Peter Connolly. Artist and Scholar
Peter Connolly’s first book The Roman Army was a complete revelation in 1975. He presented the soldiery in such a thoroughly researched and utterly convincing way. I had a commission, soon after I got my copy, to illustrate a book by R.J. Unstead, then a famous author of history books for children, which included Caesar’s landing on the Dover beaches.
Unstead rejected my Connolly Romans in their mail shirts, with a note describing the Lorica Segmentata which he thought they should be wearing – such was the general state of ignorance even among historians before Peter’s influence spread amongst us. R.J. gave in to the inevitable when faced with Connolly scholarship.
Greek Armies followed two years later and introduced me, at least, to linen armour. More Roman military subjects followed. His cutaway reconstructed Roman buildings were always particularly appealing, making Roman life look neat and tidy and somehow rather British. A seriously useful book on the Jews at the time of Jesus included a startling explanation of crucifixion technique. Later work on ‘realising’ the Greek Myths expanded our minds to the sensuality and visual possibilities of female Mycenaean garb.
He was not only a brilliant illustrator with a style of such luminous clarity and accuracy that absolutely no detail was left unconsidered, he was also a pioneer in reconstructing and using classical gear. His work on the Roman saddle springs to mind, revealing through practical use what the Roman cavalryman was capable of without stirrups.
If Peter set himself the life goal of making the reality of ancient life better known to the general public then his life was a resounding and glorious success. Those of us who try to recreate the ancient past in pictures owe him an enormous debt of gratitude and we salute his passing.