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EXHIBITION REVIEW: Mithras: Roman Religion from Thames to Tyne @ Great North Museum

August 7, 2017 11:00 am

1st July – 27th August

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Review by Roisin Corbett.

Mithras exhibition

Mithras: Roman Religion from Thames to Tyne is a current exhibition in Newcastle’s Great North Museum. It details the worship of eastern god Mithras by the Romans, and attempts to parallel discoveries from London with artefacts found along Hadrian’s Wall.

The collection is one of the largest in the United Kingdom, and contains various artefacts ranging from marble busts to altars and inscriptions. One of the most impressive parts of the exhibition was definitely the marble busts of Mithras, Serapis and Minerva – loaned from the Museum of London. For anyone with an interest in history these busts are particularly exciting, given how well-preserved they are. The fact that the exhibit contains artefacts found along Hadrian’s Wall is also of particular interest. The decision to incorporate local history within a wider narrative of Mithraism was a clever choice, making the exhibition much more accessible to those who may not be familiar with Roman cultic practise. In the same vein, the information cards displayed next to the artefacts were incredibly useful, and did not presuppose any prior knowledge of the Roman world; which again enabled the exhibition to be interesting for all, not just historians.

However, the exhibition itself was a little confusing. Given the amount of advertising and promotion which has been displayed about the exhibition, I was expecting it to be larger. The materials on display are kept close together, giving the exhibition a rather cramped feel. This also makes it very difficult to appreciate each artefact individually, which unfortunately takes away some of the gravitas of the larger and more visually impressive objects. The fact that the exhibition is tucked away in a corner does not help matters either, as it would be very easy to miss unless you’re actively looking for it. A further issue with its placement within the museum is the fact that it is very difficult to distinguish where the Hadrian’s Wall exhibit ends and where Mithras begins. Unless you’re well versed in Ancient History, the distinction between the two is nigh on impossible to distinguish. I completely understand that there is natural overlap between the two, particularly as some of the artefacts within the Mithras exhibition were found along Hadrian’s Wall. However, given the amount of promotion given to Mithras, and the effort expended to establish it as a separate exhibition, I feel that it would have benefitted from a clearer distinction between the two exhibits.

On the whole, Mithras is an interesting exhibition and the objects it contains are very impressive. Despite being rather let down by its organisation, it still remains engaging and I would recommend it; particularly to anyone interested in Ancient History.

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