★★★★ Legion: Life in the Roman Army Exhibition at British Museum
This blockbuster exhibition is in a huge hall in the British Museum. It is full of the most useful information. Legions were 5,000 men strong and headed by a Tribune. Underneath these were senior centurions and centurions in charge of in excess of 80 men. Then there were the legionnaires and the auxiliaries. Standard bearers carried the standard and were responsible for paying the soldier’s wages.If you survived for twenty five years you could become a Roman cityzen with a heathy pay out on retirement.
So the legionary system was a means of integrating foreigners into the Roman Empire and its way of life. A senior centurion got paid 60 times that of an ordinary soldier but all soldiers could aspire to becoming a centurion. Legionnaires came from all over the empire. So the artefacts on display come from different places within the empire.
Training was not for the faint hearted. It comprised gruelling route marches with full battle kit and endless battle drills and training.It was difficult unless you were able to exercise some influence to become a legionnaire unless you were 172 centimetres or 5ft 7.
But it was not all blood and gore. There are touching human letters like those of Claudius Terentanius asking his wife’s permission for him to take a concubine and another earnestly asking his father to supply another pair of sandals and that of Severia inviting her sister to her birthday party. Women were very present in the forts where the legionaries were stationed.
Some key questions are unanswered such as where the legionaries were stationed, what threats they were facing both in England and elsewhere and more focus on a particular point in time e.g. the building of Hadrian’s Wall.
But overall this is a fantastic exhibition with so much interesting factual information. Go and see for yourself and the Roman Empire will come alive for you.
I am a guest reviewer for To Do List. I like history, literature and sport (tennis, cricket and football – more non-participatory these days), pubs with flexible opening hours, Meat Loaf and The Grateful Dead.