Corbridge Roman Town : Supply Base to the Roman Frontier

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At the weekend staying with friends near Gateshead it was suggested that we visit Corbridge on the Saturday. I’d heard of Corbridge’s Roman connections but wasn’t quite sure what was there nor how extensive the and well-preserved they would be. I was to find out. We parked in the free car park on the opposite side of the river from the village and Roman site; spent some time in some of the multitude of small shops – including gifts and cards, kitchenwares and books; ate lunch in an excellent deli then walked to the former Roman Town about half a mile away. It was a beautiful day crisp and sunny but very very cold.

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The River Tyne, Corbridge Bridge and Corbridge

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The River Tyne from Corbridge Bridge

On arrival at the Roman town site we were advised to visit the outdoor part of the site first and return (to warm up) to the Museum for the final part of the visit. There were very few visitors but there was plenty to see and, with the help of the audioguide, to imagine how it would have felt for those Roman soldiers after a long slog across Europe from Rome to this northerly outpost of their Empire.

Corbridge was once a bustling town and supply base where Romans and civilians would pick up food and provisions. It remained a vibrant community right up until the end of Roman Britain in the early years of the 5th century. Today, you can still walk through the town’s streets and experience a time-capsule of Roman life.” [English Heritage website]

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Corbridge Roman Site with Today’s Village in the Distance

Excavations have located traces of six separate forts on this spot between AD90 and 163 but the town existed for a much longer time than this. The location was significant at a crossing point of the River Tyne just south of Hadrian’s Wall and served as a supply and garrison town for that fortification.

Of particular interest to me outside were the two large Granaries :

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used to store wheat for bread making. The stone floors rest on low stone walls with channels running in between allowing air to pass through and ventilate the spaces above to prevent mould. Parts of the pillars which supported the portico are still in place.

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The oldest recorded mullioned stone vent

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The extensive drainage system throughout the site

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The remains of a stone trough or fountain

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More drainage channels

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The remains of an early chapel

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and  Stanegate, a Roman road, which passed through the Roman town

Back in the Visitor Centre and Museum there are many artefacts from the excavations on display.

The Corbridge collection is the largest of the Hadrian’s Wall collections managed by English Heritage, with over 34,000 finds. Its inscriptions and sculptural material are the best collection in the north of Britain in terms of depth, range and scope. Deities from across the Roman Empire are represented in the religious dedications, and the names of units and individual soldiers are given in the numerous building inscriptions.

Evidence for the civilian element of the town at Corbridge is provided by the large number of personal and feminine items, such as beautiful hair pins and ornate weaving combs. Finds indicating pottery manufacture and metal-working, as well as the two large granaries, show Corbridge’s role as a supply base for the forts on Hadrian’s Wall. Excavated between 1906 and 1914 and 1934 and 1973, the material comes from all over the site and offers insights into many activities and aspects of life at Roman Corbridge.”

Of particular interest to me inside were :

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The beautiful 4th century Lanx  : a large ancient Roman serving platter

On display here is a copy as the original is in the British Museum along with about 200 other treasures.

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A Head of Minerva

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The Corbridge Hoard discovered in 1964 in the remains of an early 2nd century wooden chest. The most important item in the find is the Lorica Sedmentata – Roman segmental armour.

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From six small pieces the inscription on this stone panel has been reconstructed using  particular formulae (amazing!)

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And, finally, The Corbridge Lion

Notes from the English Heritage website :

Date: Roman, 3rd Century AD
Type: Statue of a lion attacking a young stag
Material: local buff sandstone
Place Made/Found: In the cistern of a possible mansion at Corbridge in 1907
Lender: English Heritage / The Trustees of the Corbridge Excavation Fund
This statue is a wonderful example of the skill of the stonemasons at Corbridge in the Roman period. The lion is a symbol often used on funerary monuments to symbolise death’s victory over humans. The statue was originally made to adorn the top of a tomb, but it has been re-used as a fountain head, with a hole made through the lion’s mouth, removing his teeth. It is a perfect example of Roman recycling.

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