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Violence and War
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Violence is a constant in human life, however regrettable, and objects used in war and violent sports, or in celebrating or commemorating war, martial virtues and violence, necessarily form a significant part of the Museum’s collection. Indeed, some of the most popular exhibits in the Museum have a martial connection, such as the set of Samurai armour or the crocodile armour from Roman Egypt. Considerable wealth and skill have been invested in making these items, whether for display or practical use, and of course numerous powerful works of art have been created in response to the strong emotions aroused by the experience of violence.

There is a huge variety of swords, other weapons and pieces of armour in the Museum from across the world, only a few of which are included in these pages. Some are evidence of great expertise, such as that of the earliest Japanese sword makers, while others demonstrate the technical advances made over the centuries. Many highly crafted objects associated with war were intended for display rather than use, but others were employed in actual combat.

Violence and War

Japanese Samurai armour


Many cultures over the millennia have celebrated the skills, virtues and roles of their warriors, whether as brave individuals or invincible armies. Commemorating the conquests and victories of kings and emperors is another common feature. Some of the earliest images of the rulers of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia show them as victors in battle, and this became a standard way for these rulers to be depicted for thousands of years. However, as the tiles from Chertsey in this chapter demonstrate, the image of the victorious king slaying his enemy can sometimes be a lie. These and other images also show the often close connection between a person’s position in society and his role as a warrior, whether it be the medieval knight, as seen in the seal of Richard Fitzwalter, or the hoplite in an ancient Greek city. This connection might be the major factor defining someone’s rank or social status, if only a limited proportion of the population identify themselves primarily as warriors.

However, it is also true that, in many cultures around the world, carrying weapons or being a warrior has been seen (and may still be seen) as simply part of being an adult.

The objects in this chapter and indeed many others across the Museum demonstrate the continuing role that violence and war have played in human history. But there are other objects, such as the Throne of Weapons, which serve to remind us that humans can celebrate peace, as well as war.

Violence and War

Greek black-figure amphora




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