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.

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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.

More Bridges of the World

On the walkways of Tower Bridge there is currently a display of other iconic, interesting, ancient and modern bridges around the world.

There are some big hitters in the display; the Pont Neuf; the Golden Gate Bridge; Ironbridge, and some interesting but less widely known examples, for example the Moses Bridge at Fort de Roovere, Halsteren, Netherlands. Looking at this exhibition, an in-passing conversation got me thinking about other bridges that have taken my fancy on my travels, so here are a few ‘Other Bridges of the World’.

The Tower Bridge display include a beautiful bridge which I was fortunate to visit in Isfahan, Iran, the Allāhverdi Khan Bridge, more commonly known as Si-O-So-Pol.

Here are a few of my images of this lovely bridge.

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A little way to the west of the Si-O-So-Pol bridge is another mid-17th century beauty, the Khaju Bridge.

Again, the bridge is built of two levels of arcades, and has the original tiles and paintings still intact.

The bridge works as both a bridge and a weir, but it also has a function as a buildings for meetings, a space for the Shah Abbas, the Persian Safavid king, to relax, take tea and admire the view.

The weir’s effect on the river is very evident but, as long as the water isn’t too high, it’s quite safe to sit by the water to enjoy the cool space on a hot day.

When I visited, the area around both of these bridges and along the riverside was peppered with people; individuals, couples, groups of friends and families, all enjoying the same relaxing space as the Shah Abbas. Strolling along the riverbank, sitting by the water, listening to music and eating ice-cream. Some things never change.

The sole Roman Bridge in the Tower Bridge display is the Pont du Garde, near Nimes in France.

I’m including another Roman bridge here for good measure. In Algeria, crossing the El Kantara gorge in Biskra, on the journey south to Ghardaia, we came to the El Kantara Roman Bridge.

The bridge was substantially rebuilt under Napolean but its roots are Roman. Built, probably, by the Third Legion Augusta, who were stationed at Lambaesis, this bridge crossed the gorge which was, and still is, the gateway to the desert. This made it a vital point of access for trade and people.

The bridge eventually fell into disrepair but was  renovated and widened under Napoleon.

Some of the original Roman construction blocks can be seen, and there is also an area of the original pavement, although it doesn’t look like it’s still in situ.

During our visit, we were joined at the bridge by a wedding party, and the happy couple has photos taken by the side of the river and on the bridge. We were told that it’s a bit of a tradition in the area to have wedding photos taken there and it’s certainly a lovely spot for it.

In the exhibition is a bridge which became a victim of war and, subsequently, a symbol of  post-war recovery and reconcilliation: Stari Most, the Mostar Bridge.

Originally built in the 16th century, on 9th November 1993, the Mostar Bridge was destroyed by Croat forces in the Croat-Bosniak War. Its destrucion has been described as a deliberate attack on the culture of Mostar in an act of “killing memory”*, so its reconstruction and reopening in 2004 acted as a symbol of the town’s recovery, both physically and culturally.

A bridge in my own alternative exhibition has suffered a similar fate and, we must hope, may yet act as a symbol for the future. In the northern Syrian town of Deir-ez Zor stood the Deir ez-Zor suspension bridge (Arabic: جسر دير الزور المعلق‎‎).

Deir ez-Zor suspension bridge, early misty morning.

This bridge was built in 1927, under the French Mandate and acted as a pedestrian route across the Euphrates, connecting the Levant region of the city on the southern bank with the Upper Mesopotamia region on the north bank. When I visited Deir-ez Zor in 2009, I was particularly gleeful about being able to walk from the Levant to Mesopotamia.

 

The bridge was destroyed in May 2013 in shelling by the Free Syrian Army.

Deir-ez Zor has suffered horribly in the Syrian War and this situation continues with no obvious end in sight. Clearly I have no idea how the situation in Syria will be resolved but I can only hope that one day, soon, the Deir-ez Zor Suspension Bridge might act as a symbol for the end of war and the beginning of recovery, as has the Mostar Bridge.

