Rare Roman bronzes acquired by the Yorkshire Museum

A 1,800-year-old “truly exceptional” Roman treasure, which includes a bust of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, has been acquired by the Yorkshire Museum.

The 13cm bust is part of a collection of bronze artifacts found by metal detectors James Spark and Mark Didlick in a field near Ampleforth, in May 2020.

The treasure, known as the Roman Bronzes of Ryedale, is believed to have been buried as part of a religious ceremony. It also includes a statuette of the god of war, Mars, a horse-shaped knife handle and, oddly enough, a plumb bob used for engineering projects.

The purchase was made possible in large part through the generosity of US donor Richard Beleson, with additional funding through Art Fund and a number of individual donors. This enabled the York Museums Trust to purchase David Aaron, who had originally acquired the treasure at auction.

Mr Beleson, from San Francisco, who previously supported the Museum in purchasing the Wold Newton Hoard, said: Marcus Aurelius, I knew there was only one place in the world he belonged to – the Yorkshire Museum. I can’t wait to visit York and see it on display.

Reyahn King, Managing Director of York Museums Trust, said: “On behalf of York Museums Trust, I am extremely grateful to Richard Beleson, Art Fund, other individual donors and David Aaron who made the purchase of this incredible treasure. ”

Dr Andrew Woods, Principal Curator of the Yorkshire Museum, said: “The Ryedale Roman Hoard is a find of national significance and of great rarity. Each of the bronze objects exhibits exceptional artistic quality and craftsmanship, making them one of the finest known artifacts of Roman Britain.

“This is a truly exceptional collection of Roman artefacts and together they have the potential to dramatically improve our understanding of the Romans in Yorkshire and the North.”

The treasure will initially be on display at the Frieze Masters in London from October 13-17, 2021. It will then become part of the Yorkshire Museum’s existing Roman collection, helping to broaden understanding of the period, and is intended for public display. public when the museum reopens in spring 2022.

Dr Woods added: “Most of the museum’s nationally significant Roman collections come from urban centers. This treasure will allow the museum to tell the important story of rural Roman Yorkshire, while also highlighting Roman activity in an area of ​​the county where little was previously known.

Mr. Beleson has been interested in Roman Britain since he was a child and first came to York in 2010 to attend a symposium on the coinage of Roman Britain. He visited again in 2019 and attended the Eboracum Roman Festival hosted by York Museums Trust, with partners such as the York Roman Bath Museum, led by Graham Harris. Mr. Beleson added: “We would like to make our donation in honor of Graham Harris and the participants of the Eboracum Roman Festival.”

Significance of the Roman Treasure at Ryedale The three bronzes and the plumb line of the treasure date from the end of the 2nd century AD.

Most notable is the striking bust of Emperor Antoninus Marcus Aurelius. This would have sat atop a scepter or priestly staff, a focal point for religious ceremonies. Being the face of the emperor, it is a powerful symbol of imperial cult, the empire-wide cult of emperors as divine. Such direct evidence of imperial worship is extremely rare, especially in rural settings like this. In terms of workmanship and style, the bust is absolutely unique, extremely rare, and of great national significance in itself.

The three objects found next to the bust help to contextualize the burial of this spectacular object. The beautifully detailed horse and rider figure, a localized representation of the god Mars, is of a type that has never been found so far north. The handle of the horse-shaped knife can symbolically represent a sacrificial animal in this context. The plumb bob is a great and beautiful example of a functional object used in Roman engineering projects. Its inclusion in the treasury is unprecedented in Roman Britain and alludes to the purpose of this enigmatic ritual being the blessing of an act of landscape engineering.

All objects are kept in exceptional condition, showing no corrosion and being largely complete.

The treasure was discovered in the area of ​​Ampleforth, in the district of Ryedale, in North Yorkshire, England. Before the discovery of this treasure, the presence of the Romans in this region was little known. This find therefore rewrites the history of our region. The location of this find, with detailed and reliable provenance information, makes the treasure even more important.

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