Roman Enamelled Hare Brooch, Long Melford

front back and side of hare brooch

This delightful Roman enamelled hare brooch (SF1016) was excavated from the grave of a young woman, and dates to the 2nd Century AD. The grave was unearthed by groundworks in Long Melford during 2008.

The brooch is 2.9cm long and only 0.15cm thick and depicts a running hare. The body of the hare has been decorated with three panels of enamel; the front and back panels hold traces of blue enamel and the central panel holds traces of yellow enamel, although it may have originally have been either yellow or red.

Making a brooch of this type is a complex process. First the body of the hare was moulded from copper alloy, then coloured mixtures of powdered glass were applied to the panels. Next, the brooch was fired in an oven until the powder fused into a liquid. After being left to cool, the brooch was polished to a high shine and the pin fitted to the reverse.

illustration of hare brooch
Illustration of the hare brooch from Long Melford

Hare brooches were widespread across the Continent and southern Britain during the Roman period. In Suffolk, two examples were excavated from Hacheston, another from Eye and another from Ousden; all are from un-stratified contexts. The discovery of the Long Melford hare brooch still in its archaeological context as a grave good is a rare occurrence.

This high status brooch was not the only object that this lady was buried with; she also had a fine ceramic beaker (SF1015) that was placed near her head. The beaker was produced in Colchester and would have contained a funerary offering. It is clear that this was a young woman of considerable social standing.

Zoomorphic brooches are often considered to be religious objects. Given how beautiful the replica below is, perhaps it served as a symbol of the deity that this young lady revered as well as a stunning piece of jewellery.

replica hare brooch with blue enamel
Replica of an enamelled hare brooch, Isle of Wight (Source: G&M Jewellery, Guy on Channel 4’s Time Team)

Blagg, T., Plouviez, J., and Tester, A. 2004, Excavations at a large Romano-British settlement at Hacheston, Suffolk in 1973-4. EAA 106.

Craven, J. A. 2008, Land at rear of ‘Almacks’, Long Melford LMD 137 and LMD 157. Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service Monitoring Report 2008/099

G&M Jewellery, Guy on Channel 4’s Time Team. Webpage [Accessed 08/06/2016]

McIntosh, F. 2009. A study into Romano-British enamelling – with a particular focus on brooches. The School of Historical Studies Postgraduate Forum E-Journal Edition 7 (Newcastle University Dissertation)

The ‘From the Vaults’ series is written by the County Council’s Archaeological Archives Officer

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