer to a large number of collyria, some of which were the recipes of famous physicians and were known by their names, as the Collyria of Dionysius. Others were known by their chief ingredient or their colour. The Wroxeter example, which, contrary to the rule, is circular instead of rectangular, is inscribed on the face, TIB CL M DIALIBA AD OMNE VITIO EX O, "The dialibanum of Tiberius Claudius, Medicus (?), for all complaints (of the eyes) to be used with egg." The Kenchester tablet has the name of the maker, Titus Vindax Ariovistus, on each of its four edges, followed by the name of a preparation — ANICET (Anicetum, p224the 'Invincible') NARD (Nardinium, containing spikenard); CHLORON (the 'green collyrium'), the fourth side being damaged.

Both Greeks and Romans were acquainted with pens, ink, paper, and parchment,a but these appear to have been chiefly reserved for literary writing — ordinary correspondence, accounts, memoranda, and even wills, being written on wax tablets with the stile. Fig. 64, A, from a Pompeian mural painting, illustrates these methods and materials. It depicts an inkstand, pen, parchment roll, stile and writing tablets, one of the last having leaves like a book and the other apparently being a single leaf to hang on the wall.


[image ALT: zzz]
Fig. 64. Writing Appliances and Seal-boxes.
(B, D, ⅔; C, ⅓; E, F, G, 1/1)
The pen ordinarily used was made from the Egyptian reed, whence its name, calamus, and it was cut precisely like the modern quill pen. Bronze pens of the same size and shape of the reed pens have been sparingly found on the Continent. The ink, atramentum, was, like our liquid inks, a preparation of carbon, perhaps lamp-black. The inkstands were cylindrical or hexagonal, of bronze or terra-cotta, mostly with contracted mouths, and with or without handles and hinged lids. As might be expected, no example of a reed pen or of a written paper or parchment has survived to us in Britain; but inkstands bear witness to the fact that this mode of writing was in vogue. There are five of bronze in the Guildhall Museum, one of which, D, is shown. It has a contracted mouth, and riveted to its side is a tongue of thin bronze, probably the base of a handle. Three others have full-width mouths, and may have had loose lids with contracted openings, which are lost. The remaining inkstand is larger and has three feet of rather elaborate design. In the same museum are several small bronze amphora-like vessels, ofº which, although intended for suspension, two are provided with small bronze tripod stands. Similar vessels, in one instance a double one, have been found elsewhere in this country. Their use is unknown, and it is not certain whether they are Roman at all, but possibly they were portable ink-bottles.

Writing-tablets (tabulae, pugillares) were ordinarily of beech, fir, and box-wood, and rarely exceeded 5½ ins. in length and 4½ ins. in width. They had a raised border, and over the sunk panel p226a film of soft wax, almost invariably coloured black, was spread. A set of tablets contained two or more of these leaves, hinged together with wire or thread, book-wise, the borders preventing the waxed surfaces coming into contact. The outer surfaces of the outside leaves were any of plain wood. The stilus was usually of bronze or iron, and flattened at the other for smoothing the wax when again required for writing, or when it was necessary to make a correction, hence vertere stilum, to turn the pen, meant to make an erasure.

As stated above, the tablets were used for a variety of purposes. They were used in schools as slates are at present. Letters were written on them, and before they were dispatched by the letter-carrier or tabellarius, they were secured by pack-thread and sealed. They were used for accounts, private and public. Wills were written on them, and it was legally necessary that the outer borders should be pierced so that the leaves could be bound together with a triple thread upon which the testator first placed his seal, and then the witnesses their names and seals. After the decease of the testator, the thread was cut in the presence of the witnesses and a copy of the will made. The original was then sealed with the public seal and kept in the public tabularium, of which there was one in the chief town of every province, each in charge of a tabularius.

Owing to the perishable nature of wood, comparatively few writing-tablets remain. There are several London examples in the British and Guildhall Museums, and C is a perfect leaf in the latter. It is an outside leaf or cover, and its inner side is presented to show the recessed panel for the wax. In the border on the left are the two holes for the wire or string which bound the leaves together, and on either side is a central notch which apparently was not intentional, but was caused by the pressure of the string that tied the leaves together on the soft wood.

