Segedunum Roman Fort explores multicultural roots of Hadrian's Wall

By Culture24 Staff | 15 July 2009
a photo of abent lead seal with three male heads on it

Lead sealing showing Septimius Severus and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta. Picture © Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Exhibition: An Archaeology of Race: Exploring the Northern Frontier in Roman Britain, Segedunum Roman Fort, Wallsend until September 13, then Tullie House Gallery, Carlisle, September 19 – August 25 2010

A new exhibition at Segedunum Roman Fort aims to challenge perceptions of World Heritage Site Hadrian's Wall by unravelling its cultural heritage and highlighting its surprising multicultural history.

An Archaeology of Race: Exploring the Northern Frontier in Roman Britain is part of Tales of the Frontier, a Durham University project (Archaeology with Geography) which aims to explore the significance of Hadrian's Wall and its landscape as both political and cultural landscape and monument.

"The Romans who lived on the Hadrian's Wall Frontier certainly weren't all from Rome,” says Dr Divya Tolia-Kelly, Lecturer in Geography at Durham University. "Through telling their stories we hope to show people what an exciting and culturally diverse place the North of England was at this time."

A range of revealing archaeological materials and narratives reflecting multicultural Roman Britain are displayed in the exhibition, which explores the North of England during this time as a space of migration and cultural diversity.

Evidence suggests cultural influences of military units stationed at Hadrian’s Wall from North Africa, Spain, France, Germany, Syria and other provinces of the Roman Empire.

a carved tombstone with the face of a seated female figure on it

The Tombstone of Regina

One of the ways visitors can discover this level of cultural diversity is through artefacts relating to Septimius Severus, a Roman Emperor born in Leptis Magna, one of the great colonized cities of Roman Africa.

Severus came to the North-East of England to campaign against tribes north of the Wall. The exhibition will feature baggage sealings made of lead showing Severus with his sons, Caracalla and Geta. The sealings were found at South Shields and suggest that at some point the emperor and his family were based at Arbeia Roman Fort.

Stories told in the exhibition also include the biography of an ex-slave commemorated by a tombstone at Arbeia Roman Fort, a copy of which is on show. Regina was the British wife and former slave of Barates, who is thought to have been stationed at Arbeia during the fourth century. She was from the area now known as St Albans, while her husband was from the great desert city of Palmyra in Syria.

His first language would have been Aramaic, similar to modern Hebrew, and her tombstone features an inscription of mourning in this language which he added to the Latin text.

An Archaeology of Race is accompanied at Segedunum by Names Set in Stone, an exhibition telling the story of the men who built Hadrian's Wall through inscriptions found on stones within it.

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