Yet another brilliant find from the Walbrook!
These are the initial thoughts from our on site finds specialist:
“Recently we discovered a small amber amulet shaped like a gladiator’s helmet! At a little over 1 cm across this was a great spot on site and could easily have been missed. The helmet has a large crest and has a lattice work of engraved lines on the face which forms a stylised representation of a visor. It is perforated through the crest for suspension. This type of helmet was worn by the murmillo a type of gladiator who was armed with a sword, shield, helmet, greaves and padding on his right arm. Normally paired off against a thraex these gladiators were amongst the most popular of the imperial Roman period and would undoubtedly have competed at the Londinium Amphitheatre at Guildhall Yard.
The image of the gladiator was very popular in Roman art. They were contemporary sporting heroes and fans could buy glass cups with the names of famous gladiators on as well as many other types of merchandise. But the gladiator also had more profound symbolism associated with death and the afterlife.
The use of amber itself is quite interesting. Most popular in the early Roman period, this material was an expensive import normally from the Baltic region. It was thought to have magical properties perhaps because of its rarity, attractive colour and because, like jet, it is electrostatic. We have at least one example of the ‘magical’ use of amber from the Walbrook area. A broken amber object was included in a votive foundation deposit and placed into a small pot alongside a burnt fruit, a gemstone and a broken iron key before being buried within a clay brick wall.
Pliny, who wrote his Natural History in the first century AD, described its great value but also its supposed magical properties – a range of beneficial and apotropaic effects including boosting fertility and protecting children from illness. It is not surprising then that a whole range of amber amulets are known and it could have been worn as a pendant or as a fob on a charm bracelet like an example found in a child’s burial from Colchester. The use of the gladiator image together with this magical material may well suggest it is meant to be protective. We hope to find out more about this rare and exciting object when research on the finds starts in earnest!”
Watch this space for more information about this amazing find!