Stories of life in Rome, Byzantium, the Near East, and Nubia vibrantly told through notable artifacts and stunning new videos
On Friday, July 1, 2011, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) opens a suite of new permanent galleries, reintroducing its visitors to the ancient civilizations of Rome, Byzantium and Nubia. Several never-before-seen objects are featured while others have been unseen by the public since previous galleries were closed in 2004 during the Renaissance ROM expansion project. To showcase these remarkable empires as never before, extensive new videos, shot on location, are featured alongside impressive artifacts in this new, dynamic space.
Located on the Museum’s Level 3 Centre Block and Philosophers’ Walk Wing, the ROM’s four new galleries comprise the Eaton Gallery of Rome, including the Bratty Exhibit of Etruria; the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of Byzantium; the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of Rome and the Near East; and the Galleries of Africa: Nubia.
“The ROM is pleased to bring these significant empires, which span more than 2,500 years of history from Europe, Africa, and West Asia, back to life for our visitors through notable artifacts and compelling video based on ROM research," said Janet Carding, ROM Director and CEO. "As we explore the ancient civilisations in these stunning new galleries, we can see their lasting influence on today’s architecture, language, theatre, law, religion, and, of course, art."
“The Government of Canada is proud to have contributed to the creation of these new galleries, which have allowed the ROM to bring ancient history to life by showcasing their hidden treasures and latest acquisitions,” said the Honourable Denis Lebel, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. “An investment in our history is an investment in our future. The federal government recognizes the importance in funding cultural infrastructure projects that contribute to an understanding and appreciation of arts and culture in Canada.”
Dianne Lister, newly appointed President & Executive Director of the ROM’s Governors, added, “The ROM is deeply grateful to the Government of Canada’s Infrastructure Stimulus Fund for its contribution to this project. We also thank longtime volunteers and supporters Joey and Toby Tanenbaum, Thor and The Hon. Nicole Eaton, Rudolph P. Bratty and family, as well as an anonymous donor who generously supported the development of these new galleries. Their extraordinary philanthropic commitment will leave a legacy of support benefitting all Museum visitors."
“These new galleries bring together many favourite objects, including a majestic marble bust of Co-Emperor Lucius Verus, which ROM visitors will remember from the previous spaces, now beautifully augmented by outstanding recent acquisitions such as the centrepiece of the Tanenbaum Gallery of Byzantium: an exceptionally rare ciborium (altar canopy) dated to AD 550. Visitors will enjoy rediscovering these great ancient civilizations in this stunning new environment,” said Paul Denis, Assistant Curator in the Greek and Roman section of the ROM’s World Cultures department.
Eaton Gallery of Rome
The new Eaton Gallery of Rome relates one thousand years of eventful history, putting on view more than 500 pieces from the ROM’s remarkable holdings of classical antiquities, the largest such collection in Canada. Spanning Pre-Roman times (about 900 - 300 BC) to Republican Rome (509 - 27 BC) and the Roman Empire (27 BC - AD 476), the displays of Early Italic and Roman artifacts feature outstanding examples of portrait sculpture, ceramics, metalwork, and funerary objects. The Eaton Gallery also includes tomb reliefs and intricately carved sarcophagi, military weapons and helmets, a gladiatorial helmet, terracotta figurines, wall paintings, mosaics, coins, large amphorae, and exquisite pieces of gold and silver jewellery. The displays offer a comprehensive survey of Etruscan and Roman culture throughout the Mediterranean World, extending to Roman Britain and Roman Egypt.
Fifteen major exhibits and themes highlight various aspects of life in the Roman world, comparing values in different regions of the empire, telling the story of Roman expansion, and illustrating the manners in which Roman ideas influenced local cultures. These exhibit and themes include: Bratty Exhibit of Etruria; Romano Family Exhibit of the Struggle for Italy (with a focus on the Roman Army); Italic Cultures in Pre-Roman Italy; Games and Entertainment in the Roman World; Britain and Ireland to the Time of the Romans; The Foundation Myth of Rome; The Roman Republic and Republican Roman Values; Roman Funerary Customs; The Romans in Egypt; Roman Portraiture; Roman Sculptural Techniques; Trade and Commerce in the Roman Empire; Roman Pottery; Bronze and Silver in Roman Daily Life; and Imperial Roman Coinage (showcasing a complete chronology of Roman rulers and portraits of every Emperor).
