What do you see?

parish-sign-3

For the uninitiated, the Plaxtol sign can appear baffling. What could a woolly goat standing proudly upon a mountain crag possibly have to do with a parish spanning the Bourne valley in decidedly lowland Kent?

But the image is deceiving. Rather in the manner of a Rubin vase, it can be interpreted in two distinct ways. Look again.

The silhouette represents the head and shoulders of woman (here facing right), wearing a war helmet adorned with a plume of feathers. She is the Roman goddess Minerva Victrix, and she could be said to have watched over Plaxtol since the second century CE, when the owner of an estate on the east side of the Bourne brought her or bought her in the form of a small bronze figurine from Gaul to adorn a niche or altar in his home.

Here is the figurine, recovered from the site of the villa during archaeological exploration in the 1800s and now held in the collection of Maidstone Museum.

Minerva Victrix (Plaxtol) copy

I like to think that the selection of Minerva Victrix, the warrior manifestation of the goddess of wisdom, strategy, trade and the arts, reveals the villa’s owner had been a soldier. Certainly Roman Britain was a popular retirement spot for the veterans of the legions, granted land on their departure from active service. Many of these men had come originally from rural or agricultural backgrounds and thus settled back into what they had known. It is nice to imagine the man, scarred but sturdy, with grizzled hair and perhaps a comfortable paunch, overseeing his orchards and fields of corn, and little imagining that a representation of his choice of protectrix might flummox and confound people more than one-and-half millennia later.

© New Moons For Old, 2016

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