Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city*

Much as I’d love to go to Nineveh, that great city, the security situation in Iraq at present does not allow it so I’ve had to make do with the wonderful exhibition at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden.

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

In its heyday, of all the cities in the ancient Neo-Assyrian empire, Nineveh was the greatest and the most populous. It has had a lasting impact on western consciousness, particularly on account of Biblical references, especially relating to Jonah, and its semi-mythical status.

Etching of Jonah made by Dirck Volckertsz Coornhert between 1548 and 1552, Rijksmuseum.

Situated on the east bank of the Tigris River and encircled by the modern city of Mosul, Iraq. Nineveh was located at the intersection of importants trade routes crossing the Tigris on their way between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. It was the capital city of Assyria’s most powerful kings and the hub of the Neo-Assyrian Empire at its height.

The area of Nineveh has been settled since the late neolithic period, around 6,000BCE and there has been a city there since at least 3000BCE. During the Old Assyrian period (around 1800BCE), the city was known as an important centre for the worship of Ishtar, the ancient goddess of love, sex, beauty, fertility, war and power.

The expansion and embellishment of Nineveh as a royal city began in 705BCE on the accession of King Sennacherib, after the death on the battlefield of King Sargon II – ‘The Unfortunate’. This is when Nineveh turned from a primarily religious centre into a royal capital.

The walls of the palaces were clad in limestone panels with reliefs depicting kings and other important men, battle scenes, gory scenes of the execution of prisoners and, less gorily, daily life.

Much of what we know about the rulers and events in the history of Nineveh, the names of kings, information about great battles, building projects and religious life, comes from the contemporary texts, written on clay and stone in cuneiform. Many texts are yet to be deciphered, but the epigraphic habit of the Assyrian courts has yielded important information.

Clay cylinder describing the construction of the palace of Sennacherib, 704-681 BCE, Nineveh.

Mud brick from the ziggurat of Nimrud, inscribed with the name of King Shalmaneser III, 859-824BCE, Nimrud.

Even the limestone floor tiles from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II (9th c. BCE) were covered with text, here, an ode to the king.

The exhibition at the RVO has sections on different aspects of Nineveh; its wider historical and cultural context, biblical references, it rediscovery by western explorers (although it was long known about by Arab scholars), the construction and expansion of the city, trade, religion and daily life.

There is also an extensive section on Nineveh’s more recent history. When daesh invaded the city of Mosul in 2014, one of their stated aims was to destroy the ancient city. In early 2015, the group began posting films of artefacts, sculptures and even parts of the city wall begin destroyed. The two Iamasi below are similar to those featured in one particular destruction video posted by the terrorists.

Replicas of two Iamasi from Nimrud (the originals are in the British Museum).

This part of the exhibition examines the evidence for recent destruction and the response of the international community of archaeologists, heritage experts, scientists and digital imaging experts in their efforts to record and retain as much information about the city as possible, even in the face of its destruction.

Mosul and Nineveh

This has included the use of satellite imaging, 3d printing, digital photography, CGI and even the use of small drones, used to investigate, among other things, a series of underground tunnels dug by daesh fighters, which unwittingly uncovered new discoveries of antiquities.

I’ve posted a little film about this last initiative on youtube but don’t expect too much quality-wise. It was just me pointing my camera at the projection on the wall. It’s an interesting watch nevertheless.

 

The exhibition ‘Ninevah – Heart of an ancient empire‘  is on at the Rijksmusem van Oudheden in Leiden until 25th March 2018.

*Jonah 1:2

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The great aqueduct of Paris

With that blog title I might be overegging this a bit, so let’s just call it ‘the once fairly big aqueduct of Paris’ instead.

Paris’ Roman remains are a bit hit and miss. Of ‘hits’, there’s the fabulous bathhouse at Cluny, there’s the amphitheatre, and there are the archaeological remains in the Crypte archéologique on the l’île de la Cité. Of misses, there are many; the city walls now seem to consist of a little chunk in a carpark stairwell and the odd bump in the road and, other than in the aforementioned Crypt, there are no houses to be seen, nothing that looks military, and there’s precious little left, structurally, to do with the trade coming into the city. And then there’s the aqueduct.

Any self respecting Roman town had to have an aqueduct, of some sort, to bring the water for all the public baths and drinking fountains, meeting the needs of the Roman ‘metropolitan elite’. So where is the aqueduct of the Parisii?

