A Persian Odyssey: Slight Return

The Netherlands is home to some cracking museums; the Rijkesmuseum, Rijkesmuseum van Oudheden, Allard Pierson, the museum at Castellum Hoge Woerd and many more.

But I’ve never been to the north of the country, so I had no idea what was up there. That is, until, a Twitter post by @FollowingHadrian about an exhibition of Iranian (Persian) archaeology and artefacts at the Drents Museum in Assen. As I’m always on the lookout for exciting things of an archaeological bent to do and see, and as I was actually due to be in the Netherlands (albeit much further south) over the August Bank Holiday, I immediately set about working out how I could fit in a very quick trip north to have a look.

Artefacts in the exhibition were on loan from the excellent National Museum of Iran, which I visited when I was in Tehran in 2015, so I was very keen to get another look at them. As well as artefacts that I remember seeing, there were ones that were either not on display, or which I just didn’t see or notice, so there were plenty of ‘new to me’ things to see.

  

The Drents Museum was purpose-built as a museum in 1854, but the exhibition was in the newer extension, opened in 2011. The exhibition space, downstairs, is quite large, although not huge, open and nicely lit and there seemed to be a good number of people visiting the exhibition, including groups, although it was not packed (this was a Monday* lunchtime, so I wouldn’t have expected it to be really packed).

The exhibition, Iran: Cradle of Civilisation, takes in a really broad sweep of Iranian/Persian history, including prehistoric artefacts dating from as early as 7000BCE right into the Islamic period, ending in about 1700CE.

Prehistoric culture is represented by some really beautiful and delicate pieces. I was particularly struck by this small stone bowl (it’s about 4-5 cm in diameter). It’s carved out of a piece of the darker-coloured stone in which there are lighter bush-coral inclusions.

2600-2400BCE, Shahdad, National Museum of Iran, Tehran

This terracotta bowl is decorated with a painted frieze of dancing figures. Perhaps commemorating a particular occasion or a festival of some sort.

I was particularly fascinated by this clay ball, as it brought to mind the stone balls seen in collections in the north of Britain (have a look at the Huntarian Collection in Glasgow for some examples).

Clay Bulla, 3200BC, Susa, National Museum of Iran, Tehran.

It isn’t really known what the balls found in Britain were for but the accompanying film explained this Persian ball. It’s a seal!

The ball is covered with figures of human and animals.

I stood in front of the screen filming the whole video because it really explained this artefact very well. You can see the video here: Clay Bulla (message to anyone from the Drents Museum: If you would prefer it if I took this video down, please let me know and I’ll do so).

The two objects below, although not particularly fancy looking, are evidence for the technological development of the region. The first a rather mucky-looking footed-dish, is actually a crucible in which copper was smelted.

Clay crucible 4000-3700BC, Tappeh Qabrestan, National Museum of Iran, Tehran. When copper ore is heated to a temperature above 1084c it will melt and can then be poured into moulds. At first only pure copper was melted, but the coppersmiths gradually started to mix it with other metals. One of those experiments lead to the discovery of bronze (copper and tin).

The second, a mould for casting a copper axe-head. Found at the site of Tappeh Ghabrestan, northwest of Tehran, which is known for its finds associated with copper-working, with furnaces and moulds dug into the ground as well as these smaller, terracotta moulds.

Terracotta mould, 3500-310BCE, Tappeh Ghabrestan, National Museum of Iran, Tehran

Although these not the fanciest exhibits in the exhibition, they are hard evidence of technological development and expertise in the region.

So what are the fanciest artefacts?

From the third millennium BCE, comes a gorgeous selection of carved soapstone vases, pots, cups and bowls. Soapstone is soft and relatively easy to carve, so it lends itself to these kinds of intricate, detailed designs. The imagery include real and imagined creatures, demons, deities, scroll-work and complex, interlocking geometric designs. I spent a long time admiring these wonderful artefacts and wanting so badly to be able to touch them.

