Britain's oldest exam certificate found
Ruins reveal ruler extended palace into Forum temple
Friday August 11, 2003
As students across the country prepare for their A-level results this week, archaeologists have uncovered the earliest examination certificate ever found in Britain.
Fragments of two bronze sheets, which had been threaded together, were unearthed by metal detector enthusiasts in Norfolk.
The diploma was awarded in AD98 to a garrison soldier whose name has not survived but who was recruited in the imperial province of Pannonia, now the Balkans. Lettering inscribed on the eroded metal shows that he served in the legions from AD73, most of the time in Britain.
His certificate acknowledges lessons learned during 25 years in the Roman army, lessons which became as subject to controversy and allegations of cheating as any modern exam.
As the empire declined, the diplomas were traded on an illegal market for their value as proof of citizenship, which carried privileges and exemptions.
A small number of other 25-year diplomas have been found in Britain but the Norfolk find is the earliest, dating from the reign of the Emperor Trajan.
The site, a Roman settlement whose size was underestimated for decades, is being kept secret because of the wealth of material thought to remain unexcavated. The find will be revealed tomorrow in the magazine British Archaeology, which describes it as "intriguing and among the cream of the crop of recent discoveries".
Adrian Marsden, archaeological finds liaison officer for Norfolk, said its safekeeping was another tribute to the effectiveness of the voluntary reporting scheme, under which 6,000 artefacts a year are handed in by the public.
The finders are among a group of archaeological enthusiasts who are carefully searching the site and are optimistic about discovering the missing pieces of the diploma, which has been donated to the Castle Museum at Norwich.
A prayer to the cockerel-headed Roman deity Abrasax inscribed on a sheet of gold has also been passed to the county archaeologists.