Layout of Roman Enamelled flask from Moorgate

Finds Spotlight: Enamelled Roman flask from Moorgate

Amy Reid

In 2013, MOLA archaeologists found a beautiful and extremely rare example of an enamelled Roman flask in Moorgate while working on a site alongside developers Stanhope and Mitsui Fudosan. The enamelled copper-alloy flask is hexagonal in shape and is a very fine example of Romano-British metalworking. There are only a dozen flasks of this form known from across the Roman Empire and this example is one of the best preserved.

Two of the five pieces found are intact which allows us to imagine how the flask would once have looked when it was in use. It is thought that these decorative vessels were intended to carry ointments and perfumes possibly used for bathing, as the handle holes could imply. Similar flasks have been found alongside other items associated with cosmetics, supporting this theory.

X-ray fluorescence analysis (pXRF) performed by colleagues at UCL led us to discover that the flask is made from a leaded bronze which would have had a golden colour that would have contrasted beautifully with the multi-coloured enamel. While many ‘Celtic’ enamelled products may have been made in northern Britain, they also seem to have been popular in the south with single fragments of other hexagonal flasks have previously been discovered in Hampshire and Essex.

Instances of enamelled flasks such as this (many as single fragments) have been found across Britain, although a few example have also been found further afield in Germany and on the Black Sea coast. This suggests that, like several other forms of enamelled vessels, flasks such as these were actually made in Britannia and the decoration shows clear influence from native art traditions.

The Moorgate flask is a beautiful example of Roman style taking on Celtic artistic influences, highlighting the fusion of cultures that occurred in Britain after the Claudian invasion, as craftsmen experimented with new materials and motifs. Further research on this piece, owned by the Clothworkers Company, will hopefully involve comparing its design in detail to other similar finds which will provide clues to its precise date and whether it may have been made in the same workshop as other pieces that have been previously found, both in London and further afield.

  • From the experts
  • Artefacts
  • Roman
  • Placemaking

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