From the 6th until the 3rd centuries BCE, the first Persian empire, the Achaemenids, founded by Cyrus the Great, dominated this part of the world. This dynasty, which included the other Persian ‘Greats’, Darius, and Xerxes, is notable for, among other things, its fine gold work. Examples in the exhibition also include beautiful vases and drinking horns (rhyton).

And one of the many highlights of this exhibition, this wonderfully weird pottery jug. Fashioned in the form of a man tending his bird-beaked pot-beast 😀

Pottery jug 850-550BCE, Kaluraz, National Museum of Iran, Tehran. This jug appears to have a spout in the shape of some kind of beak. Such beaked jugs were used for special wine ceremonies at burials. The Kaluraz cemetery is well known for its beautiful pottery vessels. This is the finest example – functional and yet artistic.

And there were even some reliefs from the imperial city of Persepolis.

Many reliefs at Persepolis show representatives of the 23 peoples of the empire, who came to the imperial city to pay tribute to King Darius. on the left, a gift-bearer climbing the stairs and on the right, a ma presenting a gift of arms to the King.

A whole wall of the exhibition space was transformed into a famous and spectacular monument, the original of which is situated at the World heritage Site of Behistun in north-west Iran (there are several spellings of this: Bisotun, Bistun or Bisutun).

The life-sized figure holding a bow, as a sign of kingship, is Darius the Great, beneath his foot is a figure, possibly the pretender to the throne, Gaumata. Behind him are two attendants and facing him are bound captives representing the conquered peoples. The symbol above the scene is the Faravahar the central symbol of the Zoroastrian religion.

The text, is written in three ancient languages; written in three different cuneiform script languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian (an Akkadian dialect) and it provided the key to the decipherment of cuneiform, in much the same way the The Rosetta Stone was the key that unlocked Egyptian hieroglyphs. The inscription begins with the biography of Darius the Great, for whom the monument was created, and the history of the empire following the death of its founder Cyrus the Great. It describes the battles fought and won, and the rebellions put down by Darius and the generals subjugated.

This life-sized replica, measuring 15 x 6 metres, was created especially for this exhibition and installed at the same height as the original would be viewed. This gives a good idea of how the original in-situ would be seen, although, obviously, in a very different location.

When I was looking at visiting this exhibition, one of my burning questions was how on earth it had come about. I assumed that there must be some professional connections between curators in Assen and Tehran that had enabled the Drents Museum to secure such an amazing array of loans. Handily, the exhibition included a film answering this, and other questions, and the curatorial connections between the museum services has resulted in this exhibition and a return exhibition of Dutch art and archaeology now on display in Tehran. You can watch a mini-doc about the exhibition here:  https://drentsmuseum.nl/en/exhibitions/iran

This is certainly one of my exhibitions of the year and I would love to visit again, but I doubt that I’ll be able to get to Assen again before the exhibition closes on 18th November.  However, I think I’m going to have to plan a return visit to the Drents Museum in the not-too-distant future, for the next exhibition, ‘Nubia – Land of the Black Pharaohs‘ I just wish that exhibition catalogue was available in English. If it had been, I would have snapped it up.

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*I should say that the Drents Museum, just like pretty well every other museum in the Netherlands, isn’t generally open on Mondays. I was lucky in that I was visiting at the end of the school holidays and it happened to be open on the day that I was able to get there.

The road to Roadburn

Roadburn festival has been on my radar for a few years now but for one reason an another, I haven’t actually made it over there to join the festivities. 2018 was the year it finally happened so this is, in no particular order, my Roadburn.

A fairly early flight (via Eindhoven) meant that I was in Tilburg by lunchtime, checked into the hostel where I was staying and at the festival venue in no time. Strolling down ‘Weirdo Canyon’ I immediately spotted my pal Simon. In some contexts, Simon’s looks might make him stand out; bald head, great big bushy beard, extensive ink-age; but at Roadburn he rather blends in, so I was quite impressed that I managed to spot him so easily.

