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Staff Pick: Slave Chains

Find out more about the dark history of the Iron Age slave chains discovered in Canterbury
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Staff Pick: Slave Chains

Maidstone Museum
23rd Dec 2016
By Maidstone Museum

Slave Chains

These Iron Age slave chains are evidence that one of the major exports from Britain to the Roman world were slaves during the 1st century AD. For those wearing them, living conditions would’ve been brutal and life expectancy shortened. However, during the Iron Age the slave trade was thriving. Can you believe that people sometimes even sold themselves or their children into slavery just to settle their debts?

Slave chains

These shackles were excavated at Bigbury Camp, Harbledown, Canterbury. During this era, slaves would often be gathered by war lords during raids, and even be used as gift exchange. Slaves were also exported to the continent, with these shackles accompanied by others around their necks.

The geographer Strabo mentions slaves as being one of the major exports from Britain to the Roman world during the early 1st century AD. During the latter part of the Iron Age in Kent (550BC-43AD), the people of the region were largely made up of the Belgae. These people mingled and settled with the earlier Celtic inhabitants, and were probably recent invaders from the continent or refugees from the German or Roman invaders of Northern Gaul. The chains themselves, despite being a symbol for oppression, also attest to the quality of Belgic metalwork.