A New Goddess for Roman Britain

By Peter Greener

A NEW GODDESS FOR ROMAN BRITAIN: THE ASHWELL HOARD   This hoard of at least 27 gold and silver objects was found by metal detectorist Alan Meek in September 2002. It includes gold jewellery, a silver figurine of a woman and gold and silver plaques (thin decorative sheets).   The objects were precious gifts from individual worshippers to a goddess. They were probably taken out of a temple and carefully buried, perhaps for safekeeping, in the later 3rd or 4th century AD. For reasons we shall never know, they were not retrieved.   Several of the plaques have inscriptions that show they were dedicated to a goddess namedSenuna. In addition, an inscribed silver base, found in subsequent archaeological excavations, confirms that the figurine shows Senuna herself. This goddess was previously unknown. She seems to have been a British deity, likened to the Roman goddess Minerva, and may have been a water goddess local to the region. Perhaps she presided over a sacred spring or was a river goddess: a river named Senua is known to have been located somewhere in southern England.   The hoard was acquired by the British Museum with generous funding from the British Museum Friends and the National Art Collections Fund (Art Fund). It is on display in the British Museum’s Weston Gallery of Roman Britain.

           Ashwell Hoard Trip   On the 28th February a coach party organised by Ashwell Museum descended on the British Museum to see the recently discovered Ashwell Hoard which is now on display in Gallery 49, The Weston Gallery of Roman Britain. The gallery has just been refurbished and ‘our’ hoard is given a prominent place at its centre.   The entire find has now been conserved revealing not only a collection of gold and silver plaques, jewellery and a silver statuette that are all beautiful in their own right but also evidence of a previously unknown goddess, Senuna, and the people who devoted these gifts to her.   We were privileged to have a special talk by Dr Ralph Jackson of the British Museum who has been in charge of the research into the hoard. We are grateful to him for repeating it three times so we could all gather around the cabinet. However his expertise and enthusiasm did not wane all day and the last group were entertained and informed as much as the first.   We heard howsomething traumatic happened near Ashwell in the late 3rd or early fourth century when the priest in charge of the Senuna temple decided it was necessary to conceal some of the treasures in his possession. He chose the most valuable offerings and packed them neatly in a cloth bag with the silver statue of the goddess on top. Under the cover of darkness he deposited them carefully in a shallow hole in the ground meaning to come back at a safer time to recover them. For some reason this never happened and it was not until September 2002 that Alan Meek working a field with the North Herts Charity Detectors Group came across something unusual.   The subsequent research has revealed much and posed many questions about ritual life in this province of the Roman Empire.  We know that all these people, Romans and locals, came to give vows and very precious objects to the goddess Senuna. The gold plaques are unique, there are more silver plaques than have been found elsewhere in Britain, the silver statuette is one of the largest found and the jewellery has been made specifically reusing old revered gems. Moreover it is also the only such temple hoard to have been found in context and this has allowed archaeological work to be carried out at the site.   Speculation will go on for many years on the importance of Ashwell as a pilgrimage site in the Roman period and for us it would be nice to know how this connects into the later development of the village. To decide for yourself go and see the stunning display in the British Museum.   However it is worth starting with the gold votive plaque replica in Ashwell Museum and the accompanying explanation.   


Photo:Replica of Votive Plaque presented to Ashwell Village Museum

Replica of Votive Plaque presented to Ashwell Village Museum

Photo by Peter John Gates

Photo:Tha Ashwell Hoard in the British Museum

Tha Ashwell Hoard in the British Museum

Photo:Gold Votive Plaques from the Ashwell Hoard

Gold Votive Plaques from the Ashwell Hoard

Photo:Silver Statuette of SENUNA

Silver Statuette of SENUNA

This page was added on 24/09/2009.
Comments about this page

I saw the dig when it was in progress at Ashwell End.

I live in Kent now. I am intending to see the treasures, close up at the British Museum very soon. Fabulous! So exciting!

By Sarah Perrin
On 10/04/2015

Dear Sarah,


it certainly is a wonderful sight and even better now that more is conserved.

Later in 2015 the British Museum are publishing a book about the discoveries which should add a lot to our knowledge of Senuna.

At the same time we will be revamping the display in Ashwell museum.



By Peter Greener
On 10/04/2015