Well, Lutetia Parisiorum did indeed have an aqueduct. One which covered the 26 or so kms from Wissous (near Paris Orly Airport) to Paris. Built in the 1st c, CE, this aqueduct had a capacity of about 2.000 m3/day, water which fed public fountains, some private houses and, of course, the grand baths at Cluny. Rediscovered in 1903 by Eugène Belgrand and excavated by Louis Tesson, the collecting basin into which the sources fed was uncovered and then covered up again so it isn’t possible to see that. But, on its was to Paris, the aqueduct crossed the La Bièvre river by means of a bridge, a few scraps of which remain.

Near Arcueil-Cachan station on RER line B…

No, not the big obvious structure, cutting its way through the valley. That’s part of the two later aqueducts that run along the same route as the Roman one. Here we can just see the 1860 Arcueil/Bertrand Aqueduct which sits on top of the lower piers of the 1620 ‘Medicis’ aqueduct. No, I was looking for these scant remains.

Can you see them? Yes? No?

How’s this?

And here’s another little bit sticking up over the top of the buildings that were built up against the later aqueducts.

It’s not much, and a bit squashed in between all the later construction, but there it is, the aqueduct of Lutetia.

A couple of miles further north in the ZAC Alésia-Montsouris area off the Avenue de la Sibelle, another stretch of the aqueduct was uncovered  in the year 2000 during building works and, after some ‘debate’, the decision was taken to preserve a few vestiges of it in the new public garden and playground and in the basements of some new flats. There isn’t a huge amount to see, just a few bits and bobs dotted around, but it became a bit of a challenge to try and find as many bits as I could. So here they are:

There’s even this, frankly rather random chunk stuck in a wall niche alongside the park.

So there you are. They’re not obvious and they’re certainly not pretty and finding them involves tramping round some fairly unremarkable blocks of flats. But I went looking for an aqueduct and found three. However, without the bloggy assistance of www.romanaqueducts.info, I’m certain that I wouldn’t have found any of them at all.

 

 

 

From the ashes

I’m certainly not the first to post a ‘first look’ review of the newest museum space in London, and I’m pretty sure that I won’t be the last, but here I go. Just a quick look.

By now I’m sure you’re all familiar with the story of London’s Temple of Mithras. Discovered during the clearance for redevelopment of a bombed out site near Cannon Street (1952-4). Saved for the nation (sort of) due to intense public interest. Relocated to the wholly inappropriate site on the concourse of Temple Court, Queen Victoria Street. And there it sat for 50 years do so until…

Now, finally, returned and restored to (more or less) its original site following the re-redevelopment of the site by Bloomberg for its new European headquarters. So, after much waiting and with high expectations, I was finally there.

Oooooh, it’s good. It is. It’s good. I mean, it’s Bloomberg, who have all the money in the world, so it’s a bit ‘corporate sleek and shiny’ but that’s ok. It’s nicely done. Understated rather than flashy. On entering, visitors’ first encounter is with the modern as the entrance hall, Bloomberg Space, holds (at the moment) a tapestry and sculpture by Isabel Nolan but we’re soon into the Roman, which is what we’re all here for, with a wall of finds from the 2011-14 excavations.

This collection is just a tiny proportion of the ~14,000 artefacts excavated from the site and includes a representative sample of everyday objects, as well as a few star finds.

This is the sort of display that could be a bit frustrating as the floor-to-ceiling format means that many of the objects are way above eye level. But, never fear, visitors are provided with ipads giving close-up views and information about the objects on display. This can also be accessed on your phone, which is handy.

From there, visitors begin to descend down to the earlier street levels, with a timeline running down the stairs for orientation. You can see how far back in time you are travelling, the lower down you go.

At the next level down we’re starting to get into the mithraic mindset. Three interactive stations give information about mithraism, about the cult in the Roman world, its iconography and possible meanings and about the London Mithraeum specifically.

I was particularly interested in the info on the London Mithraeum. This is also, basically, a waiting area as the visit to remains of the mithraeum itself includes an av presentation which gives visitors an impression of the atmosphere and sounds of the mithraeum in use. This runs about every 20 mins and then there’s time to stay and have a proper look at the remains too.

And here it is, finally, the London Mithraeum.

