New Memories made at the Great North Museum

We held our last two workshops at the Great North Museum in Newcastle on 9 and 10 May.  Our deepest thanks go to Alex Boyd for making us feel so welcome, and especially to Andrew Parkin for all his help.

Andrew showed us around the Museum’s extensive collection of Roman objects with a Middle Eastern or North African connection.

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Andrew also made available a range of different Roman objects that we could use in the workshops.

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We were allowed to handle these for closer inspection – provided we were careful!

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As at our workshops in the Petrie Museum in London, participants had the chance to explore how best to light and photograph these objects, under the guidance of Rory Carnegie, our professional photographer.

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People also enjoyed drawing these objects, and others in the Museum’s collections, helped by our artist, Miranda Creswell.  Many used silver leaf to enhance their pictures.

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Participants were also inspired to write about objects, with the assistance of Sarah Ekdawi. Sometimes they described memories evoked by the objects, or they imagined how the objects themselves might feel about taking part in the workshops. We also experimented with the use of thin metal foil that could be embossed with images and words  – with or without the help of a mirror!

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All the participants could take home with them the drawings, photographs, writings, and memories that they created.  With their permission, we have posted copies of their creations on our Gallery page.

We are very grateful to the Great North Museum, and the Petrie Museum, for being such welcoming and generous hosts. We are particularly grateful to everyone who came along and participated in our workshops. They all said how much they enjoyed themselves, and we have certainly been impressed by the quality and range of works that they were inspired to create. We are thinking about how we can preserve all these creations more permanently and accessibly – please watch this space!

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Funerary Oration

This piece was written by one of the participants, Peter, after the second workshop at the Petrie Museum, in response to one of the mummy portraits on display.

FUNERAL ORATION TO THE ‘RED YOUTH’ PORTRAYED ON A MUMMY MASK IN THE PETRIE MUSEUM

Peter - mummy portrait
Peter’s drawing of the mummy portrait.

“Marcus was one of my greatest friends. We played together as children and we had the same Greek tutor. I loved him like a brother and I think he loved me in the same way. When he was eighteen he went to serve in Ptolemy’s army which was engaged with the 2nd Legion Traiana Fortis. We tried to dislodge them from Alexandria but they were too strong for us and they were relieved after a few months by the 3rd Legion Cyrenaica. Marcus served with great courage but he met his match against the 3rd Legion and was killed along with 3000 others. I went out to the battlefield after the fray and eventually found his body, sadly mutilated. He had several deep wounds in his chest and neck but his face was more or less intact. We brought him here and now bury him with full military honours.

What sort of person was Marcus? In his funerary portrait he looks serious, almost menacing. But I can’t remember that. I remember jokes and laughter, endless intrigues with girls and huge celebrations where vast quantities of wine were consumed. Marcus never had any money because he was always enjoying himself too much. I can’t say he was a very brilliant student: he never did his homework, was usually late for school and often absent on some unlikely pretext. But he passed the test for Ptolemy’s army, so he clearly was no slouch. He was an excellent horseman and a formidable swordsman.

I will miss him terribly and I know his family are totally bereft. May the verdict of his judges in the final reckoning be favourable and his journey to the next world be safe and happy.”

 

What will inspire you to write? Come to one of our free workshops at the Great North Museum on 9th and 10th May to find an object that inspires you. Come along on the day or book a place: rememberingromans@gmail.com

The earliest Zodiac in Britain

This sculpture from the Mithraeum at Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall shows the god Mithras being born from an egg. His body rises from the lower part of the shell, and the upper part is still on his head.

gnm mithras (366x500)

Mithras is usually shown being born from a rock, but the most exciting thing about this third-century sculpture is that the god is surrounded by an egg-shaped frame with the signs of the Zodiac on it. This is the earliest surviving depiction in Britain of the twelve signs of the Zodiac as we know them today.

The egg was a symbol of eternity, and the Zodiac was normally associated with Aion, the god of endless time. These cosmic symbols show that, on this section of Hadrian’s Wall, Mithras was worshipped as the eternal ‘Lord of Ages’, the perpetual creator of all things.

Come and see this sculpture at our free workshops in the Great North Museum in Newcastle on 9 or 10 May, and create new timeless memories by drawing, photographing and writing about ancient objects and what they mean to you. For more info or to let us know which date you would like to come: rememberingromans@gmail.com

An Eastern Sun-god on Hadrian’s Wall

The ancient god Mithras was popular with Roman soldiers and minor officials. His cult probably developed from Zoroastrianism, in the area that is now Iran. There is a lot of evidence for his worship along the western Roman frontier, from Hadrian’s Wall to the Danube. Worshippers had to be initiated into (exclusively male) groups, who met in a distinctive type of building called a ‘cave’, which we now describe as a ‘Mithraeum’.

Mithras was often identified as ‘the invincible sun-god’. The altar on the left of the picture is from a Mithraeum (a temple to Mithras) on Hadrian’s Wall and shows him in this guise. The altar has a niche cut into its back, so that the light from a lamp could have shone through the openings cut around the god’s head, giving the impression of the sun’s rays in the gloom of the Mithraeum.

gnm mithras altars

If you come to our free workshops at the Great North Museum on 9 or 10 May, you can see this altar and handle the examples on the right of the picture. One is a small altar to Mithras from a Roman fort by Dere Street, and the other is a fragment of a relief from Vindolanda showing the sun-god’s face and the rays around his head. Why might people have worshipped the sun in ancient Northumberland? Come and be inspired by these objects to draw, photograph, or write down your thoughts, helped by our experts. Just let us know which date suits you best: rememberingromans@gmail.com

Objects for the Newcastle workshops

These Roman pots from North Africa are just some of the objects that participants will be able to examine and even handle at our workshops on 9 and 10 May at the Great North Museum. There will also be lamps, a glass vessel, pieces of sculpture, and coins of Roman emperors who came from North Africa or the Middle East, such as Septimius Severus, Caracalla, and Philip the Arab.

What memories might these objects have evoked in the people that saw and used them in the past? What memories do they evoke for us today? Come and join us to explore these ideas – just let us know which workshop suits you best.

See our Workshops page for more details.

Syrian Archers on Hadrian’s Wall

The Roman army recruited Syrians because of their specialist archery skills. One such unit was based on Hadrian’s Wall not long after it was built. They continued to worship Syrian goddesses while they were in Britain. It looks like the unit was still here 300 years later, when Roman rule ended. This relief, which is in the Great North Museum, shows a Hamian archer holding his bow in his left hand.

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For a memorable encounter with this little known example of shared history, come to one of our free relaxed workshops on 9 or 10 May at the Great North Museum in Newcastle. Come along on the day or book your place in advance by emailing us at: rememberingromans@gmail.com

Read more about Syrian archers in Britain on these websites:

http://www.romanarmy.net/images/Pages/Military/hamians.htm

http://www.caerleon.net/history/army/archers.html