Wishing well or lucky find!
Recent excavations by Red River Archaeology in the environs of a Roman villa in Wiltshire, England discovered an amazing Roman well which contained a wonderful collection of artefacts and ecofacts. Amongst this assemblage was a well preserved Roman coin dating from the early 4th century. This was identified as a nummus of Crispus Caesar (Flavius Julius Crispus). Coins turn up from a huge variety of contexts on archaeological sites. The majority are lost in antiquity and a lucky archaeological outcome of a past misfortune! As archaeologists, however, we always look hard at the evidence and see if it is possible to understand past intentions through the material remains left in the ground.
The origins of wishing wells
A tradition of making votive offerings into watery places has been a European tradition since at least the Bronze Age. This tradition is likely to have developed as a means of making offerings to deities believed to be associated with water. It was hoped that an offering would result in the granting of a ‘wish’ such as healing of illness or good fortune to the person making the offering. Extensive remains of votive offerings have been recovered throughout Britain from pre-Roman indigenous peoples such as the extensive Bronze Age remains at Flag Fen. This native tradition appears to have been adopted by the Roman army following the invasion and a ritual well associated with the Romano-British Goddess Coventina is located near Brocolitia Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall. The natural hot springs at Bath were also a native British ritual site associated with the goddess Sulis which was taken on by the Roman incomers who built a bath and temple complex as part of the Roman town.
Lost or Offered?
Although no evidence has been recovered to confirm whether the coin was lost or deliberately deposited into the well the fact that it was not worn / eroded would indicate that it was probably deposited in the well while relatively new. It is nice to think that someone back in the 4th century AD deliberately tossed it in the well and made a wish for some positive outcome in their life. Alas, we will never know!
Flavius Julius Crispus
Crispus served as a Caesar from AD 317 to 326. Crispus was the son of Constantine I and raised by his father in Gaul. Crispus had the respect of the legions due to a number of victories against the Franks and the Alamanni which secured the provinces of Gaul and Germania. He also served as the commander of the Roman fleet in the Battle of the Hellespont where he commanded a fleet of 200 ships to successfully defeat his enemy. Due to his pivotal role in helping his father defeat the armies of Licinius, Constantine honoured his son Crispus by adding his face to imperial coins, statues, mosaics and cameos etc. His high standing didn’t last long and Constantine had Crispus hanged in AD326 under mysterious circumstances.