Among the highlights of the Eaton Gallery of Rome is an impressive marble bust of Emperor Lucius Verus, dated to Imperial Rome (AD 160 – 165), as well as a terracotta lamp portraying a victorious charioteer steering a four-horse chariot in a race at the Circus Maximus (from 1st century Imperial Rome) and a denarius (coin) depicting the wreathed head of Julius Caesar from Republican Rome (about 44 BC).
The Bratty Exhibit of Etruria is a featured exhibit within the Eaton Gallery of Rome. While the origin of the Etruscans is still uncertain, it is known that they populated the area known today as Tuscany just after 800 BC. Noted for its military might, engineering, town planning, and artisan skills, Etruscan society peaked from about 550 BC until its king was expelled from Rome in 509 BC.
The society’s lasting legacy is seen in its terracotta and bronze works, demonstrating a unique and highly skilled craftsmanship. Some of the most significant examples of the Etruscans' work include a terracotta cinerary chest (about 225 – 150 BC) and a number of terracotta votives, designed to resemble several different body parts. Left in the temples of Etruscans, these were apparently intended to combat illness. Other featured objects in the gallery include excellent examples of gold jewellery, ceramics, terracotta sculpture, and bronze mirrors.
Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of Byzantium
Through a rich display of artifacts, the new Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of Byzantium traces the long history of Byzantium, illustrating its enduring legacy. Ornate jewellery and church frescoes are showcased, as is an extensive array of other religious objects, exquisite glasswork, coins depicting successive emperors, elaborately carved architectural elements, and a stunning floor mosaic that emphasizes the Early Byzantine taste for intricate and colourful designs.
Many examples of beautiful jewellery including a woman’s silver armband from AD 500 – 600 are displayed in the Tanenbaum Gallery. Consisting of four medallions, the amulet is inscribed with “Mother of God help Anna. Grace.” Among the other highlights of the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of Byzantium is an Eastern Mediterranean silver reliquary casket, the lid of which depicts the Tree of Life in the Garden of Paradise and is dated to AD 500 – 600.
No other object in the new permanent galleries is as prominent as the Tanenbaum Gallery of Byzantium’s Early Byzantine ciborium. Dated from about AD 500 - 600, the extremely rare limestone ciborium, an altar canopy that once stood in a church, is one of the most significant Byzantine objects ever offered to a Canadian museum. No other ciborium dating to this time period has survived from the Middle East. A treasure of international importance, its recent acquisition greatly enhances the ROM’s holdings, already Canada’s foremost collection of Byzantine art. The ciborium now rightfully takes its place as the centerpiece of the country’s most important gallery devoted to Byzantine art, installed on a seven-foot stand over a display case containing a silver liturgical service.
Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of Rome and the Near East
The new Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of Rome and the Near East examines Roman expansion into lands further east during the Republican and Imperial periods. Illustrating the Roman appreciation for “the good life” and extravagant living, a wide range of exceptional artifacts are displayed in the Tanenbaum Gallery of Rome and the Near East. The selection includes carved tomb reliefs from Palmyra, stunning wall paintings from the Syrian-Lebanese coast, opulent Imperial Roman jewellery, coins minted at Antioch, and magnificent Eastern Mediterranean floor mosaics. Featured on buildings’ floors, ceilings and walls, mosaics depicted scenes of nature, gods, goddesses, and geometric patterns, through the use of countless tiny tesserae (stones).
Galleries of Africa: Nubia
The ROM’s Galleries of Africa: Nubia traces the dynamic history of Nubia from about 4500 BC to AD 1323, and highlights one Nubian
centre, Meroe, the capital city of the great African empire of Kush. Gallery lead curator Dr. Krzysztof Grzymski, Vice President in charge of the ROM’s World Cultures department and Senior Curator in its Egypt and Nubia section, stated, “This compact new space delivers a powerful statement on the magnificence of ancient Nubia, a civilization still being learned about to this day. I am proud to advise that a good number of the Gallery’s showcased objects have resulted from the ROM’s past and ongoing archaeological work in the area.”
