Roman Nemausus grew out of a earlier, iron-age settlement on Mont Cavalier, which was repurposed as a Roman town in the years before about 28BCE. Early coins indicate that the town was a colonia and it was made the capital of the province, Narbonne, by Augustus in about 16 to 13 BCE.
The shiny new Musée de la Romanité is the new home for the archaeological collection of Nimes which had previously been housed in the old museum, which (I think) was part of the University. I saw some of the collection there about three years ago but even then the museum was only partially open and there was a lot that I was unable to see. So having (finally!!) arrived in Nimes, I headed straight for the museum without further delay. The collection spans the history of the city from its early, iron-age, incarnation and through the Roman period.
Rather than an exhaustive trawl through everything in the museum, I’ll just highlight a few of the objects and displays that I particularly liked.
Representing the iron-age are these gorgeous stone warriors.
Interesting details include the breastplaate with its strapping, the torque around his neck, his sunburst medallion and what looks like a chain or rope around the waist. Also note the long tail of the helmet crest.
This very stylised statuary is very different frrm the later, much more naturalistic classical style, but presents the Gaulish warriors as proud, strong and well-equipped. Displaying the busts in the round means that it’s possible to really see all the fine details of the armour and acoutrements, and then compare the detail from the busts with other objects on display in nearby cases.
The incised design on the Ste Anastasie (above) warrior would have been painted in bright colours, and the huge helmet that he wears, possibly made of leather in real life, is decorated with rams’ horns.
It was very good to see these examples of pre-Roman Gaulish statuary and to think about how warriors, of the kinds who would have battled against the Roman forces, were representing themselves. And these were urban, or at least proto-urban people, living in fortified towns as in the model of the town of Castels at Nages, below.
This was one of the largest Gaulish towns in southern France. Built in the third-century BCE, it consisted of identical, stone-built houses, tightly packed in blocks and, by the first-century BCE, surrounded by substantial ramparts. It declined and was abandoned as the Roman administration took control of the region, and the people moved into newer, Roman-style towns.
From the iron-age, there is also this cracking horse/bull/animal/thing.
This hybrid creature has, more or less, the body of a horse with the hooves of a bull. It’s clearly a special creature as its tail has been twisted into a fancy coiffure. the holes in its back were probably fixing points for decorative elements such as wreaths or horse-furniture (saddle, reigns…that sort of things).
As Nimes is a city with a number of Roman structures still standing, it’s unsurprising that the museum features artefacts that relate directly to those structures; the amphitheatre, Maison Caree, and the Temple of Diana, are all represented in the museum. This is great for visitors and locals alike and really helps to connect the exhibits in the museum with the city outside.
I’m a big fan of the display of decorative architectural elements, from various sites around the town, depicting theatrical mask.
I was very impressed with this large decorative frieze of garlands and ox-skulls.
The holes in the ox skull reminded me of the skull found at Vindolanda that had been used for target practice but these holes were probably to hold decorative elements like garlands and ribbons. Some of these architectural elements are originally from early Roman buildings but were reused, in antiquity and later, to decorate buildings in the town.
There are some nice mosaics on display in the museum, and there is a good view of some of them from the mezzanine level.
I particularly like this mosaic carpet with the monochrome swimmers in the border.
There was one in the old museum that I particularly liked but which I didn’t see in the new museum.
It’s not impossible that I just missed it due to hurrying but I do hope it goes on display if it isn’t already.
The last time that I was in Nimes, about three years ago, I’d visited the museum that was connected with the university, which was home to the Roman collection at the time. Barely noticeable in one of the cases was a particular die, which I spent some time trying, and failing, to get a decent photo of. When I visited the new museum, I went in looking for this specific die.
Found it! 😀
This particular die is a sort of hexagonal drum with a hole in one end and a lug on the other. The numbers (pips) are on the faces that run around the drum. As far as I could see, the numbering is regular, i.e. opposing faces add up to 7; 1>6, 2>5, 3>4.
When I saw it before, I was wondering how it was used, and about the significance of the shape. I think that I’d decided that it was one of a set which fitted together in a row, lug to dimple, and could be spin around. They reminded me of those stacker pencils that kids have. Has anyone seen any others like these anywhere?
As well as the above die, this case had a complete set of gaming counters and several other very nice dice.
There was also this object. I had no idea what it was until I read the caption. It’s a papyrus roller!
There was this glass funnel and syphon. The syphon, in particular, struck me as a remarkable survival.
I was also intrigued by this reconstruction of a portable fireplace, with utensils.
Dating from the 1st century CE, it was found during excavations of courtyard house 11 at the ‘Solignac / Villa Roma’ site. It’s made of a central bed made of bricks, set into a frame, probably made of wood, but long-since disappeared. The reconstruction is based on the various metal fixings and findings that were excavated; nails, laths and clamps. The utensils found were tongs, a knife, a tripod and a grill.
Lastly, I also liked these plumb-bobs. No particular reason, I just liked seeing them.
That’s all for now. Pip pip.