The Roman material in the National Museum of Ireland forms a small but representative collection of roughly 1,200 items, extending from the monumental and decorative to everyday objects. The collection was assembled in the 19th and early 20th Centuries for the purposes of establishing the museum that was later to become the National Museum of Ireland. In many ways, therefore, the Roman collection is at the heart of the formation of today's Museum. The collection, which includes Byzantine and Etruscan material, is made up of gifts, bequests and purchases from collectors, as well as objects from excavations sponsored by the Museum. While some of the material that passed through the hands of collectors are without provenance, other important artefacts are from identified locations in Italy, Egypt, Cyprus and other parts of the Mediterranean. Of particular important are Roman objects excavated in Cyprus by H.H. Kitchener between 1881 - 1882; excavations carried out by the Egyptian Exploration Fund between 1901 and 1909; and excavations by the British School of Archaeology in 1912.
Architectural fragments include fragments of painted wall plaster, stucco fragments, floor mosaics, terracotta roof tile antefixes and marble commemorative plaques. Among the earliest stone objects is an Etruscan cinerary urn of sixth to fifth Century BC date. Other stone objects includes sculptures dating from the first Centuries BC and AD, such as decorated tomb fragments, heads, busts, and figures.
There is also a range of terracotta figures and bronze figurines, including Etruscan examples from the sixth to fifth Centuries BC. Roman bronze figurines from the first to second Centuries AD include representations of Venus and Hercules. Other bronze objects include a mirror, apothacary’s instruments, vessels, lamps, furniture fixings, scrapers, a key and a stamp. There is a large range of glass vessels including material from funerary and domestic contexts.
The pottery collection includes examples of Etruscan bowls from the sixth to fourth Centuries, while Roman ware, dating from the first to fourth Century AD, includes a range of vessel types such as bowls, dishes, jugs, amphorae and jars. A rich variety of ceramic lamps are also present.
There is also a wide-ranging collection of Roman coins, extending to Greek, Hellenistic as well as Byzantine examples, that in comparative terms form a comprehensive collection of good quality.
The collection contains good quality examples of jewellery, including earrings, brooches and finger rings. There are 109 textile fragments in the collection and the entire assemblage came from the excavation of Graeco-Roman rock-cut tombs at ancient Panopolis, Egypt. The collection contains the remains of tunics and other garments, bags and other textile objects dating to between the third and sixth Centuries AD. This was the period that followed the ending of Roman rule in Egypt but which predated the Islamic conquest of 641 AD.
When the collection was being assembled it was decided to obtain replicas of important Roman treasures such as the silver hoard from Hildesheim, Germany. Copies of busts, architectural fragments, bronze figures and objects and ivory plaques were also added to the collection and these have remained an important cultural asset of the Museum to this day.