Anyway, that is somewhat irrelevant. What I wanted to do was draw attention to the new exhibition currently on display in the National Roman Legion Museum, which brings the First World War into a Roman context. Now, I have no shame in saying that I am in the camp which is a little fed up with such themes in museums. Plenty of other authors have drawn attention to the somewhat overwhelming nature of commemorative war exhibitions elsewhere. Still, it is a fair criticism to note that there are a lot of these doing the rounds, with limited variety in terms of exhibition theme and content.
This, mercifully, is where ‘Equus’ succeeds. ‘Equus’ is one of a series of exhibitions that will be rolled out across all branches of the National Museum Wales in the coming months, to engage with the First World War narrative. Some, such as Big Pit’s ‘When Dai became Tommy’, make more obvious connections, telling the story of war time tunnellers coming from a mining background. ‘Equus’, of course, has a greater challenge, connecting war time engagements separated by some two thousand years. The exhibition team have approached this through the use of recent archaeological discoveries, namely the identification of what is thought to be horse armour. Now, the launch team were quick to stress that this is not a definitive/final interpretation, but decorative armour to cover a horse’s head would appear to be a best fit at this point in analysis.
Either way, the horse armour analysis sets up an exhibition which contrasts the use of horses in the Roman military war machine, with the strong presence of horses on First World War battlefields. It makes for an engaging and at times, quite moving exhibition. As is often the case with temporary exhibitions in the National Roman Legion Museum, space is at a premium, tucked away behind the entrance/shop area. Hopefully when the full scale redevelopment of the museum takes place in a couple of years time, more floor/wall space will be afforded to temporary exhibitions. As it is, this is still highly successful for the tight confines allowed for in the exhibition space.
The key thing here is that this is a refreshing way of engaging with a highly recycled concept – and a concept which will be recycled many, many more times in the coming years. ‘Equus’ succeeds in delivering an engaging narrative in a very small space, something the team in Caerleon have a great track record on. Well worth a look, ‘Equus’ will be on display through to January 2015. The only disappointment, is that the bucking bronco used for the launch won’t be there; there are few opportunities in life to see a legionary soldier being thrown off of a mechanical horse, and the launch event was a triumph for that reason alone, if nothing else!