Yesterday was fine and sunny and expected to reach the magnificent heights of 20 degrees. It may have reached 20 degrees, but the breeze was very cool and although we went out in our shorts, we never took our fleeces off.
After our trip to Housesteads and Chesters, were were keen to see the restored Roman fort of Arbeia at South Shields, that we hadn’t even known existed. Perhaps because it is run by South Shields council, and is free, they don’t feel a need to advertise. But it was really much better than Chesters. When we arrived we could tell there weren’t many visitors because we were able to park right outside in the street (and it wasn’t pay and display, either). The rebuilt gatehouse is very fine, and imposing from the road. But I like the bones best. While it is possible to circumvent the official entry I had read that there was a museum, which was in the modern building containing the shop and help desk. Directly in front of us, at the entrance to the one room museum, lies a skeleton, under a sheet of glass, just as it would have been found. The ribs lay scattered around the breastbone, no longer connected by muscles and ligaments, the tarsals and carpals also abandoned in the dust. There were glass cases holding various items unearthed during the excavation of the fort, and details about funerary rites. And a departure from anything else we’ve seen, the skulls of two murdered men, and the tiny bones of a baby found buried under the walls of the barracks. The information next to this exhibit suggests that perhaps the burial was due to some sort of funeral tradition. As an inveterate reader of murder mysteries, I am of the opinion that this was a baby no one knew of, buried to hide its existence.
Arbeia has been excavated to show the rows of granaries, the baths and the barracks. But two other buildings have been reconstructed as they would have been. The barracks building holds bedrooms for thirty soldiers (and very cramped they must have been). Each has a small hearth, but it must have been difficult to choose whether to be warm or breathe, given that there are no chimneys for the hearths. Behind the barracks building is the commandant’s quarters. Spacious, decorated and furnished as it would have been (sparsely), the most obvious conclusion one comes to is that privacy was never going to be expected. Or perhaps that should be respected. The house was used as offices, accommodation, and what with constant visitors, slaves, and hangers on, it must have been very crowded – and probably noisy.
We headed back to Gateshead with a new understanding of life in a Roman fort, for the soldiers (not allowed to marry), the horses (no stables) and the commandant (the aforementioned lack of privacy). And we now know that the Emperor Severus visited in AD208-10. He died in York in AD211. I don’t remember seeing a memorial to him there.
On the way home we stopped in at Westoe Village, and had a drink for old times’ sake at the Westoe pub, where Kevin and I used to meet for lunch some thirty seven years ago when he was at College. And it’s hardly changed. Apart from selling cider that tastes like Ribena. Michael assures me it was very popular at York Races. Probably because it doesn’t taste like alcohol.
So now I must find out about the buried baby – or invent the answer for myself.