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A cold drink and a catch up was followed by a stroll around to the main 013 venue  to see what was what and as the Het Patronaat venue opposite had no queue, we went in and managed to catch a bit of a Q&A session with members of the Norwegian collaborative project, Hugsjá.

They talked about the development of an extended work exploring the origins, people, nature and folklore of Norway, and it’s relationships with the land and the sea and I ended up the next day seeing some of this work performed.

It consisted of songs or ‘movements’ in an extended storytelling of the first people to populate the land that became Norway, the importance of the sea, the ancient shipping routes and the harbours. The performers used familiar instruments like drums, guitar and violin, but also animal horns and a lyre. This work was very absorbing and I was glad to have caught at least some of it, although the lure of other artists (more of which later) proved too strong for me to remain for the entire piece.

This year’s festival had an ‘east meets west’ theme with the Artists in Residence, Earthless, from San Diego, colliding with Japanese bands on the Guruguru Brain record label, and with Damo Suzuki. I was very keen to see the ‘Japanese Psych Experience’ bands; Minami Deutsch, Kikagaku Moyo and Dhidalah, and also the incomparable Damo,  so I made a particular point of getting to the venues where they were playing well in advance. I was very glad that I did because it meant that I was able to get great views of the performances and not be squashed into a corner or totally unable to get into the venue. The Green Room, in particular, is one of those venues that looks empty for ages and then, all of a sudden, you can’t get in the door. It looked like plenty of my fellow festival-goers were as keen as I was to see these bands so the venues were very full.

So, Minami Deutsch, a great favourite of mine. I’ve seen them a few times, the first time at Liverpool Psych Fest, but don’t tire of their rather louche krautrock rhythms. They’re a great demonstration of how good it can be when you play exactly the same musical motif over and over again for about 5-10 minutes straight. If the motif is good to start with, 10 minutes of it is awesome. Judging by the crowd’s reaction to this, I was not the only one who approved. And you can actually dance to them 😀

  

Kikagaku Moyo, who I’d only previously seen at PXYK, also channel some of the kraut-y grooves, but in, perhaps a less single minded fashion. They mix up the rhythms more often and have a strong Indian slant to their psych music, including a sitar, played guitar-style. Their upbeat set built to quite a party party big-finish. A lot of fun.

 

Dhidalah struck  me at first as a bit more prog. Now, my prog tolerance is pretty low so I was pretty glad that they didn’t drift off too far down the noodle path but pulled out a strong, driven  psych set, a bit darker and harder-edged than the other two bands and definitely got me onside. I’d like to see them again soon.

 

Damo Suzuki, famously an ex-member of Can, was the lure that tore me away from Hugsjá. Damo played two sets over the festival, the first in the Koepelhal with Earthless, and the sitar player from Kikagaku Moyo and the second in the Green Room with Minami Deutsch. Both of these sets pleased me greatly. With Earthless, the set began rather slowly, meandering and building, with Damo’s familiar  ‘Waken to the Night’ refrain, basically a long long extended psych work-out, gradually growing into an absolute bit of a beast. The long run out had me actually thinking that someone was going to have to come on stage with a big long comedy hook and drag the drummer off-stage physically. The audience loved it.

Damo‘s second audience, in the packed Green Room , was equally thrilled with his ultra-krautrock set with Minami Deutsch. I’d gone into the room and adopted the position on the balcony super-early in order to get a good spot because this was one of my absolute dream  pairings. I wasn’t disappointed. Again the set started out quite mellow, with a long lead in, but ended in krautrock wig-out heaven. Damo and the guys from Minami Deutsch seemed made to be together. My dying wish is for these two Damo sets to be released as ‘Live at Roadburn’ records so that I can own them forever.

There was more east meets west action later on with an actual ‘East Meets West’ psych jam featuring Earthless and Kikagaku Moyo. Beginning with just two players on stage, Earthless’ Isaiah Mitchell on guitar and Kikagaku Moyo’s Ryu Kurosawa, who were joined by other players, one by one, two by two until the stage was filled with musicians and the main hall at 013 was filled with the sounds of (what appeared to be) a semi-improvised jam involving guitars, basses, various kinds of drums, sitar, shaky-tappy-things and a gong! A big gong!

Who else? The Heads! There was me, down the front, bopping away to loud heavy psych whilst nudie sex films played in the background. Aye me! In any case, this largely instrumental set was good and heavy and a lot of fun, even if the background blow-jobs were a little distracting at times. Honestly, I didn’t know where to look!

 

I remarked afterwards that one of the things that I kinda like about The Heads is the way they get on, RRRRROOOOCCCCCKKKK!!!!! and get off. No messing. There was some proper happy-bopping during this set (Simon was up on the balcony and remarked that it was one of the sets that didn’t just involve the audience in ‘head nodding’ but in full on dancing).

With Godflesh I had a bit of a dilemma because of schedule clashes so I only saw a bit of the set. It sounded pretty typically Godflesh; loud, intense, crushing but also quite sparse. No frills. In fact the only frill on stage was Justin’s new (to me) long-ish hair!

My disappointment at missing most of their Roadburn set was offset by the fact that they’re playing at Raw Power next month, so I won’t be going without for long.

Godspeed you! Black Emperor played in the main room of 013 and I went in after The Heads had finished. This is a big room but it was packed to the gills, especially so after The Heads’ packed crowd piled in. I managed to find a spot high up on the top balcony where I could see and also, eventually, sit down on the step. From my eyrie I was able to allow Godspeed’s somewhat melancholic winds swirl around me. Dark music in a dark room to people dressed almost exclusively in black.

Dark.

I was only able to see a bit of Boris‘ set because of their proximity to The Heads, but I do enjoy their sense of theatre and the intensity of their performance. They use silence to put their audience on edge because we know what’s coming after. Noise.

So, there were some specific bands that I was very keen to see but in between those I was quite happy to meander into this venue or that and just see what I could see. It’s a fairly relaxed sort of a festival so it’s pretty easy to chill out in between bursts of frantic activity. One of the gigs I wandered into was Sólveig Matthildur.

Playing solo with electronic music and vocals, this felt like quite an intimate show; a lone performer, a small venue with a low stage and the personal revelations between songs – a song written as a piece of coursework, judged critically and given a low grade but nevertheless feeling special to the writer. I’d be happy to see more of this artist.

Thaw are Polish black metal. I’m not particularly a black metal fan but I don’t mind a bit here and there and I did quite enjoy this. All that darkness in the middle of a bright sunny afternoon. One of the songs was even a sort of black metal duet, with the different voices expressing different parts of the song. Lovely. Talking of black metal, I also caught a bit of מזמור :: MIZMOR which was fun.

 

More generally, I just really enjoyed the festival. The venues are very nice, although sometimes a bit difficult to get into if there’s a popular band playing. Strategic planning is the key if there’s a band you particularly want to see. The new venues a short distance from the main 013 site were good, and I really liked the little warehouse/railway-sidings area they were in.

It’s a bit of a mare to find accommodation and it’s not particularly cheap, you can basically wave your money goodbye, but it’s pretty easy to have a good time and Tilburg is  a nice town with decent shops and cafes, and a lovely ice cream shop. The Roadburn crowd is generally pretty chill so it’s not a stressy or aggressive festival and, although there is all day drinking, it doesn’t descend into the kind of  rollocking, drunken vomit-fest that we see with so many festivals.

