Together the Iron Age and Roman collections at Colchester contain approximately 750,000 objects.
In AD 43 the Emperor Claudius invaded Britain. Claudius marched triumphal into Camulodunum (Colchester), viewed by the Romans as the centre of power in Britain. Over the next 350 years Colchester was a centre of Roman power and culture. Despite the destruction of the city by Boudica in AD 60 Colchester flourished as a religious and industrial centre until the 4thcentury AD.
Star items from the collection include: the tombstone of the Roman centurion Marcus Favonius Facillis, the tombstone of a Roman auxiliary cavalry soldier Longinus Sdapeze, a bronze statue known as the ‘Gosbecks Mercury’, the ‘Colchester Sphinx’, a stone sculpture that would have adorned an elaborate Roman tomb and the ‘Colchester Vase’, a ceramic vessel depicting gladiators and a hunting scene .
The wealth and status of Roman Colchester is reflected in many of the graves which were lavishly furnished with objects. Modern development didn’t disturb these cemetery areas until the mid-1800s when Colchester began to expand significantly outside the area of the Roman town walls. Luckily a number of collectors preserved and recorded many of the remains as they were uncovered. As a result of the recovery of this vast quantity of burial material the museum has the largest collection of complete Roman glass and ceramic vessels from any single place in Britain.
One of the most famous grave groups came from the so-called ‘Child’s Grave’. It was found in the garden of George Joslin, a famous collector in the 1800s. It contained the cremated remains of a child, along with a unique set of terracotta figurines of animals and grotesque human figures, a hoard of coins of the emperor Claudius, the remains of a couch decorated with bone inlay, and a range of pottery vessels.