The Horse at War at National Roman Legion Museum

26 / 06 / 2014

A piece of horse’s head armour discovered in Caerleon priory field in 2010 has inspired a new display at the National Roman Legion Museum looking at the role of the horse in Roman warfare. The display Equus – The Horse at War which opens at the Museum in Caerleon on Friday 27 June tells how horses were used by the Roman army and draws parallels to the First World War almost 2,000 years later. The display which will include a replica horse’ head and a special reconstruction of the horse’s head armour, the chamfron, will be on display to see at the museum from 27 June – 30 January 2015.

The new display forms part of Amgueddfa Cymru’s programme to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. The Cymru’n Cofio Wales Remembers 1914–1918 programme and related activities are generously supported by the Welsh Government (CyMAL), the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Armed Forces Community Covenant Fund and other donors.

During the First World War over a million horses were used by the British Army. Some to ride, others to pull supplies and guns. Although the type of weapons the horses were pulling or carrying had changed, the way in which they were used often differed very little from the Romans almost 2,000 years previously.  The Romans had cavalry units, one of which was attached to the Legion at Caerleon. These soldiers were skilled riders from across the Empire. They wore slightly different armour and carried different weapons from the foot soldiers of the Roman army. Roman horses also wore armour to protect face and body from missiles.

Parts of one of these pieces of armour that protected the horse’s face, a chamfron, were found during an excavation near the Caerleon Amphitheatre in 2010. Fragments of the chamfron, small pins that look like drawing pins and a bronze figure, are almost all that’s left and will be on show as part of the display. After many months of painstaking conservation and reconstruction a replica has been made and will be on show to accompany the ‘Equus’ exhibition. This is one of a handful of chamfron’s found in Britain and is highly unusual in having the metal work, rather than the leather work, survive.

Dr Mark Lewis said, “The piece of horse’s head armour was discovered in Caerleon priory field a few years ago and after many months of careful conservation work it’s great to be able to display the reconstruction of a replica chamfron to show what the archaeological fragments looked like pieced together and how it would have looked like on a horse during the Roman period.”

Dai Price, Manager of the National Roman Legion Museum said, “This is the first display as part of Amgueddfa Cymru’s programme commemorating the beginning of the First World War. Our Equus display tells how horses were used by the Roman army and draws parallels to the First World War almost 2,000 years later. Many horses served and died during war and so it’s important to look at the role of the horse during warfare.

“We’re also delighted that we have been able to include an artwork in chalk by a talented young artist from Caerleon, Izzy Baker-Westhead so it’s a great opportunity to help support local talent in the area!”

Minister for Culture and Sport, John Griffiths, said, “Animals have played an important role in warfare throughout history, and the horse has been the most commonly used. The First World War is widely seen as one of the most deadly conflicts in human history with millions of people, both military and civilian losing their lives.  We must not forget that horses played their part too pulling heavy artillery guns or supply wagons and as cavalry mounts – and millions died.  This exhibition forms a part of Amgueddfa Cymru’s Wales Remembers 1914-1918 programme supported by the Welsh Government.   I hope many people will take the opportunity to visit to find out more about the horse at war from Roman times right up to the, terrible conflict that we are commemorating across the next four years.

Entry to the Museum is free, thanks to the support of the Welsh Government.

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales operates seven museums across Wales National Museum Cardiff, St Fagans: National History Museum, National Roman Legion Museum, Caerleon, Big Pit: National Coal Museum, Blaenafon, National Wool Museum, Dre-fach Felindre, National Slate Museum, Llanberis and the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea.