The Lanchester Diploma – Durham, England - Atlas Obscura

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The Lanchester Diploma

Durham University Museum of Archaeology

The 2,000-year-old pieces of metal are an ancient soldier's military discharge papers. 


Britain has well over 2,000 museums, some large and grand in scale and scope, while others possess a more intimate vibe that reflects the closeness of their collection to the community. The latter is certainly the case with the Museum of Archaeology in Durham.

Among the taxidermy animals and the bric-a-brac of past generations, there is display that showcases a unique and exemplary archaeological discovery. The piece in question,  is labeled as “The Lanchester Diploma,” To the untrained eye, it doesn’t look like much more than eight pieces of oxidized metal.

However, experts have been able to interpret these items as belonging to a Roman sailor who served in the military dating as far back as 150. Research has shown that these bits of copper alloy formed what is referred to as a Fleet Diploma, or discharge papers. The document would have been issued by the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius to the sailor Tigernos, a native of Lanchester, who completed his 26 years of active service.

This complete Fleet Diploma was located by Mark Houston, a metal detectorist, in 2016 in Lanchester, County Durham. It’s a one-of-a-kind piece of official documentation from the bygone era of the Roman occupation that also identifies one of Britain’s first sailors. The document is still being analyzed for further information. This rare certificate went on display in the museum in the summer of 2017.

Know Before You Go

The Museum of Archaeology is located on the Palace Green between the Durham Castle and the cathedral. Its opening hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday. There is no parking on site, but the location is served by Durham Cathedral Bus.

Access to the Lanchester Diploma is free of charge, though one has to check in at the front desk. The display case is located on the first floor. The building is equipped with an elevator and is wheelchair accessible.

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January 22, 2020

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