Thursday, 21 August 2014

Tockenham. More thoughts.

I can't get Tockenham's Roman sculpture out of my head today. It's because of something I was reading (curiously, in a book about Anomalous Big Cats). Merrily Harpur was describing how the household gods, the Roman lares and penates (or daimones to the Greeks), were intermediaries between mortals and the grander deities. Offerings had to be made to them to recognise how they kept things moving sweetly. The point being, that it struck me that in spending a few minutes observing and drawing the Tockenham sculpture, I'd probably paid it more close attention than it'd had in a long time.

Tockenham Roman household god, Wiltshire

The lares were the household protectors (later there were city protecting lares), and the penates looked after the pantry. Adkins' Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome tells you more.

After much googling, I found a photo of a similar sculpture found at Bisley in Gloucestershire. It's held at the Gloucester Museum but there's a picture on the Roman Britain website. It's very striking that the layout of the sculpture is the same. You'll see he's got the cornucopia, the patera and the little pillar (with no snake this time? or is there - what are those little bumps on its sides?), all in the same places. It was conveniently labelled with its name: 'Mars Olludius' - so maybe an example of a native god spliced to a Roman one, like they did with Sulis Minerva at Bath. Adkins lists 'Olloudius: A Celtic god worshipped in Britain and Gaul. He was a god of fertility and abundance, healing and peaceful protection, and was sometimes equated with Mars.' Bisley is only 25 miles from Tockenham. Could this not be a good suggestion? I feel quite encouraged. It'd be nice to see Mars Olludius in person at the museum.

I watched Time Team's programme about Tockenham, which is on 4OD. It made me happy to see Victor Ambrus standing there drawing where I'd been drawing :) His drawing was admittedly a bit better since he is an illustrative genius. Good old Mr Ambrus.

Various very interesting things came to light in the programme. They brought in Martin Henig from Oxford University (fluffy hair is de rigeur on TT) and he said it couldn't be Aesculapius as he wouldn't have been wearing a toga or carrying a cornucopia. (This is slightly unfortunate for the church, as it'd been renamed after St Giles, an Aesculapi-esque healer, in the 20th century - originally it was St John the Evangelist). He said the sculpture was of a local god or genius, and would have been brightly painted, positioned in the dining room or entrance hall of the local villa. The villa (in the field up the road) was enormous and TT hailed it as potentially one of the most important in the country.

They spoke about the large dressed stones (and skinny Roman tiles) you can see in the walls of the church, which would have been taken from the ruined villa. To my shame I did not notice these.

Another very interesting discovery was that of burnt grain in the sediments around the pond opposite the church doorway. The implication (other than it being used as a rubbish tip :) was that the spring there was sacred and the grains were offerings. This might even antecede the Romans, who knows. Adkins' book mentions food offerings for the household gods being made into the hearth, where of course they'd get burnt. The field now has a massive ungainly modern house in it, which seems a bit of a shame for a potentially sacred site :)

A final pond-related story revealed a massive fountainhead shaped like a fish, which Mr Henig proclaimed the finest he'd seen from Roman Britain. It'd been found by a farmer in one of his ponds. It's another piece of evidence that Tockenham was a pretty fancy place. Yet the field containing the villa looked like any other when we visited. Perhaps one day someone will have the funding to excavate further.

But is this a blog about Roman artefacts? NO. Normal service will be resumed shortly. You can see some pictures of the mosaics that were found nearby here.

My other post on Tockenham can be found here.

 Images © Rhiannon 2014

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