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The collection

Museum and gallery staff put their favourite artefacts on display. Week 28 The tombstone of an Asturian Cavalryman Ribchester Museum of Modern Antiquities.

There was a Roman fort and settlement on the north bank of the River Ribble at Ribchester known as Bremetennacum Veteranorum. Well connected to the surrounding forts and settlements by the major north west Roman road network, remains of part of the fort and bathhouse are still visible today.

The fort was established around 70AD and remained in more or less continuous use until the fourth century. The garrisons stationed at Ribchester were meant to control the native Celtic tribes. The fort was surrounded by a civilian settlement.

The spread of Roman rule encouraged trade across the whole empire including frontier lands such as Northern Britain. Consequently, many mass-produced Roman artefacts are quite similar in museums across the country, in-cluding pottery, glassware and coinage. What distinguishes the disparate collections are the locally produced and personal objects. Sculpture and epigraphic sources, especially inscriptions, are most informative.

This tombstone is one of the most visually stunning objects in our collection. It was discovered by chance in 1876 on the riverbank a few yards from the museum, and had been used by a fisherman as a platform until it was turned over during a storm. At this point, its true purpose was revealed.

The gravestone was carved on site from local stone and shows a cavalryman, presumably a member of one of the garrisons stationed at the fort, mowing down a Celtic warrior on his horse. The tombstone lacks an inscription, but other inscriptions held at the museum revealed the identity of garrisons stationed at the fort. It is likely that the rider was Asturian.

The Asturians came from northern Spain and were eventually replaced some time after 175AD by a garrison of Sarmatians. It is generally considered that this tombstone was erected by the Asturian's family and is the only depiction of a cavalryman from his part of the Roman empire known in Britain.

The relief is carved in rustic style and its proportions leave us in no doubt as to the main subject. The details reveal the basic equipment used by the cavalry of this period. Unusually, the cavalryman carries a short sword rather than a long one, which was generally preferred for the extra reach from a horse. The cavalryman, with his expression of arrogance, shows no mercy as he impales his Celtic adversary with his spear.

Patrick Tostevin is curator at Ribchester Museum of Roman Antiquities, Riverside, Ribchester, Preston PR3 3XSTel: 01254 878261

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