Enamelled stand – mysterious metalwork




Julie Shoemark

This intriguing object is a set of enamelled stacking stands. There are now 35 of this type of stand known from all over Roman Britain, but this example is the first known complete set to be found, making it extra special (we think so anyway). Two incomplete sets were found during previous excavations at Cataractonium and all three were probably made in the same workshop. Although it has seen better days it would have originally been richly decorated in coloured enamel in several shades and would have been very striking.


It consists of five separate components: three tiers of oblong stands stacked largest to smallest; on top is a fluted fitting with a decorated mouth; and within the stands, passing through all four layers is a metal tube.


Enamelled metalwork was a British speciality in the Roman period and this elaborate object with multiple components and complex enamelled designs on every side would have been a luxury item, but what was it for?


Well, their exact purpose is still unknown, but they have been suggested as a type of miniature altar. Other suggestions include candlestick, flower holder, incense burners or as a holder for the pins used in hairdressing and to hold together clothing. As the only complete example, and one of the few from a dated context, we hope that this latest example will contribute to future research and help to solve the mystery of how these enigmatic objects were used.

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