To end on a slightly less depressing note, a bridge that’s a bit more modern.

One of the (many) things I like about Newcastle is the great abundance of bridges over the Tyne. There are railway bridges and road bridges, some of them towering above the river and the streets below them.

There’s a swing bridge!

Walking over the Tyne Bridge feels like an act of folly due to the thunderous traffic, but it’s quite fun nevertheless.

But there is also a more recent and more chilled out bridge taking pedestrians from the city over to the Baltic on the Gateshead side of the river: the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

Work on the bridge began in 1999 and it opened to the public in September 2001. It is a bit of a symbol of the regeneration of the riverside area. I’m pretty sure that anyone who lives in an old industrial city can testify, ‘regeneration’ can be a double edged sword. Down at heel, even derelict areas can be brought back to life and made really nice. The addition of a decent cafe is always welcome. But in the rush to lure new money and new people to an area, ‘regeneration’ can often ignore the people who already live or work there. I’m not sure exactly how the people of Newcastle feel about their riverside’s regeneration but, as a visitor, I like it.

It’s a tilting bridge which consists of two steel arches, one which carries the footpath and the other which acts as a counterweight. Like Tower Bridge, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge ‘opens’ for river traffic to pass underneath, but rather than using the split roadway idea, the entire bridge tilts.

Despite having seen and walked across this bridge lots of times, I’d never seen it actually tilting but on a recent quick jolly up north to see some of the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition, I was able to catch it on its regular midday tilt**. It’s brilliant 😀 I already liked this bridge but, having now seen it tilting, I like it even more.

These are just a few bridges that have impressed themselves on my memory on my travels. There are others that I really like, in Constantine, Algeria; at Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland and, of course, in London, but I think that I’ll leave those for another day.

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*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stari_Most#Reconstruction

** There’s a little Youtube video here: https://youtu.be/lQ0ZqeE7vB0

Where all roads meet

Well, maybe not ‘all’ but 7, in any case.

From the area map at the bus stop.

This is Bavay, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of northern France, close to the France-Belgium border. A sleepy little village that isn’t really on the way to or from anywhere. But 2000 years ago, Bavay was on the way to loads of places.

Bavay, or Bagacum in the 1st century CE, was the tribal capital or civitas of the powerful Nervii tribe.  Seven major routes passed through Bagacum so it grew into an important site for trading, administration, law courts and the military. Its situation on the road from Boulogne (Roman Gesoriacum) to Cologne (Roman Colonia  Agrippinensis) made it a key stopping off point between the Roman provinces of Germania and Britannia.

The site was known about in the eighteenth century as chance finds and unofficial digs turned up many Roman objects, but the site was really uncovered due to heavy bombing during WW2. The post-war excavations revealed a huge Gallo-Roman forum basilica, the largest outside Italy, measuring 200m by 120m.

In the Claudian period, the town flourished and grew rapidly, with the construction of civic buildings like the forum, the basilica, public bathhouses fed by aqueducts and temples being built and beautified. The town was an important centre for the production of pottery goods and traded in, in particular, bronze-working, and was a key staging post during the conquest of Britain.

I’d been wanting to get to Bavay for a little while and had pondered making my way over there when I was staying in Belgium last year, but it’s a faff to get to on public transport and a lot of routes take absolutely hours to get there. It’s not a natural stopping off point on the way to or from anywhere in particular so this time I decided that I’d just make it the be all and end all of a visit. The easiest route was London > Lille, Lille > Valenciennes, Valenciennes > Bavay, so, timetables checked, I was off.

By the time I got to Bavay it was pouring with rain, and I’d left my umbrella in London. Oh well. There’s a museum to visit at the site, so I started there, hoping that the rain would ease off a bit.

(cue museum break)

By the time I left the museum not only had it stopped raining, but it was scorching hot; cracking flags! My stroll around the site was, therefore, a slow and lazy one. A lot of the better preserved sections seem to have been buried in the building of the later ramparts, hence the excellent state of preservation.

