By Dr Neil Faulkner
Last updated 2011-02-17
Roman votive offerings
The Near-Baldock Hoard - Some hoards include a variety of precious objects arranged in a deliberate way: they form a 'structured deposit'. The Near-Baldock Hoard - found by metal-detectorist Alan Meek in a field in North Hertfordshire - is such a site, and comprised, from top to bottom: a 15cm silver figurine of a woman (badly corroded); two silver arms from a female figure, and a collection of gold jewellery (a pair of disc brooches, a pair of discs linked by a chain, and a gold clasp set with a red carnelian gemstone, engraved with a standing lion resting its paw on a bull's head or ox skull); seven gold votive plaques; and 12 silver-alloy votive plaques, which were brittle and fragmentary.
During later excavations, a silver statue-base was found nearby. Almost certainly it had broken off from the silver figurine. It was inscribed 'SENUA'.
A lost goddess - Senua is the name of a previously unknown Celtic goddess. The name appears not only on the statue-base but also on five of the votive plaques. Twelve of the plaques also had embossed images of the goddess, and all bar one depict her like the Roman goddess Minerva. But the inscriptions are unanimous: all refer to Senua.
Like Sulis at Bath, Senua had received a Roman makeover, but to her worshippers she retained her Celtic identity. Minerva was a powerful goddess of wisdom, the crafts, healing, and occasionally war. Perhaps Senua shared some of these qualities.
A practical religion - Ancient religion was more concerned with everyday problems than the afterlife. Worshippers would make a declaration (nuncupatio) that if the deity heard their prayer - say for a cure, a safe journey, or a bountiful harvest - they would pay them back by setting up an altar, sacrificing a pig, or offering up a treasured gold brooch.
The votive plaques in the Near-Baldock Hoard catalogue some success stories. The inscriptions record acts of solutio - the dissolution of vows by paying what was due to the deity. 'Lucilia willingly and deservedly fulfils her vow to the goddess Senua', we are told; so too, it seems, did Cariatia, Celsus, Firmanus and Servandus.
A clear-out at the temple? - Why were there so many different votive offerings in a single pit? Around the find-spot, archaeologists found evidence for a watery shrine and a straggling village. Was it perhaps a busy pilgrimage centre? If so, was there such a clutter of offerings that every so often the priests gathered them together for ritual burial in pits inside the sanctuary?
Found near Baldock, north Hertfordshire, by Alan Meek while searching with a metal detector.
Discover more amazing finds at the Portable Antiquities Scheme database.
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