It took two years to identify, but the story of a rare piece of Roman glass discovered at the site of a Roman villa in Great Britain back in 2017 is even more incredible than when an archaeology student first dug it up.
Peter Moore had no idea that day in 2017 that he would find something so extraordinary while excavating at the Chedworth Roman Villa in Gloucestershire, the history of which goes back 2,000 years.
According to the National Trust, which manages the site:
“Evidence for the first stone structure at Chedworth Roman Villa dates to the 2nd century AD. This relatively simple structure consisted of three detached buildings, each of a few rooms.
Over the next two centuries the villa was extended and improved, reaching its heyday in the 4th century AD, between 360-380AD.”
“During this time Chedworth Roman Villa was a place of wealth, luxury and comfort. Imagine stunning mosaic floors, extensive bath house rooms and features made of marble so precious it was usually reserved for the imperial family.”
“Soon after this period of wealth and decadence the villa was abandoned. The Roman Empire officially pulled out of Britain in 410AD. It’s around this time that Chedworth Roman Villa fell into disrepair. The roofs fell in, trees grew up through the mosaic floors and soil from the surrounding banks buried the buildings.”
The lost villa would be found by a gamekeeper and subsequently excavated by archaeologists in 1864 and has been a destination for researchers and tourists ever since.
Further evidence that the occupant of the villa was a wealthy Roman comes in the form of a glass fragment Moore found.
“When it appeared, the first wipe of the surface showed the color and it quickly became apparent it was something special,” he told Phys.org.
The fragment left the team puzzled because nothing like it had ever been found in Britain before, so they sent it to Roman glass expert Jennifer Price, who worked tirelessly to solve the mystery until she figured it out with the help of other experts she consulted from around the world.
The piece appeared to come from a bottle of some sort, which sparked the hunt for an object with similar decoration, which they soon found in a museum in the United States in the form a bottle that is shaped and decorated to look like a fish.
“Specialists from across the world have studied the fragment and after years of research, a match was found in the Corning Museum of Glass, New York,” the National Trust reported.
“Following comparisons between the two examples, experts were able to identify the piece as coming from the ‘tail’ end of a fish-shaped bottle. It was likely a small flask with the fish’s mouth forming the opening of the vessel…The only one of its kind discovered in Britain, the piece of blue green glass has an unusual fish scale pattern and is hugely exciting in understanding the status of the villa and its occupants.”
Indeed, it turns out the bottle the fragment came from was made near the Black Sea 1,700 miles away across the European continent.
“The find sheds new light on the wealth and influence of those who imported the bottle from the Black Sea area, and the significance of Chedworth Roman Villa in Roman Britain,” the National Trust concluded. “Whilst the exact contents of the bottle are unknown, the unusual techniques used in creating this item, as well as the distance it traveled, all suggests that the occupants of the villa were in touch with the furthest regions of the Roman Empire and wanted to show off that influence.”
The bottle may have been filled with exotic perfume or alcohol, but regardless of what liquid it carried, it’s a fascinating find that certainly has made an impression on National Trust archaeologist Nancy Grace.
“It is amazing that a small fragment has told us so much. People have been enchanted by it, but it has also been a long and difficult journey. To have found that it is the only one of its type so far discovered in Roman Britain adds to our knowledge of the importance of Chedworth Roman Villa,” said Grace.
In fact, the piece is so rare that only one other Roman fish bottle like it has ever been found, and that was at the site of a 2AD burial at Chersonesus in Crimea, which is a peninsula on the Black Sea.
Needless to say, Moore will forever remember the moment he found the Roman glass fragment.
“Excavating anything at Chedworth and knowing that you are the first person to gaze upon it for at least 1,800 years is a feeling that never tires, the memory of recovering this piece of glass certainly will not,” he told The Guardian. “Recovering such a unique find is incredibly humbling.”
See the Chedworth Roman Villa below:
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