At one end of the site there are the remains of a cryptoporticus; a covered storage area below ground level.

Much of the site has been turfed over but here and there, there are still little patches of the Roman paving. There’s even the odd wheel-rut.

The fortunes and function of the city began to changes in the third-century, when it served as a post for regional defence, and around the turn of the fourth century, the ramparts and city walls were constructed.

Getting to Bavay without a car was a bit of a schlep but it was worth it, as it’s a really interesting site with a great museum. As I had to pass through Valenciennes and Lille to get there, I made a point of visiting a few other places on the way, including the Musee des Beaux Art, Valenciennes and Lille Cathedral, so all in all this made for a great little trip.

Necropolis Now

In Orvieto there are lots of things to see; a beautiful cathedral, museums, quaint little streets and squares, a funicula!

There are also a million other tourists wanting to see all these lovely things. On at least one of my visits, I managed to avoid the large tourist groups but even I couldn’t evade the school outing group of screeching teenagers. It was ok though. They did what all school outing groups of screeching teenagers do: charge about screeching for 15 minutes and then go for lunch. And, to be fair, it is actually their own local history that we were looking at so if anyone has more right to be there, it’s them. Anyway, the kids in no way spoiled my enjoyment of the site and even gave me a thinking point or two.

The site in question was a rather fancy Etruscan necropolis, Necropoli Etrusca di Crocifisso del tufo, which is just on the northern slope of the rock of Orvieto.

The area around the rock of Orvieto contains numerous rock-cut tombs, the final resting places of the ancient (roughly mid-6th – late-5th century BCE) people of Velzna, the Etruscan city on this site. The particular necropolis that I’d come to see, however, consisted of neat rows of little house-tombs, built close together and kitted out with suitable resting places for the deceased.

The tombs are pretty uniform, with only minor variations, which has lead to hypotheses about Etruscan equality and a relative lack of hierarchy in Etruscan society in this area. There is certainly none of the conspicuously competitive display of Roman tombs, just a neat, rather middle-class conformity.

You wouldn’t believe it from these photos but I was dodging excited teens the whole time.

Anyway, I took my time, because these tombs have some very interesting construction features that I wanted to have a look at. On a hot hot Italian day, it was deliciously cool inside the tombs. You can see that they’re not underground, although the ground surface on which they were built is several feet lower than the modern ground level. Still, just stepping down the foot or two from the excavated ground level into the tombs, the temperature drops really noticeably.

Inside the tomb you can see pretty clearly how it’s made. The walls are built up with tufa blocks, using no mortar, and then the roof is built by setting blocks lengthways, projecting progressively inwards. These are then locked in place using t-shaped keystones along the roof spine. You’ll notice that from the outside, the roofs are flat. This shaped roof is a ‘pseudo roof’ on the inside of the tombs.

The remaining tomb furniture consists of benches for the bodies.

The deceased were interred with a range of tomb goods which have since been removed. These consisted of Greek pottery vases, in both red- and black-figure; bronze and iron objects; weapons; jewellery and personal items. Some are on display at the on-site museum.

Back outside, above or beside the doorway, the names of the inhabitants are inscribed. I can’t read Etruscan but I am reliably informed that the range of names seen on tombs in this area indicates high levels of immigration. Many new Orvietans were foreigners.

Seeing these names inscribed on the tombs while dodging screeching teenagers caused me to think about who the people interred in the tombs actually were, and how, or if, the screeching teenagers were connected to them by more than just geography. I wondered if any of the modern people of Orvieto can, even tenuously, claim descent from the more ancient people of this area. I suspect that it’s impossible to know. The random comings and goings of peoples, immigration, emigration, conflicts, invasions and exodus all change who the ‘locals’ are, and over the course of twenty-six centuries, the ‘locals’ are apt to change a lot.

Still, those screeching teens and these silent Etruscans do have one thing in common; the rock of Orvieto.

Bread and circuses. But mainly bread.

