A suggestion has been made that the Mildenhall Treasure be renamed as the West Row Treasure after the parish in which it was found (“Mildenhall Treasure: British Museum steps in to row over Roman hoard”, BBC News 22 February 2020).
The Troy: Myth and Reality exhibition at the British Museum has just opened in Gallery 30. The beautifully designed exhibition takes the visitor from the Skaian Gate at Troy through to the installation of the Shield of Achilles.
The narrative of the Trojan War was supported by a range of objects, underpinned with figure-decorated pottery from the museum’s extensive collection. One of the first pieces on display is the Geometric ‘Nestor’s cup’ from Pithekoussai (‘I am the cup of Nestor, good to drink from’).
There is a section on the excavations at Troy, and another one on the documentary evidence. The final section is on the reception of Troy, and includes a poem written by a British officer at Gallipoli in his copy of The Shropshire Lad.
The exhibition contained two late 15th century Italian panels by Biagio d’Antonio (on loan from the Fitzwilliam Museum) showing the Death of Hector and the Wooden Horse entering the city.
Schliemann’s part in the uncovering of Troy was explored a space that displayed some of the finds from the excavations against a backdrop of the great trench.
What were the personal highlights in the exhibition? The Roman silver kantharoi from Hoby in Denmark were stunning pieces of luxury art. The representation of Priam seeking the return of Hektor’s body before Achilles on one of them was moving.
The real surprise was the Roman sarcophagus from Ephesus that now forms part of the collection at Woburn Abbey. This scene shows the weighing of Hektor’s body.
This is one of the best temporary exhibitions to be mounted in Room 30. The design and installation of the exhibition was inspired, especially the graphics explaining the iconography on Attic figure-decorated pottery.
This altar was discovered in April 1852, subsequent to the 1850 excavations of the east gate of the Roman fort at Lympne in Kent (RIB 66). The inscription shows that it was a dedication to the god Neptune, set up by L. Aufidius Pant(h)era who was serving as the praefectus of the British fleet, clas(sis) Brit(annicae).
Pant(h)era, from Umbria, served as prefect in a cavalry unit in Upper Pannonia and is named in a diploma dated to 2 July 133. He probably moved to Britannia subsequent to this date.
It appears that the altar was reused in the later Saxon Shore fort, probably dating to the second half of the third century. The altar was purchased by the British Museum from Charles Roach Smith in 1856 (inv. 1856.07-01.5026).
A small inscription was found on the north side of the fort at Benwell on Hadrian’s Wall (RIB 1341). It was first recorded in J. Brand’s History and Antiquities of the Town and County of Newcastle upon Tyne (1789). It is now displayed in the British Museum.
The inscription records work of the Legio II Augusta (repeated on the vexillum) based at Caerleon in south Wales. To the left is a goat, and to the right Pegasus, symbols of the legion.
Other building inscriptions of the Legio II Augusta, relating to the 2nd, 4th and 10th cohorts, are known from round Benwell (RIB 1342, 1343, 1344). David Breeze (Handbook, 14th ed., 158) suggests that they come from the line of the wall around Milecastle 7 (just to the west of the fort): ‘their style suggests a late-second-century date, implying that the Wall in this sector required repair at that time’.
The Woodchester mosaic is first record in Camden’s Britannia (1695). It was partially unearthed in 1772 by Edmund Browne who made drawings of the remains. Samuel Lysons (bap. 1763–d. 1819) [ODNB] made more detailed recordings in 1794 and published a coloured drawing in 1796.
Lysons presented a small fragment of the mosaic to the British Museum in 1808.
Lysons was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1786, and Director of the Society from 1798 to 1809. He also undertook work at Bignor.
The mosaic from Thruxton in north-west Hampshire was discovered in 1823 and was presented to the British Museum in 1899 [catalogue]. John Lickman’s engraving of the mosaic from the time of the discovery showed that the central roundel contained an image of Bacchus seated on a feline. This was subsequently lost through plough damage.
In the corners of the mosaic were the four seasons. An inscription appears at the top containing a name: Quintus Natalius Natalinus et Bodeni. A further line of text is known from the bottom end of the mosaic although only two letters could be read.
The mosaic appears to come from a villa, and it probably should be dated to the period 250–350.
Further information: Martin Henig & Grahame Soffe, ‘The Thruxton Roman Villa and Its Mosaic Pavement’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association 146, 1 (1993), 1-28.
The 2016 figures are available for Leading Visitor Attractions in the UK (ALVA). The top attraction remains the British Museum with 6,420,395 visitors. The National Gallery is in second place with 6,262,839 visitors.
All attractions in the top 10 are in London.