Friday 29 July 2016

British Museum - Part Four (Ancient Britain)

Gold alloy torc with loop terminals, constructed from four wires. It was buried in Middleton, Norfolk about 75 BC
The interesting aspect of looking at the history of Rome is that one cannot help but take an interest in the people they came into contact with and often conquered. That aspect figures large when considering the history of my home here in the UK and the South West in particular, and I have spent time posting on sites such as the Iron Age fort at Woodbury Castle and the finds relating to the local tribe, the Dumnonii, covered in the post on the Royal Albert Museum in Exeter.

As with the other collections covered in the British Museum, the National collection brings examples of finds from all over the country and wider Celtic Europe that make a fascinating comparison and put into context the local finds.

The commemoration of a person in death is often one of the main ways of discovering finds that give us an insight into the lives of the people represented by the grave goods buried with them. The two pictures below reconstruct the richest find of Iron Age burial goods in Britain and were discovered during the digging of a trench for a gas pipe in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire in 1965.

The grave was for a man, of some importance, if the number and quality of the contents are anything to go by, and his body had been wrapped in a bear skin and cremated. The remains of the bones can be seen in a heap on the left of the picture above.

Among locally crafted pots and other items can be seen wine amphorae (the bottoms are just visible at the top of the picture above) and a silver cup from Italy, while the large flagon and platters are from Gaul.

The grave dates from the late first century BC and is estimated to date between the first Roman expedition under Julius Caesar (55 and 54 BC) and the invasion of Emperor Claudius in AD 43.

A stunning silver cup from Italy, among this north of the Thames Iron Age burial
The craftsmanship and sophistication of the Celtic tribes is well illustrated in their jewellery, with the use of gold and gold alloy wire to construct intricate plats to make torcs, bracelets and necklaces that are truly stunning.

The finely detailed hollow buffer terminal to a woven gold torc seen in the pictures above and below was discovered in the south west at Clevedon in Somerset and was buried about 75 BC.

In the picture below are examples of fragments from a gold tubular torc, with ten coins wrapped in one of the fragments and were found with two gold ingots (centre left) that were cast in the shape and size of metal casting crucibles used during the Iron Age for casting. This particular gold hoard was disturbed during ploughing.

Hollow gold torc with buffers and with a twist added after construction without heating illustrating how soft the hollow gold is 350-200 BC

The Alton Treasure seen below is a collection of 256 gold staters, gold coins dating from the mid first century BC to the first quarter of the first century AD and were discovered on farmland near Alton by two metal detectorists.

The gold staters were struck by the main tribe, south of the Thames, the Atrebates, and carry the marks of the various kings listed below in the links

The hoard was discovered in two parts and both are thought to have been buried in the reign of Verica, the Atrebatic king whose appeal for help probably led to the Claudian invasion of Britain in AD 43.

The Alton Treasure - 1st century AD, discovered in 1996 in Alton, Hampshire 
The picture behind the Iron Age cooking range seen in the photo below really captures the imposing appearance this spit would have had in a house of the period.

I well remember the discovery of "Pete Marsh" (a pun on Peat Marsh) as the papers first dubbed the iron age bog body from Lindow Moss, near Wilmslow in Cheshire and what later became know as Lindow Man.

One of twenty seven peat bog bodies recovered in similar areas to Lindow in Britain, he is by no means unique, but the extent of the remains and the opportunity they offered to identify the potential cause of death together with multiple identifying features and even the composition of his last meal made Lindow Man an important find.

Dating Lindow man has been a problem and resulted in an estimated time of death some time over a 900 year period from 2 BC.

Pete Marsh or Lindow Man
The next pictures show the finds from the Deal Grave, a burial site dating back to 200 BC at Mill Hill, Deal in Kent.

The objects were found with the remains of a man aged 30-35 and with an unusual object that looked like a bronze crown engraved with detailed decoration. With the crown was found an iron sword, the rings from a belt and the remains of a wooden and bronze shield, indicating this man was a warrior.

The tools of a warrior with the remains of the iron sword and the shield from the Deal Grave site.

Warrior, King or Priest, the Deal Crown remains a mystery as to its significance
One of the finest swords surviving from iron age Europe, the Kirkburn Sword seen below, has an elaborate handle made from thirty-seven pieces of iron, bronze and animal horn and was carried in a scabbard made from iron and bronze.

This was an extremely valuable weapon crafted with great skill and maintained with repairs to the scabbard and the addition of fine decoration to the handle of red glass.

