SWYOR-29B362: Roman capricornus figurine

Rights Holder: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service
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Unique ID: SWYOR-29B362

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Published Find published

A cast copper alloy, probably Roman figurine of a Capricornus; a mythical creature being half goat and half fish.

The constellation of Capricorn has traditionally been depicted in this way. Capricorn was the tenth sign of the zodiac and the emblem of Legion II Augusta, which was based at Caerleon in South Wales. It was the birth sign of the emperor Augustus (31 BC - 14 AD), under whom the unit was formed and after whom it was named. [Joe Lewis of the Museum of Wales has kindly pointed out that the Capricorn was the symbol of August's conception rather than his birth as he was born on 23rd September.]

The capricornus figurine is depicted in a pose seen on Roman coins such as SF-634850, a denarius of Titus showing Capricorn on the reverse. His front legs are outstretched as if running, the head is upright, the ears pricked up and backwards slightly, and the body outstretched. The tail is straight and fans into a vertical three pronged fin. This is unlike other depictions of Capricornus where the tail has a characteristic loop - compare for example a Roman figurine sold at auction on December 1st, 2011: http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/10233745, and a bronze from Wiesbaden showing a C on globe, maybe a standard, cf Webster, Roman Imperial Army (3rd edn 1985) p. 136 fig.22.

The figurine is in very good condition, missing only his horns. The breaks are well patinated. The hoofs and muscles of the legs are well moulded with incised curved lines on the front half suggesting hair. He has a pointed "goatee" beard which links to the front right ankle. The mouth is a straight incised line, with detailing of the hair on the snout shown with short incised lines. The nostrils are depicted by a pair of short but wide incised lines. The eyes are moulded lentoids with rounded eyebrows and a raised pointed oval eyeball, depressed iris and raised pupil. A band of thicker hair across the top of the head is moulded. The ears are sub-triangular and have a moulded hollow inside. The edge of this is decorated with radiating incised lines representing the hair. Behind the shoulders, the lines depicting hair turn to U shaped scales. The tail has moulded ribs separating the three fins, and moulded rippled lines representing the structure of the fins.

The figurine has no evidence of attachment, but it does balance upright on his elbows and chest, which has a flat facet at the base. The metal has a smooth dark brown patina, with some areas, particularly his right shoulder and neck, where corrosion has produced a slightly rougher and light green surface. There are no similar objects on the PAS database, but NARC-E29A65 is a Roman brooch in the form of a ram or capricorn.

Martin Henig suggests comparison to a capricorn from Martinsbuhel bei Zirl, Trirl with an uncurled but bent tail: R.Fleischer, Die Romischen Bronzen aus Osterreich (1967) p 175-`176 Taf. 119 no.243. This is mounted on a globe, but there is no evidence of a mount or setting on the Somerset example. A Capricorn is also depicted on a cameo from Augst (A.Kaufmann-Heinimann,Die Roemischen Bronzen der Schweiz L Augst, 1970 p.137 no.214 Taf.136) which is depicted at the top of a sceptre. There are also gems depicting Capricorn, for example, Henig Corpus nos 407 and 408. Some of the gems are from Legio II areas of operation, such as 408 from Waddon Hill for instance. Legio II was based at Caerleon but would have had a larger sphere of influence, including North Somerset.

Find of note status

This is a find of note and has been designated: Potential for inclusion in Britannia

Subsequent actions

Current location of find: Somerset Museum Service
Subsequent action after recording: Acquired by a museum - not a Treasure case


Broad period: ROMAN
Period from: ROMAN
Date from: Circa AD 43
Date to: Circa AD 410

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Length: 250 mm
Width: 37.55 mm
Thickness: 88.25 mm
Weight: 886 g

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: Ms Amy Downes
Identified by: Ms Amy Downes
Secondary identifier: Prof Martin Henig

Other reference numbers

Other reference: PAS form number 1641

Materials and construction

Primary material: Copper alloy
Manufacture method: Cast
Completeness: Incomplete

Spatial metadata

Region: South West (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: North Somerset (Unitary Authority)
District: North Somerset (Unitary Authority)
To be known as: Burrington

Spatial coordinates

Grid reference source: From a paper map
Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 100 metre square.

Discovery metadata

Method of discovery: Metal detector
Current location: Somerset Museum Service

References cited

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: SWYOR
Created: 6 years ago
Updated: 4 years ago

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