Cupid figurine dating back 2,000 years among Roman artefacts found

Claire Hayhurst, PA
·3-min read

A figurine of Cupid, the ancient Roman god of love, dating back almost 2,000 years has been discovered along with a bow-shaped brooch and a skeleton.

The Cupid is a rare find, with less than 50 known in the UK, and is one of only three that have been found as part of an archaeological dig rather than by metal detectorists.

It was discovered in a deposit of charcoal, suggesting it could be an offering to the gods, is made from solid bronze and features wings and a flaming torch.

The item, along with the brooch and skeleton, was discovered as part of early survey works on the £435 million A417 missing link route in Gloucestershire.

Survey work saw 335 trenches dug in fields around the route over a four-month period.

Roman artefacts found
A 2,000-year-old Cupid figurine which was found among Roman artefacts on a stretch of the new A417 Missing Link route in Gloucestershire (Highways England/PA)

Michael Goddard, senior project manager for the A417 at Highways England, said: “The archaeology works we are undertaking along the A417 give us a significant insight into life on the site thousands of years ago, providing a unique glimpse into the past.

“It’s fascinating to see that Romans would have lived in the area in a similar way to how we do today – drawn to the area’s stunning beauty, something we are aiming to maintain with this landscape-led scheme.

“It’s also fascinating to see that the Romans also left offerings to the God of love to keep them happy and help shape their own lives – with Cupid now a staple of Valentine’s Day celebrations all over the world.

“These finds help us understand the relationship between the improvement scheme and the surrounding historic environment which will ensure the protection of any historic finds for generations to come.”

Roman artefacts found
A brooch was also discovered as part of early survey works (Highways England/PA)

Highways England would not give an exact location for the find but confirmed it was on privately owned land close to the A417 route.

The A417 missing link improvement scheme is located within a rich archaeological landscape.

During the Later Iron Age and Romano-British period, the land was intensively utilised – with a major Roman road and a number of Iron Age and Roman sites recorded across the wider area.

Teams first studied early historical records, then conducted geophysical surveys before undertaking evaluations to unearth any finds.

The most significant find was the Cupid bronze but the brooch also gives an insight into daily life as a Roman, who would have used it to fasten their cloak.

It is ornate and shaped like an archer’s bow, making it likely that the owner was wealthy.

Jim Keyte, archaeology lead for the project, said: “The area of the project is rich in history, and the existing A417 largely follows the former Roman Road between Cirencester and Gloucester; Birdlip itself has its origins as a Roman settlement.

“It has been fascinating to reveal more about the area and the people who once lived here. Our investigations will continue as the project progresses, and we expect more interesting discoveries to come.”

The skeleton was oriented north to south, with archaeologists believing it is unlikely to be Christian. This means the remains date to either before 4th century Roman or early Saxon.

They were buried faced down, potentially suggesting that the person was not well-liked and potentially a criminal.

Out of respect for the deceased, the skeleton was only partially excavated and then reburied.

Historic England has been advising Highways England on the scheme, alongside Gloucestershire County Council.

Mel Barge, inspector of monuments at Historic England, said: “The Cupid statue 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 2,000 years ago.”