Last Friday afternoon I led a handling session and seminar at the Museum about Roman military archaeology. It was one of those rare occasions when the content of what you have been asked to do happens to coincide with your specialism. It is testament to the interest of the students that they came on the last day of the autumn term just a fortnight before Christmas.
I arranged the seating in the basement room in a square with myself in the middle with objects on a table. I passed things round for the students to see and handle. I always make a point of explaining at the beginning that I’m not there to assess them, and that my role is simply to open up the collection for study and discussion.
Fortunately we have some replica material in the collection: a shield, a helmet, a sword and scabbard, a dagger and some pieces of mail armour. Arms and armour are, after all, what people tend to think about when you talk to them about the Roman army.
I also showed a plaster cast of the inscription from one of the Manchester altars set up by a praepositus or commander of a detachment under its own flag or standard, known as a vexillation. This was a detachment of Raetians and Noricans from what is now Switzerland and Austria in Eastern Europe. I also reminded the students of the Museum’s intriguing auxiliary diploma from Ravenglass that was awarded to a Syrian and which is on display in Ancient Worlds.
We talked about pay and Keith Sugden, Curator of Numismatics, kindly supplied a selection of coins of the various 1st and 2nd century emperors, in whose reign the province of Roman Britain had been created and extended, including a commemorative DE BRITANN silver denarius of the emperor Claudius (AD 41-54) and one of the famous Britannia asses of the emperor Antoninus Pius (AD 142-158).
Finally I showed them melon beads, gaming counters and pottery from a building just outside Manchester Roman fort, perhaps frequented by soldiers of the garrison when they went off duty in search of some R ‘n R.