After a week in Italy with a couple of friends, my last few hours before my flight were spent scouting around a few minor sites by myself, failing to get into some (because they’re churches and it was a Sunday in Rome), wandering the streets looking at this and that, and hanging around on a roundabout surrounded by trams.
That last doesn’t sound very glamorous but there was a very particular reason to be on this particular roundabout.*

This is the Porta Maggiore, the ‘Larger Gate’ on the eastern side of the third-century CE Aurelian Wall. Over time, this ‘gate’ has served several purposes. Built in the year 52, under the Emperor Claudius, as a support for two of the aqueducts bringing water into Rome, the Aqua Claudia and Aqua Anio Novus, the arches were later incorporated into the city wall built under Marcus Aurelius in 271.

At the top of the central section, the two water channels are still visible.

But before all that, before the aqueduct and the wall and the gate, there was this:

Positioned at the intersection of two key roads leading into the City, the Via Praenestina and Via Labicana, this is the Tomb of Eurysaces the Baker and (possibly) his wife Atistia.

Wealthy merchants, freedmen, and prominent citizens of all classes were always keen to be remembered after their deaths, and  so set up tombs, sometimes very large and elaborate ones, at key positions along the roads leading into the City. A walk along the roads leading into the City takes in reams of memorials vying for attention and this tomb occupies a particularly prominent spot where the two major  roads meet.

The memorial is a tower tomb type, with much of the height now below ground level. Its trapezoidal ground plan (rather than square or rectangular) was necessary to fit it into the available space. It’s built of concrete faced with travertine on a tufa base and on one side, where the facing has gone, you can see the brick interior filled with a concrete and rubble core.

It’s a bit of an odd-looking structure. Sort-of classical but a bit squiffily classical.

The (surviving part of the) inscription tells us that Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces was a baker, a contractor and a public servant.

EST HOC MONIMENTVM MARCEI VERGILEI EVRYSACIS PISTORIS REDEMPTORIS APPARET,

The ‘contractor’ bit suggests that Eurysaces held government supply contracts, perhaps to supply the army with bread.

As is often the case with the tombs of wealthy tradespeople, the tomb displays the source of his wealth, with the decorative frieze around the top section depicting various stages of the bread-production process.

sorting and grinding grain; kneading; weighing; baking; transporting and selling.

The pilasters and pairs of engaged columns are squashed in tightly together.

But, undoubtedly, the most striking aspect of the tomb is the weird circular features on each face. It has been suggested that these may represent pieces of bakers’ equipment, probably grain measures.

In Roman society, social mobility was possible. People whom circumstances had dumped at or near the bottom of the social structure could, through hard work and dumb luck, rise in wealth and status and end their lives wealthy, important and influential. it’s very possible that Eurysaces was such a man. Although the tomb inscription is not conclusive, Eurysaces may have been a Freedman; an ex-slave who had been able to work his way out of slavery and end up a very rich man.

The tomb’s later history is a bit inauspicious but probably saved it for posterity. As the city of Rome declined and succumbed to invasions from the north, the tomb was utilized as the base for a fortified tower. Only in the nineteenth century was it uncovered again as the result of the archeological interests of Pope Gregory XVI.

And now it’s stuck on a traffic island at a tram stop, but this tomb has done its job in ensuring that Eurysaces the Baker hasn’t been entirely forgotten. You do have to exercise care getting across the road to see it, or just catch the tram!

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*Some of the photos are a little fuzzy because I had to take them with a long-ish lens. I wasn’t able to get as close as I’d have liked as that would have involved jumping a fence in plain sight of all the people waiting for their trams :/

The eccentric charioteer

I’ve never been to Hull before. It’s a bit of a schlep from London so it does require an actual effort to get there but it’s just one of those places that I’ve never had any particular reason to visit. However, I had been wanting to see the museum’s collection of Roman mosaics so, as I’m a lady of leisure at the moment, now seemed as good a time as any to make the effort.