The presentation is, again, quite understated. Nothing too flashy. Even the av atmospherics aren’t over the top. They just give an impression of what a mithraeum would have been like, subtly filling in the spaces where the walls and columns would have been and bringing just enough life into the space. Looking at the remains themselves, this reconstruction is much more sympathetic than the 1960s one. Nuclear cement bonding…gone. Crazy crazy-paving…gone. Instead we have, as far as possible, the original remains, including the timber risers for the steps, the well and (look closely by the entrance) the door pivots.

So, all in all, this new museum space is a bit of a triumph. I could probably have done without Joanna Lumley’s breathy delivery on the voice-over, and I’d like to see some more detailed info about the recent MOLA excavations and the actual process of reconstructing the remains. Maybe just the addition of the MOLA publications for reference or printed copies of the  excellent (and free!) downloadable booklet. But these are minor points and personal preferences.

The London Mithraeum is free to visit but you do need to book a slot. Get booking because it’s proving popular. You get a free booklet when you visit and the use of the aforementioned ipads for info onsite.

Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia 2017

And so finally, after more than a week, here’s my little round-up of this year’s Liverpool Psych Fest.

The Good

Loop.


Obviously.
There was a little bit of kerfuffle at the beginning of the set with Loop’s traditional ‘shot with a diamond’ intro drone and it was quickly abandoned for a fairly full on, slightly aggressive set.
There wasn’t really much of a lightshow going on as the ‘Psych Colony’ canopy had been removed before they started playing so, for some of the set, at least, the band was basically silhouetted against the background projections. This prompted the (now classic) quip from Robert, “these lights are about as psychedelic as my cat” (obviously this has now lead to a number of discussions about the levels of psychedelia in the feline brain. Cats can actually be pretty psychedelic at times).

Magnetix


Not new, but new to me. I walked into Camp, heard 3 seconds of music and sprinted to the front for a bop. This French band has the drummer-guitarist, 2 piece configuration, making fun, boppy, hilarious garage music. The guitarist looks like your square uncle, trying to act like he’s down with the cool kids. The drummer looks like the ‘way-out-of-his-league’ cool girl who somehow manages to make him cool, geek-style. This is fun 😀

Ex-Easter Island Head Large Ensemble


The Large Ensemble played on Saturday afternoon and was well worth arriving in time for. About 30 or so musicians on stage, all with guitars (laid out on tables), little hand bells, drums, tappy things, plucky things and I-know-not-what. And clapping. All together creating a varied and absorbing, almost orchestral sound. I liked this a lot and would like to see them again. Maybe in a space like a theatre or concert hall, or somewhere like the Union Chapel, perhaps. They did actually play in London recently but I couldn’t go on that date and just thought “oh well, I’ll see them in Liverpool”. I’ll try very hard not to miss them next time.

The Telescopes


The question with The Telescopes is always “how many guitars?” They’re a band that can sound really quite different every time you see them and the guitar ratio is a major factor in this. I’ve seen them with from 1 to 6 guitars onstage, at Psych Fest, it was 4 (unless I’ve missed any out), so fairly guitary.
If you’re thinking of going to see them out of nostalgia, expecting There is No Floor and Seventh Sharp Disaster, forget it. They’ve moved on a long time ago, although they do still sometimes play Perfect Needle (not at Psych Fest), and that song works in the context of their more recent material. I like The Telescopes. I like their newest 5-track album, and I liked this set. I particularly like the Captain Caveman drumming 😀

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs


AKA, Pigs x7.
The venue where Pigs x7 were playing, District, can be a bit of a faff to get into at times, and doesn’t have the best views, especially if you’re short-ish, like me. So, wanting to make sure that I could get to see Pigs x7, I got to the venue nice and early. The band were setting up and soundchecking and a polite, tidy-looking fellow in a smart black shirt was tweaking his mic and requesting some pretty specific levels of echo and reverb.
The lights dimmed.
This polite, tidy-looking fellow then proceeded to tear off his shirt, roaring, leering, wrapping the the mic cord round his neck, elbow-bashing his keyboard, speaker-stack climbing. There was an incident with a sparkly pink cowboy hat. Buckfast. Oh, and some music too. Fun 😀

The Bug vs Dylan Carlson


The Bug vs Dylan Carlson played the late night spot after Loop. I had though that I was going to miss at least some of the set (see below) but late running meant that I was in Camp in time for the start. I think that they were struggling with some technical issues which, unfortunately, meant that much of the audience had wandered off by the time they got started. This was a shame because once it did get going, the sound was great. Loud, super bassy, and slllllooooooowwwww. This isn’t exactly music to bop to but has a really power and uncompromising intensity that makes it riveting ( and sometimes, frankly, hilarious). No psychedelic lightshows here, just a single red spot and billowing clouds of smoke. And that’s how you do heavy.

