The Bank Holiday weekend treat was to go and see an exhibition of the work of archaeological illustrator Graham Sumner at the Museum of Lancashire in Preston. Graham used to work for the Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit. He specialises in showing the soldiers as individuals, with well-researched, historically-accurate uniforms and equipment. It’s great to see the soldiers presented as individuals. I understand their facial features are based on people Graham knows, making each reconstruction virtually unique. Some, like the Roman soldier from Egypt featured on the blog a few weeks ago, have an encaustic portrait as a guide: https://ancientworldsmanchester.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/reconstructing-a-soldier-from-roman-egypt/
The exhibition occupies two rooms on the first floor of the building. Visitors are welcomed by two life-size cut-outs of a Roman legionary and an auxiliary soldier. I recognised the auxiliary from Castleshaw Roman fort that I visited a few weeks ago following the session with the Friends of Castleshaw Roman Forts to see the finds from the early 1900s excavations at Manchester Museum https://ancientworldsmanchester.wordpress.com/2013/07/13/friends-of-castleshaw-roman-forts-visit-the-museum/
In amongst the usual first and second century AD reconstructions are paintings of a Roman fort by a Dutch river and sailors in the navy of the 3rd century British usurper Carausius. A small display of finds illustrating ‘everyday’ life from Roman Lancashire seemed a bit tokenistic but it would be churlish to criticise the exhibition on that account.
Ideally the exhibition would be supported by Roman military equipment or material showing the evidence on which the reconstructions were based. To a degree visitors do get some insight into the process. One of the soldiers from Roman Egypt is shown with interchangeable objects in his hands. There are two versions of the auxiliary cavalryman Insus, whose spectacular tombstone, or rather commemorative stone, was found in Lancaster in 2005. Each image shows the cavalryman with different versions of sword and scabbard. It reminded me of a children’s spot-the-difference puzzle!
Some of the later Roman Empire soldiers are particularly colourful. A painting of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius (610-641 AD), complete with headress of peacock plumes, may challenge some visitors’ preconceptions. These aren’t characterless, identically-uniformed catapult fodder but popinjays seemingly better suited to a catwalk. Talk about never mind the quality, feel the width!
Admission to the Museum of Lancashire is free and the exhibition runs until 3rd November. Combined with a visit to the Harris Museum, also in Preston (of which more later), this made a most enjoyable (and low-cost) day out.