New light on Roman East Anglia

A LEADING archaeologist spoke of his excitement today as it was revealed a collection of extremely rare Roman artefacts of international significance have been secured for the people of Ipswich.

A LEADING archaeologist spoke of his excitement today as it was revealed a collection of extremely rare Roman artefacts of international significance have been secured for the people of Ipswich.

The intricate pieces dating from the revolt at Colchester by the warriors loyal to the Iceni queen Boudicca in AD60 or AD 61 make up the first complete set of Roman cavalry decorations ever found in Britain.

Today The Evening Star can reveal for the first time that the items, found in a Holbrook field by a metal detecting enthusiast in August, 2004, represent one of the most exciting archaeological finds in the area ever.

It is thought they were stolen as booty from the ransacked Roman capital at Colchester and brought north before being buried in Holbrook for safe-keeping.

Experts in metal archaeology based at Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service's Colchester laboratory are now in the process of carefully cleaning and preserving the 30 items found in a small pit in the Holbrook field. They say they would have formed a “spectacular” ornamental harness display.

It is hoped the artefacts will go on display as part of Ipswich Borough Council's collection at Ipswich Museum in High Street during summer next year.

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Philip Wise, heritage manager for the museum service and an archaeologist with nearly 25 years experience, was involved in the negotiations to purchase the silvered-bronze objects from the finder, university student Jordan Nye.

He said the signing of the deal in October was a career highlight. “It was a very exciting moment,” he said.

“When the finder took these out of the box it was one of those 'wow' moments - even after 25 years of doing the job. It is pretty special. You don't get many opportunities like this in your career.

“This material is of national significance. Even internationally there are not that many sets of horse harnesses.”

Today it emerged that after Mr Nye found the military harness ornaments in 2004 attempts had been made to purchase them for the museum's collection but the discussions broke down.

The negotiations were reopened this year after the forming of the joint museum service between Colchester and Ipswich and this time a breakthrough was made.

Mr Wise said: “These objects form a complete set, as far as we can tell, of the trappings that would have decorated the horse of a Roman cavalry soldier, almost certainly an officer.

“There are no other examples as complete sets that we know of in Britain.

“The museum has had a major success in acquiring this collection for the public of Ipswich and the wider area.”

He said the purchase had been negotiated in the “low thousands of pounds”.

WHEN metal detecting enthusiast Jordan Nye stumbled across a pit of Roman treasure in 2004 it sparked one of the area's most exciting archaeological investigations in recent years.

After uncovering a few well-preserved pieces of Roman cavalry horse harness, Mr Nye reported the find to the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Suffolk and the next day an archaeology team from Suffolk County Council set about carefully excavating and recording the finds.

In all they discovered about 30 items, mostly intricate metalwork, as well as leather pieces from the harness which had survived since its burial in AD60 or AD61 and some Roman pottery pieces.

Philip Wise, heritage manager with Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service, said it was thought the harness had been taken either during or after the sacking of the Roman city of Colchester by the Iceni people of East Anglia led by Boudicca, wife of the Iceni ruler Prasutagus.

Archaeologists trying to piece together how it ended up in Holbrook believe it was carried north as booty and buried for safe-keeping.

It is thought there have only been two other finds of Roman horse harness pieces in the country, both in Yorkshire and both during the 18th Century.

Roundels found in Fremington Hagg in one of those finds are said to be similar to those in the Holbrook find.

The history behind the find:

BOUDICCA was married to Prasutagus, ruler of the Iceni people of East Anglia.

After the Romans conquered southern England in AD 43, Prasutagus was allowed to continue to rule but when he died the Romans decided to rule the Iceni directly.

They confiscated the property of tribesmen, stripped and flogged Boudicca and raped her daughters.

Roman rule became unpopular among the Iceni and, in AD 60 or AD 61, when the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was fighting a campaign in south Wales, the Iceni rebelled and members of other tribes joined them.

Boudicca's warriors defeated the Roman Ninth Legion and destroyed Colchester, then the capital of Roman Britain.

They went on to destroy London and Verulamium (St Albans).

Boudicca was defeated by a Roman army led by Paulinus. It is thought she poisoned herself to avoid capture.

Also living in the area at the time were the Trinovantes tribe, who occupied the southern part of Suffolk and the north part of Essex.

Suffolk's other historical gems:

Sutton Hoo - the finest Anglo-Saxon find ever in this country. A complete burial ship full of treasure was discovered near Woodbridge in 1939.

Boss Hall - an Anglo-Saxon cemetery discovered by workers preparing the ground for the industrial estate off Sproughton Road.

Ipswich Torques - Gold torques dating from about 50BC, before the Roman invasion of Britain, were discovered in Belstead.

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