A Day on the Town

Hello again! Today was an exciting day for us, as we headed out to South Shields to see the Roman fort Arbeia, before heading out to Newcastle at the Great North Museum (Elizabeth’s blog post will focus on the Great North Museum in detail, so make sure to read her post too!).

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Avery giving a presentation on Roman defenses and gates in front of the reconstructed West Gate at Arbeia.

Our first stop of the day was the site of the Roman fort Arbeia. While this site was not as fully excavated as some of the sites we have visited, such as Chesters, what made this site unique was its reconstructions. Arbeia houses a reconstruction of the West Gate with its double arches, the praetorium—commanding officer’s house—with its painted walls, and the barracks for the soldiers. These reconstructions are incredibly helpful in order to visualize just how large these military structures would have been. While the West Gate and the praetorium were much more spacious than I expected, the barracks were tiny. Can you believe that eight men would have been housed in one of these rooms?

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From left to right: the reconstructed West Gate, a centurion’s room in the barrack (marginally larger than the soldiers’ rooms), and the decorated hallway of the praetorium (commanding officer’s house).

 

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                                                            The Latin inscription of a gravestone from Arbeia. Can you find the second inscription?

We followed a tour of the site with a visit to the museum. One particular noteworthy artifact was an inscribed gravestone. This inscription demonstrates the extent of travel that was possible in the Roman Empire, and instilled in us the importance of detailed observation in interpreting artifacts. The inscription reads “to the spirits of the departed (and) of Regina, freedwoman and wife of Barates of Palmyra, Catuvellauni by birth, died aged 30.” This tells us that the gravestone was for a woman who was from a native British tribe and was set up by her Palmyrian husband. Furthermore, beneath the Latin inscription was a Palmyrian one. As Dr. Meyer explained, the inclusion of both inscriptions can give us a great deal of information about the intended audience. The deliberate inclusion of inscriptions in two languages may indicate that there were individuals capable of reading such an inscription in Roman Britain, and/or individuals potentially incapable of reading the Roman alphabet, which could potentially indicate the presence of a Palmyrian community in Britain. This raises interesting questions about travel and identity in the Roman empire, and certainly gave us much to think about on our way to the next stop of the day.

 

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Our senior student Prem wearing the Western flag at the top of the reconstructed West Gate at Arbeia.

 

Of course, before leaving South Shields we had to capitalize on the photo opportunities presented by the reconstructed two story tower over the West Gate. To the left, you can see the inner edge of the platform between the two towers of the gate, the excavated area of the ground behind the gate, the reconstructed barracks in the distance, (some residential housing of the modern city even further in the distance), and of course, our senior student Prem modelling the Western flag as a cape.

 

 

Our next stop was the Great North Museum in Newcastle.  While the Great North Museum had some wonderful alters including ones for Mithraism (a mystery cult from the Middle East that spread throughout the empire) and an impressive replica of Hadrian’s wall, my favourite items were the more personal ones: the jewelry and the cooking equipment. Below is a compilation of my favourite pieces of jewelry, and I think you could even wear these pieces today. Please comment below and let us know if you have a favourite from these pieces too.

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My favourite pieces of jewelry from the South Shields and Great North Museums. From left to right: glass hair pins, a decorated metal pin, painted bead bracelet, and a broach.

 

 

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My modern key and an ancient key are remarkably similar.

Likewise, it’s fascinating to think that certain household objects haven’t changed at all in 1800 years. Look at these keys and colanders! For the colander especially, you can see the fine holes if you look at the pattern of shadows beneath the artifact.

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An ancient metal colander that looks almost identical to the one in my kitchen!

After finishing this second museum visit and third stop of the day, our class spent several hours exploring the city of Newcastle. We greatly appreciated the beautiful buildings- from historic Medieval towers to churches to modern architecture. Today has been one of many days this week that have provided us with the opportunity to learn about Roman history and the modern cities in England, which truly is a unique learning experience.

 

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A brief compilation of the buildings we saw in Newcastle.

-Victoria

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