Dundee to host major Roman art exhibition

THE wealth, power and influence of the Romans is set to take centre stage in a blockbuster exhibition heading to Scotland.

Roman coins will be among the exhibits. Picture: British Museum
Roman coins will be among the exhibits. Picture: British Museum

The British Museum is bringing the biggest-ever collection of Roman artefacts to go out on loan to The McManus, Dundee’s flagship art gallery and museum, next year.

Around 160 rarely seen pieces drawn from the London attraction’s vast archives will form the exhibition, which will be in Dundee for almost four months.

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The exhibition will chart the early origins of the Roman Empire in 27BC and its rapid expansion to some 50 modern-day countries. Artefacts from across Britain, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East will give a glimpse into the lives of people living under Roman rule.

Pieces of armour, works of art, jewellery, coins, clothing and domestic items will all be featured.

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Dundee will be the only location in Scotland on a tour which the British Museum says will allow visitors to “get close to our Roman ancestors and appreciate both the breadth and range of the Roman Empire and its local impact on Britain”.

Curators expect the free exhibition to boost attendance numbers at The McManus, which has attracted an average of 170,000 people a year since a major

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refurbishment four years ago.

Fiona Sinclair, head of Dundee’s museums service, said: “There will be a lot of interest because of the magnificence of the Roman Empire and the fact it almost has this myth surrounding it. People are just fascinated by the scale of it and how it could have been accomplished.

“We don’t have a specific target in mind for the exhibition, but we are definitely expecting people to travel from outwith Dundee, especially as we’re the only location in Scotland that is getting the exhibition.”

The show has been compiled by the British Museum in the wake of the huge success of a show on Pompeii, which broke attendance records last year.

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Susan Raikes, head of learning at the British Museum, said a conscious effort had been made to develop a different show for each location on the tour.

She added: “We have never displayed our collection like this before. We’ve brought things together from the whole Roman Empire to tell a complete story of its power and people.”

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Highlights are expected to include sculptures from the villas of Roman emperors Tiberius and Hadrian, a copper figurine of Hercules, a “parade helmet” … and the remains of a child’s woollen sock.

Other exhibits will come from the National Museum of Scotland’s collection of Roman treasures in Edinburgh, along with items from the city’s own archives, including Egyptian masks and artefacts discovered at Dundee Law and the Roman fortress at Carpow in Perthshire.

The show is the latest coup for The McManus, which has already benefited from the city’s partnership with V&A, which will lead to the creation of a £45 million design gallery on the waterfront by 2017.

• Roman Empire: Power and People is at The McManus from 24 January-10 May 2015.