Ancient Roman Pin-Up Boys


Maybe you’ve met a celebrity.

Phil’s  news team met Kristen Davis on the plane over to Johannesberg the other day. We bumped into Olympia Dukakis in Starbucks in Greenwich Village our first time in New York. Diana Spencer’s brother wandered into our local pub in Cornwall once as we sat with our pints.

You never forget these moments: when a face you know well and have heard so much about is right there in front of you.

And I had such a moment today, though I must confess that the celebrities concerned must have died some two thousand years ago.

Regulars will remember my bemoaning the loss of the Crosby Garrett helmet into a private collection. It slipped out of the hands of the Carlisle-based  Tullie House Museum, outbid despite its brave effort to raise £1.7 million towards the helmet’s purchase.

The helmet is a true jewel of a find. Discovered by a metal detectorist, in Crosby Garrett, Cumbria, it is a ceremonial helmet; one not used for fighting but for contests. Thus, it is lavish beyond words.

I was sad because the helmet has left the place it belonged. It had been snapped up right in front of the world’s top museums, by who knew who for a private collection.

It now emerges that whoever the private owner is, one thing must be owned: they are nothing if not generous with their acquisition.

When the helmet left Carlisle, after the closure of the exhibition of the helmet at Tullie House on January 26th, it travelled down to London, to the British Museum.

Speculatively, I walked into the Museum today. Felix wanted to see the Rosetta Stone, and Phil the Zoroastrian room. I had half an hour to pack in all the British Museum’s greatest hits.

So I took in the Sutton Hoo collection at a rate of knots, and then turned to climb the stairs to the European galleries, my perennial favourites.

And I was completely unprepared for what lay in wait in the glass case at the top of the stairs.

There it was: the Crosby Garrett helmet. Exquisite, and large as life. For all of us to see and learn from. There, in the most public place possible.

And not only that: its partner was right next to it. The Ribchester helmet gazed levelly out alongside its companion, perusing the tourists who ambled by. Do you know who I am? the two seemed to say. Have you any idea how important and significant we are?

I knew. I squeaked, if truth be told. And I spent quality time there with my Ancient Roman pin-up boys, gazing so I could take them in, noting and photographing the fine details.

They are celebrities of the first order, and I was star-struck.

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28 thoughts on “Ancient Roman Pin-Up Boys

    1. Aren’t they? Just wonderful to be able to stand and gaze, Gabrielle. It’s the little details you don’t take in in photographs.
      Hope you and the family are all well and the Summer is behaving where you are!

    1. No, I still just have the information ‘A Private Collector’, Col. And though this post is a concession, I’m unrepentant: I still believe this helmet should be in permanent hands of the museums of this country.

  1. That’s fantastic, Kate, even if your initial glee made Felix recoil in abject horror. I so hope it is on permanent loan. Ancient artifacts like this helmet should not be tucked away in some fat cat’s library for only select eyes to see. But maybe this is a philanthropic fat cat who gets it. Fingers crossed.

    Unrelated, once when I was stepping out to run an errand here at The Grind, I made eye contact with Meryl Streep standing by a sales desk on our first floor. It was surreal. My boss, who was away on business in Chicago on that day, is a huge Meryl fan. When Elspeth returned I spilled my guts about this sighting. She said, “You’re only telling me this now?” Defensive, I said, “But you were away!” She countered, “I would have taken the next flight back!”

      1. Bummer.

        Three or four years ago, Meryl’s daughter, Mamie Gummer, lived on the first floor of my building with her bf, and later husband, Ben Walker. I think they’re now divorced. Mamie once held the door for me. She was very polite. It’s possible that her mother visited her tiny apartment at least once. I would have completely plotzed if I had seen Meryl Streep entering my brownstone.

  2. Fabulous, Kate. Thanks for telling us about these guys in the first place, and letting us share your joy at happening across them.
    Felix will recover, & enjoy telling the tale, in time 🙂

  3. Perhaps if the Prime Minister or the Queen offered the private owner a knighthood/earldom or dame/countess he/she may be inclined to loan the helmet in perpetuity to the British Museum.
    As it stands the new owner looks like he/she’s poking their tongue out at us and saying look what I’ve got eat, your hearts out,’cos you ain’t goin’ to see it much longer!
    Better not to have loaned it at all rather than to have done this for a few weeks; selfish and sad.

  4. I like your celebrities much better than the ones I have encountered. I experience a “celebrity-sighting” as often as once a month and it’s always interesting, but nothing to “squeal” about. 🙂 But your pin-up boys are MUCH more exciting! I can understand your squeals!

  5. I read your blog on dragons and wyverns, etc. and then came back in time to catch this Roman pin-up boy article I had missed. There is a dragon/gryphon on top of one of the helmets, it looks like! Isn’t it? So were the Romans depicting dragons in artwork 2,000 years ago? Now I’m really curious about all these dragons/wyverns/wyrmes/lizards.

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