So that’s pretty much my Roadburn. Not very doom-y, not very black metal-y and just two days this year before I went off looking for Roman stuff, but there are already plans afoot for next year, together with an expanded crew. There’s even talk of camping :/

Oh yeah, Roadburn socks 😀

2017 and all that

Some of you, if you are Facebookies, may have been inundated with ‘Year in Review’ videos which are, frankly, rubbish. Facebook is crap at picking the images that tell the story of your year and always end up with old, reposted pictures, your ex who just dumped you or that one from where you saw an old mattress dumped in the street. The only way to do it is to chose your own images and tell it your own way. So here’s mine.

Around the world

In 2017 I’ve mostly been interested in Northern Europe. I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it was. So, here’s a whistlestop tour through my whistlestop tours.

Boom!! Cologne

Bang!! Paris

Wowee!! Rome, with The Couple Formerly Known As Trowelsworthy (TCFKAT).

Kablammo!! Orvieto

  

Crash!! Mainz

 

Kapow!! Bad Durkheim

Badabing!! Frankfurt

Bazinga!! Bavay

Wow!! Paris (again). Thanks for the cheapo tickets Eurostar.

Bang!! Senlis

Crash!! Leiden

 

Whoopee!! Amsterdam

Other places are available.

Tourists at home

It’s fantastic to visit far, or not so far away places, but home is best and being a tourist in your own home is great fun. On many of my touristic days out, Craig has been my travelling companion but I started the year, in traditional style, at the Twelfth Night celebrations on Bankside.

Then nose-hunting with Craig

And I also visited the London Lumiere with Pete and Dayna.

Me and Craig went to Freemason’s Hall.

And to the ‘Glad to be Gay: the struggle for legal equality’ exhibition at LSE. This celebrated 50 year since the decriminalization of homosexuality in Britain.

The City of London Police Museum.

 

We went to Banqueting House for ‘Long Live Queen James’, an evening exploring LGBT stories from the court of King James I/VI.

And we had a poke around the restoration works at Ally Pally.

 

The Supreme Court, with Jeremy

I went to Highgate Cemetery with Sacha and Stuart.

And with Craig and Jeremy to the London Transport Museum.

(“Exchange stations shewn thus”)

Plus loads more. Seriously, London is very cool. Go and look at it.

Moosic, moosic, moosic

There have been some stonking gigs this year. This isn’t all of them, but it is some of them. How many can you name?*

 

Random Romans

There are always more Romans about, so I went to have a look for some. I popped up for a quick visit to Newcastle and Carlisle to see some of the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibitions.

 

I went to Hull! I’ve never been to Hull before but they have a fantastic Roman mosaic collection so I decided to make the effort and go and have a look. Well worth it.

I managed a couple of short trips up to Glasgow and Edinburgh, taking in Bothwellhaugh Roman bathhouse in Strathclyde Country Park with Ellen and Simon,

 

the bathouse and Antonine Wall remains at Bearsden,

and finally made it to Eagle Rock at Cramond.

 

Back in town, the eagerly awaited opening of the London Mithraeum didn’t disappoint.

When I was in Germany, I popped down to Speyer to see the Roman Collection at  Das Historische Museum der Pfalz (The Historical Museum of the Palatinate).

What else? What else? Volunteering on a schools’ project at the Museum of London’s Archaeological Archive (Me! Working with children!!), and I spent half the year working at Tower Bridge (actual paid employment!). This is surely enough to pack into 12 short months.

So that’s 2017 from me, and from my boys, Archie and Bertie. I hope you’ve had a good year and roll on 2018.

 

Oh, and here’s that one from where I saw an old mattress dumped in the street.

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

The barnet formula

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

big hair

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*Incidentally, Augustus’ Republican hairstyle is the sort of hairstyle currently being rocked by George Osborne. “I’m very serious, but a bit funky”, says his hairstyle, whilst the state of him at PMQs suggests late nights and an expensively-maintained coke habit. I’ll leave you to decide the truth of the matter.

Face: Off

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

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

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

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Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

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

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

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Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden

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

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Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

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

Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

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Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

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

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

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Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

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

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Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden

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

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

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Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam

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

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

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Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam
Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen

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