Roman Cavalry Pendant

Roman cavalry soldiers used pendants and other shiny metal objects to decorate their horses. There were various shapes and sizes of pendants, many of which had symbolic value. This particular pendant is fashioned in the shape of a leaf, with two round lobes flanking a longer central lobe. The leaf symbolises Roman viticulture (wine growing).

3D model of the Roman Cavalry Pendant

It is made from copper alloy (brass), with a rough texture throughout. Harness straps would thread through the hole in the top of the pendant, allowing it to dangle below with some movement—much in the way a charm hangs from a necklace.

This object belongs to the following theme:



Place of Origin
Maastricht, The Netherlands

Time Period of Use (ca.)
27 BCE – 476 CE

Copper alloy (brass)

Dimensions (cm)
 Length: 7, Width: 7

3D Model

Canon EOS 250D

Processing software
Agisoft Metashape Professional Edition

Kathryn van den Berg & Jennifer Lamphere

Riding in Style


Connecting to the collection theme of Power and Politics, the Roman cavalry pendant allows us a glimpse into the Roman history of Maastricht and the surrounding area. With this object in mind, we will touch briefly on the history of the Roman Empire, the great power of the Roman military, and the elite social status of the cavalry soldiers, before discussing the style and placement of pendants on a cavalry horse.

Roman History in Maastricht

Maastricht has a rich Roman history. The Romans settled in the area because of the Maas River, which formed an important part of the Roman trading route from Boulogne-su-Mer to Cologne (Maastricht Marketing, 2021). Infrastructure was built up around the river, including a gravelled road and a bridge across the water. These three elements – the river, the road, and the bridge – formed the “central elements to the Roman settlement” (Panhuysen, 2009, p. 3). Roman life continued in the Maastricht area for roughly 400 years (Maastricht Marketing, 2021), leaving behind many artefacts to be discovered by archaeologists in the modern era. 

Archaeological excavations in the urban center of Maastricht have proved to be quite fruitful. They centered around two main sites, the Church of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk) and the Church of Saint Servatius (Panhuysen, 2017, p. 48). Numerous artefacts were discovered around the square of the Church of Our Lady during excavations in 1983, including the discovery of a possible Roman temple in the basement of the Hotel Derlon. Recovered Roman artefacts included a pouring spout, a pot for ashes of the deceased, and the cavalry pendant (Centre Ceramique, 2023).

Archaeological excavations around Onze Lieve Vrouweplein, 1983 (Image source); Present day Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (Image source)

Military Power

The Roman Empire was renowned for its military might. With such a large empire to govern, military forces traveled far and wide to defend (and expand) the borders. The Roman military was divided into various units, each with its own specific function. The cavalry was one such unit, and it played a role in many of the Roman Empire’s military campaigns. Cavalry soldiers were mounted on horseback and were well practiced in throwing javelins and other weapons while riding at high speed; using their height on horseback as an advantage, they could attack enemy infantrymen from above (Cartwright, 2014). A large group of menacing soldiers mounted on horseback also provided shock value during the initial attack. 

Although historians tend to question the effectiveness of the cavalry in combat scenarios, based on three significant battle losses in the Second Punic War, there is not enough evidence to write off the cavalry based on these battles alone (McCall, 2005, p. 2). Roman soldier and historian Ammianus Marcellinus wrote of both cavalry missteps and successes in his account of the Roman Empire. Of a battle between the Persians and the Romans, he writes:

“[The Persians] would easily have slain all the men, had not our cavalry, which happened to be at hand, the moment that they heard what was going on, hastened up, though scattered over the wide valley, and repulsed this dangerous attack, wounding all who had thus surprised them” (Marcellinus, 1862, p. 374).

Here the cavalry provided vital support thanks to the mobility and quickness of their horses. Even outside of combat scenarios, the cavalry could ride great distances on reconnaissance missions returning with valuable information about enemy formations. 

