….I never miss the opportunity to check out what’s on at one of our national capital’s impressive array of galleries and museums. Some are must-sees, such as the amazing Songlines earlier this year, others worth seeing but more of the three-and-a-half star mark, such as the current Rome: City and Empire. On loan from the British Museum in London with around 200 objects on show it features a more fraction of the 100,000 treasures that actually make up the collection.
Still, just contemplating the map at the start of the exhibition underscores the sheer size of the Empire in its heyday – a vast stretch of territory covering present-day swathes of western Europe, North Africa, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, England and Wales. Just as the British took advantage of empire by appropriating treasures, the Romans also enslaved conquered peoples and seized their wealth. While missing major masterpieces from the British Museum the exhibition focuses on objects from quotidian life, funerary art and items like coins. The collection owes much to the discovery of burial hoardes from various locations including Britain.
Intricately carved 100 BCE Etruscan alabaster burial chest.
Highlights include an exquisitely carved Etruscan alabaster burial chest; a relief depicting gladiatrices Amazon and Achilla, showing Roman-era women had won the right to take up the sword; a 2000-year-old freestanding basanite (volcanic rock) bath in a style very like those found in trendy bathrooms now; and a bust of the renowned Hadrian, who liked to build walls and who was said to be openly gay.
This Roman bath would go well in a modern-day showroom; Hadrian the wall builder.
Bust from now north Africa (l); Funerary relief, Palmyra, Syria (r) ; bust of Bacchus.
Mithras slaying the bull; the gladatrices Amazon and Achilla.
Items from the Hoxne Treasure in England from the fourth and fifth centuries.
Rome: City and Empire runs at the National Museum of Australia until February 3.