The museum is fairly compact but is home to a pretty impressive collection of not only mosaics but also other Roman material, prehistoric, iron-age, anglo-saxon and medieval artefacts and an amazing, and very large, iron-age log boat. The mosaics in this collection were discovered at villa sites around the Humber region and there are fifteen villas are known in the area, with villa-building reaching its height in the fourth-century. Before visiting I had a quick look on the go-to place for information on Romano-British mosaics, ASPROM (The Association for the Study and Preservation of Roman Mosaics), where the Hull mosaics are described as “rather eccentrically interpreted” local versions of Mediterranean models. Here’s a few of the mosaics.

The Horkstow Mosaic. At the villa site at Horkstow an enormous 15m x 6m mosaic was found, the second largest Roman mosaic found in Britain. It’s fragmentary and has been displayed in pieces around a recreation of a Roman atrium house. Because it has been displayed in this way, it’s not that easy to really get an idea of how it would have looked when complete but, still, there are some decent sections to see.

It was divided into three panels. In the top panel (on the floor in the image above) sat Orpheus, with his lyre, surrounded by the wild beasts charmed by his song. Only about a third of it survives but it’s possible to see that it was laid out as a wheel with images of the animals surrounding the central Orpheus.

The central panel has been called ‘the Painted Ceiling’ or the ‘Medallions Panel’, and contains scenes from mythology. They aren’t that easy to make out.

The panel at the bottom of the mosaic shows a chariot race in a circus, complete with a spina, the central island, and the metae, or turning posts.

The various sets of horses and charioteers represent the action at the races with these horses stumbling dangerously.

On the left the team is storming ahead but, on the right, the chariot loses its wheel and the rider is leaning dangerously, about to fall.

And here, the rider, with his lasso, is coming out to recapture horses that have run wild.

From Brantingham, along with some very nice Geometric Mosaics, is this Tyche mosaic.

The figure at the centre, unfortunately displayed upside down and halfway under a sofa (!), has been identified as Tyche, the deity of a city, on account of her crown, which represents the city walls.

Also known as Fortuna in Latin, she watches over the city, protects it, brings it prosperity and good fortune. The flipside of Fortuna is the bad luck and disasters that can befall a city if they do not carry out the necessary rites and rituals of worship.

The panel on the wall, from the same mosaic, has been identified as one of the muses, wearing a coronet and with her head surrounded by a halo.

The mosaic border also includes these lovely reclining water nymphs.

From Rudston is this fantastic Venus mosaic.

A typically nude Venus holds a golden apple, the symbol of her victory in the tale of the Judgement of Paris. By her side is her mirror, symbolizing her beauty and vanity.

Although the mosaic depicts a very typically classical subject matter, the image itself is not very typically classical, particularly Venus’ body-shape. She is pretty low-slung and broad in the beam, and look at that jelly belly!

Nevertheless, it’s a fun, lively mosaic, with Venus herself looking quite wild and free, especially her hair! I think that this is definitely one of those “rather eccentrically interpreted” mosaics.

Next to Venus is this, frankly, weird looking Triton, or merman, holding a flaming torch. He reminds me the Creature from the Black Lagoon (from the 1954 film).

Other panels in this mosaic contain wild beasts like a lion, a bull and a leopard; a figure identified as Mercury by the inclusion of the caduceus, and other lively figures. The leopard, in particular, looks like it was created by a workman who only had a vague idea of what a leopard looked like.

And finally, here is that eccentric charioteer; the  Victorious Charioteer mosaic from Rudston.

The central image is of the winner of a chariot race, with the victorious charioteer riding a ‘quadriga’, or four-horse chariot.

In his left hand is the winner’s wreath and in his right is the palm frond, these symbols indicating his win.

In the corners of the mosaic are the Four Seasons and the border panes have some rather odd looking birds.

 

Well, it was definitely worth the trip up to Hull to see this collection. It’s true that some of these aren’t the most finely worked mosaics and some of the images are pretty squiffy but they do have  plenty of life and personality, and must have really enhanced the homes of the Roman villa  owners in this area.