The land of fire and ice…and Loop

First off, there are no Romans in Iceland (there were a few random coin finds, but they don’t mean that any Romans were actually here so, in the absence of any real hard evidence, my statement stands). So what on earth am I doing here? From the title of this post, you’ll have guessed that this is Loop-related.

The ‘fire and ice’ bit is going to have to wait until I’ve had some sleep but first, Loop.

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ATP Iceland is a 3 day festival held at Ásbrú, a disused NATO air base near the airport near Keflavik (about 30-ish miles from Reykjavik). Sounds hilarious, doesn’t it?

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It was alright actually. All wind-swept concrete and stark angles. Quonset huts, and breeze-block and crinkly-tin buildings with different coloured roofs. Nothing soft. Nothing at all soft.

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Except the ubiquitous lupins, an invasive species that seems to be taking over every roadside verge in the country.

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To business.

I met up with a couple of cool Soundheads from the Edinburgh Chapter, Simon and Ellen, for the fun. Before Loop even came on stage, it was clear that this was going to be a typically hilarious Loop gig as the absolute miasma of dry ice kept setting off the fire alarm. Security seemed remarkably unfazed by this, with not even the slighted hint that an evacuation might be in order.

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In any case, the set was actually really great. I mean, it was basically the same set as they’ve been playing recently, but it was satisfyingly full of heaviosity and we were even treated to a little bum-wiggling. The sound in the Atlantic Studios, the main venue, was very good, very clean, meaning that we were treated to all the volume without muddiness or (unintended) distortion.

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Degi Hari

Stand-outs this time were Precession, this song just sounds fantastic live. I really prefer it live to the recorded version, as it has more of the oomph that I like. The drums are more pronounced, it’s heavier and the riffage is sharper and more urgent sounding. Nice one.

Arc Lite was top, with that driving impetus and ever-cool drum patterns. Burning World, which is, frankly, a lovely song, sounded lush and fluid, languid but not lazy. Mmmmm.

There was a bit of mithering from Robert. I’m not sure what the issue was but whatever it was, lots of magic gaffer tape was required. We were wondering if Robert was having trouble seeing his pedalboard, on account of the aforementioned dry ice.

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Right at the end (of Burning World, so lush), Robert had a little hissy, threw his guitar up in the air and stalked off stage. Some other people in the audience asked me about that afterwards. They’d really enjoyed the set but were concerned that there might be a serious problem. I told them not to worry :D. Robert was absolutely fine. He was outside having a chat and a gasper shortly afterwards.

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Discretion demands that I draw a veil over the rest of the evening (nothing naughty, just off-the-record), but I can say that I had a very nice chat with guitarist Dan and impressed upon him the absolute necessity of their rehearsing Radial in order to play it live as soon as possible. It seems that there are some autumn gigs in the offing, including in the US (you lucky Americans).

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And so, as the sun went down as far as it would go (this image was from about 1.30am) it was time to contemplate home, actual night-time darkness and water that doesn’t smell of sulphur. Iceland, it was fun. Thank you. And thanks to Hugo and Dan for the set list and pass.

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Hurry Up Array

So here we are again. Loop. It’s been a while, although not, obviously, the 23 years that it was was before. We’ve done the nostalgia thing but there’s no future in nostalgia. It’s time to blast into the future.

So here is the (foreseeable) future; three EPs, Arrays 1, 2 and 3.

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PART 1

Loop, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge

Due to my extreme excitement at the prospect of new Loop material, I’ve hopped on a train up to Yorkshire to see them live. Hebden Bridge to be precise. Tonight I was meeting my Tweep Sequin World (@ann_sequinworld), otherwise known as Ann, and her partner Andy. I’ve never been to Hebden Bridge before but I had no trouble finding the venue because I could hear Loop soundchecking all the way down the road :D .

The venue was quite nice, like a small working men’s club and we were treated to a cool oil-wheel lightshow. Just before Loop were due on stage, who should show up but fellow-Loop-fanatic Dave! He’d had a ‘moment’ and driven up after work. Gave me a surprise, I can tell you!

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The gig was great. This despite the fact that Robert’s amp had blown up during the soundcheck (this is not the first time that Loop has been tormented by an exploding amp). Dan’s guitar was good and loud, resulting in a bigger fuller sound, especially important when Robert goes into one of his wig-outs. This is good.

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The set list (as pinched by Dave). They also did Breathe Into Me at the end.

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Starting the set with The Nail Will Burn is pretty cool. That bassline, and then all the rest of the instruments come crashing in (especially live). Two songs from the new EP, Array 1; Aphelion and Precession, sounded fantastic. I especially like these live and really want to hear the other two tracks played live. Might be a bit tricky right away, as Robert can’t remember the words ;) The only duffer was (weirdly) Collision, which sounded like it was falling down stairs.

