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 Museum of London) 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 then 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.

Looking for Londoners: Working the Walbrook

Having to get a job.

If I was independently wealthy I wouldn’t have had to have gone to a job interview the day before yesterday but, things being as they are, I did have to go to a job interview the day before yesterday.

I blame my parents.

Anyway, after the interview I went off to meet my pal Craig for one of our, now pretty regular, weekly wanders. After doing a few others things, we ended up at the Museum of London. This is always a great place to pop in, see what’s new and have another little look at familiar things, and there’s currently a really good free exhibition of images of blitz-damaged London (http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london/whats-on/exhibitions/perspectives-of-destruction).

In the space dedicated to ‘Looking for Londoners’, there is also a free display of Roman hand tools, excavated from various sites along the Walbrook Valley, which I was very keen to get a look at.

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The Walbrook, one of London’s famous ‘Lost Rivers’ cut a north-south slash through London from Finsbury Circus to Canon Street and along its banks were workshops of all kinds. Leatherworkers, metalworkers, coopers, jewellers, carpenters and more all set up shop along the Walbrook and archaeologists excavating sites along its course have found the lost and discarded remnants of their trades.

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One thing to flag up straight away: check out the condition of these artefacts! Some of them are pristine. This superb preservation is the result of the waterlogged conditions of the sites. The thick wet mud lacks a crucial ingredient for decay and rust; air, so these anaerobic conditions slow down the normal processes by which objects deteriorate and, often, entirely disintegrate.

So let’s have a look.

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This fantastic looking implement is actually a double-ended scraper/brush tool, found at Bucklersbury House. To the left is a cutting/smoothing tool (think of a paint scraper or polyfiller knife), and to the right, a socket into which bristles would have been packed to create the brush. It’s exact use is unknown but it may have been used for applying gold leaf or for smoothing and painting small areas of wall plaster like this (below), found at St. Mary Axe (the Gerkin),

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Sometimes tools feature text; stamps giving a maker’s name as a form of advertising, stamps marking goods made by or for the Roman state, owner’s name, and so on.

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The stamp above is inscribed, in reverse, with ‘MPBR’, which has been interpreted as an abbreviation of Metalla Provinciae Britanniae: ‘the mines of the province of Britannia’, so may have been an official stamp to mark ingots of metal.

These two tools, a bradawl found at Moorgate Street and a chisel found at Bucklersbury House, have marks stamped into them.

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The chisel has been stamped with ‘MARTIA(L)’. Possibly the maker’s name.

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The, possible, maker’s mark on the bradawl hasn’t been punched very clearly and is illegible.

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Nevertheless, in these tools we see evidence of two layers of London’s industrial life. The stamps represent evidence for those making the tools, either locally or further afield, that other workers then used to make products for Londoners.

As well as the tools, there are are a few pieces of the products being made. This scrap of cut and printed (or maybe stencilled?) leather, found at Lower Thames Street, is the vamp of a slipper (the front and centre part of a shoe’s upper), decorated with a  gilded design.

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I was trying to work out what kind of shoe it might have been and it looks like it might have been part of a toe-post sandal, with the post held in place by the hoop at the top.

The display also contains a really unusual tool.

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I don’t think that I’ve seen one of these before but it’s actually a sort of saw, used in barrel- and bucket-making. It’s for cutting a groove around the inside of the bucket or barrel, into which the base would sit. It’s called a croze.*

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It’s unusual to find the wooden elements of barrels and buckets as, unless they are found in anaerobic conditions (they’re sometimes found in wells), these organic elements just rot away and disappear. This croze is clear evidence for the coopers who made the buckets and barrels needed in London, and the specialist tools used.

Lastly, there is this lovely, near complete pot from St Thomas St. Southwark.

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A close look at the neck of the pot reveals these details. The pot is decorated with tools of a trade; a smith’s hammer, anvil and tongs.

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The pot was found at the bottom of a timber-lined well and it’s not unusual to find objects deposited in wells as part of a ritual closure deposit. Perhaps the well belonged to the smithy and was ritually closed down when the smithy ceased trading, with an offering of thanks to the god Vulcan.

There are lots of other tools in the display. This is just a small selection. The Museum of London is free to visit so do go along and have a look.

