Romans and Gladiators live on!


On Sunday 3rd October, Hawthornden Court welcomed two retired roman soldiers from the 6th and 9th Legions. Our Romans were instantly amazed as the voice of the Roman god Jupiter bellowed from above (in other words, one of our esteemed Visitor Services team) beckoning people to join them for the afternoon.

Children dressed up as Roman soldiers
Children practising drill as Roman army conscripts at Hawthornden Court, National Museum of Scotland

Families were taught all about life in the Roman army and in particular all about the Roman armour and weaponry; children encouraged to stand in front of the crowds dressed as soldiers and put to drill! Armed with their scutum (shield) and gladius (sword), the children learned military positions to protect themselves from enemy attacks. Manoeuvres such as the testudo (tortoise formation) and cuneum (the wedge); these tactics were successfully completed by the youngsters followed by applause from the proud parents in the audience.

Visitors were then told a bit more about military life in the Roman army, such as elements of daily life. Perhaps one of the highlights for the younger audiences was the famous ‘spongia’ otherwise known as the ‘sponge on a stick’. Faces were appropriately screwed up as our Romans explained that this was their form of toilet paper!

Boy dressed up as a Roman soldier
Boy dressed up as a Roman soldier

The museums visitors also heard how gladiators entertained the screaming and jeering crowds in the Colosseum. In each show, a boy and girl from the audience were chosen to represent a young gladiator and Amazon. After some swashbuckling with wooden swords the gladiator was left kneeling on the ground at the mercy of our museum audience and Caesar himself! A boy was chosen from the audience to wear the civic crown of leaves and a white tunic. Under the close supervision of Caesar himself, our visitors decided the fate of the young gladiators: luckily all three on this day had their lives spared.

Around 300 people come to meet the Romans over the afternoon, which proved a fun afternoon for all.


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