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The new EP was on sale at the merch stall, so all’s well with the world. This gig was great fun but a loooooong drive home (including a scary bit in the woods!).

PART 2

Loop, The Kazimier Club, Liverpool

I wasn’t going to do this because it involved more overnight travel. Urgh. But I couldn’t help myself. This has happened before and will, no doubt, happen again.

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When I (finally) arrived, it looked a bit deserted :/

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TBH it didn’t look like there were many people there but you know the rules. As long as there are more people in the audience than on the stage, it flies. The venue was also very dark. The on-stage ‘lightshow’ seemed to consist of some nightlights and one spot. Honestly, this is what it looked like for most of the gig*

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Still, the gig was good. Not quite as good as the night before, but it was fun and Burning World sounded lovely and Breathe Into Me was better than the night before.

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The set list was the same as at Hebden Bridge so, again, we had two new songs. I like these more the more I hear them, especially live. This new material seems to work some particular themes. I’m particularly loving the drums. These are more prominent live than on the recording and, more generally, the live sound is a lot harder than on record, darker and more fierce, which works for me. Hopefully we’ll get the other two newies, ‘Coma’ (will they even do this one live?) and ‘Radial (a sure fire crowd-pleaser), soon. I really look forward to the day when the set list is built around new material, with a few old favourites thrown in, rather than predominantly old material (much as I love it).

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The journey home was interminable, as expected, but we did drive past Chester Roman amphitheatre, so at least that gave me a little frisson of excitement. Ho hum, it’s the weekend in any case, so I have time to sleep it off.

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PART 3

Loop, The Roundhouse, London

This gig was on as part of the 20 Years of Mogwai series. A real mixed bill with Mugstar (prog), Lightening Bolt (hilariously good), Tortoise (missed them because I was too busy chatting with my mate Jeremy) and GZA (hip hop coolster).

But this is a Loop post so, obviously, it’s all about the Loop.

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The set kicked in with The Nail Will Burn played as heavy as a hippo, sitting on an elephant, riding on the back of a blue whale. i.e., extremely heavy :D . See, THIS is why I like seeing them live. As cool as they are, you just don’t get this on the records.

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The audience was a bit thin at the very beginning, but I think that was because a lot of people skipped out after Lightening Bolt to get a drink and smoke a tab on the terrace. The terrace seemed to have a lot going on. Earlier on we’d seen a guy fall down the stairs, on a chair! Twice!! Not sure how that happened but it was his birthday, so perhaps that’s significant. Anyway, me and Jeremy heard the pre-Loop drone and scurried in, but perhaps other people didn’t realize that they were starting. It did fill up though and there was a satisfying amount of whooping going on.

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I’ve alluded to this twice already, but the new songs really are very cool. Precession, I think, has the more instantly distinctive riffery, but both of the new songs played live so far seem to fit seamlessly into a set still dominated by much older material. I guess this just highlights the timelessness of a lot of this material.

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I enjoyed this gig a lot, largely due to the aforementioned heaviness, but, and I’m certainly not the only one who said this, they absolutely smashed Arc Lite. Honestly, this may be one of the best times that I’ve heard it. Absolutely killed it. Collision managed to stay on its feet (been laying off the sauce) and provided a strong, and popular, closing for the set. Top notch.

Thanks to Dan and Wayne for the setlists on this mini-tour.

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Who keeps writing ‘Procession’? ;)

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*there are a couple of videos on YouTube that show this up even more hilariously.

Straight to Your Heart 

Vapour

Sweeties for Helen

My recent eye-kandy mosaic post has proved popular with the Good Lady Wife of one of my volunteering partners-in-crime. She really likes mosaics and getting to see images of some examples that she hasn’t (yet?) seen in person. So, with an eye to crowd-pleasing, here’s some more honey for your eyes all the way from the beautiful land of Tunisia.

El Djem is, rightly famous for it’s stonking great amphitheatre,

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but down the road, there’s also a museum. On the surface it looks like a small local museum.

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Enter the building though, and it quickly becomes apparent that you’re looking at a world-class collection of high quality, often complete Roman mosaics.

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These have all been found in El Djem, in the smart suburban villas that surrounded the urban centre of the Roman city of Thysdrus. In fact, the museum itself is surrounded by the remains of some of these villas.

So, to the mosaics. Here is a gorgeous and beautifully detailed mosaic of the Muses, with their attributes.

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And no respectable Roman household would be quite complete without a few deities.

