Although I hail from a Roman settlement on the east coast, South Shields, I have lived in the Hadrian’s Wall area for thirteen years. Having spent a long career in local government, I’m now in my seventh season at the Roman Army Museum, and really enjoy working there. Driving along the military road to the museum, I often pinch myself, thinking how lucky I am to work in such a beautiful and historic area – with no traffic queues!

In no particular order, these are my five favourite things about the Roman Army Museum:-

  1. Behind the reception desk, there is a replica of the Ribchester Helmet, a bronze ceremonial helmet dating to the late 1st and early 2nd centuries AD. The original is on display at the British Museum and was found at Ribchester, Lancashire in 1796 by the son of a clogmaker! The helmet often prompts questions from visitors, as it has a metal face covering making it look quite intimidating – and no doubt feel very claustrophobic for the wearer! I like it because it’s a reproduction of something fairly unique found in Britain, and a bit Dr Who-ish!

 

  1. The museum is next to the site of the Roman fort known as Magna, which was home to the first cohort of Hamian archers from Syria. They were crack shots, able to shoot accurately over considerable distances. I like the fact that their expertise is recognised in the museum, as visitors are able to test their own strength and accuracy on the bow in the far gallery, an indicator light telling them how good or bad they are! The presence of Syrian archers in Northern Britain also highlights to me how far, both east and west, the Romans extended their empire.

 

  1. Roman cursive script is a form of handwriting used by the Romans. In the museum classroom, the hologram teacher, Velius, gives a lesson in elementary Latin and the cursive alphabet is on display. Visitors can try their hand at copying out words, written in this script, which was used widely in informal writing such as letters etc. The English alphabet developed from this, and I think it’s great that its past origins can be brought to life by a present day hand.

 

  1. It is fitting that the story of Hadrian, both his personal and political life, is told in a gallery dedicated to him. After all, Magna and Vindolanda are located just south of the Wall he commissioned in AD122, and I understand that supplies would have been made from these forts, which were built some forty years earlier. An interesting discovery at Magna has shown that the Wall’s vallum has been re-routed for some, as yet, unknown reason. As and when further investigations and excavations allow, it will be fascinating to uncover the secret!

  1. Whilst the hipposandals are amazing, I also really like the replica saddle on display. Unlike the saddles of today, Roman ones did not have stirrups and instead had a seat with four horns, presumably for the rider to grip with his thighs so he could be hands free to use his weaponry. It strikes me that a cavalryman must have been very fit and strong, being laden with armour and having to stay on his mount!