Height: 2.000 cm (approx.)
Presented by the Welwyn Garden City Development Corporation
P&EE 1967 2-2 44, 48, 54, 63
Britain, Europe and Prehistory
Glass gaming counters
Iron Age, about 40-20 BC
Found on the Panshanger Estate, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, England
Unearthed when a gas main was being laid
These four glass counters are a selection from twenty-four that were on the floor of a large Iron Age grave which was found when a housing estate was being built in 1965. The grave belonged to one of the most wealthy and powerful people living at that time in southern England. She or he was probably the leader of a local tribe, and was buried with fine pottery and metal vessels for a banquet, which included the drinking of a large amount of wine imported from Roman Italy.
The counters, arranged next to the cremated bones of the deceased king or queen, were part of a game that was intended to be played at this otherworldly feast. There was probably a wooden board, but this has not survived. We do not know what the game was, but archaeologists have speculated that it was a race game.
The glass counters themselves were not made locally. They were probably made in the provinces of the Roman Empire in the eastern Mediterranean region, such as Egypt or Syria. We do not know how they arrived in Hertfordshire. Perhaps they were a gift from a Roman leader to a barbarian ruler. Or they may have been brought from a trader. However they were obtained, the game shows in a small way the exotic tastes of the new ruling class.
I.M. Stead, 'A La Tène III burial at Welwyn Garden City', Archaeologia-8, 101 (1967), pp. 1-62