The cavalry also worked in tandem with other units to carry out strategic movements. When battling the Germans, Marcellinus writes that the enemy were “panic-stricken by the incursion of our cavalry on the one side, and the sudden attacks of our infantry, conveyed in boats, on the other” (1862, p.125). Feeling surrounded, the enemy had to retreat. Soldiers on horseback, on foot, and on boats were often deployed simultaneously during battles. One particular winter battle along the frozen river Maas (in what is assumed to be present-day Maastricht) included cavalry, infantry, and soldiers in boats going up and down the river “from sunset till daybreak, so as to break the crust of ice and prevent any one from escaping in that manner” (Marcellinus, 1862, p. 127). All escape routes were thus closed. The Roman army achieved great results when the different units operated as one.

Roman settlement in Maastricht (Image source); Present day Maastricht (Image source)

Elite Status and Decoration

Regardless of battle wins or losses, cavalry soldiers in particular enjoyed a prestigious reputation. Serving in the cavalry was associated with high social status (McCall, 2005, p.8). In the early days of the Roman Empire, the cavalry was made up of wealthy Romans or the sons of wealthy Romans, who served on their own horses or horses subsidized by the state (McCall, 2005, p. 2). Cavalry service was also a form of networking, providing “an opportunity for elite Romans from different areas to meet and build relationships” (McCall, 2005, p.6). Cavalry soldiers bunked together, traveled together, and fought together, forming a bond over their shared group identity. These bonds surely carried over to civilian life after military service was over. 

Because the Romans viewed cavalry service as “far superior” to infantry service, cavalry soldiers were also paid more (McCall, 2005, p.6). This meant cavalry soldiers frequently “spent money on buying highly decorated helmets and other items of kit, including the harness used by their horses” (Segedunum Roman Fort, n.d.). Cavalry soldiers were well-dressed, and so too were their horses. The items worn by a Roman cavalry horse were “both functional and decorative” (Segedunum Roman Fort, n.d.). For example, the bridle and the harness were functional items that allowed the rider to control their horse. But they were also decorative, as the rider could customize them by adding shiny metal items and pendants.

We know the typical style and placement of such decorative items thanks to surviving Roman tombstones with visual depictions of cavalry soldiers and their horses (Bishop, 1988, p. 66). These visual depictions are brought to life through archeological discoveries like the pendant found near the Church of Our Lady in Maastricht. This pendant is an excellent example of one particular style, the trifid pendant. One of the most common forms of pendant, the trifid pendant was characterized by a longer central lobe flanked by two shorter lobes (Bishop, 1988, p. 96). The inlaid decorations on trifid pendants were usually inspired by viticulture with carvings of leaves, vines, tendrils, and grapes (Bishop, 1988, p. 96). 

In addition to the trifid pendant, other types of pendants included teardrop pendants, “bird-headed” or “winged” pendants, phallic pendants, and lunate pendants (Bishop, 1988, p. 96-98). Most pendants were made from copper alloy (brass) and could be strung along the straps of a horse’s harness. While pendants looked aesthetically beautiful hanging from a harness, they were also symbolic for the cavalry soldiers. Some pendants held religious symbolism, while others were simply intended to bring good fortune. Romans believed such symbols could “protect the horse and rider” (Segedunum Roman Fort, n.d.). We can only wonder about the fortunes of the soldier and horse who lost our trifid pendant in Maastricht so many years ago. 

Reenactment of a Roman cavalry soldier mounted on his horse (Image source)


The Roman cavalry pendant is a remarkable artefact that provides us with a glimpse into the past. It reminds us of the importance of the Roman military and the significance of the soldier’s rank and prowess in battle. Forged in metal and representative of Roman viticulture, the pendant is a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of the ancient Roman artisans. It is also a testament to the lasting legacy of the Roman Empire here in Maastricht and beyond.

Written by Jennifer Lamphere & Kathryn van den Berg