A roman soldier spared no expense when it came to the shield he would wield in battle.
Junius Dubitatus opted for a coating of silver on the copper alloy boss on his shield.
“Soldiers had to buy their own weapons and it must have cost him quite a lot of money,” said Alex Croom, keeper of archaeology at Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums.
Junius must also have been both proud and protective of his prized possession as he punched his name into the metal, and also included that he was under the command of Julius Magnus.
The shield boss is the star attraction at The Glory of Rome: Arbeia’s Greatest Treasures exhibition at Arbeia Roman Fort, South Shields.
The boss was discovered in 1866 during dredging to widen and deepen the shipping channel at the mouth of the Tyne. Also found were coins, an inscribed bowl and a cooking pan.
It is the only complete shield boss of its type in existence – lost, archaeologists believe, when a Roman ship, caught in a storm, sank around 180AD.
It has long been the hope of archaeologists that the Roman harbour at South Shields would one day be located.
The boss would have been one of around 1.5 million made for Roman soldiers.
Experts believe Junius was a soldier in the Eighth Legion, based in Germany and sent to Britain to provide reinforcements for a campaign against native tribes.
“Because the shield boss and the coins all date from about the same time and because they are all in good condition and haven’t been dragged over the sea bed, we believe they were lost in a shipwreck,” said Alex.
“It looks likely that Junius was heading into the Tyne from Germany – probably in a fleet of around 12 ships – when a storm broke and his ship sank.”
No trace of the vessel has been found.
“There are so many shipwrecks at the mouth of the Tyne that a few rotting timbers would be impossible to locate,” said Alex.
It can only be speculated if Junius went down with the ship.
“It is wonderful, though, that, thanks to the generosity of the British Museum, we are able to see this magnificent addition to his armour for ourselves,” said Mayor of South Tyneside Fay Cunningham. “This region has played a pivotal part in the military, cultural and religious life of the UK and it’s fascinating to find out more about the man who owned the shield boss – it brings history to life.”
The Glory of Rome is part of a major, three-year Treasures programme, highlighting the region’s heritage and identity.
The exhibition will be on display at Arbeia Roman Fort until December and admission is free. For more information about the summer events programme visit www.arbeiaromanfort.org.uk .