4 min read

The Colchester Roman ring that pre-dates Roman Colchester 1

a photo of a ring with an inalaid red gemstone inscribed with a warrior figure

Roman Intaglio Ring depicting Mars © Colchester Museums Image Credit Douglas Atfield

An engraved Roman gem found in Colchester has been revealed to date a century or more before previously thought – before the Emperor Claudius’ invasion of Britain in AD43

Mounted in an iron ring this carnelian intaglio – or engraved gem – of deep red colour was originally used by its owner to seal letters and documents in Roman Colchester.

It was excavated at Gosbecks Archaeological Park, Colchester in 1995 by the Colchester Archaeological Trust within the precinct of what would have been a ‘Romano-Celtic’ temple.

But It was not until research for Colchester + Ipswich’s Museum’s recently-launched Collections Online database, that this stunning Roman ring was dated 150-250 years earlier than previously thought.

Revd. Dr. Martin Henig, an expert on ancient engraved gems, has identified the armed figure as the god Mars, but the shape and style of the ring and its gem date it to the second century BC and no later than the first century BC, long before Emperor Claudius’ Army landed on British shores and forced their way inland.

“This is a fascinating object that potentially suggests a long, personal history, changing many hands over centuries, before it reached the capital of Roman Britain,” says Glynn Davis, Senior Curator for Colchester + Ipswich Museums Service.

“Mars was, perhaps not unsurprisingly, a popular deity amongst the Roman military and this ring might have arrived in Britain on the finger of a legionary, having been handed down generations of their family.”

Arguably the most important tribal settlement in Pre-Roman Britain, Roman historians say Claudius personally oversaw the attack on Colchester (or Camulodunon) in AD43, and a major Roman legionary fortress was soon established there.

The town then grew into the principal city of Roman Britain, until its sacking and razing during the Boudiccan revolt of around AD61. It was then rebuilt with town walls, several temples and even a chariot circus – all of which have left a rich legacy of Roman artefacts and archaeological remains that continue to be discovered, interpreted and shared.

“The revised date of the ring provides the attractive alternative that it was owned by an influential Iron Age Briton, perhaps a hi-ranking chieftain,” adds Davis. “The name of pre-Roman Colchester – Camulodunom, meaning ‘Fortress of the War God’ – gives an insight into how popular and important the god was to the Iron Age Britons of Essex.

“The native god of War – Mars Camulos – would have been worshipped here long before the Roman conquest and perhaps the figure on this ring was perceived as such. In either case, of the thousands of Roman rings discovered from Britain, this is one of relatively few dating back to the time of Rome’s Republic.”

This latest discovery from Britain’s first Roman city adds to the ongoing interpretation of our Roman past giving archaeologists much to ponder back in time back – even before the Roman Republic subjugated Ancient Britain.

Look at the intaglio online through Colchester + Ipswich Museums Collections online and in person when Colchester Castle can re-open its doors following Government guidance.


Colchester Castle Museum

Colchester, Essex

A visit to Colchester Castle Museum takes you through 2000 years of some of the most important events in British history. Once capital of Roman Britain, Colchester has experienced devastation by Boudica (Boadicea), invasion by the Normans and siege during the English Civil War. Since the 16th century, the Castle…

One comment on “The Colchester Roman ring that pre-dates Roman Colchester

  1. sally wellow on

    On the engraving there appears to be dots/lumps/indents (e.g. on each knee). Might these be to match a star constellation? Or for another purpose?


Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *