Bronze figurine of a Moorish cavalryman

British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

This bronze figurine, originally seated on a horse, shows a Moor from the Roman province of Mauretania in North Africa. He has distinctive dreadlocks, a drooping moustache and a full beard. His eyes appear very lifelike because they are inlaid with silver. He wears leather boots and a short cloak over a tunic, and he holds his round shield in front of him. His right hand, now broken, would probably have held a spear.

Moorish cavalrymen rode without bridles and as early as the second century BC they were famous for their nimble horsemanship. They were deployed as specialist units in the Roman army, and a detachment is clearly depicted in one of the sculpted battle scenes on Trajan's Column in Rome (erected about AD 113). There they are shown fighting alongside Roman troops in the Emperor Trajan's Dacian Wars (AD 101–105).

An altar inscription tells us that one of these Moorish units, the numerus Maurorum Aurelianorum, was in Britain from the third to the fourth century AD. They were based at the fort of Aballava (Burgh-by-Sands) at the western end of Hadrian's Wall, and were probably brought over by the Emperor Septimius Severus (reigned AD 193–211), himself a North African.

'My initial response is to the contextualisation of the figure in Roman Britain. I would like to know more about the relative cosmopolitan make up of society at that time and the influence on the UK gene pool. Visually the figure is reminiscent of Rastafarians, with its apparent dreadlocked hair and beard. I would like to see more information, perhaps an exhibition on the range and variety of hairstyles within African cultures and their meanings. That this figure was a cavalryman demonstrates there was a high level of military competence in Africa at the period which this figure represents.'

Stuart Taylor, of English/Caribbean/Black-British origin

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  • Title: Bronze figurine of a Moorish cavalryman
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 63.00mm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Subject: equestrian
  • Registration number: 1856,0701.19
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot London
  • Period/culture: Romano-British
  • Material: copper alloy; silver
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Roach Smith, Charles