An exceptionally rare piece from the collection of National Museums Scotland has been meticulously reconstructed from dozens of fragments.

Dating from the mid-2nd century AD, a brass arm guard will be displayed whole for the first time in nearly 2,000 years when it is loaned to the British Museum for their upcoming exhibition “Legion: Life in the Roman Army” next month.

Conservators in Edinburgh spent weeks piecing together the arm guard, which is the most complete example of its type and one of only three known from the entire Roman Empire.

The armor was discovered in over 100 pieces at the site of the Trimontium fort near Melrose in 1906. It is in very good condition with leather straps still attached to the metal.

The fragments have been in the collection of National Museums Scotland for over a century. The upper part has been on display at the National Museum of Scotland for 25 years, the lower part was loaned to the Trimontium Museum, and dozens of fragments were stored at the National Museums Collection Centre.

Now reunited and assembled for the first time, it offers insight into the life of a Roman legionary in Scotland. After displaying at the British Museum, the arm guard will have a permanent home at the National Museum of Scotland.

Dr. Fraser Hunter, Senior Curator of Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology at National Museums Scotland said, This is an incredibly rare object, and it’s great this exhibition gave us the chance to reconstruct it. The transformation is amazing. Now that we’ve pieced it together, we can imagine the legionary who wore it. It was both protective and a status symbol: brass was expensive and would have shone like gold on his sword arm.

The arm guard extends from the shoulder down to a thin square of metal that would have protected the wielder’s hand, a design possibly inspired by gladiator equipment.

Experts originally thought it was a breastplate, and later thought it protected a cavalry soldier’s thighs. Only recently its true function was understood.

“Legion: Life in the Roman Army” (February 1-June 23, 2024) is a major new exhibition at the British Museum examining the reality of daily life within one of history’s elite fighting forces. Loan of this rare artifact will offer visitors insight into Roman military equipment and culture.

Its display alongside authentic segmented armor will capture public imagination of Rome’s military might and the influences of gladiatorial displays.

Through loans and touring exhibitions, National Museums Scotland works to share Scotland’s national collection with new audiences in the UK and worldwide.


National Museums Scotland

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