Sex Swing


After a battle-royale getting into Camp (see below), we managed get a good spot to see Sex Swing. I saw Sex Swing at the Transformer day over in Manchester and rather liked them. They play heavy, very rhythmic music. With a sax, so there’s also some honking. They played a new song (not that I’d know), which was really good.

Steve Davis and Kavus Torabi (DJ set)

Again there seemed to be a little bit of technical trouble (this year’s theme?) but once they got going, Steve Davis and Kavus Torabi provided all the bounce you need to stay later than you had intended. Lots of jazz hands, finger pointy, speaker-stack climbing and charging about the stage, particularly by Torabi. I stayed as long as I could, for the fun, and then had to head off to bed (seriously, I’d had 4 hours sleep the night before and was cream crackered).

 

Musings in Drone – AUDiNT : A Century of Zombie Sound


On the other occasions that I’ve been to Psych Fest, I haven’t managed to get to any of the Saturday afternoon talkie sessions, but his time I was keen to, especially the talk entitled ‘ A Century of Zombie Sound’. I’m glad that I managed to get there because it did cover some really intriguing developments, theories and uses of different kinds of audio and visual recording technology since WW2.
These included such jiggery-pokery as the US military’s WW2 ‘ghost army’; the positing of ‘Stone Tape Theory’ as an explanation for ghosts; the uses and abuses (real and imagined) of ‘backmasking’; and, more recently the resurrection of dead rappers as holograms. It alos looked forward to future developments, although not too far into the future, just to about 2050, so this was extensions and developments of existing technology.

The Bad
Trad, Gras och Stenar
OK, I know that these are on a lot of people’s ‘good’ lists but they were just way too prog for me. My bad.

Dirty Fences
Lordy-lord. Me and my pal walked into Camp and were confronted with what sounded like the Tweenies playing the Foo Fighters. This was not good. We left soon after.

KVB
I’ve seen KVB a couple of times before and found them a bit lifeless. It’s like they want to be all ‘pumped-up-power-pop-duo’ but they’re just so weak. In the biggish space of Camp they sounded even more weak and tinny. They just don’t excite me at all.

The food
What happened? A half-hour queue for chips? This is daft. The food offering was pretty limited and just not worth the wait. We learned our lesson on Friday and, on Saturday, we went out for an early dinner.

The crazy bouncer at Camp
Picture the scene: a band finishes playing and Camp empties out as people go off to catch other bands, buy drinks, have their brain scanned etc. A large crowd has formed outside Furness, as the venue is full with people seeing W.I.T.C.H and wanting to see Black Angels. People wanting to see Sex Swing start to make their way to the virtually empty Camp but are stopped by the bouncer who tells us that we have to go in via Furness. “But Furness is full!” we say. “They’re not letting anyone in because it’s full!”. The bouncer insists that we must go to Furness and then enter Camp via the little narrow corridor between the two venues. The crowd outside Camp grows a little larger. “Let us in!” people shout. “Furness is full” people shout. The bouncer become increasingly agitated, shouting, lunging at people, waving his arms around, adamant that no-one will pass. After about 10 minutes of this, there is quite a bit of a crowd outside, the almost completely empty, Camp when, suddenly, the bouncer just goes off in a strop. “He’s gone. Quick! We can go in” someone shouts. And so we all bundle in and disaster is averted. Sex Swing play to a decent sized audience rather than just the bar staff.
Random.

Need to see more

Acid Arab
I had really wanted to see Acid Arab, enough to sacrifice some of The Bug’s set for them, but didn’t really work out very well. They were playing in District, which is a tricky venue and, having got past the door security which was enforcing 1-in-1-out, I couldn’t see them at all (really, not even a bit); I was surrounded by very tall people who insisted on carrying out very loud conversations, so I could hardly hear them either; I seemed to be on the route to everywhere so I spent the whole time being pushed this way and that, not by people dancing but by people going to the bar, going to the door, going to have a chat with the other very tall people, so I couldn’t even just have a dance. In the end I gave up and went back to Camp for The Bug (who were late getting started so I didn’t miss anything). I think I’d like to try again somewhere with a bit more of a conducive atmosphere and (hopefully) audience.

