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South Tyneside Guide – Arbeia Roman Fort

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Here is an extract from the latest 2017 guide to South Tyneside…

Arbeia Roman Fort Free South Tyneside Visitor Guide 2017

History In The Making

Did you know that the Roman Emperor Severus once stayed at Arbeia Roman Fort? South Tyneside has a rich and captivating cultural history, and its museums are paving the way with their engaging exhibits and technological innovations.

From Roman military defence to coal mining and ship building, South Tyneside has been at the heart of a number of key moments of social and industrial expansion, and this fascinating history is celebrated in two of the area’s museums and historic sites – Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum and South Shields Museum & Art Gallery. Watch a gladiator fight, pay a visit to a Roman barracks and then immerse yourself in works by some of the finest 20th century painters – all right here in South Tyneside.

The Final Frontier

Dating back to 160 AD, Arbeia Roman Fort is one of the most important heritage sites in the UK. The former garrison once provided military supplies to troops stationed along Hadrian’s Wall and was an important coastal defence. So much so that Emperor Severus stationed himself there during his Scottish campaigns in the 3rd century – “and wherever the Emperor was is considered to be the centre of the Roman Empire,” Geoff Woodward, the Museum Manager, adds. It is now an immersive attraction where visitors of all ages can learn more about this crucial period of history and it’s just a few minutes’ walk from South Shields seafront.

The star attraction of the museum is the archaeological remains uncovered from on-site excavations. “It’s one of the best collections from Roman Britain,” Geoff says. Among the artefacts are a complete ringmail suit which was left behind during a fire at the barracks, jet jewellery and the tombstone of a southern slave named Reginia. “Her husband came from Barates in Syria so the gravestone has script in Latin and Arabic,” Geoff explains. “Arbeia was a cosmopolitan place.”

In 2017 you can see these local finds displayed at Arbeia alongside international treasures in the exciting Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition, an in-depth look at the life of the Roman cavalry which is being held in venues across the full 150-mile stretch of Hadrian’s Wall. “We’ve got two star loans,” Geoff explains, “a cavalry helmet and a cavalry sword that have come from Germany and Austria dating from 150AD.”

A trip to Arbeia Roman Fort is a fully immersive experience. You can explore the fort to discover where the various artefacts were unearthed and it’s one of the few places in the country where you can see full-size reconstructions of Roman buildings. Climb to the ramparts at the top of the reconstructed West Gate, and see for yourself how different life was for a soldier in barracks and a commanding officer in their more luxurious homes.

Thanks to new funding, the museum has recently introduced a Roman trail app (for iPhone and android) which leads visitors to Arbeia through South Shields town centre, marking historical milestones along the route. “It goes through North Marine Park so that you get that view over the river mouth and you can really understand the strategic location of Arbeia,” Geoff explains.

So grab your helmet and prepare to be transported back to Roman times. It seems that after almost 2,000 years, Arbeia Roman Fort is still paving the way.

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