The ROM expands: Roman and Byzantine Galleries to open in Toronto – Nubia gallery is likely

Yesterday was an exciting day for those in Toronto who are interested in archaeology.

Heritage Key learned that the Terracotta Warriors exhibit, coming to Toronto in June, will be the largestwarriors exhibitever to hit North America. No terracotta spectacle on this scale has ever come to these shores!

But thats not all. Earlier in the day there was an announcement made by Canadas infrastructure minister John Baird.

He said that the Canadian government will commit $2.75 million towards the construction of new Roman and Byzantine galleries at the Royal Ontario Museum.It will also be usedinrevamping thebat cave,” – a facsimile of a bat cave that is geared towards children.

The Roman and Byzantine galleries went off-line when the museum was expanded around the year 2005. Plans have been in place to build new and expanded ones but the money hasnt been there.

That is until now.

The federal governments pledge, combined with the museums fundraising, means that construction can begin on these two galleries with an opening expected next year.

Heritage Key has also learned that the museum is pushing hard for construction to start on a new Nubia gallery. They also hope to start work on a gallery dedicated to the Eastern Roman Empire.

The museums vice-president for gallery development, Dr. Dan Rahimi, said that he wants both Eastern Rome and Nubia to open up at the same time as Rome and Byzantine. I hope to open both those galleries at the same time that we open the Roman galleries… I cant commit to that yet but the museum is really trying to do that and well see if we can make them (the galleries) on the same schedule.

Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, president and executive director of the museums board of directors, said that the museums fundraising is strong and she is very optimistic that galleries for Nubia and the Eastern Roman Empire will eventually be built. She isnt sure, however, when that will be.

Paul Denis was also gun-ho on this. He has curatorial responsibility for the Eastern Roman Empire exhibit. Im sure we can bridge it because it would be great to build them all at once, be he added that he cant make any promises.

What will be on display?

In short, wonderful things the new gallery space will let the museum take artefacts out that were previously in storage. It will also let them put back old favourites that were on displaybefore the renovations. It’s estimated that only 5 percent of the museum’s artefactsare being viewed by the publicright now.

The centrepiece of the Roman gallery will be the museums collection of 19 Roman marble portraits. They are, absolutely fabulous portraits of living Romans at the time – fabulous marbles, said Denis. One of them is of the emperor Lucius Verus (AD 130-169) seen in a pictureat the top ofthis article.

The Byzantine gallery will have a 12 feet by 20 feet, mosaic Denis said – that will be a key part of the Byzantine gallery.

Its got geometric patterns around the border and then it has baskets and fruit and then in the centre it has a Rooster surrounded by a vine scroll.

It was created around AD 325-350, around the time that the emperor Constantine founded Constantinople.

Unfortunately I dont a picture of it yet. The museum is searching for one that we can use on Heritage Key. As soon as one is available Ill post it.

The Eastern Roman Empire exhibit will feature artefacts east of Italy that date to before Byzantine times. These will include jewellery and ceramics. Its the first time the museum has had a gallery dedicated especially to this element of Roman history.

A Nubia Gallery at the ROM

The Nubian gallery will have its own treats – once it gets the go-ahead.

The museumis only two or three galleries in North America that has Nubian material, said Dr. Rahimi. Readers may remember Heritage Keys story about Dr. Pamela Rose and her discovery of an ancient dark age settlement at Qasr Ibrim. She flew into Toronto specifically to examine the museums collection – which is how I got the interview.

Only two or three galleries in North America (have) Nubian material

Dr. Rahimi said that the Nubian gallery will cover the full stretch of the regions history, from prehistory onwards. This will includesthe timeperiod of Taharqa a 25th dynasty pharaoh of Egypt whose one ton statue was found recently deep in Sudan.

Artefacts from the kingdom of Meroe (3rd century BC 3rd century AD) will also be presented. Epigraphers studying the language used at this time (Meroitic) often go to the ROM to study its collection. We have a lot of inscribed rocks and things that people come here to study, said Rahimi.

As Nubia entered medieval times the people converted to Christianity in large numbers. Nubia was a very early Christian empire, said Rahimi. We show that with artefacts that are from church contexts.