“ Arbeia is the remains of a large Roman fort in South Shields, Tyne & Wear, which has been partially reconstructed. It was first excavated in the 1870s and all modern building on the site were cleared in the 1970s. It is now managed by Tyne & Wear Museums. The fort stands on the Lawe Top, overlooking the River Tyne. Founded around 120, it later became the maritime supply fort for Hadrian's Wall, and contains the only permanent stone-built granaries yet found in Britain. It was occupied until the Romans left Britain in the 5th century. „
Standing four miles beyond the easternmost point of Hadrian's Wall, the barren northern boundary of the Roman world, Arbeia must surely have been one of the least appealing postings in the Empire. The fort, which was built in the AD 160s, served as a garrison for cavalry troops and later as a supply base during Emperor Septimius Severus' campaigns against the Caledonian tribes. Built by the Sixth Legion, occupied for three hundred years, home to the Fifth Cohort of Gauls, the First Wing of Asturian Spaniards and Bargemen from the Tigris, burnt down, rebuilt and finally abandoned, Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum is now the most extensively excavated military supply base anywhere in the Roman Empire. DETAILS Situated on windswept high ground near Littlehaven Beach, Arbeia is easily reached from South Shields Metro Station. Exit the station onto King Street, the main shopping thoroughfare in the town, turn right, and continue along Ocean Road past Asda until you reach Baring Street. Turn left here and the fort is just up the hill. Admission is free, although there is a £1.50 charge for Time Quest (80p for children and concessions). Monday to Saturday opening times are from 10 – 5.30 from Easter to September and 10-4 the rest of the year. Sunday admission is limited to 1-5pm during spring and summer. Telephone: 0191 456 1369 Website: http://www.twmuseums.org.uk/arbeia/ THE FORT AND EXCAVATIONS The site is dominated by the impressive full-size reconstruction of the old West Gate. Two red-tiled roofs crown sandstone towers on either side of a central pair of arches. From the top you can survey the surrounding countryside just as a Centurion would have done over 1500 years ago – though the contemporary view includes a half-demolished playground and compact rows of 1940s terraced housing as well as deep defensive ditches, the Tyne and the North Sea. Wallsend, and Hadrian's Wall, is four mil
es away across the dark river. More recent landmarks are also visible, including the faint, hazy shadow of Penshaw Monument, which tops a distant hill, and the gaunt skeleton of Tynemouth Priory poking above the Victorian chimneys at the very mouth of the river. There are several interesting displays on the lower levels of the gate's interior. Starting at the foot of the heavy wooden staircase, an interesting wall display charts the early Iron and Bronze Age settlements on the site, rising up through the Roman heyday with a scale model of what the fort is supposed to have looked like at its peak. Another scale model of the nearby Segedunum Fort dominates an adjoining room, surrounded by photos of the reconstruction work at Arbeia and other famous Roman gates including the Arch of Constantine, the Porta Nigra in Trier and the Bu Ngem in Libya. More wall displays relate the fort’s decline in during the Dark Age, continuing through the Anglo-Saxon period when stone was quarried from the ruins and South Shields, once the main port of entry to the Roman Empire in Britain, became a seasonal settlement of fishermen's huts. The top floor exhibits feature a display of Roman armour and weaponry as well as a model of Civil War fortifications built to defend the Tyne for the King. Back on the ground, the excavations start at the foot of the gate and stretch out south and east in the direction of the recently restored barracks and Commanding Officer's House. Small boards beside the open excavations have detailed text and an artist’s impression of what the buildings that once stood here are thought to have looked like. Many of the remains of the 24 granaries appear to be nothing more than stone bordered holes in the ground to the untrained eye, but there are some special areas of interest including the only visible kiln in Roman Britain and the Via Praetoria, the main street inside the fort leading between the granaries and the barracks
to the Princpia (headquarters). The parade ground has discernable dividing lines, which split the ground into four quadrants for drill and military exercises. In the south-eastern corner, just to the right of the two small columns that still remain from the entrance to the Princpia, the Commanding Officer's House and barracks stand adjacent to each other. The cramped conditions of the latter, which housed forty soldiers in five plain rooms, contrasts with the luxurious heated rooms of the Commanding Officer, whose living quarters boasted a central courtyard with a veranda, an aisled hall, an office, a suite, two centrally heated private apartments, a small set of baths and two dining rooms, one of which was heated for winter use. TIME QUEST AND THE MUSEUM To the right of the entrance, Time Quest is an interactive experience affording visitors the opportunity to take part in an archaeological dig, learn Roman weaving, reconstruct animal skeletons, piece together pottery, and try Roman writing and engineering. The museum is a short distance away on the other side of the small gift shop. The two rooms are very small but feature a number of interesting displays and artefacts. To the right of the door 'The Life of a Roman Soldier' exhibition has an extensive collection of jewellery, pottery fragments, coins, armour and weapons as well as translated diaries and implements. Across the small hall is another room containing one of the largest collections of lead seals in the country in addition to a number of paintings by Ronald Embleton detailing life at the fort. Scale models of fort structures sit alongside excavated items such as a large tablet that commemorates the provision of water to the fort by the Emperor Severus Alexander in AD 222. His name was later completely erased following his death and condemnation by the Senate thirteen years later. The Death and Burial Gallery is crowded with burnt tombstones, cracked slabs, ins
cribed altar fragments and decapitated statues. The most striking exhibits are the post-Roman skeletons of two men who were killed by blows to the back of the head and left in the open for animals to gnaw on. SUMMARY Close to the beach and within easy reach of public transportation, Arbeia makes an interesting part day excursion from Newcastle or Sunderland. With Time Quest to occupy the kids and enough to stimulate adult minds for an hour or so, the fort can also be combined with trips to Segedunum, Tynemouth, South Shields promenade and Bede's World in Jarrow. There’s not enough here to warrant a lengthy drive but it’s definitely something that should be on your itinerary if you’re ever in the area.