The Kirkburn Sword and the three spears

Dating from 300-200 BC the sword was discovered in Kirkburn, Yorkshire in the grave of a man in his late 20's-30's when he died. The man was placed in the grave in a crouched position with his knees drawn up to his chest. The sword and scabbard were placed behind his back. The remains of a pig were placed on the man's chest and in a final act before burial, three spears were thrust into the mans chest. This burial rite has been recorded from other sites discovered in East Yorkshire.

Close up of the intricately constructed handle
Another burial rite was the cart burial and the iron tyre and nave hoop seen in the photo below the illustration is from a burial dating back to 300-200 BC at Garton Station in East Yorkshire.

Note the pig and somewhat familiar sword shown in this illustration of a cart burial

The Chertsey Shield pictured below, is a bronze shield made around 400-200 BC and is thought to have been made for display rather than battle. It was placed as an offering in the River Thames and during its uncovering by a digger that was working in the river, at Abbey Meads, Chertsey in Surrey, to remove silt, it was badly crumpled and bent by the blade of the machine.

Staff at the museum spent months working on it to painstakingly return it to the condition it is now displayed in.

The Chertsey Shield

And finally the British tribes, particularly in the south of Britain seemed to have had close links with their near neighbours in Gaul and these items discovered in France closely resemble the weapons and equipment from across the other side of the channel.

Bronze jockey cap helmet 120-50 BC found in the River Marne near Coolus
Weapons and tools buried with men 250-150 BC.
Iron speaheads from Champagne, iron umbo from a wooden shield,
an iron razor and iron shears.
That completes this series of four posts on the British Museum. This very selective collection of pictures that I have used barely does justice to the impressive collections covered and there is still lots more that Carolyn and I intend to go back and see.

I certainly hope it has whetted the appetite of those who have not been and would encourage a visit. On a word of warning though, make sure you travel light when going as the museum has a pathetic amount of storage capacity for holding visitors bags and coats. I really hate to gripe about this but the memory of the response from very unhelpful staff and the "more than my jobs worth" response I had from management to my complaint still makes by blood boil a bit.

Pedantry for stupid, idiotic, dare I say health and safety led rules that are not applied with discretion are the bane of modern life and the inability of senior management to provide decent bag holding areas in a modern major tourist attraction such as the British Museum to negate the need to carry round hand luggage just beggars belief.

There we are that's better, I'm glad I have got that off my chest and I still stuck a tenner in the "Support the museum" collection box, to go along with all the taxes I pay to keep some of the people I have alluded to in a job! Bah humbug!!

Monday 25 July 2016

British Museum - Part Three (Italian Greeks, Early Rome and the Latin States)

Bronze Apulo-Corinthian helmet, South Italian, 400-350 BC -Ruvo, Apulia (Incised with boars and once bearing a crest and side-plumes.
The rise of the city of Rome and it's eventual domination of the Italian peninsula is a really interesting period for the historical wargamer and covers a period where the Roman style of fighting is thought to have developed from a Greek style of hopolite warfare into the more flexible manipular system that was found to be more suitable for the rugged and mountainous terrain that characterises Italy. 

The Roman army that developed was a citizen army recruited for limited service, and would develop into the force that challenged Carthage, the Successor states and others for complete domination of the Mediterranean area until the demands placed on the military demanded dramatic reforms that included a professional system of recruiting and training that would be the model for the Imperium.

The items featured in this post covers that early period of transition, including the enemies of early Rome.

The picture above and the three below illustrate the ultimate in hopolite military kit with bronze Corinthian helmet, shoulder guards, two part cuirass, greaves, and ankle guards, more likely to have been used by a horseman. The oil bottle, next to the cuirass, in the picture below shows a warrior tying the shoulder straps into place.

Pair of bronze shoulder straps for a cuirass decorated with Greeks fighting Amazons - The shoulder straps were made in Taranto about 390-340 BC, the cuirass in Southern Italy about 350-300 BC.
The cavalryman ankle guards are from Apulia and the bronze greaves with Gorgons mouths have traces of inlaid bone in the mouth and were made in Southern Italy 550-500 BC.
The Gorgons mouth with inlaid bone as teeth on these bronze greaves
Chalcidian style bronze helmet from Apulia 510 BC next to a bronze horse muzzle 400-300BC also from Apulia
Map to illustrate where the finds originate from with Apulia and the Greek influence top right 
The weapons below are examples from the late bronze age period.