Nonn
Nonn are a Fuzz Club signing from Sweden. I like Fuzz Club and, although I’ve never actually been to Sweden, I’m quite prepared to say that I like it too. I was a little bit conflicted about Nonn though. On the one hand, I rather liked their electro-y New-Order-Lite set. On the other hand, I felt that they seemed to be in serious need of a bit of oomph. Maybe it was because I could barely hear the guitar (seriously, get some pedals on it and turn it up!). If only they would pump it up a bit I think that I’d quite like this band.

Didn’t get to see, dammit!

Gnod, WH Lung, Duds, Container. You’re on my list. I am (eventually) coming to getcha.

Right. So that’s Psych Fest for 2017. Good? Or rubbish?

Good 😀

There was lots of other stuff too; popping in and out of the venues to see a bit of this and a bit of that; the coffee tent; the drinks token system which worked well, I thought; upstairs at Furness is a nice place to just hang out. Some people have mithered a bit about headliners – are they psych? Are they big enough to headline a festival? Are they any good? I think that for me, Pysch Fest is a festival where the headliners don’t necessarily make or break it. They don’t have to be the main draw (for me). There are so many other bands to see, things to do, VR to play with etc, that the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. It’s a good way to spend a weekend.

Fin

Music makes me lose control

Frankfurt’s Museum für Kommunikation, on the Main riverbank, was founded in 1958 as the Federal Postal Museum (Bundespostmuseum) and its remit covers a pretty broad spectrum of all modes of communication. It’s currently undergoing a major refurbishment so much of the museum, including the permanent collection is currently off limits, but while I was in Frankfurt, I spotted a poster for a very tempting exhibition that I just couldn’t resist.

It’s ‘‘ Oh Yeah! Pop Music in Germany’, charting the history of popular music in Germany from the 1920s to the present. 😀

On entering the expo, I was giving a pair of headphones and directed to the first lot of listening stations for some modern German pop. This was pretty awful, but I’m not deterred by such things as it’s in the nature of pop for a lot of it to be pretty awful.

This was one of those exhibitions that’s a lot of fun, as well as being informative. There were loads of listening points to plug into, going back in time from the present to the 1920s, with cases of pop-star outfits and memorabilia, instruments, films, pop videos and posters.

 

The displays are grouped by genre/subculture as well as time period and there’s a whole section on Goths, with a handy guide showing images and detailing the key characteristics of the various sub-groups.

 

The stories of some of the musical movement are told in relation to the political and social upheavals of the 20th century and, clearly, Germany in the 20th century had some pretty notable political and social shifts. Some of the displays you can’t help but think of seriously. Nazi pop anyone?

With others, it’s a little more difficult to get past the terrible hairstyles and over-acted pop videos in order the reach any serious commentary on the politics of the day lurking beneath the froth.

I think that my favourite sections were the ‘build-up to the-fall-of-the-berlin-wall’ 1980s, the section on electronic music and the Krautrock. These included artists and songs that you just couldn’t leave out of an exhibition on pop music in Germany. Who could forget the time when nuclear armageddon was triggered by accident?

And here’s Nena is a slightly frothier guise.

Ahhh, the eighties *snigger*.

pop11

The section on electronic music had some great artefacts on display, and the most obvious exponents on the screen.

 

And then there was Can.

This was a very fuzzy film of them performing ‘Spoon’ in 1972, with Damo dancing around in a red catsuit 😀

I was having such a good time listening to all the good, and terrible, music, that I ended up having to run like the wind to catch my train 😀 The exhibition runs until 25th February 2018, so if you happen to be in Frankfurt with an hour or two to spare, give it a whirl.

 

Written in stone

Fifteen or so miles west of Mannheim is the town of Bad Durkheim. It’s an attractive spa town; a bit sleepy I think. Getting there from Mannheim is pretty easy, although slightly complicated by works on the S-Bahn line. And this is what I was there for.

Up on the hill above the town, in a clearing in the woods is the old Roman quarry known as Kriemhildenstuhl. I’ve been to Roman quarries before but if I ever say to someone that I’m going on holiday to visit a quarry, I tend to get a slightly blank look and a hesitant enquiry about what on earth there is to see in a quarry. A quarry is, after all, just a big hole on the ground. It’s what we see after people have taken away all the stuff that they want. It’s the gap that’s left.
But wait! There’s a lot more going on here than just a big empty hole in the ground. Let’s have a closer look.

