The Mines of Ancient Britain

The Mines of Ancient Britain

A Roman British Ingot

Discovered c. 1731 in a peat bog in North Yorkshire alongside a similar piece which now resides in the British Museum, this ingot was a highlight in our September 2020 African & Oceanic Art and Antiquities auction.

The inscription on this ingot allows us to date it quite precisely, it records the Emperor Domitian’s seventh consulate, placing the making of this lead ingot to the latter part of 81 AD. The word ‘BRIG’ indicates it was produced in the territory of the Brigantes, a tribe that was settled across much of modern-day northern England. This would fit well given the ingots discovery location near Pateley Bridge and its proximity to the ancient lead mines at Wharfedale.


cast lead, of rectangular form, with a raised inscription which reads: 'IMPERATORE CAESARE DOMITIANO AUGUSTO CONSULE SEPTIMUM’ referring to the Emperor Domitian's seventh consulate, inscribed on one side with the word:; ‘BRIG’ indicating the ingot was produced in the territory of the Brigantes tribe
58.5 x 10.5 x 13.5cm, weight approximately 69.8kg | Sold for £21,250 incl premium


View Lot 82 ⇒


The political situation in Britain at the time was highly volatile. The Brigantes were riven by a split between the pro and anti-Roman factions. Following the chaos of the Year of Four Emperors in 69 AD, the pro Roman Queen of the Brigantes, Cartimandua (from the Celtic ‘Sleek Pony’) was deposed by her former husband and leader of the anti-Roman faction, Venutius. The chroniclers are not entirely clear, but it appears large swathes of Britain had to be abandoned by the Romans in the chaos that followed. Clawing back the northern territories they had lost took a number of years, with the Brigantes resorting to their superior knowledge of the hills, forests and valleys, striking at the invading forces with hit and run tactics.

In 79 AD the governor Agricola came north with an overwhelming force, pushing through the Brigantes territory into Caledonia, potentially as far north as the Firth of Tay, all the while building forts and forward operating bases. Though this appears to have quietened the situation somewhat, pockets of resistance throughout the Brigantes nominal territory remained for several decades. By 81 AD, at the time this ingot was produced, Agricola was campaigning in the Southern Uplands of modern Scotland and the situation remained fragile. It is therefore likely that the location where this precious material was being mined was heavily guarded and remained at risk of attack. Such was the value of lead to the Romans, they pushed ahead with its production through this volatile period.

The mines of ancient Britain were crucial to the Roman Empire. Indeed, the local Celtic tribes had traded raw metals across the continent for millennia and the mineral wealth of Britain had been famous all around the Classical World prior to its invasion by the Emperor Claudius in 43 AD. After the subjugation, British lead was exported all over the Empire, used in the aqueducts and plumbing that allowed Rome to grow its cities and to develop its agriculture.



Auction Information


Wednesday, 16th September 2020


View the Full Auction Results ⇒




Recent Articles