A blockbuster exhibition on Roman cavalry is to go ahead across Hadrian’s Wall in 2017, from Easter to the end of September, thanks to a £690,000 grant from Arts Council England’s Museum resilience fund.
The Hadrian’s Cavalry proposal was put forward by a partnership of heritage organisations which includes Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, English Heritage, National Trust, Vindolanda Trust, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery Trust, Senhouse Museum Trust and Northumberland National Park Authority. NNPA applied for the grant on behalf of the partnership and will act as accountable body providing financial administration.
Hadrian’s Cavalry follows the Wall Face exhibition in 2014. This was the first exhibition organised jointly by the partnership at sites right across the country from Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields to the Senhouse Roman Museum in Maryport. It featured portraits from the National Portrait Gallery and was funded through Arts Council England’s Renaissance strategic support programme.
Bill Griffiths, Head of Programmes for Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums and chair of the project steering group said: “Wall Face showed that a single exhibition could be mounted at different sites across Hadrian’s Wall, highlighting the uniqueness of each site for visitors and showing how they are linked to form the frontier.
“All the partners are keen to work together again on a much bigger scale. Hadrian’s Cavalry promises to be very exciting and will include events such as cavalry displays to bring this aspect of the frontier to life and to attract visitors.”
Tony Gates, Chief Executive of Northumberland National Park Authority said: “The project will attract national and international visitors to enjoy a unique aspect of our Roman heritage, which is well complemented by our stunning countryside.
“We hope people will visit a number of sites along the Wall, will enjoy the landscapes and wildlife and will be inspired to come back again and again. It’s great to see everyone working together across the Wall.”
Sarah Maxfield, Area Director, North, Arts Council England, said: ‘“Our Museums resilience fund supports museums by enabling them to become more sustainable and robust, whatever their size, and helping them to offer improved experiences for both audiences and artists. I’m delighted that 25 museums across the North have been awarded a total of £4,700,589 in this round and look forward to seeing the results of this funding in the future. The Arts Council’s aim is to achieve great art and culture for everyone – the North has some fantastic museums across the area which between them reach thousands of visitors each year therefore greatly supporting us in our mission.”
The Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition will focus on the story of Roman cavalry regiments which were a vital but less well known aspect of the frontier garrison. Cavalry and part-mounted units were the elite of the auxiliary forces of the Roman army providing long-range reconnaissance, high-speed communications, shock tactics and mopping-up operations on the battlefield.
Alongside presentation of the training, equipment, daily life and military operations of cavalry troopers and their horses, the exhibition will explore the role of the regiments in projecting the Roman imperial image through their impressive armour and other equipment, and the powerful individual stories of regiments who came to Hadrian’s Wall from other parts of the empire. Each participating Roman site and museum across the Wall will host part of the exhibition.
Cavalry regiments were stationed at key locations on major road and river crossings along Hadrian’s Wall supported by part-mounted regiments at many other forts. The cavalry regiment at Stanwix just north of Carlisle was one of only three 1,000 strong cavalry regiments in the Roman army.
The cavalry regiments were costly to raise and maintain. The troopers were highly paid and lengthy training was required for both men and horses. Their equipment - including full face parade helmets like that found at Crosby Garrett and horse armour such as the Vindolanda chamfron - was expensive, exotic and designed to impress.
The exhibition programme will include live re-enactment, learning and community engagement activity.
“The sheer quantity, quality and range of objects from sites across Hadrian’s Wall provides opportunities to tell many different stories as well as celebrating the beauty and interest of the objects themselves,” said Bill Griffiths.
“Evidence from sites along Hadrian’s Wall has informed understanding of cavalry regiments across the Roman empire.
“From Segedunum we know that cavalry horses were stabled with the troopers in adjacent rooms in customised barrack blocks, while Chesters Roman Fort is the best preserved cavalry fort in Britain. Many of the best known writing tablets from Vindolanda were written by Batavian troopers posted there following their deployment as shock troops to overpower the druids on Anglesey and before their subsequent deployment to the Danube to support Emperor Trajan in his war against the Dacians. The three metre high tombstone of Flavinus from Hexham Abbey is one of the most celebrated portrayals of the cavalryman-barbarian motif from across the empire.
“We are also hoping to work with museums across the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site to assemble a unique collection for this exhibition.”
Hadrian’s Cavalry will cost £790,000 in total, and the remaining £100,000 needed will be generated through ticket sales, donations and sponsorship. Planning and preparation for the exhibition will start in 2015 and continue during 2016 for the opening at Easter 2017.
The Hadrian's Wall frontier is part of the transnational Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site which includes the Antonine Wall in Scotland and the Upper German/Raetian Limes. This represents the borderline of the Roman Empire at its furthest extent in the 2nd century AD. It stretched from the west coast of northern Britain through Europe to the Black Sea and from there to the Red Sea and across North Africa to the Atlantic coast.