Cupid – the god of love and other exciting discoveries along the A417

Cupid figurine

Recent excavations, conducted as part of ground investigation work for Highways England’s A417 Missing Link scheme between Cirencester and Gloucester, have unearthed a range of artefacts, including a rare Cupid figurine of Roman date.

A417 Missing Link - Cupid figurine - 3 views

Ed McSloy, Cotswold Archaeology’s Finds Manager, has studied the figurine and describes it “standing at 60mm in height and cast in copper-alloy. Cupid has short, stubby wings on his back and is shown nude, with a chubby face and hair in ringlets, and what looks to be a topknot. He is standing, with his right arm raised and holding an object identified as a torch, or possibly a club. Originally, he may have also held something in his left hand, but whatever this was seems to have been moulded separately and is now lost.” Further details may be revealed once the figurine has been cleaned by a specialist conservator.

Statuette of Cupid found in Cirencester (©Ashmolean Picture Library, Ashmolean Museum)
Statuette of Cupid found in Cirencester (©Ashmolean Picture Library, Ashmolean Museum)

From a recent 2011 study of over a thousand metal figurines from Roman Britain, it seems that only thirty-two others depict Cupid. In most he is posed as if in flight and only one is he shown holding what is identified as a torch. The possibility that the Cupid from the Missing Link excavations holds a club has been raised by Professor Martin Henig. This, he suggests, identifies the figure as ‘Cupid as Hercules’, which symbolises ‘the power of love over even the strongest of heroes’. A number of other objects from the empire combine the imagery of Hercules and Cupid to express this concept. An example from Britain is a Hercules figurine from Norfolk depicted with a Cupid on his back. Only one other cast metal figure of Cupid is known from Gloucestershire. This the much larger statuette reputedly found in Cirencester and currently on display in the town’s Corinium museum.

Melanie Barge from Historic England says “it is a rare and exciting find. It will tell us about the lives and beliefs of the small Roman community that lived alongside this road.”

Other artefacts

A ‘trumpet’ brooch (a modern name resulting from the shape of the head, which flares like the end of a trumpet) was also found during the excavations. Cotswold Archaeology’s Ed McSloy describes the brooch as having “a sprung pin and wire head-loop at the back, as well as a petalled ‘knop’; there are triple mouldings above and below the knop, and to the foot of the brooch at the front”. The brooch, which is in excellent condition and complete, probably dates to c. AD 80-160.

From the left: Penannular brooch, ‘Trumpet’ brooch and nail clipper

Other finds from the excavations include a Late Roman copper-alloy brooch of penannular type with coiled terminals, and a Roman copper-alloy nail cleaner with a bone ‘bead’ set into its upper end.

Many iron objects were also discovered; while most were nails, unusual objects include a spade sheath and what is probably a hoe. These may be of Roman date but could be later, possibly medieval.

A much more recent, but nevertheless fascinating, object found during the excavations is a brass manufacturer’s plate from a generator, dating to the time of the Second World War – more information about this find will be released soon.

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