Sol Day

Sol Day 16Oct2013* – Westcountry provincial exhibtion

Pompeii and Herculaneum is no more. The blockbuster exhibition has run its course. Yet this is not the end of special exhibitions on the Romans just yet.


I still remember when the exhibition was announced and the anticipation and excitement I was trying to contain within me back then. Many months thence and many trips to the British Museum later, I would admit to being a little fed up of “Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum”, the extremely popular special exhibition.

It was oversubscribed and overcrowded. People smile and frown at the initial video documentary, are welcomed by the statue of Eumachia, admire the punch-up at the tavern, wonder why Caecilius is not very modest, had their hair on end over the burnt-out cradle, giggled over Pan and goat, wondered what the compartment is for in the garden paintings, got confused over which period of Pompeiian painting they were looking at, rembering all the fish, tracing the route of the dormice in the jar and made the pugilist post.

As an exhibition, it generated wide-interest and succeeded in bringing Classics to the fore. I wonder if the recent series of series and programme, by Michael Scott, Mary Beard, Bettany Hughes, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill and Margaret Mountford would have been comissioned. I wonder whether we would have Atlantis without the exhibition. The newspaper coverage has been good. It will be a challenge to Classicists how to keep that interest going.

Nor was the exhibition that bad either. There were many artefacts that I have studied, that tells us so much. I can now see where the publishers’ got their book cover image from: Oxford Latin Course Book I and its fish mosaic, Cambridge Latin Course and its Caecilius (the modest part), Balme’s The Millionaire’s Dinner Party with its skeleton. Did you spot any others? Though visitors collected bruises by elbows and souvenirs and the grouping and arrangement of exhibition does not have universal approval, I feel that Classicists and the general public come away from the exhibition interested, inspired and informed, aided by the audio guide.

Now that the exhibition is over, there will be a struggle to keep museum-goers interested in Classics. The tag Pompeii and Herculaneum appeals at a very high level, as does an exhibition at the British Museum. The very good exhibition on Nemi at Nottingham Castle also had some very good artefacts that are of import to the study of Classics, but it is unlikely that it had anywhere near the impact of the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition. Sadly, even that exhibition is over.

Fear not. On a recent visit to my hometown I popped into the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery to see its Roman Empire: Power and People exhibition. There would be no bruises, no overcrowding here, nor have the artefacts here been on many (if any) book covers. But it was an interesting exhibition

Exhibited are a series of artefacts from a wide geography – Egypt, Italy and Blighty. The bust of a German lady, the helmet of a legionary person, Oxyrinchus papyri and many other objects share a same space. It lacks a little uniformity, but to an inquisitive visitor it presents many facets of Roman Empire that the British Museum didn’t because of their different foci. Seeing an Oxyrinchus a visitor would realise how delicate they are and how easily they could have been thrown away. The imperial images of emperor suggests a show of power across the empire as a means of keeping citizens in order.

I can only recommend you to visit, and recommend others to visit. Bristol, though not Roman in provenance, is a lovely city. It is also 15-minutes away from Bath on the fast train; there you can bathe in the modern baths and admire the ancient baths. But significantly, the exhibition at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery can also weave a narrative on Rome and its empire. It may even spur Classicists to learn more about the periphery of Roman occupation, which is not the same as the periphery of Roman civilisation.


Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum:

The Treasures of Nemi: Finds from the Santuary of Diana:

Roman Empire: Power and People:


Personal P.S.:

I set up this blog as a parallel to the regualar Classics Colletive blog, when I was expecting to have lots of time to write blogs. On this site I hoped to post one comment blog per Sunday. Sadly things have gotten busy and I have often not posted. Do keep our blog in mind though, for our weekly round-ups!



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