This display was curated by Owen Humphreys (@Roman_Tools), PhD student, Museum of London & University of Reading.

http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/roman-rubbish-reveals-lost-londinium

*UPDATE: Someone I used to work with just read his blog and then messaged me to say hat her Dad had one of those crozes, which his Dad, a blacksmith, had given him some time in the 1940s. Hand tools really haven’t changed in millennia.

Raising The Curtain

This week, fellow LAARC volunteer Guy organised a brilliant Friday afternoon visit for himself, John and me (aka, the Dice Brigade). London was home to some of the most famous Elizabethan/Jacobean theatres, playhouses and theatrical spaces including The Globe, The Rose, The Theatre and The Curtain. This visit was to the ongoing excavations at The Curtain in Shoreditch (the overall site has been called the Stage by the developers).

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The Curtain was one of the London theatres in which the plays of Shakespeare were performed during his lifetime. Indeed, this is the site of the first performance of Henry V, and Shakespeare himself acted there.

MOLA, Museum of London Archaeology, has been carrying out these excavations and now the site has been opened up for visits. The tour started off with a talk about the site and excavations, and some key points to look out for on the site. Only five of these Elizabethan/Jacobean theatres have been excavated and MOLA has been involved in all five of the excavations, so they know what they’re looking at.

What was, possibly, most surprising about the site was that it didn’t look something like this…

Map L85c no. 7, detail of Globe

It looked something like this!

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Rather than the “Wooden O” of Henry V‘s Prologue, The Curtain was a rectangular structure, constructed from a combination of a pre-existing tenement building at the front, a boundary  wall at the back, and two new side galleries to connect the two, with an internal yard.

On site, the front part of the theatre has been pretty comprehensibly trashed by later buildings, huge chunks of 1970s concrete, in particular, mean that only a few scant traces remain.

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There is a little bit of the entrance to the theatre and a sliver of the yard surface still in-situ though.

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The stage end of the theatre is a bit of a different matter, as there are some really good remains still in-situ.

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Here we could get an proper idea of the size of the theatre, and it’s really pretty big. To take the photo above, I was standing at  about the mid-point between the two side galleries. Looking in this direction, the side gallery is about where the ground begins to slope upwards in the trench. There is a blue line, but it might be a bit difficult to see.

In this close-up you can see part of the low wall that formed a platform onto which the wooden super-structure was built. This kept the wooden elements out of the wet marshy ground.

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In front of the wall is a hard, compacted surface which made up the yard where the Groundlings stood to watch performances.

The archaeologists haven’t yet found any traces of the stage, but they do know where it would have been.

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As there was a lot of later redevelopment in the 17th and 18th centuries, with the theatre being converted back to tenements, there are also the remains of flats, drains, floors and hearths from these later periods.

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There was also something that I’d never even heard of before, the remains of a knuckle-bone floor.

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This is literally an area of flooring, on the inside of the entrance to the building, which is made from the cut-off foot bones of sheep. These were embedded into the floor to create a sort of door mat on which boots could be cleaned before entering the building.

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The current redevelopment of the site is, as with so many London sites, for (luxury?) flats. However, the developers seem to be taking their responsibilities particularly seriously when it comes to recording, preserving and making accessible the history of the site to the local community and the general public more widely. We were told that the archaeologists have been given a, frankly, remarkable length of time to excavate the site. Significantly,  not only are the remains going to stay in-situ and on display, but there is also going to be a performance space built into the new development. Time will tell if this comes to fruition but it’s heartening that some developers are at least thinking about their impact on the communities that they (sometimes) crash into. This is particularly striking in contrast to the current government’s attempts to weaken legislation in relation to the archaeological investigations and recording of sites for development. We stand to end up back in a situation where developers are allowed to do this (below) to the site of the first performance of Henry V without even ensuring that the destroyed archaeology has been properly recorded.

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If you think that we should be taking our heritage seriously, have a read of this for more information – http://rescue-archaeology.org.uk/2016/06/17/rescue-says-government-response-to-stop-destruction-of-british-archaeology-neighbourhood-and-infrastructure-bill/

Thanks to Guy for organizing this visit and getting the tickets and thanks to MOLA for opening up the site for visits. For more on this excavation, follow MOLAs excellent blog here

– http://www.mola.org.uk/blog/excavating-shakespeares-playhouses-rose-curtain