A rare Roman brass arm guard, dating back to the mid-2nd century CE, has been meticulously reconstructed by conservators at the National Museums Scotland.
The arm guard, discovered in over 100 fragments at the Trimontium fort near Melrose in 1906, is considered one of only three such pieces known from the entire Roman Empire. Following weeks of painstaking reconstruction, the artifact will be showcased in the upcoming British Museum exhibition, “Legion: Life in the Roman Army.”
The brass arm guard, originally identified as body armor and later speculated to be a thigh guard for a cavalryman, has only recently been recognized for its true function. Dr. Fraser Hunter, Principal Curator of Prehistoric & Roman Archaeology at National Museums Scotland, said: “This is an incredibly rare object, and it’s great that this exhibition gave us the opportunity to rebuild it. The transformation is striking.” The reconstructed arm guard will be featured alongside authentic segmented armor, providing a vivid connection to a crucial period when Scotland bordered the northern frontier of the Roman Empire.
Bethan Bryan, Assistant Artefact Conservator at National Museums Scotland, described the reconstruction as “an extreme challenge and a labor of love,” taking about three weeks to complete. The arm guard’s intricate design, with brass strips overlapping like an armadillo’s scales, distinguishes it as the most intact example of its kind. The use of brass, an expensive metal at the time, not only offered protection but also signified the wearer’s high rank, gleaming like gold on their sword arm.
The site of Trimontium fort near Melrose, where the arm guard was originally discovered by antiquary James Curle, played a pivotal role in the artifact’s history. The arm-guard appears to have been left behind when the Romans abandoned Trimontium. When the building was abandoned, any equipment that was deemed surplus to requirements, they just dumped.”
Richard Abdy, Curator of Roman and Iron Age Coins at the British Museum, highlighted the uniqueness of the arm guard’s design. He noted, “The flexible arm guard is an iconic piece of equipment for Roman gladiators, so it is unusual to see it as a sword arm protection for Roman soldiers too.” Abdy suggested a possible connection between the training regimes of Roman soldiers and gladiators.
Bryan said: “It’s been a privilege to work on such an extraordinary piece of Scotland’s history. I’m thrilled that it can now be seen by audiences in a new light and has been preserved for generations to enjoy.”
“Legion: Life in the Roman Army” (February 1-June 23, 2024) at the British Museum promises to be a major exhibition, offering visitors insight into the reality of daily life within one of history’s elite fighting forces. After the British Museum exhibition, the reconstructed arm guard will find its permanent home at the National Museum of Scotland.