SOM-EABDC5: Roman, cast, copper-alloy vessel mount or tripod mount in the form of the bust of Nero

Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
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Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Published Find published

A Roman, cast, copper-alloy vessel mount or tripod mount in the form of the bust of a young Nero probably dating to AD 49 to 60.

The object appears to be solid with an integral attachment at the back. The bust is shown wearing a cloak over both shoulders. This projects slightly forward from the breast in the centre of the front in what appears to be a plain downwards fold suggesting the cloak is joined by a brooch or with a knot. On similar items it has been suggested this represents a bulla (an amulet worn by Roman boys) but on this better preserved example it appears D or oval shaped, as a curved fold not a circular projection. The tunic under the cloak is gathered with pleats running vertically down form this central point. The face of the bust depicts a young male with the slightly projecting ears and short hair with full fringe found in images. The features are delicately moulded, the eyes are oval with clearly delineated lower lids and brow line. The nose is triangular in plan and straight to aquiline in profile. The mouth is narrow, but both lips are visible. The chin projects slightly and is rounded. The bust is flattened at the back such that the details at the top and sides of the head can be seen but not the back of the head nor the back of the upper part of the torso.

On the back of the bust, just below the line of the shoulder-blades in the centre is an integral copper alloy shank. This shank is sub-square in cross-section and runs in a straight line at 90 degrees from the back for c 8mm before it terminates in a slightly expanded end. This shank appears complete but may have a very worn break and have originally have bent vertically upwards to a terminal. At the bottom of the object there are irregular patches of abrasion that may indicate a break and a lost further segment or detail.

The object is 25.4mm high, 17.8mm wide (i.e. from shoulder to shoulder) and 17.3mm thick (i.e. from centre front to the end of the shank); it weighs 16.24g.

Three other mounts of near identical form and style have been recorded by the PAS, HAMP-F10D82 from Hampstead Marshall, West Berkshire, DOR-6E73F1 from Tarrant Rushton, Dorset and BH-84F731 from Hadam, Hertfordshire which are suggested to be mounts from caskets or furniture. Another, cruder example which shares similar features of a young face, prominent ears and blunt, heavy fringe as well as a similar plain back and attachment is NLM-CCF911 from Winteringham, North Lincolnshire. BERK-07F89B is also broadly similar although the hairstyle appears to be that of a female.

DOR-6E73F1 has been published by Sally Worrell and John Pearce (2012) and by Miles Russell (2016) with contributions by Ciorstaidh Hayward Trevarthen and Derek Pitman. Worrell and Pearce suggest the lower part of these mounts may represent a calyx with the bust rising from it, this fits with the style of HAMP-F10D82 in particular but the lines appear on this new example to diverge towards the base rather than converge, suggesting clothing more than a calyx. They also identify the knot at the chest as a bulla.

Russell (2012) identifies the bust as possibly that of the young Nero around the time of his adoption as co-heir by Claudius in AD 50 (my thanks to the finder for drawing my attention to this article). Russell's other arguements' focus around the interpretation of the central feature on the chest as a bulla, as suggested by Worrell and Pearce (ibid), which is more questionable on this example (although on HAMP-F10D82, recorded since the artlcle was published it again appears more like a bulla). The stylistic parallels however are clear and suggest the item is from around the date AD 50 and may portray a young Nero or simply a generic young aristocrat of the time.

Similar busts have also been suggested as tripod mounts such as LIN-1632D1, however such mounts have distinctive shanks with upturned ends to support the bowl and are moulded more in 3D as the bust was mounted on the end of a shaft with the back of at least the upper part of the head clearly visible, unlike this example which is designed to sit against an item.

Find of note status

This is a find of note and has been designated: County / local importance

Subsequent actions

Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder


Broad period: ROMAN
Period from: ROMAN
Period to: ROMAN
Date from: Exactly AD 49
Date to: Circa AD 55

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Height: 25.4 mm
Width: 17.8 mm
Thickness: 17.3 mm
Weight: 16.24 g

Personal details

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Other reference numbers

Other reference: SCC recept 018211

Materials and construction

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

Spatial metadata

Region: South East (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Oxfordshire (County)
District: Vale of White Horse (District)
To be known as: Drayton CP

Spatial coordinates

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

Discovery metadata

Method of discovery: Metal detector
General landuse: Cultivated land

References cited

Author Publication Year Title Publication Place Publisher Pages Reference
Russell, M. with contributions from Hayward-Trevarthen, C, and Pitman, D. 2016 A First-century Roman Copper-alloy Portrait Bust from Tarrant Rushton Dorchester Dorset Natural History & Archaeological Society 167-172
Worrell, S. and Pearce, J. 2012 Finds Reported Under the Portable Antiquities Scheme 2011 London Cambridge University Press

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: SOM
Created: 2 years ago
Updated: 2 years ago

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