For over three hundred years the Roman Fort of Arbeia stood guard high above the mouth of the River Tyne; built in AD 160’s the stone fort at South Shields on the south bank of the river played an important role in the mighty frontier system that stretched across the width of England marking the northern boundaries of the Roman Empire. The Fort controlled the main port of entry to the Roman Empire in Britain and was originally built to house a garrison but soon became the military supply base for the forts along Hadrian’s Wall, more than one thousand five hundred years on the remains of Arbeia represent the most extensively excavated example of a military supply base anywhere in the Roman Empire. The West Gate has been painstakingly rebuilt on its original foundations using blocks of the same type of sandstone and to a design based on expert knowledge of Roman architecture. Original excavations of the four-acre site were begun in the nineteenth century and resumed in 1949 and are still ongoing, the work has revealed much of the Fort’s history dating back to the middle of the second century but the site still holds many secrets that are slowly but surely being unearthed. The newly reconstructed Commanding Officer’s House and Barrack Block show the contrast between Roman Garrison life with the cramped accommodation for ordinary soldiers and the luxurious rooms of the Commanding Officer’s quarters. The house was not at the centre of the Fort as is normal but tucked away at the south eastern corner and quite a walk from the headquarters building in the centre of the Fort. Excavation of the Commanding Officer’s house were directed by Paul Bidwell and Nicholas Hodgeson for the Tyne and Wear Museums and thanks to their excellent supervision it is now possible to conduct a guided tour of the house. Excavations at South Shields have continued to give surprises, the first stone fort was
built around AD 160 as a conventional fort however around AD 200 everything was reorganised and it became a supply base and a dividing wall was built across the centre of the Fort and in the northern half all the barracks were pulled down and replaced by granaries and a new mini-headquarters building was built in the southern quadrant. Around AD 300 the Fort was burned down but it is not clear whether this was an accidental fire or enemy attack. There is an exhibition inside the reconstructed gateway where you can learn more about the history of the site from the Stone Age to the Roman occupation through to the present day, the exhibition is aptly named ‘Gateway to the Past’. Arbeia also has it’s own Museum where vivid relics of the Roman Occupation have been unearthed and are on display, some of the fascinating site finds include weapons, armour and other military fittings, coins, pottery, glass and jewellery. You can discover how the Romans buried their dead in ‘The Death and Burial Gallery’ and see original Roman tombstones, inscribed altars and even human remains, which have all be unearthed at Arbeia. Time Quest, which brings the past even more to life, is aimed principally at the young but adults find it just as enthralling. A mock excavation area gives hands-on experience of an authentic dig by revealing evidence of settlements going back five thousand years. There are workshops where a guide is on hand at all times to answer questions and visitors can: Reconstruct a sheep’s skeleton and examine bones to see what types of animals were kept in the grounds of the Fort. Piece together pottery unearthed on the site to discover types of Roman cooking methods. Inspect archaeological finds under the microscope to discover what type of vegetation was grown in the area. Try weaving just as the Romans did more than one thousand five hundred years ago an
d design a Roman mosaic. Have a go at writing the way Romans did using a stylus, wax tablet and the Roman alphabet. See if you can read what is carved in the stones excavated from the site and use the microscope and x-rays to uncover further mysteries. Have a go at Roman engineering and attempt to build a Roman arch. If you visit Time Quest on a Tuesday you can watch a stonemason carving out items to be used in the reconstructions at the Fort. Useful Information: Arbeia Roman Fort, Exhibition, Museum and Burial Gallery Open from Easter to September, Monday to Saturday 10.00am to 5.30pm and Sunday 1.00pm to 5.00pm. October the Easter Monday to Saturday 10.00am to 4.00pm and closed Sunday. Time Quest School Term Time Monday to Friday 10.00am to 3.00pm School Holidays Monday to Friday 11.00am to 4.00pm Easter to October Saturday 10.00am to 5.00pm and Sunday 1.00pm to 5.00pm October to Easter closed weekends. Admission to Arbeia Fort, Exhibition, Museum and Burial Gallery is Free. Admission to Time Quest Adults £1.50 Children and Concessions 80p Most of the attractions are accessible to wheelchair users and there are disabled toilets. Guide dogs are welcome and assistance is available to the visibly impaired, the Museum and Time Quest also have a loop system for visitors who are hearing impaired. There is a small souvenir shop and café. Arbeia plays host to many events throughout the year, from Family Fun activities and Roman military and civilian demonstrations, to open air performances of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. Arbeia Fort and Time Quest Baring Street, South Shields, Tyne and Wear. NE33 2BB Telephone 0191 456 1369 Arbeia Fort and Time Quest is a ten minute walk from South Shields Metro Station, exit the station onto King Street and turn right (this is a pedestrian only street) co
ntinue down King Street onto Ocean Road (one street that changes names at the crossroads), the Fort is signposted from Ocean Road. Alternatively the Bus Station is located at the bottom of the stairs from the Metro Station and bus number 500 runs from South Shields town centre and stops outside the fort. The Fort is also well signposted for those travelling by car and there is a free car and coach park nearby.