14. Knife 1000-900 BC, 15. Knife of Peschiera type from Naxos 1300-1100 BC, 16. Late bronze age Sword from Bisignano,
17. Rare slashing late bronze age Sword from Fosinone, 18. Spearhead from Capua, Campania 1100-900 BC
The Etruscan style helmet seen below brought back happy memories from November last year on our visit to Florence in the heart of Etruria and the National Archaeological Museum.

The helmet is decorated with repousse bosses, concentric circles, helmets and birds heads.
Bronze crested helmet from Vulci, Etruria 775-750 BC
The Andrea Miniatures model below gives a great illustration of these Etruscan warriors and their kit.

Other types of pot helmets can be seen in the picture below. The one seen lower right is an embossed type from the Aufidus (Ofanto), Cannae and dates from 550-500 BC.

Bronze pot helmet 600 BC, found near Ancona. Type used in Picenum, Umbria and Etruria. The knobs were designed to deflect blows and the helmet would have carried a crest
Embossed pot helmet with horse-hair crest

Probably the Latin tribe that gave the Romans their biggest problems would be the Samnites and for those interested in recreating their forces particularly now with the advent of the superb Victrix 28mm plastics, the British Museum collection is a must see to give a good feel for the look of these warriors.

The helmet below the Montefortino type in the picture below is a Samnite Attic type from Vulci, missing its original cheek pieces, plumes and crest - 400-300 BC.

The helmet at the top of the display is a bronze Montefortino helmet with a peak protecting the neck and would have originally had cheek guards. Of Gaulish origin it was used by the Roman legions until the 1st century BC and this one dates from 300-100 BC
The classic bronze disc breast plate as illustrated worn by the warrior below can be seen in the picture above below the two helmets, about 400 BC.
Samnite Warriors and their equipment
Another noticeable part of Samnite equipment is the bronze belt and is often seen on vase illustrations and tomb paintings.

Various belts and fittings can be seen in the pictures below,  400-250 BC.

The Samnite belts seen below show small perforations along the edges that were used to fix a lining to the inside.

In the picture below alongside the bronze muscled cuirass from Southern Italy 375-325 BC can be seen a very ornate bronze helmet with horse headed sea monsters, thought to be Messapian dating from 325-275 BC together with the Apulo Corinthian type shown in the header to this post.

Directly below the Messapian type helmet is a bronze Apulo-Corinthian type from Etruria dated 350-300 BC. The detail of the incised boars (Etruria is renowned for its population of wild boar and is a common device representing the territory) and herringbone pattern to the eye holes and nose piece can be seen in the next picture directly below.

Bronze Apulo-Corinthian helmet 350-300 BC with boars and herringbone pattern
Close up of the Messapian helmet 325-275 BC
In the picture below can be seen a superb Etruscan bronze shield, thought to be, due to its light construction, probably designed for ceremonial use and dates from 650-625 BC.

The illustration below shows the detail of the pattern on the shield see above. Alongside the shield can be seen n Etruscan bronze trumpet dating 400-200 BC and a pair of bronze greaves from southern Italy 500-450 BC.

Below can be seen two types of Roman helmets, typical of the types used during the Punic Wars. The first dates from 220-170 BC and is missing its horse-hair plume, cheek guards, leather chin strap and possibly a felt padded lining

Punic Wars style Roman helmet 220-170 BC
The other example is another classic Montefortino type dating from around the 3rd century BC and so named for the many examples found in the vicinity of Montefortino in northern Italy. Believed to have been developed from the Celtic types of helmet it became very popular in the legions.

Roman Montefortino type helmet 3rd century BC
With its Latin enemies and foreign challenges to its dominance finally overcome the Romans turned to doing what they did best, fighting each other. The person that oversaw the final phases of this change to an Imperial stance was Octavius, later Augustus the first Emperor after his final struggle with his fellow triumvirate associates and principally Mark Antony and Cleopatra whose demise and fate was sealed at the Battle of Actium, 2nd September 31 BC when the Antonian forces were defeated by Octavius' close associate Agrippa.

Replica of a bronze head with glass/stone eyes of the Emperor Augustus 27-25 BC
found at Meroe, Sudan and probably made in Egypt
In the picture below you can see the bronze prow of a boat thought to have come from a sunken ship that took part in the Battle of Actium.

It shows the goddess Athena wearing a helmet and an aegis (shield) strapped under the arms and over the shoulders.

Prow of a boat that took part in the Battle of Actium
The defeated commanders pictured on coins from the era. To the left Mark Antony about 40-31 BC and on the right Cleopatra with a Royal headband the mark of a Greek ruler 51-30 BC.

In the final instalment of this series of posts on the collections in the British Museum I will look at the Ancient British and Celtic collection.