Did you know the Romans liked to borrow gods and goddesses from other cultures? This week, we’re looking at some Romano-British gods and goddesses. These interesting figures were a blend of Roman mythology and Celtic mythology, resulting in new and unique deities at the northernmost point of the Roman Empire. This process of blending two mythological traditions is sometimes called syncretism.
Keep reading to find out
Let’s start by taking a trip out to the North East coast to explore Arbeia! The Romans built the fort at Arbeia (modern day South Shields) around 160AD, and it became a busy hub for lots of different activities and lots of different people. Overlooking the mouth of the River Tyne, Arbeia guarded the main entry point for supplies heading to all the many soldiers stationed all along Hadrian’s Wall.
The Roman army was made up of two types of soldiers: Legionary and Auxiliary. Legionary soldiers were Roman citizens. Auxiliary soldiers were not Roman citizens: instead, they were men who joined the army voluntarily – or were sometimes recruited by force – from the different places the Romans had conquered. Auxiliary comes from the Latin word auxilium which means help.
Auxiliary soldiers lived at Arbeia for around 250 years, so they left a lot of evidence behind! Archaeologists have been digging at Arbeia since the late 19th century – and luckily for us, lots of interesting stones have been uncovered in and around the fort. The first stone from Arbeia we’re going to look at is an altar. Just like the two altars we saw last week, this was a special stone set up to honour a specific god or goddess.
In our next entry we’ll look at the inscription in more detail – but before we do, let’s have a quick peek at the altar itself! Can you make out any letters or words? This inscription helpfully has some small dots separating each word, which might give you some clues!
Altar from Arbeia Roman Fort
Before we translate this inscription, why not have go at transcribing it? Transcribing is when we copy out the letters we can read on a stone, following the pattern they appear in. It is a useful way of recording the information on the stone and it also makes it a little bit easier to read!
Tomorrow we’ll look at the full inscription with its translation – see you then!