The ROM’s Galleries of Africa: Nubia comprises four main exhibit areas: e of Kush; Meroe: the Royal City of Kush; the End of the Kushite Empire and Religious Change in Nubia, each illustrating that while the arts, religion and culture of Nubia were greatly influenced by its northern neighbours, they also display uniquely African features. The ROM’s collection of Nubian artifacts includes significant examples of pottery and small objects used in daily life. Artifacts relating to the Napatan Kings of the early Kushite Empire are displayed in the Gallery, including intricately inscribed shawabtis, dated to about 590 – 560 BC. These magical figures, in a practice borrowed from the Egyptians, were found in the pyramid tombs of the Napatan kings and were thought to take on the work of the deceased. Extensive displays of objects from the Meroitic and post-Meroitic kingdoms, including the Christian period of about AD 550 to 1323, in turn leading to the Islamic era, are also showcased.
The magnificence of ancient Nubia is only now being fully recognized thanks to recent and ongoing archaeological discoveries through the integral work of the ROM and its Senior Curator Dr. Krzysztof Grzymski. Since 1999, Dr. Grzymski has led the ROM’s Nubian Expedition in conjunction with the University of Khartoum (Sudan), with the team’s main focus on Meroe, the ancient city on the Nile, and once the capital of Sudan. On June 25, 2011, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) added the site of Meroe to its list of the World Heritage Sites.
The ROM is one of the few museums actively involved in excavation, restoration and preservation at Nubian sites in Egypt and Sudan, including curatorial research on the history of Kush in the Sudan as documented in ROM-produced videos featured in the Gallery.
Numerous engaging audio-visual installations bring history vibrantly to life, simply with the touch of a button. Extensive video fieldwork undertaken by ROM videographers and curators in locations as diverse as Sudan, Syria, Italy and Turkey resulted in the production of compelling stories right at the source. Interspersed throughout the suite of galleries, eight-minute documentaries deliver overviews and context for the Roman, Byzantine, and Nubian displays, while 44 shorter vignettes provide more specific information about particular objects and themes. These vibrant 90-second clips inform about the art, culture, religion, warfare and technology of these cultures, enabling visitors to select the topics they wish to explore in an interactive manner.
The design of the galleries reflects the ROM’s strong emphasis on accessibility for all visitors. A selection of tactile reproductions on labeled Braille and raised font plinths are displayed in the galleries. Touch screens have been installed to offer an alternative and engaging way to learn about the collections and the stories they tell. Further complementing the objects, Braille and large print tactile booklets featuring tactile graphics of numerous highlighted pieces, as well as a large-print brochure, are available for loan at the ROM’s admission desk.
In celebration of the galleries’ opening, families are encouraged to Carpe Diem! (seize the day) on Saturday, July 2. From 11am to 4pm, crafts, games, dressing up and special performances will be enjoyed as the Museum hosts the ROM Family Toga Party. All events are included with ROM general admission.
On Sunday, September 25, the ROM will host an exciting symposium on Ancient Nubia. Featuring a panel of internationally renowned scholars, including the ROM’s own Dr. Krzysztof Grzymski, the all- day public event is free with paid ROM general admission.
Following stops in ancient Rome and Nubia, Food Studio Café, the ROM's casual family eatery, offers daily pasta and pizza specials, while a wide selection of African and Roman-inspired merchandise is available in the ROM Museum Store, located on Level 1.
In January 2010, as part of its Economic Action Plan, the Government of Canada provided the ROM with generous funding from the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund to support the development of these new galleries.
The Eaton Gallery of Rome is named in honour of Thor and The Hon. Nicole Eaton in recognition of their generous support. The Eaton family and the Royal Ontario Museum have shared a long and illustrious history, spanning multiple generations. For additional information on the Eaton Family’s relationship with the ROM, visit www.rom.on.ca/exhibitions/wculture/eatonfamily.php
The Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of Byzantium and the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of Rome and the Near East are named for Joey and Toby Tanenbaum, who have been deeply involved with the Royal Ontario Museum for many years, both as donors and volunteers. For additional information on the Tanenbaum Family’s relationship with the ROM, visit www.rom.on.ca/exhibitions/wculture/joey_toby_tanenbaum.php
The Bratty Exhibit of Etruria is named in honour of Rudolph P. Bratty and family in recognition of their generous support of the Royal Ontario Museum. For additional information on the Bratty Family’s relationship with the ROM, visit
The ROM Governors would also like to thank the following donors who have made this suite of galleries possible: Bram Appel and Bluma Appel, O.C., the DeGasperis Family, Margo and Ernest Howard, Assuntino and Angelina Ricciuto and Moira and Alfredo Romano, and an anonymous donor.