A Roman Brooch found at Berkeley

The Roman Brooch found at Berkeley

Much to the delight of Sian

A stunningly sunny day here at Berkeley on Tuesday had only just started when a beautifully intact Roman brooch was discovered in context (8458) – which confirmed it as a Roman context. The layer of dark charcoal rich soil was thought to have dated to the Roman era, with the finding today confirming this. The small brooch is from the first to second century, and the way it lay intact and flat on the ground with the pin outstretched suggests it may have fallen off its owner by accident and was trampled into the soil. It is rare for these brooches to be found fully intact, so it is extremely surprising that the one found was, on the whole, undamaged. Brooches are generally one of the most common discoveries at Roman sites in Britain, although this is the first one we have found here at Berkeley.

The fully excavated Brooch

The Brooch positioned exactly how it was found


Roman fibula brooches are based on the safety pin principle, with a main body fastened to clothing using a pin attached by a spring. The rapid spread of the Roman Empire in the first century AD led to a growth in the number and designs of brooches. Many of these were established in Roman Britain, for example the Dolphin, Langton Down, T-Shaped and Colchester types, as well as the Polden Hill type, but brooches were also common in the Late Iron Age in Britain. The brooch in question is typical of the Polden Hill type and made using a copper alloy. It is of characteristic Polden Hill form, with pierced end plates on the wings to secure the axis bar of the spring, and a rearward-facing hook to retain the chord. This type was generally used to hold cloaks and other pieces of clothing, and may have been expensive in its day.  
Roman Brooches do generally have different decorative elements depending on the type. Some, like the Colchester type, are undecorated while disc brooches tend to be highly decorated often containing enamel. A similar brooch was discovered at Elmstone Hardwick, Gloucestershire in January 2016, as shown in the image below (PAS, 2016). This finding is similar to the one at Berkeley in terms of size and shape, however the decorative elements differ slightly. Once cleaned, the characteristics of today's finding will be much clearer, but there looks to be no boss in the centre, and a much less extravagant hook. There is, however, a moulded crest on the head similar to the brooch from Elmstone Hardwicke, although.the pin from the brooch from Elmstone has not survived.

Roman Polden Hill Brooch found at Elmstone Hardwicke in January 2016 - GLO-3CF916 (PAS, 2016)

Despite being extremely common, the brooch finding tells us there was indeed Roman occupation at Berkeley. We can now push the occupation of the site back to the first and second centuries AD. We can now also see that some of the population of Berkeley were dressing in a more Roman style and taking care over their appearance. We are hoping more such items will be found over the coming weeks and provide us with more of an insight into the Roman population of Berkeley.