Hadrian's Calvary: the Vindolanda Chamfron

Vindolanda museum is one of ten venues to host the Hadrian's Cavalry exhibition this year. They know a lot about the Roman cavalry at Vindolanda from the objects that have been found there and have produced a wealth of archaeological material that is uniquely well-preserved. The Hadrian's Cavalry exhibition at Vindolanda contains rare, ancient material that does not normally survive and has provided vital insight into who the cavalrymen were and what their daily lives involved, as well as shining a rare light onto the lives of the people around them. 

Vindolanda curator Barbara Birley sheds some light on one particular artefact in their Hadrian's Cavalry display, 

"One of the most beautiful cavalry objects to come from the Vindolanda collection is the almost complete Chamfron or horses ceremonial head mask. It is one of possibly 9 chamfrons to be found at Vindolanda and is the most complete. It is very similar to the one published in 1911 and found at Newstead, in Scotland. The Vindolanda example was found in 1987 and is made of cowhide with goat skin lining and is about 4-5mm thick. You can see by the illustrated reconstruction that it would have been a beautiful piece when new.


Most of the studded decorations have not survived or were removed in Roman times. A large round phalera was fixed to the forehead and a separate panel, presumably with name of horse, rider and unit, has been lost. On this example three of the small foil attachments in copper alloy survive. They are in the shape of ivy leaves with faces of Bacchus with the one missing possibly used as a mould for new attachment.

Unlike the Newstead example which had been deposited intact, the Vindolanda Chamfrons all show that the useful material was salvaged before they were discarded possibly for the making of new equipment. These objects would have been made to measure. The plan below of the Commanding officer's House dating to AD 100-105, marks where the Chamfrom was found as well as partial Chamfron and Chamfron offcuts showing that there is substantial evidence in this building that the chamfrons were worked on or probably made. Found near to this almost complete Chamfron was an offcut inscribed with ‘promised to Veledius’.

Veledius find.png



One of the Vindolanda tablets mentions Veldedius. These thin pieces of wood are the original correspondence of the people who lived at Vindolanda nearly 200 years ago. This tablet from Chrauttius to Veldedius is addressed to the ‘groom to the governor’ at Vindolanda, this could be the literal groom or more likely the governor’s special messenger or personal guard. We know from other tablets that the governor of Britain came to Vindolanda and stayed with Cerialis. It is likely that Veldedius was there around the same time.

Could the Chamfron belong to Veledius the governor’s groom?"


Don't miss Vindolanda's Chamfron Colouring Competition and inspire your little ones to get creative! Find out more here.

The main funder of Hadrian's Cavalry is the Arts Council England's Museum Resilience Fund.

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