The first thing that’s really clear to see is the way that the stone was being cut.

Big squarish blocks cut out of the rock face, which were then taken out to be cut up into usable-sized blocks, or cut down into columns away from the main quarry face. We can also see the marks left by the cutting tools. These are really clear, all over the exposed surface of the rock.

Now, there’s plenty of evidence around the Empire for Roman soldiers getting a bit bored and scribbling on things, and Kriemhildenstuhl has oodles of it. Some of the inscriptions are indicated on the cliffs, others not, but there’s a very handy guide at the site to help with spotting them.

There are squiggles and doodles all over the place.

The unit working the quarry was Legio XXII Primigenia, “Fortune’s Twenty-Second Legion”, who were stationed at Mainz, Moguntiacum, around 200CE.  We can tell this because they left their mark all over the quarry faces.

The Legion’s insignia were the Capricorn (half goat, half fish) and the demi-god Hercules. So here’s Capricorn…

And here are some fellows who may or may not be Hercules…

Keeping with the military theme, these shapes could be representing stylised military standards.

Soldiers from the 22nd seem to have had a fondness for horses, as there is plenty of graffiti of a horsey nature etched into the rock.

There are also birds and other animals.

Some pics require a little ‘eye of faith’. Is this something?

A number of the soldiers have etched inscriptions into the rock; names, regiment, “I woz ‘ere”, that sort of thing.

Kriemhildenstuhl is just one feature in these hills and there seemed to be walking trails going in all directions, including up to a ridge immediately above the quarry. The view of the quarry from above was great.

This upper ridge provided a nice spot to chill out, have a drink and relax before setting off down the hill and back to Mannheim. The local authority had kindly provided the most chilled out park bench ever for just this purpose.

Horse guards parade.

The Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition currently on display at ten sites across the northern frontier lured me up north for a short visit. As I didn’t have the time to get to all of the exhibition sites, I prioritized the expos in Newcastle and Carlisle at the Great North Museum: Hancock, at Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum, at Segedunum and at Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery.

I’ve previously written about the extreme coolness of Roman cavalry parade helmets, so this is a little bit of an extension of that, as well as just a general Roman cavalry parade helmet love-in.

First up, Arbeia.

Arbeia Roman Fort, situated at a strategic point on the River Tyne was founded in about 120CE and was occupied right up until the end of the Roman period in Britain. Throughout this long life-span, the fort served as a base for (among others) auxiliary units of cavalry from Spain,  the First Asturian, and boatmen from Mesopotamia. It was converted into a supply station in the Severan period, handling the import of commodities destined for troops in the military zone.

At Arbeia Roman Fort, the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition, ‘Uncovering cavalry‘ is more about highlighting objects in the existing collection with just a couple of additions of objects on loan. This iron cavalry helmet from Limesmuseum Aalen is known as an ‘Alexander’ type due to its resemblance to portraits of Alexander the Great from around the same period, CE150-250.

Many surviving cavalry helmets are made from copper-alloy, sometimes coated in silver, but far fewer iron helmets have been found as they are more prone to corrosion. This helmet was found in a scrap metal dump near the workshops of Aalen cavalry fort.

A quick hop over the Tyne on the ferry took me to Segedunum. The larger exhibition there, ‘Rome’s elite troops – building Hadrian’s cavalry’, looks at the make up of the cavalry units and some of the manoeuvres used by cavalry units in battle.

Segedunum Roman Fort was built in about 127CE, when Hadrian’s Wall, originally starting at Pons Aelius (Newcastle upon Tyne) in 122AD, was subsequently extended by four miles to the east, to Wallsend. The fort was home to mixed cavalry-infantry units including the Second Cohort of Nervians in the 2nd century and, in the 3rd and 4th centuries the Fourth Cohort of the Lingones.

Alongside objects from Segedunum’s own collection are several helmets and helmet cheek-pieces on loan. One unusual helmet from Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins is this double-eagle crested helmet, a type worn by members of the Imperial Horse Guard in the third century.

  

Also in the exhibition is this silvered shield boss on loan from a private collection in the UK. The boss shows significant damage, probably sustained in battle during the Dacian Wars.

The boss is decorated with incised images of mythological subjects; Mars, Medusa, Jupiter, Apollo and Hercules. The outer part is decorated with images related to battle; shields, winged Victories, armour and a helmet.

There are two inscriptions on the boss; at the top, a statement of the ownership of the shield by Marcus Ulpius, a member of the Imperial Horse Guard in the time of the Emperor Trajan, and at the bottom, a record of the donation of the shield boss as an offering by Flavius Volussinus in memory of Marcus Ulpius.

Back in town, I went off to Newcastle’s Great North Museum: Hancock to see two helmets of a particular type. The display there, ‘Hadrian’s Cavalry: Shock and awe – the power of the Roman cavalryman’s mask’ shows the Ribchester Helmet (on loan from The British Museum) together with a second helmet of the same type (on loan from a private collection).

 

The Ribchester Helmet was found in Lancashire in 1796, as part of the Ribchester Hoard. It’s a bronze ceremonial helmet with a distinctive peak. The second helmet has been dated to roughly the same period as the Ribchester Helmet; 70-110CE/75-125CE.

Also at the GNM is Mithras.

The museum is home to a brilliant collection of Mithraic images and objects collected from sites along and around Hadrian’s Wall. Alongside more familiar mithraic imagery of the Tauroctony and the companions of Mithras, Cautes and Cautopates, this collection also includes this amazing carved stone sculpture of the birth of Mithras, with the god emerging from the Cosmic Egg.

Added to this, until 27th August, are three objects on loan from the collection at the Museum of London. The three marble busts were found buried under the floor level of the Mithraeum at Bucklesbury. They are a marble head of Minerva, the head of Serapis and the head of Mithras himself.

This is such a great idea. Bringing together the two best Mithras collections in the country. It’s also a good opportunity to have a bit of  look at Mithraeism in two different environments; the Mithraeums up on Hadrian’s Wall were in a military zone and associated with forts; e.g. Housesteads/Vercovicium and Carrawburgh/Brocolitia, while the London mithraeum was in civilian, urban area. The accompanying film also looks at the discovery of the London mithraeum in the 1950s.

A swift trundle west to Carlisle brought me to Tullie House Museum for the Guardians on the edge of empire – cavalry bases and Roman power exhibition, and more helmets. This is the largest of the exhibitions that I visited and there were some fantastic objects on display.

The fort at Carlisle, Stanwix/Uxelodunum, is thought to have housed cavalry troops, most the Ala Petriana. Home to a thousand mounted troops and their horses and support staff. This unit’s exceptional service earned them Roman citizenship while still serving. This is the unit in which Flavinus the signifer whose memorial now stands in Hexham Abbey, served, albeit at an earlier date.

The exhibition focuses, again, on the role and organization of the cavalry on the frontier and has an impressive range of helmets, face masks and other armoury pieces on display.

There are some pretty showy pieces, including this 2nd-3rdc. CE ‘Ostrov’ type helmet from Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins.

The helmet is a shape similar of one found in a burial at Ostrov, Romania and has a distinctive Phrygian cap shape on the upper part, topped with the head of a griffin and covered in scales.

The Gallery Attendant on duty when I visited was also very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the exhibition, and I had several conversations with her while I was looking round. She was particularly interested in this 3rdc. CE Amazon face mask (from Archäologische Staatssammlung München) and wondered about its origins and possible influences on the styling.

 

It really has a strong eastern look, reflecting the exoticism of the Amazon warriors. But comparing  it with the second Amazon face mask in the exhibition (mid-2nd – mid-3rdc. CE, from Archäologisches Landesmuseum Baden-Württemberg) just shows up how exotic this one really looks.

This 1stc. CE ‘kalkreise’ type face mask (below), on loan from a private collection, is interesting as it has markings on the cheeks. As Imperial cavalry forces were usually auxiliary, i.e.non-citizen, units raised in provinces incorporated into the empire, these could have been indicative of tribal tattoos.

It’s really interesting to see the number of helmets and masks, and other pieces of armour, on display that are from private collections. This makes these displays even more worth seeing while they’re on, as there’s no telling whether they’ll be displayed in public again.

So there you are. A little peek at a few of the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibitions. It would have been nice to have been able to do all ten as a road trip but I only had time for a flying visit. And I should also just point out that these exhibitions are in addition to the already excellent Roman collections at the museums and sites in question. Of course, on the back of seeing these exhibitions and displays, I’m now going to have to get down to Mougins to visit the museum there, and it has encouraged me to add more of Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium to the (never-ending) list.

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The Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition continues until 10th September at ten sites along Hadrian’s Wall and down the western coast as far as Maryport.