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And many many fantastical and mythological scenes.

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Including the revels of everyone’s favourite god, Bacchus.

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This fragmentary scene is of the fun and games in the nearby amphitheatre.

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Although gladiatorial combat is the first thing that many people associate with Roman amphitheatres, an important element of the action, usually held in the morning, was the execution of prisoners. With the gladiators there was, and still is, a certain glamour in amongst all the gore, but with the executions there was no glamour at all, only horror, pain and degradation.

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On a less brutal note, I love this beautifully intricate mosaic carpet, with vines, animals, fruits and putti.

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Here are some of the details from among the vines. Elephant, goat, sexy lady, and the eternal struggle between angry fat baby and camel.

The non-representational mosaics are just as lovely.

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It’s no secret that North African mosaics set the bar pretty high, but I leave you with this famous stunner.

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This carpet shows the personification of several Roman provinces, including Africa.

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So, mosaic-fans, if you are looking for a pleasant holiday destination with sun, beaches, lovely welcoming people, good transport links and awesome Roman mosaics, you need look no further than Tunisia*.

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*This post is not sponsored by the Tunisian Tourist Board.

Picture this

When I was thinking of visiting museums in the Germany, I was largely thinking of the military collections; arms and armour, elements of fortifications, inscriptions and pictorial military tombstones. Lovely stuff *rubs hands together*.

I wasn’t really thinking of mosaics.

This is not to say that I was unaware of the presence of mosaics in these collections. It just wasn’t a key motivation.

Now, having seen a few of the mosaics on display, I must say that I was impressed. Mosaics don’t really seem to form major elements of the collections, they’re not the central focus, but what the museums do have is really worth a look, so I thought that I’d share a few from a couple of German museums here. I don’t have anything that could, laughingly, be called analysis for you. This is basically just eye-kandy.

The ridiculously good Römisch-Germanisches Museum in Cologne is home to this stunner.

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Found during the building of a bomb shelter in 1941, this near-complete 750 sq.ft. 3rd century villa floor has been preserved in situ, with the museum subsequently constructed in the space around it.

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The mosaic shows Dionysiac scenes, with pipe-players, timpani, dancing, getting a bit jiggy, and lots of animals.

Mmm pretty

The other really large scale floor mosaic in the museum is this Philosophers mosaic. I understand that there was some restoration in the 19th century, and we all know what that means, but it’s a very nice example of the type.

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It’s a little bit tricky to get decent photos of the individual characters depicted, but here’s Socrates (CωKRATHC).

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And Plato (ΠΛΑΤΩΝ).

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This fragment has a gladiatorial scene in the ribbon, with the audience (?) looking on from the corner.

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There are also several non-representational mosaics incorporating mosaic and opus sectile.

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The other big museum that I visited was the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Trier. I must confess that I found this museum a bit weird. It’s not that obvious how to actually get into the main galleries as you have to go through the shop :/ .  Some of the connections between galleries seem a bit…pokey, and there’s a huge…really huge, 18th century Romanesque monument stood in the corner of one of the Roman galleries. I get that they were trying to make the point about classical revival, but it’s literally the only revival object and it’s massive. Ho hum.

Anyway, there were some nice mosaics. Some more philosophers.

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Boxers.

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Musicians.

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There is also a main mosaic gallery which can be viewed from a small balcony just off one of the upstairs galleries.

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It’s a weird space, weird enough to feel like it’s actually a temporary gallery (I don’t know if it is), and it has horrible lighting. When viewed from the little balcony, you get these awful lighting tracks in the way of the mosaics on the walls.

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When you’re in the gallery, you’re blinded by hideous spotlights.

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Which is a big shame, because there are some nice mosaics in there.

Animals

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Venus.

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There is also the famous Charioteer mosaic. Unfortunately, it’s hidden behind a temporary wall at the moment. I don’t know why (conservation, perhaps). I only know that it’s there because I glimpsed it from the balcony (again with the hideous lighting tracks).

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So anyway, I leave you with a more accessible, although less complete horse-racing scene. I think that it’s fantastic.

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The barnet formula

Many European museums have large collections of Roman material, reflecting the relative prevalence of material culture in the Roman period compared to the periods before and after it. Many visitors looking at the Roman material are interesting things like coins, jewellery and luxury goods, but I often see people standing in front of the portrait busts, staring into the faces of those depicted, person to person across two thousand years.

Looking at these busts as sources of evidence, one things that strikes is the wide range of hairstyles on view, and the changes to hairstyles over time. Changing fashions in hairstyles may seem like a rather frivolous topic but as with clothing and other ‘fashions’ they do reflect wider changes in political, economic and cultural landscapes.

