Spoons, Ligulae, and Forks Lamps and Candlesticks Steelyards, Balances, and Measures Bells Objects Used in Games Spindles, Needles, and Netting-tools Strigils Oculists' Stamps Writing Appliances and Seal Boxes
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
Fig. 59. Spoons, Ligulae, etc. (All 2/3)
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.
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.
Fig. 60. Lamps and Lamp-Stands. (All 1/3)
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 brought 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, 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 Italy 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
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 similar 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.
Fig. 61. Candle-Holders of Iron and Pottery. (All 1/3)
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
I is a curious combination of iron open lamp and candle-socket
resting 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.
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.
Fig. 62. Writing Apparatus, Bells, and Objects used in Games.
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 coinciding 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
riveted 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
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
the 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 1/2 in. or more than 3/4 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 1/2 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 been
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 of 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.
Fig. 63. Spindle and Whorls, Strigil, Hand-Mirror, and Combs. (C, 1/3; the rest, 2/3)
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 1 1/2 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 from 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
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,
the '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,
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.
Fig. 64. Writing Appliances and Seal-boxes.
(B, D, 2/3; C, 1/3; 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, of
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
Writing-tablets (tabulae, pugillares) were ordinarily of beech, fir, and box-wood, and rarely exceeded 5 1/2 ins. in length and 4 1/2 ins. in width. They had a raised border, and over the sunk panel a 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 found 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 1 3/4 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
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 was 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
to 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 champlevι
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.
Arch. Jour. viii, p160.
13. Warrington's Roman Remains, p80.
14. Wright, The Celt, Roman, and Saxon, p298.