Roman Empire: Power and People: five star objects from the British Museum exhibition

By Culture24 Reporter | 15 May 2015

Marble head from the statue of Emperor Commodus (circa 185-190)

A photo of a sculpture of a Roman biblical male figure with a beard and curly hair
© Trustees of the British Museum
Lucius Aurelius Commodus was born in AD 161. He was the only son among Marcus Aurelius' 14 children to survive infancy. In 177, his father elevated Commodus to joint ruler, and they fought together on the Danube front. On Marcus Aurelius' death, his son broke off hostilities and ended the northern war in what was considered a shameful settlement. But there was no more trouble on that border for several decades.

Limestone Figure of Horus, Roman Period (30 BC – AD 641)

A photo of a light brown Roman sculpture showing a woman sitting with a bird's head
© Trustees of the British Museum
The figure originally wore a crown, probably of another material, inserted into the top of the head. The falcon head is rendered with careful attention to the feathering around the face; the eyes are human and the pupils are incised. The feathers of the falcon god double as the scales of a mail shirt (described by the modern term lorica plumata), the sleeves of which end below the shoulders. A knotted cingulum encircles the waist, dropping to the hips in contrast to the more typically depicted position at a soldier's natural waist. A cloak fastened at the right shoulder by a round plate fibula is pushed back over the shoulders. A separate garment covers the legs. The attitude is one of casual repose, common to images of senior Graeco-Roman deities.

Mummy portrait of a woman, Roman period (AD 55-70)

An image of an ancient painting of a woman wearing jewellery
© Trustees of the British Museum
Most mummy portraits that have survived have unfortunately become separated from the mummies to which they were attached. Because of this, we rarely know the identities of the subjects. This portrait is painted in encaustic on limewood. The woman is dressed in a mauve tunic and a mantle of a darker shade. She wears gold ball earrings and a gold necklace with a pendant crescent and circular terminals. The hair is plaited into a bun at the back of the crown, with snail curls around the brow and at the sides of the head. Her hairstyle, costume and jewellery indicate that she died some time during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero (AD54-68). It has been said that the athletic quality of this portrait is more appropriate to that of a man.

Gold medallion of Constantius I, Roman Imperial (AD 297)

A photo of a large gold Roman coin showing the head of an emperor and lettering
© Trustees of the British Museum
By the late third century AD, gold medals had become important as gifts to Roman officers and barbarian allies. They were not military decorations in the modern sense, although many were adapted for wear. Rather, they were awards for past service, given in the hope that they would inspire further allegiance. The designs they carried helped to further this end, and their large size allowed them to showcase the coin engraver's art.

Knitted woollen child’s sock, Egypt (AD 200-400)

A photo of an ancient colourful sock made from wool
© Trustees of the British Museum
Sock for the left foot of a child with separation between the big toe and four other toes, worked in six or seven colours of wool yarn (several S-spun strands, Z-plied) in a single needle looping technique sometimes called naalebinding and worked from the toe upwards. Each toe is made separately from dark green wool (10 rows). The two toes are then joined and worked in bands of the following colours: salmon pink (4 rows), purple (4 rows), bluish-green (4 rows), dark red (6 rows), green (2 rows). The sole of the heel is then worked. The heel section is worked in bands of salmon pink (3 rows), purple (3 rows), dark blue (2 rows), salmon pink (8 rows), purple (4 rows), yellow (4 rows). A welt across the instep marks where the loops are worked in the round. The top edge is continuous and curls over; a loose thread of red wool forms part of a tie or tassel at the centre front.

  • Roman Empire: Power and People is at Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths and Museum, Wallsend from May 30 - September 15 2015.

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