WORK EXPERIENCE: Argus man re-enacts Roman life at Caerleon museum
6:10pm Friday 21st March 2014 in News
Work Experience - Reporter John Phillips at the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon. John in a suit of Roman armour. (4447251)
AS A journalist I have come across situations that show that the pen can in certain circumstances be said to be mightier than the sword.
So there is a touch of irony in the fact that my career unexpectedly gave me the chance to try on the body armour and weapons that gladiators once used, as I toured the National Roman Legion Museum on the outskirts of Newport.
For a couple of hours, I swapped my notepad for a Roman tunic and immersed myself in the lifestyles of people who once led the most powerful empire on earth.
Like the employees of the museum, I was able to re-enact the trials and tribulations of soldiers who were stationed at what is now one of the oldest Roman fortifications in Wales.
I discover that museum work has evolved a great deal since as a child I toured the ruins of medieval castles in my homeland in France.
Museum staff seek to make history fun, not only by sharing knowledge with visitors great and small but also by allowing them to relive everyday situations Romans were involved in.
Museum manager Dai Price, 39, explained: “As a museum, our role is to provide a fun educational experience.
“We exist as a museum for people. That’s our main focus.
"We try to make the Roman period as engaging and entertaining as possible and provide them leisure activities.”
The museum in Caerleon, its amphitheatre and baths are a top destination for UK visitors.
The town boasts one of the oldest legionnaire bases in the UK, which was established in 75 AD.
It also has the oldest piece of writing in Europe, in the form of orders engraved on a piece of wood given to Roman soldiers.
The museum also keeps remains of a skull around 2,000 years old, which has been rebuilt into a realistic face with the help of researchers at Dundee University.
I learn that the museum often gets positive reviews on websites such as TripAdvisor.
The proof is in the pudding and Mr Price tells me that they had a record number of visitors last year with more than 72,000 entries.
Mr Price hints that the staff have been playing a major part in making the museum a successful tourist attraction and points out that it retained its Investors in People standard this year.
But besides the re-enactments about slaves and masters, gladiators and Roman soldiers, the museum still relies on traditional methods to pass on knowledge to visitors.
Schoolchildren are of course keen to try on the armours and role play, but the museum also provides a great deal of information about the lives of people in Caerleon in Roman times.
Visitor Ashley Avaient, 24, a finance officer from Barry, tells me the palpable armours that children can try on are what he enjoyed most.
But his friend Nicola Williams, 24, found that the information included alongside the displays were equally interesting.
The human biology student said: "I visited Caerleon as a child when I was in school.
"It's a different experience. I appreciate the reading more."
Meanwhile, the museum’s learning manager Danielle Cowell, 38, tells me how she is contemplating using 21st century aids to make the museum tours even more interesting.
Audio tour guides are already available but they are now working on creating interactive, visual displays that could appear on tablet computers as the crowds go through the displays inside the museum.
She said: “We would like to try different things and possibly augment reality. In the future we hope to do so.”
Another fascinating area to visit are the archives of the High Street museum.
I learn that around 1,000 exhibits are on display at the museum at any one time but many more are kept in the storage area of the tourist attraction.
Archivist Mark Lewis, 40, is here to preserve and help select some of the relics found in Caerleon including Roman currency, weapons and uniforms for temporary exhibitions at the museum.
He tells me his job is like that of a librarian, but for objects rather than books.
But he also works off site as a sort of “A&E medic” dispatched to recover finds in and around the town.
Hence last year, he was in charge of retrieving glass and clay cremation urns from the Roman period found in Lodge Road near the university.
I then return to the display area and get to speak to staff who take part in the lively re-enactments.
I realise that one of the most interesting parts of the tour for children is putting on the outfits gladiators and soldiers wore in Roman times.
The pupils also learn about nutrition and education during the Roman period.
Museum events and marketing officer Victoria Le Poidevin, 41, tells me: “They learn about the Romans but they learn in a fun way so they don’t know they are learning.
“They enjoy school trips and often come back on the weekend, so mum and dad learn through the children.”
Helena Robertson, 31, a teacher at Moor Park Prep School in Ludlow Shropshire, tells me: “We come here each year. Children love to try on the equipment and also the amphitheatre is fantastic. It’s great for them to see the artefacts.”
* The museum opens between 10amand 5pm on Monday to Saturday and from 2pm to 5pm on Sundays. Admission is free. For more information, call 029 2057 3550.
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