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Digital Subscriptions > History Scotland > History Scotland Sep -Oct 2019 > A century of Roman silver – new views on the Traprain Treasure

A century of Roman silver – new views on the Traprain Treasure

Dr Fraser Hunter provides a timely reassessment of the Traprain Treasure with the results of a ten-year research project that invites us to reassess why this treasure was ‘hacked’ and what this can tell us about Roman links to Scotland
An overview of the Traprain Law hoard

On 12 May 1919, workmen excavating the great iron age hillfort at Traprain Law, near Haddington in East Lothian, made a remarkable discovery. In gently loosening the soil, one pulled up a strange silver vessel on the end of his pick. Further exploration revealed a pit full of crushed, broken and bent fragments of Roman silver. They had revealed the most remarkable hoard of Roman ‘hacksilver’ yet known.

Hacksilver has often been the poor relation of Roman silver studies. Glamorous hoards of intact vessels such as those from Mildenhall in Suffolk or Kaiseraugst in Switzerland hog the pages of books and the display cases of museums. The hacking – often viewed as barbaric destruction of fine classical art – somehow made this material less worthy of attention. Yet a long-running research project on the Traprain Treasure, which will appear in print this year for the centenary of its discovery, shows just how wrong this idea was.

The Traprain Treasure demands superlatives. It was buried around AD 450, outside the Roman empire, and is the biggest and best hoard of Roman hacksilver from anywhere in Europe – over 23kg of silver, comprising 317 fragments from over 250 individual items. The Treasure was published by its excavator, Alexander Curle, within four years of discovery – a remarkable feat, and the book has stood the test of time. But since Curle’s publication, knowledge of late Roman silver has greatly increased. Curle’s focus was on restoring the original vessels, but to understand it properly we need to consider its many lives, from production and use in the Roman world, to the conundrum of hacking and its use as hacksilver, its life and burial on Traprain Law, and finally the impact of its rediscovery. A team of scholars from across Europe has been working on the find for the past decade – now the fruits of that work can be made known.

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About History Scotland

Don't miss Sep/Oct History Scotland and the launch of our Insider BONUS CONTENT! Highlights of this packed issue include: · The Sobieski Stuarts – new research on the remarkable brothers who popularised tartan and fooled a generation with their book Vestiarium Scoticum · New findings relating to the Traprain Law hoard – discovered in East Lothian 100 years ago this year · The Aberdeen Doctors – six men who dared to oppose the National Covenant · Lords of the Isles: a striking reconstruction of a medieval Islay power base * HISTORY SCOTLAND INSIDER: Exclusive interview, new video on the north east slavery legacy, exclusive discounts from heritage partners.​