Award for villa … at last

WHAT was the poshest house on the banks of the Tyne has won an award – 1,600 years after it was built.

WHAT was the poshest house on the banks of the Tyne has won an award – 1,600 years after it was built.

The Third Century commander’s villa at Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields was reconstructed based on detailed finds from a decade of excavations on the site of the original building.

Now the venture has won the Best Archaeological Research Project Award in the Current Archaeology Awards 2009.

Paul Bidwell, senior manager for Tyne Wear Museums Archaeology, said: “We are delighted that our work has been recognised at a national level.

“This was a sumptuous, luxurious villa modelled on an eastern Mediterranean town house.

“The commander must have been a person of high rank and influence.”

The villa had two dining rooms – one heated for the winter – its own bath suite, and sets of rooms for the commander and his family and another for guests.

“Both the outside courtyard and interior rooms had painted decorations,” added Mr Bidwell.

“The house was quite an important discovery for the later Roman period.”

This is when the efficiency and general character of the Roman army were believed to be in decline. But the villa indicates that the fort must have been occupied by an elite unit – probably the Tigris Bargemen – which originally came from Iraq.

“They would have been the main naval unit patrolling the North East coast to prevent the Picts from raiding along the east coast,” said Mr Bidwell.

“The big threat at this time was sea-borne and the fort at South Shields must have assumed much greater importance.”

Tracey Dixon, South Tyneside Council lead member for culture and wellbeing, said: “Arbeia is such a wonderful place and gives a fantastic insight into the history and heritage of South Tyneside. Its fascinating reconstructions and displays perfectly illustrate the living conditions of soldiers.

“The award is testament to all the archaeologists who have dedicated their time to finding out more about the history of Arbeia and helping to ensure the site is well-preserved for future generations.”

A major sponsor of the annual excavations at South Shields is the American charitable Earthwatch foundation, which supports natural and heritage environmental projects.

It sends up to 100 volunteer excavators a year to the fort.

Arbeia has also received a £50,000 funding boost from SITA Trust to support improvement works at the archaeological site and visitor attraction.

This will include the laying out of the excavated remains of barracks and part of the main road running through the fort.

This was a sumptuous, luxurious villa modelled on an eastern Mediterranean town house

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer