Lend me your ears

2nd January 2009 at 00:00
When in the Borders, do as the Romans did - speak Latin. Deedee Cuddihy reports

Primary school pupils in the Borders are being encouraged to get their tongues around such Latin phrases as "Veni, vidi, vici", "Et tu, Brute?" and even "Cave canem" at an exhibition running in Hawick Museum until March next year.

"Ecce Romani" ("Behold the Romans") goes back in time to around AD80 when Roman soldiers occupied the Borders. The museum and gallery service of Scottish Borders Council has an excellent record of staging shows that are both fun and educational, and Hawick Museum has the added advantage of a large temporary exhibitions gallery with plenty of room for reconstructions and activity areas.

"Ecce Romani" is a great example of what hard work, imagination, modest amounts of money - and lots of enthusiasm - can produce. Staff at Hawick have divided the Romans in the Borders story into four workstations: Archaeology; Villa Life; Life on the Frontier and the Latin Wall - or Murus Latinus.

Villa Life is a reconstruction of what a kitchendining area in the Mediterranean home of a well-off Roman would have been like in the 1st century. With its pillared entrance, floaty curtains, wall painting and tiled floor, it does look as if TV interior designer Lawrence Llewel-lyn-Bowen has been on the job, says Hawick Museum's Richard White.

MDF - home-improvement material beloved of many TV interior designers - has been used for a mock-up of a real-looking Roman stove, complete with charcoal for cooking and a log store. Children discover that when Roman soldiers came to Scotland, they introduced foods we now think of as normal, such as cabbage, onions and chicken. Using replica "mortaria" and pestles, they grind up herbs and spices and then have a go at toga draping.

Life on the Frontier in Scotland wasn't quite so luxurious, however, although the Roman tent, which pupils can sit in to fill out their worksheets, looks more than roomy enough for the eight soldiers who would have occupied it.

Armour and helmets were designed to concertina and dismantle so they would fit into soldiers' back packs but they were still heavy, as pupils trying on the child-size versions discover. "And those aren't leather sandals you've got there," says Mr White to the P6-7s from Trinity Primary. "They're marching boots - with metal cleats on the soles to stamp on the enemy."

The Life on the Frontier workstation is seen against a specially commissioned, wall-size painted back-drop of Roman soldiers working on the fortification of their camp in the Borders area, with a depiction of the local round houses also in view.

As Hawick Museum staff have discovered from past exhibitions, visitors of all ages enjoy digging for treasure, so a sand box is the focus of the Archaeology workstation, where copies of Roman coins, pottery and other objects have been buried.

Display cases show real Roman finds from the Borders including a pocket-size statue of Jupiter holding a thunderbolt, discovered on the banks of the Tweed in the 1990s.

And so to the Murus Latinus, where pupils as young as five are being introduced to the basics of the Latin language. With a little encouragement from the staff, children are soon able to say hello ("Salve!"); ask for someone's name ("Quis es?") and declare that they are Roman citizens ("Cives Romani sumus!").

The Latin Wall deals briefly with the phrases attributed to Emperor Julius Caesar who, children are told, probably did say "Veni, Vide, Vici", but may not have uttered "Et tu, Brute?" as he lay dying from stab wounds, the last administered by his adopted son, Brutus.

Visits to the Ecce Romani exhibition, on Wednesday to Friday mornings, continue in the new year.


T: 01450 373457.

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