The stili vary little in form. In this country, the simplest and plainest are of iron, the more sumptuous of bronze. The examples shown in B are typical of the majority. The first two are of iron, from Rushmore and Caerwent, and the remaining three are of bronze, from London. These instruments have been p227found on most Roman sites, not merely of cities and the houses of the wealthy, but of out‑of-the‑way villages and settlements — Pitt-Rivers found them on the sites of these in Wiltshire and Dorset. This wide diffusion indicates that the art of writing was general in Roman Britain; also that writing-tablets must have been extremely numerous, for whereas one stilus would meet the needs of a person or even of a household, tablets would be required for many purposes.

Seal-boxes are shallow bronze boxes rarely more than 1¾ ins. long, with hinged lids, bottoms pierced with small holes, and two notches or slots, one in each side, but in rare instances there are absent. They were formerly regarded as lockets to hold perfumes or aromatics in a solid form, the holes allowing of the dispersal of the aroma. Two difficulties, however, beset this view. While the lid is invariably ornamented, the under side is plain and the holes are often arranged in a careless manner, the two indicating that this side of the box was not intended to be seen. The side notches or slots would be useless in a perfume-locket, whereas they have a definite function in a seal-box.

In using the seal-box, the cord or tape which tied the article to be sealed, was so arranged that the knot lay in its cavity, with the cord on either side resting in the slots. Wax was then placed in the cavity and was impressed from a signet-ring or other matrix. The article, now tied and sealed, could not be opened without cutting the cord or breaking the seal. The wax used was evidently of such a nature as to become soft enough by the warmth of the hand to be pressed into the cavity, hence, not having the hard surface of our sealing-wax, the need of a lid to protect the impression from accidental abrasion.

The seal-box was probably a fixture on the article to be sealed, and its has been suggested that it was held in position by rivets or small nails passing through the holes in the bottom. It seems unreasonable that so small an object should require so many rivets or nails to fasten it, for the number of holes is never less than three, and is often four or even more; besides, out of the many seal-boxes that have been found, a few should certainly have retained some remains of these fastenings, but this does not appear p228to have been the case. They are invariably found as loose objects. This suggests the question, what the articles were that required sealing? Trinket- and toilet-boxes seem to have always had locks, so it would hardly be necessary for them to be sealed. On the other hand, writing-tablets had to be secured against prying eyes, and we have the evidence of classical writers that when used for correspondence and wills they were sealed. The tablets, however, that remain to us lack any indications that seal-boxes were ever attached to them, and as ordinarily they were of plain wood the presence of these decorated objects upon them would be rather incongruous. One ventures to suggest that the tablets were carried in sealed satchels of leather or woven fabric, each having a seal-box sewn to it (hence the holes) to hold the seal of its cord.

Seal-boxes afforded considerable scope for the exercise of their makers' ingenuity. In this country, pear- or bellows-shaped, circular and square are the most frequent examples of which, Fig. 64, E, F, and G respectively, from Caerwent, London, and Humby in Lincolnshire, are given. The vesica-shaped are rare. The ornamentation of the lids is usually in champlevé enamel. The designs vary considerably, and, as is usual in Romano-British enamels, they often exhibit Late-Celtic influence, and this is especially noticeable in our square example. In this the lid overlaps the sides of the box; but usually it does not. Sometimes it has a small pin or stud, which fitted tightly into a socket in the box and secured it from accidentally opening, as in our first example.


The Author's Notes:

1 Plate xxxvii, 13.

2 Proc. Soc. Ant. 2, xv, p53.

3 Ib. 2, xiv, p275.

4 See Chap. VIII.

5 In Brit. Mus.

6 Illustrations of Roman London, plate xxxviii, 6.

7 Archaeologia, LIV, p156.

8 Illustrations, plate xxxviii, 4.

9 Brit. Arch. Assoc. vii, p107.

10 Derbyshire Arch. and Nat. History Soc.'s Journal, xxv, p165.

11 Melandra Castle, p99.

12 Arch. Jour. viii, p160.

13 Warrington's Roman Remains, p80.

14 Wright, The Celt, Roman, and Saxon, p298.


Thayer's Note:

a The serious student with an interest in Roman writing materials and instruments will also benefit from these articles in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities:

Atramentum (ink) • Calamus (reed-pen) • Stilus Tabulae (tablets)


[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 12 Oct 03