– Featuring the iconic Pompeii Murmillo Helmet and Colchester Vase –
Visitors will head back 2,000 years into the world of the Roman Games and Gladiatorial Arena in Roman Colchester.
The exhibition will be packed with artefacts from Colchester Museums’ collections, as well as loans from other museums. The star object, from Colchester Museums collection, will be the ‘Colchester Vase’, which made international headlines earlier this year following research revealing Roman gladiators battled at Roman Colchester. Depicting figures of men who are duelling each other and baiting a bear, the names Memnon, Valentinus, Secundus and Mario can be seen cut into the pottery. The fate of these men’s lives will be explored in the displays.
The exhibition draws together Roman gladiator artefacts from all over the UK as well as a 'Murmillo Gladiator Helmet’ discovered in Pompeii. It is one of more than twenty objects on loan from the British Museum and is extremely significant for Colchester Museums. It is the first time the helmet has been loaned to a regional museum enabling residents and visitors access to world-class heritage right in the city centre, without the need to travel to London.
The loans in the exhibition are supported by the Weston Loan Programme and Art Fund. Created by the Garfield Weston Foundation and Art Fund, the Weston Loan Programme is the first ever UK-wide funding scheme to enable smaller and local authority museums to borrow works of art and artefacts from national collections.
The exhibits will be displayed in an engaging way, enabling the public to experience what a typical day at the games would have been like. After collecting their ticket to the games and stocking up on Roman ‘fast food’ visitors can enjoy the day’s events: the Morning Beast Hunts; Midday Executions, and Afternoon Gladiatorial Combat. Visitors will even be able to battle the beasts and gladiators of the arena themselves – but will they win their freedom from the arena?
Councillor Michelle Burrows, Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Culture and Heritage, said: “Many of us have preconceived notions about Gladiators from watching films and television. However, this exhibition sets the record straight. Talking about real life gladiatorial combat and entertainment happening right here in Colchester over 2,000 years ago, it's both a visual and intellectual feast and one that I recommend to residents and visitors alike. Colchester has a rich heritage, and the exhibition takes the opportunity to delve deeper into the spectacle of the games, the role of slavery and how events like these were linked to religious beliefs in Roman society.”
Sophia Weston, Deputy Chair of the Garfield Weston Foundation, said: “The Weston Loan Programme exists to help regional museums tell compelling stories through exciting loans that have relevance to local heritage, so we are delighted to support the display of these incredible objects in Colchester.”
Thorsten Opper, Curator of Roman collections at the British Museum, said: “This undoubtedly is one of the treasures of the Roman collection and almost never leaves the British Museum. It will give visitors to Colchester's gladiator show a unique opportunity to see the helmet of a heavy Roman Murmillo gladiator close-up. There are only seven complete helmets of this type preserved world-wide, and all the others are in Italy and were excavated in Pompeii."
The British Museum is committed to sharing its collection and knowledge as widely as possible and to create positive educational, social and economic impact for people and places across the UK. Our initiatives give everyone the chance to engage with the British Museum’s collection and expertise. Last year nearly 2000 objects were lent to 95 venues, reaching three million people outside of London – one million more than visited the British Museum in the same period.
This exciting exhibition is suitable for the whole family and all content is conveyed with sensitivity.
Entry will be included with admission to Colchester Castle and will be open from the 15 July-14 January 2024.
To find out more please visit www.colchester.cimuseums.org.uk/gladiators
Page last reviewed: 5 July 2023