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Thematic Collecting

@ Manchester Museum

Month

June 2016

Spaniards and Hungarians at Ribchester

Excavation inside the Roman fort at Ribchester
Excavation inside the Roman fort at Ribchester

A few days ago I had the great pleasure of visiting Ribchester Roman fort to film a thematic collecting interview about migration with Dr Duncan Sayer who is Reader in Archaeology in the Department of Forensic and Applied Science at the University of Central Lancashire. There is quite a long history of archaeological interest in Ribchester, not least because of wonderful discoveries such as the Roman cavalry helmet now in the British Museum and the tombstone of a Roman cavalryman.

Tombstone of an Asturian cavalryman
Tombstone of an Asturian cavalryman

The current excavations inside the fort made an interesting backdrop to the interview. Duncan told me about the different regiments that had been garrisoned at Ribchester during the Roman period. Soldiers from the 20th Legion  built the fort during the 70s AD to control the strategic river crossing nearby. Auxiliary cavalryman from northern Spain – the Asturians – and later Sarmatians from what is now Hungary in eastern Europe held the fort in the  2nd and 3rd centuries.

Drawing of a Sarmatian cavalryman with dragon standard from Ribchester Museum with
Drawing of a Sarmatian cavalryman with dragon standard from Ribchester Museum

When we talk about “the Roman Army” you might expect that most of the soldiers if not from Rome itself were at least Italians but this is not the case. Many auxiliary soldiers were recruited from the provinces and allied peoples who provided specialised skills, such as horse riding or archery, which the Romans valued. The auxiliaries served in the army for 25 years in return for Roman citizenship, which indicates how highly citizen rights were valued. In Manchester Museum’s archaeology collection we have an auxiliary diploma or citizenship award that was presented to a man who originally came from Syria. It was found at Ravenglass in Cumbria.

Auxiliary diploma awarded to a Syrian soldier in the Roman army
Auxiliary diploma awarded to a Syrian soldier in the Roman army

In the interview Duncan spoke about the relationships between soldiers and the local people. Although the soldiers could not be legally married they formed long-term relationships with local women and had children. When they completed their service these relationships were  formalised. Any sons wanting to follow in their fathers’ footsteps would join the legions as citizens. The Spanish and later the Hungarians may have received fresh recruits from home but over time the pattern shifted and local men joined the regiments.

Excavation at Ribchester
Excavation at Ribchester

Inscriptions provide evidence for Spaniards, Syrians, Hungarians and many other peoples in Roman Britain. Earlier thematic collecting interviews have featured Swiss and Noricans, again from eastern Europe.  This provides an interesting counterpoint to the recent referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union in which immigration was a significant issue for some voters. Archaeologically and historically Ribchester and many other Roman sites in Britain provide clear evidence of the movement of people from all over Europe and beyond almost 2,000 years ago. This mixing of different peoples and cultures throughout history has made us who we are today. The discoveries at Ribchester provide a little perspective in the debate about immigration in the immediate aftermath of the referendum vote.

 

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Walk of Life Game at Manchester Museum

Tagra (right) showing VSAs how to play the Walk of LIfe
Tagra (right) showing VSAs at Manchester Museum how to play the Walk of Life

Last week I filmed a thematic collecting interview with Sumir Tagra and Jiten Thukral  at Manchester Museum about a game that they have created called Walk of Life. Tagra and Thukral are artists based in New Delhi in India and they came to Manchester Museum to train Visitor Assistants and volunteers how to play the game so that they can lead sessions with members of the public over the summer.The idea of the Walk of Life  is to make people more aware of water conservation issues.

karma cards in the Walk of lIfe
karma cards in the Walk of lIfe

Walk of life is a board game in which up to six players play a number of rounds, moving a boat shaped vessel containing the players’ markers. Each player is given a cup containing a set amount of water. In each round they select ‘Karma’ cards from a pack and act on what the cards say: if the player has done something good for the environment such as planting trees, they receive water credits; if they have used water in an unsustainable way they have to drink a certain quantity of the water in their cup; or the effect may be neutral. Players may draw a card which tells them to spin the roulette wheel which can have negative consequences for that player and the players sitting either side if the wheel indicates there has been a disaster which affects the community’s water supply.

Spinning the wheel
Spinning the wheel

As the game progresses some players may experience a water deficit and if they have credits they can take some water from the communal reservoir held in a decanter on the table. This reservoir is finite and very quickly a point is reached where the supply in the reservoir is no longer sufficient to meet the player’s requirements. In this situation, unless helped by another player, the player ‘in deficit’ has to drop out of the game.

The last two players at the end of the game
The last two players at the end of the game

The nice thing about this game is that players can play competitively or collaboratively, in which case there is a greater chance of more players reaching the end of the Walk of Life. The fact that the pieces representing the players are in a boat makes the point that so far as water is concerned we really are all in this together.

Playing the Walk of Life game.
Playing the Walk of Life game.

In the game I played last Thursday players were trying to support one another and even so only two players made it to the end of the game. This makes you think about our shared dependence on water supplies and our communal interest in ensuring that water supplies are used sustainably. When I interviewed them for Manchester Museum’s thematic collecting project Tagra and Thukral told me they were very encouraged to see that players were implementing some of the actions that resulted in water credits in the game at home: for instance not running the tap when brushing their teeth.

I thought this was a really good way to encourage people to think about the issue of water sustainability in a non-preaching way that is actually a lot of fun. The only thing I would say is that this is the first board game I’ve played where at the end of the game I’ve had to dash off immediately to the loos to spend a penny!

 

 

 

 

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