Celtic Harness Brooch. This amazing piece of Ancient British horse furniture dates back to the mid 1st century AD and was discovered in Buckinghamshire. Measuring a substantial 172mm x 128mm and weighing in at 169g this is a really impressive artefact. Horse brooches, as they are known, are thought to have been used with a blanket or caparison, a cloth covering for a horse. It is likely that a leather fixing strap ran through the loop, with the brooch itself pinned to the cloth to cover the junction between strap and fabric. Items of very high status, they are rare finds with only a handful of known examples from Britain. This example is exceptional not only in its size, but also in its state of preservation. Roughly T-shaped in plan, the brooch is made from cast copper-alloy, most probably bronze with a high tin content. This type of high-tin alloy allows for fine casting work and can be polished to give a reflective silvery surface, which is still partially evident on this brooch. It was cast in two pieces, the larger brooch element having an integral lug on the reverse which fits through a piercing in the straight piece allowing for almost 180 degree articulation. The reverse of the brooch is furnished with pair of hinged lugs for the pin and a substantial catchplate. Although the pin itself is missing , rust within the hinge indicates that it was made of iron, as on the other known examples. The reverse of the straight element has a rectangular strap loop at the terminal and, towards the centre shows some ghosting of the frontal design. This is a result of metal shrinking within the mould as it cools and shows that the decoration was cast rather than applied later. The sharpness of the design however indicates it was finished off by hand after casting along with the addition of finely incised linear borders. The front face of the brooch is decorated with champlevé enamel (or red glass) forming a flowing pattern of opposed scrolls with tips that curl like breaking waves. The pattern is replicated in more simplistic form on the terminal at the base of the ‘T’. Emerging from the centre of the upright is a vesica-shaped panel containing a roundel with two circular cells for enamel/glass (now missing). There are two further cells at the junction with the main body. The decoration is in the tradition of the ‘South Western Style’, some of the finest displays of which come from the Polden Hill hoard. The Polden Hill hoard was discovered in June 1800 near Bridgewater, Somerset, when ploughing on a hilltop uncovered around 90 items of late Iron age metalwork which had been concealed in a pit lined with burned clay. The contents included horse harness and chariot fittings, brooches, tools and weapons. Many of the horse and chariot trappings are beautifully decorated and inlaid with red glass. The hoard has been dated to AD 50-70. It contained 24 terret rings, enough to furnish many chariots, but only three horse brooches, implying that very few Iron age chariots would be decorated in such a manner. These were the fashion statements of the elite. Horse and chariot trappings were highly prized possessions and there are numerous examples of terret ring and harness fittings hoards from this period, often of very high quality. It is unclear whether these hoards were buried for safekeeping or given as votive offerings to the Gods. The size of this brooch, its prized status and its dual attachment mechanism make it very unlikely to be a casual loss. More probable is that it was carefully placed in the ground for the above reasons. Buckinghamshire, where this wonderful brooch was found, was once the territory of the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni, two of the most powerful, and apparently richest, tribes in Ancient Britain. The ‘richest’ claim is based on coin evidence, almost 3000 of their gold coins are recorded on the PAS database and a recent hoard of over 1000 Whaddon Chase type staters will significantly add to that total. Their most famous king, Cunobelin, is estimated to have minted over 1,000,000 gold staters! Two other rulers, Tasciovanos ‘Killer of Badgers’ and Andoco both issued gold staters with a flamboyant design incorporating several hidden faces. The Celts enjoyed employing hidden imagery within their art and this brooch is no exception. Staring out from the base of the brooch can be seen a distinctive face with curving moustache, directly paralleled on the aforementioned gold staters.The use of matching motifs on both coins an artefacts is well known in the Iron age, the Iceni tribe being particularly fond of this, and a gold quarter stater of the Cantiaci actually features a horse brooch on the reverse. Some enamel loss and slight pitting to the surfaces, broken across the pivoting element, otherwise very fine condition. Published in The Searcher magazine March 2021 'Cheiftain Chariot Brooch' and featured on the front cover. Recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database: DENO-2BAD49.
Fox, Sir Cyril, Triskeles, Palmettes and Horse Brooches.
Brailsford,J. W. The Polden Hill Hoard.
Jope, E. M. Early Celtic Art in the British Isles, plates 298-299.
Realised Price: £