From the Vaults: Feb 2017

Roman Frog Figurine from Water Hall Farm, Wixoe (WIX 010)

This month we have a creature feature, a delightful Roman frog figurine from Water Hall Farm, Wixoe. The figurine was discovered whilst metal detecting in the 1980s by Mike Cuddeford and was donated to Suffolk County Council. Recent survey and excavations close by have revealed a substantial Roman settlement (WIX 022).

The frog figurine is small in size; measuring only 3.6cm long and 1.3cm high. He has been cast out of copper alloy and carefully decorated with ribbons that run down his back and legs. Herringbone decoration runs down his spine and pecking decoration has been applied to his head. He is dark green to black in colour and has a lively look to him with an alert expression on his face. Although he is a general representation of a frog or toad, details such as webbed feet have still been added to the figure.

His function is not known for certain, frogs have been linked to the Roman god Sabazius so it is likely that he had some ritual significance. Wear patterns on his feet suggest that he was a tactile object that was often handled; bearing this in mind, the figurine could have been a used to ward off evil spirits and bad luck or even perhaps been a child’s toy. It is quite possible he could have had more than one of these functions in his lifetime in addition to being a decorative object.

Above: Top - photograph of the frog figurine, copyright Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service. Bottom - illustration of the frog figurine from Drury and Wickenden 1982 (see further information)

Frogs are rare in Roman art, a few examples exist in the UK on enamelled brooches and inlaid seal boxes. This frog figurine is a very rare beast, there are no known parallels from the UK, although there have been frog figurines excavated from Southern Gaul (France) and Spain. Interestingly the closest parallels within the UK are two copper alloy figurines of cockerels from Chelmsford and Great Canfield in Essex. Although they depict a different animal, they are very similar in style and decoration and were perhaps made by the same craftsman or by different craftsman within the same workshop.

Above: Left - Roman enamelled frog brooch from Dorset (PAS record DOR-8B62A6). Right - Frog on inlaid lid of a Roman seal-box from Verulamium (St. Albans Museum Accession No. 1978.241)

If you would like to see this lively fellow, he is currently on display at West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village.

Further Information

Drury, P. J. & Wickenden N. P. 1982. Four Bronze Figurines from the Trinovantian Civitas. Britannia Vol. XIII Pages 239-244

Portable Antiquity Scheme database: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/490752

St. Albans Museums: Verulamium (Search our Collections): http://www.stalbansmuseums.org.uk/view-collection-873/

Suffolk County Council Archaeological Archives

Toynbee, J. M. C. 2013. Animals in Roman Life and Art. Pen & Sword: Archaeology.

Article compiled by Julie Kennard (Assistant Archives Officer)
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