After a 16 month closure and a budget of £4.2 million Colchester Castle Museum reopened last summer (2014). With Art Fund membership cards we gained free admission and spent over two hours inspecting and admiring the amazing contents – here are quality and quantity – a magnificent collection of Roman and other antiquities.
Welcome to Colchester Castle – come on in!
Built on top of the foundations of the Roman Temple of Claudius you can read about the castle (the largest Norman castle keep in Europe) and its contents elsewhere so here I’ve just selected a few of the contents that particularly impressed me.
The Castle was Built on the Temple Foundations
You follow the preferred route proposed on a plan : Castle hub then upstairs to Iron Age, through the Roman invasion, and its heyday and decline to Saxon/Norman, medieval, the Civil War siege and finally a bit of modern thrown in (and a sit-down too) to watch video extracts of interviews with present day serving and ex soldiers from the Colchester Garrison and hearing plans for the future for the garrison and the organisation of British armed forces in general.
Roman Face Pot : Type of pot associated with military burials
Mosaic Floor : Assembled from fragments of a fine 2nd century AD Roman mosaic floor found in a garden in North Hill in 1865. Research indicates that the components of the mosaic have been re-arranged.
Tombstone of Marcus Favonius Facilis : the earliest Roman sculpture in Britain, and the finest. Facilis was a Centurion officer in the twentieth legion one of the regiments based at Colchester. He died a few years after the 43AD invasion of Britain and was buried in a cemetery along the main road to London. The style of sculpture represented by the tombstone developed in what is now the Rhineland area of Germany where the 20th legion had been based.
How the tombstone would have looked originally
The Colchester Vase is the most famous pot from Roman Britain. It was found in a grave dated between AD 175 and AD 200 at West Lodge in Colchester. The pot is decorated with detailed scenes showing a fight between two gladiators, a man beating a bear with a whip and a hunting dog in hot pursuit of two stags and a hare. The inscription scratched around the rim of the pot tells us the names of the people represented in the scenes and gives some details of their lives.
The Colchester Sphinx is a sculpture from an elaborate Roman tomb. It was found where the Essex County Hospital on Lexden Road stands today. This mythological creature is associated with death: she has the body of a winged lion and the face, arms and breasts of a woman. She was carved in the early Roman period AD 43-75. Here she represents the triumph of death over life. She is shown crouched over a pile of bones, clutching the head of the deceased in her claws.
Another Face Pot (contains cremated bones)
The Colchester Mercury is one of the finest statues from Roman Britain. It was found at Gosbecks, an area of countryside outside Colchester where there was a theatre and temple. This bronze statue was made in the northern part of the Roman Empire in the second century AD. Mercury was the messanger of the gods and can be recognised by the wings on his head. He was also the god of movement which made him popular with travellers, traders and even thieves.
Inside Views of the Keep
We already realised that Colchester is not just the first recorded town in Britain it has a wealth of history and superlatives – first, largest, best, oldest, finest.