Sarmatian cavalryman tombstone

Contributed by Grosvenor Museum

Tombstone of a Sarmatian cavalryman discovered in the north wall of the city of Chester. © Grosvenor Museum, Chester

This tombstone would have been painted in bright colours when it was first made.This tombstone is thought to be dedicated to a Sarmatian, a nomadic people from the area which is now southern Ukraine and who were compelled to send men to fight in the legions after they were defeated by Marcus Aurelius in AD175.

The cavalryman is shown in his armour and distinctive conical helmet. The missing portion of the stone would have shown that the rider is holding a dragon standard, for which the Sarmatian cavalry were known and feared. It consisted of a bronze dragon's head, with wide fanged jaws, mounted on top of a long pole. The back of the head was open, and fastened to a long tube of brightly coloured fabric.

When the horseman rode into battle at full speed the wind rushed into the dragon's mouth, filling out the tail and making terrifying shrieking sound.

The stone is part of a large collection discovered in the north wall of the city in the late 19th century. The collection highlights the amazing diversity in the Roman Army with soldiers being drawn from all over the Roman Empire mixing together and moving far from their homes and they are vital pieces of evidence helping to piece together life in the Roman fortress of Deva.

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