The Iron Age and Roman collections contain around 750,000 objects. Among them are some of the finest examples surviving from Roman Britain. These include: the tombstone of the Roman centurion Marcus Favonius Facillis, the tombstone of a Roman auxiliary cavalry soldier Longinus Sdapeze, the Gosbecks Mercury (a bronze statue measuring 53.5 cm in height), the Colchester Sphinx (a stone sculpture that would have adorned an elaborate Roman tomb) and the ‘Colchester Vase’ (a ceramic vessel depicting four gladiators and a hunting scene).
Extensive cemeteries grew up around Roman Colchester. As a reflection of the wealth and status of the town many of the graves were lavishly furnished with objects. The cemetery areas were largely unaffected by modern development until about half way through the 19th century when Colchester began to expand significantly outside the area of the Roman town walls. Luckily a number of vigilant collectors preserved and recorded many of the remains as they were uncovered. As a result of the recovery of this vast quantity of burial material the museum has the largest collection of complete Roman glass, and almost certainly, ceramic vessels from any single locality in Britain. In terms of quantity the same also applies to a range of other Roman artefact types.
One of the most famous grave groups came from the so-called ‘Child’s Grave’. It was found in the garden of George Joslin, the most famous of the 19th century collectors, and contained the cremated remains of a child, along with a unique set of terracotta figurines of animals and grotesque human figures, a hoard of coins of the emperor Claudius, the remains of a couch decorated with bone inlay, and a range of pottery vessels.