The spectacular Shield Boss will be the star of an exhibition of some of the best Roman finds in Britain when it returns next month to the region where it was found.
Now on loan from the British Museum in London, the shield centrepiece, which dates back to the early 2nd century AD and was found near the mouth of the River Tyne in 1866, is going on display at Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields from July 17.
Sharing the limelight in The Glory of Rome are five of the finest pieces of the Arbeia collection – all local finds and classed as internationally significant in terms of our understanding of Roman Britain, its army and empire. They include the Regina tombstone, the marker made by a husband, originally from Syria, for his late British wife, a former slave who came from the south east; and the Victor tombstone, commemorating another slave, this time a freed one from North Africa who once belonged to a soldier from Spain.
They are two of the best Romano-British tombstones in Britain, demonstrating the cosmopolitan nature of the port in Roman times, with the Regina example being unique in Britain as it features an inscription in Aramaic.
The other exhibits are a sword hoard and a ring-mail suit.
The Shield Boss is also considered one of the best of the few surviving examples of the approximately 1.5m shield-bosses made for legionary soldiers across the Roman Empire. It is known to have belonged to a legionary soldier called Junius Dubitatus and would have protected his hand during battle. The ring-mail suit is also considered the most complete and best preserved in the country. Most of this type of armour, which would have been worn by auxiliary soldiers, are usually only found in small, corroded fragments.
This one has been kept in a remarkable state of preservation thanks to its being lost in a great fire that burnt down the barrack block on the grounds of Arbeia where it would have been stored.
The sword exhibit, meanwhile, is a very rare example of the Roman weapon with a double herringbone pattern built into the blade. This sword was deliberately buried along with some other swords and a decorated belt under the fort wall, and is one of the earliest examples of its type, as well as being one of very few blades recovered from inside the Roman Empire.
Excavation work continues at Arbeia Roman Fort, which was built around AD160 and forms part of the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage site, to try to piece together more information about life in the Roman Empire. Geoff Woodward, museum manager, said: “Every single item highlights what life was like living on the edge of the Roman Empire and shows the wonderful craftsmanship of the era in all its glory.
“I hope visitors will also take a look or even get involved in the live excavations taking place at the fort this summer as we are still uncovering amazing Roman archaeology at the site.”
The Glory of Rome will run at Arbeia Roman Fort from July 17 until December 12. Admission is free to the exhibition, fort and museum, which are open 10am-5pm Monday to Friday; 11am-4pm on Saturday and 1pm-4pm, Sunday. Visit www.arbeiaromanfort.org.uk for more information about the summer events programme there. For more information about the excavation work and how to get involved visit www.hadrianswallquest.co.uk