Few stone statues escaped eventual re-use as building material and the usual fate of bronze statues was to be melted down as scrap and the valuable metal recycled. So the discovery from 30 Gresham Street in 2001 (GHT00) is particularly intriguing.
A life-size left hand and forearm is broken off below the elbow. Possibly it once grasped a staff or scroll. Hollow cast in bronze, the nails, knuckles and back of the hand show a high level of artistic competence. Areas of corrosion mask traces of the gold leaf which once covered the entire surface, making it appear golden.
London has produced more fragments of monumental bronze statuary than the rest of Britain put together – five significant portions, the most impressive being the head of Hadrian, now in the British Museum.
This arm is the first example from a dated context. It was discovered in a large pond or soak-away, in sediments laid down before AD70 – an astonishingly early date for the erection, let alone the demolition, of any kind of monumental sculpture in London.
There were occasions when the memory of an unpopular ousted emperor was condemned (damnatio memoriae). The Senate ordered all mention of certain emperors to be erased from inscriptions and visual representations to be removed and destroyed.
In the 1st century, the emperor Nero was condemned by the Senate in his lifetime while a formal decree was passed after the death of Domitian. Could this be part of a statue of Nero (AD54-68), whose images were torn down by order of the Senate in his own lifetime?
A version of this article was first published by Bruce Watson of the Museum of London Archaeology Service in Archaeology Matters No 14, May 2001.
For more information, see Ritual practices in Religious life.