We’re very fortunate to have a museum dedicated to life in the Roman fort at Ribchester. However, it not only deals with Roman finds, but begins with a summary of what life was like before the Romans came to the area. Stand out artefacts include a Bronze Age sword, found in the Ribble. Bronze Age swords are extremely rare, and this one has been bent before it was placed in the river, a common practice during the Bronze Age. Our local tribe in the Iron Age was the Brigantes, and the museum has on display some very evocative stone heads, and some wonderful spiral brooches from that period.
The Roman fort housed a cavalry unit. The Ala II Asturum (second Asturian cavalry unit) were from Spain, and were replaced later on by a Sarmatian cavalary unit from Hungary. It is the artefacts from these units that form the bulk of the museums collection. Amongst the stonework on display, of particular interest is the cavalry tombstone of a “rider and barbarian”, the barbarian being ridden down by the Roman rider. These tombstones were more popular in Britain than in the rest of the Empire. Similar ones can be seen at the museums of Lancaster and Chester, both of which had forts. Another one existed at Kirkham, but was destroyed soon after it was discovered (see our page on Kirkham’s Roman fort here).
A clear Chester connection is a carved piece of stone bearing the inscription “LEGXXVV FECIT” (The Twentieth Legion Valiant and Victorious made this”). The twentieth legion were based at Chester, and clearly were connected with building the Ribchester fort. A second Chester connection are the two large Corinthian capitals, now placed on top of modern metal pillars, which are similiar in design to those at Chester’s Legionary fort.
A huge piece of carved masonary displays Apollo, taking the form of “Apollo Maponus” where he is merged with the more local Celtic god Mabon. This merging of gods is not uncommon in Roman Britain, and this particulary merger also occurs at Corbridge in Northumberland.
The most important find in Ribchester was the cavalry parade helmet, discovered by a boy in 1796. This helmet covered the whole of the rider’s head, with the mask showing the fine features of a human face. On top of the helmet are human figures fighting. The replica in the museum is impressive and well displayed, but the original is on permanent display in the British Museum, London. The helmet was part of a hoard, which also included other cavalry items such as bronze eye guards for a horse. (See the link to British Museum Ribchester hoard in the references section below, which will take you straight to the correct page).
The items of everyday existence, such as combs, coins, brooches and rings all help to build a picture of Roman life. The boggy conditions of Ribchester have also helped rare leather items to survive and these show remarkable preservation.
The museum is not large, but has a wealth of artefacts on display. The interpretation is comprehensive and includes the history of antiquarian visits to the site, from the Tudor times onwards. The museum shop sells books on the Romans in Britain, and more importantly a selection of books about the Romans in Lancashire.
Opening Times: The museum opens everyday, weekdays 10am-5pm, weekends 12 noon-5pm. There is a small entrance fee, but the museum is well worth it ! Further details can be found at www.ribchesterromanmuseum.org
Just a few moments away on foot…
A short walk away…
The Romans at Ribchester, B.J.N. Edwards (2000), Centre for North-West Regional Studies, University of Lancaster
Roman Lancashire, W. Thompson Waktkin (1883/2007), Azorabooks
British Museum website (click on the link below) www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pe_prb/r/ribchester_hoard.aspx
Ribchester Roman Museum website http://www.ribchesterromanmuseum.org