So looking at one of the really key figures in the Roman empire, the first de facto emperor himself, this image became his calling card throughout the empire. The short neat hairstyle reflected the severe hairstyles of the Republican era from which Octavian/Augustus emerged*.

This bust of Augustus, in the Römisch-Germanisches Museum Köln, shows this short neat hairstyle. What is interesting abotu this particular example of the Octavian/Augustus portrait is that some time later, probably in the fourth century, a beard and moustache were added to the face. This reflects to the mores and fashions of the fourth century, as this was not the done thing in Augustus’ time.

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The nods to the Republican style subliminally associated Augustus with the values of the Republic, values that must have seemed to have been fast disappearing. And the severity of the hairstyle sent out the message that Augustus was a serious young man, bringing stability to the empire after the period of chaos and division that accompanied the decline of the Republic. Almost as if Augustus was re-establishing the high Republic, although in fact, he was actually ending it once and for all.

There was an exhibition examining Augustus’ use of this image at the Grand Palais in Paris last year. You can find my little write up and a few pictures here.

In the main, the Julio-Claudian Emperors adopted a variation on this theme. Hair was short and neat, chin was beardless. Here’s Claudius (in the Praetorium, Cologne) looking rather butch and manly, as befits an Emperor of Rome. Not quite the Clau- Clau- Claudius of Derek Jacobi.

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But the hairstyles of later male busts reflected the changing fashions of the Empire.  Emperors began to hail from places other than Rome, or (Latium), and they wore their hair in styles that were less dictated by upper-class Rome and the Republic. Different looks became fashionable as high status families adopted the styles of those leaders of fashion, the Imperial Family.

A step change in fashions came with the Emperor Hadrian, a Spaniard by birth. Not only did Hadrian wear his hair a little longer, curly and a bit more flowing, he also wore a beard, reflecting his love of Greek culture (in Römisch-Germanisches Museum Köln).

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Septimius Severus, the North African Emperor of the third century, has quite a different look again. His African roots are played up in his style, with a very thick and curly hairstyle and full beard (Römisch-Germanisches Museum Köln).

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For women hairstyles were explicitly associated with age and marital status, wealth and social status. The style-setters were often, again, the Imperial family with many well-off women adopting the styles of the Emperor’s wife or daughters.

This cameo (from the Rijksmuseum van Oudehen) shows Livia, Augustus’ wife with the typical hairstyle of the first centuries BCE/CE. Called the nodus style it involved parting the hair into three sections, gathering up the two on the sides to make a bun at the back of the head and looping the central section into a sort of puffy fringe in the middle.

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Later on, Flavian styles became increasingly elaborate, particularly for the elite with high arching crowns of hair, often curled and built up using hairpieces. This tomb-bust of a lady, from the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, shows a relatively restrained version. They could get really quite over the top.

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These hairstyles demonstrated a woman’s status, that she had time to devote to her appearance, personal servants (slaves). An ordinary lower status woman would have been less able to devote her time and energy to this level of personal grooming, particularly if she was obliged to work for a living.

This (below, from Römisch-Germanisches Museum Köln) is Julia Domna, the Syrian wife of Septimius Severus. You can always recognize her by her distinctive ‘helmet hair’ hairstyle. Although she was the wife of the Emperor, I don’t know how widely this one ever caught on in Rome as, as a foreigner, her hairstyle is quite different to the elite Roman women from Italian families. Again, this hairstyle must have taken quite some time to construct.

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And alongside the ‘Roman’ hairstyles and Roman lifestyles, the older tribal traditions remained strong throughout the Roman period, and some people still chose to be depicted as members of their tribes. As these images are often found on tombstones or in funerary contexts, the choice may have been made by the surviving loved-ones of the departed, but in any case, tribal identity remained strong.

These ladies, members of the Germanic Ubii Tribe, are shown wearing these large traditional headdresses (worn only by married ladies) (l-r, Praetorium, Cologne; Römisch-Germanisches Museum KölnRömisch-Germanisches Museum Köln).

This is despite the fact that the Ubii were long-time allies of Rome, fought with Rome against the Batavians and other enemies, and may be considered thoroughly Romanized. In death, if not in life, tradition, history and ancestors won out over bath-houses, plumbing and paved roads!

Just to end, I’ll show my Roman allegiances with this badly altered photo of me with a massive Flavian ‘do’. It’s pretty awful, but it amused the chums and demonstrates wot a laydeee I am. Pip pip.

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*Incidentally, this is the sort of hairstyle currently being rocked by George Osborne. “I’m very serious, but a bit funky”, says his hairstyle, whilst his behaviour at PMQs suggests late nights and shrooms. I’ll leave you to decide the truth of the matter.

