Bronze Roman eagle lands back at Hadrian's Wall treasure display

An eagle made from thousands of Roman coins is back on display at Chesters Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall

Frances McIntosh, curator of Roman Collections at Chesters with the Coventina Eagle
Frances McIntosh, curator of Roman Collections at Chesters with the Coventina Eagle

The eagle has landed at Hadrian’s Wall near the spot where it had its origins 138 years ago.

In 1867, lead miners discovered a well at the site of the Roman fort of Carrawburgh in Northumberland.

This alerted John Clayton, lawyer, Newcastle town clerk and antiquarian who lived at the nearby Chesters estate.

He arranged an excavation and the well, on the site of a spring, produced more than 13,000 coins, at least 22 altars, vases, incense burners, pearls and brooches.

They were gifts to the water goddess Coventina, who is shown on a stone carving dedicated to her by the fort commander.

Most of the coins went to the British Museum but around 3,000 very worn specimens were melted down to produce a bronze eagle for the bookcase of Clayton’s fellow antiquarian John Collingwood-Bruce.

He was headmaster of the Percy Street Academy in Newcastle and the author of the 19th Century Handbook to the Roman Wall, which was published in 1863.

The eagle eventually ended up with Tyne Wear Archives and Museums in the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle and has been in storage for years.

But yesterday it went on display at English Heritage’s Chesters Roman fort in time for the new visitor season which opens on April 1.

Kevin Booth, English Heritage senior curator for the North of England, said that the British Museum has just handed back 9,000 of the coins to the organisation.

A selection of the coins will go on show with the eagle.

The display will be completed by an exhibition of images of the coins by top American photographer Steven Sack.

Last November he examined 8,000 of the coins in four days at the British Museum, photographing 80.

He said: “My speciality is photographing objects that have been transformed through time and wear, and reveal a deeper and almost dream-like image. They are like memories.

“One does not see the coin in the image, but the image on the coin.

“I seek to create magical images, which inspire the spectator and give the museum at Chesters an avenue to engage the public.

“I am particularly happy with the result as I find the images seem to tell the story of the goddess Coventina when, in fact, almost nothing is known about her.”

Coventina is known from only two other sites in the Roman world.

Kevin Booth said: “Coventina’s Well was an incredibly exciting find that shed new light on the life and culture of Roman citizens.

“Coventina is really an unknown goddess and yet this significant shrine sheds new light on these stories from history.

“Examples of the coins are now back close to the place where they were found.”

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