I shouldn’t say this1, I really shouldn’t2, but when it comes to Romans I sometimes feel Cumbria was a bit short-changed. I mean, we have a whopping great wall3 (well, half of it), numerous forts4, Roman roads and so on – but where’s the fancy stuff? Where are the villas with mermaid mosaics and painted plaster? I know I should make a virtue out of misfortune and assert that we have Real Roman Life, not some over-fed Roman fat cats poncing about with amphorae of wine… but still. You need imagination and learning sometimes to make sense of Cumbria’s slightly-straighter-than-expected roads5 and bumpy fields6. I start to envy Northumberland’s piles of old Roman shoes7 and notes about underpants7.
All this was true (well, slightly2) until May 2010 when the most fabulous Roman artefact ever found in Britain8 came to light in a field near Crosby Garrett in Cumbria’s Eden Valley. Dr Ralph Jackson, who was lucky enough to get the chance to examine the Crosby Garrett helmet before it was sold, stated, ‘the Crosby Garrett helmet is an immensely interesting and outstandingly important find… Its face mask is both extremely finely-wrought and chillingly striking… exceptional and, in its specifics, unparalleled. It is a find of the greatest national (and, indeed, international) significance…’9
It’s not the sort of helmet to wear every day. It is made from copper alloy with tin plating on the face, so originally it would have been golden and silver in colour, with the figure of a winged griffin at the crown. It may have been worn with coloured plumes or streamers attached to the top. Dr Jackson9 stated that such helmets, which date to 50-250CE and are found across formerly Roman Europe and North Africa, were worn not in battle but for cavalry tournaments, when I don’t doubt bling was the order of the day.
The story of its discovery and sale is still enough to make my eyes smart (described in an earlier post here), but I’m so glad the private owner10 has lent the Crosby Garrett helmet to Carlisle’s Tullie House Museum. Tullie House will be displaying the helmet from today until 26th January, 2014. After this, it will be moved to London to be displayed at the British Museum; even that’s a relief as when it was sold to a private buyer we feared we’d never see it again.
So what are you still here for? Get off this website and go and plan your trip to Tullie House. You’ve got three months to see the Cumbrian discovery of a lifetime.
- No, you shouldn’t.
- And again! Have you no willpower?
- Hadrian’s Wall. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/hadrianswall/
- We’re into Stupidsville on numbers. Try Birdoswald on Hadrian’s Wall, or Hardknott, on Hardknott Pass, or Walls Castle at Ravenglass (which is actually the bath house of the fort).
- The A6.
- Such as the temporary roman camp at Plumpton
- Vindolanda Roman Fort, Northumberland. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vindolanda
- That may not be true, but it should be, and might be.
- Seriously, if you’re reading this, I really am grateful. Thank you.