Face: Off

I’ve just been in the Netherlands for a few days, taking in a few of the fantastic Roman collections there.

I was around part of the Limes area, although the standing remains of forts, fortifications and towns have all but disappeared or been built on by later generations.  The museums, however, are filled with large and varied collections of both military and civilian artifacts.  One type of military artifact that the main museums have in common is the Roman cavalry parade helmet, with face-mask. These are also called ‘sports helmets’.

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The masks are quite startling to see and have a very ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ feeling, but these were status objects.

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Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

These cavalry helmets were probably worn by  the commanding officers and the best horsemen of cavalry units and were worn primarily during parades and tournaments, not in combat situations. The face-mask element of the helmet, hindered the rider’s  vision meaning that he could only see a restricted area straight ahead and had none of the normal peripheral vision. This renders the helmets, complete with the face mask in any case, unsuitable for combat situations where unrestricted vision was vital for success and survival.

On some of the face-masks, the mechanism for fixing it to the rest of the helmet is evident. There is a hinge placed centrally in the forehead. The face-mask part of the helmet would therefore open upwards.

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Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden

While some of the face-masks have plain sides, others have ears!

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Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

The helmets and masks seem to be made, primarily, from iron, but as these are display objects, they would originally have been silvered, copper- or bronze-coated, to glitter and gleam in the sunlight. These two examples retain some of this coating.

Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

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Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

At the Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen, there are two examples of close-fitting face-mask helmets with a woven skull-cap. Traces of the fabric element have survived, corroded onto the metal.

And alongside the one on the left, a reconstruction of how the helmet may have looked when new.

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Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

And this particular example is shown with both the face-mask and cheek-pieces.

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Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden

This particularly ornate helmet was the only one I saw with both the face-mask and cheek-pieces actually fitted together. It looks a bit unwieldy, with the cheek-pieces covering the face-mask, which seems to defeat some of the display objectives. I can help wondering whether it was designed to give the wearer a choice; face-mask or cheek-pieces, rather than both together.

Here is another cheek-piece from a different helmet featuring, appropriately enough, the god Mars.

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Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam

Some of the helmets, masks and other objects (notably the gold-coloured face-mask earlier in this post) have been found embedded in the mud at the bottom of the many canals that criss-cross the Netherlands. Some of the best preserved examples have been preserved by the wet, oxygen-free conditions. As there is extensive evidence for the importance of watery places for ritual activity, it is very possible that these helmets and masks were deliberately deposited, perhaps as offerings giving thanks for successful campaigns or periods of service.

I leave you with a few more examples from Amsterdam and Nijmegen.

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Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam
Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

For more musings on Roman cavalry helmets, have a look at Following Hadrian and Per Lineam Valli.

Hug a hoodie

I realize that I haven’t posted a blog in a little while. I’ve been off on a jolly and far too busy enjoying myself to write stuff. I also have an assignment to submit (don’t ask) and having to go back to work is always a less then scintillating experience :( .

I’ve got something in the pipeline for once I’ve fully recovered from all the fun, but just to whet your appetite, here are three rather cool, related artifacts from the Landesmuseum in Trier.

Many people picturing Romans draw on memories of Sir John Gielgud, Brian Blessed and Richard Burton. All togas and sandals. This is one image of the people of the Roman empire, but there are so many others. Many ‘Romans’ never saw Rome, never traveled outside the tribal areas of their ancestors, and wouldn’t have been caught dead in a toga.

In northern Europe, where it’s cold and wet, warm clothes were the order of the day. Trousers, boots and hoodies. Ok, not actually hoodies, a kind of hooded cape called a cucullus.

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This fragments of painted wall plaster shows a scene of rural domesticity; the villa, happy slaves merrily tending the garden, and one figure, on the left, wearing the cucullus.

Grouped with this wall painting is this delightful little bronze figure. It’s perfect :) .

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You can see how warmly he’s dressed. Tunic, trousers, boots and hoodie. Much more practical for northern climes than the unwieldy togas we see in the swords’n’sandals blockbusters at the movies. He looks like he was originally holding something in his left hand (and possibly also in his right hand), but that’s gone. Nevertheless, this is a lovely and beautifully detailed artifact.

The third in this triumvirate of woolly outerwear? This fragment of  stone relief.

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This fellow looks pretty intent, in a hurry, but wrapped up well against the northern European cold.

Examples of this kind of garment can be found in other chilly places such as at some of the forts along Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland and Cumbria, which possibly suggests elements of shared culture.

Or perhaps it was just bloomin’ cold.