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We are delighted to support the Trimontium Trust with a major loan of over 200 items, mostly from the Roman fort of Trimontium (modern Newstead) for the Trust’s exciting new displays. Some of the highlights are shown here.

Iron Age copper-alloy armlet

X.FA 17
Find location: Stichill

This armlet shows the skills and connections of Iron Age societies in the Borders at the time of the Roman conquest. Making a large casting such as this took great expertise: it weighs 600g and is 11cm across.

The flowing decoration is typical of Celtic art in Northeast Scotland, and it was clearly imported from this area. A later owner has trimmed the edges to make it fit them better. It was found with another (now lost) while digging a well at Stichill, north of Kelso, in 1747.

Brown armlet viewed from the front, with the opening facing forward. Two holes flank the opening and leaf-like designs cover it

Leather shoes

X.FRA 95, 96, 104
Find location: Trimontium

These leather shoes survive so well because they were thrown into a well, and the waterlogging preserved them. The different sizes highlight the range of people living in and around the fort. These shoes are for a man, a woman and a child.

Just like today, shoes could be ornate fashion statements with cut-away patterns and stamped decoration. The adult shoes are stitched together from several different pieces of leather, with a hard-wearing sole consisting of multiple layers secured with iron hobnails. The child’s shoe is cut from a single piece of leather. These shoes were thrown away because they were worn out.

Three shoes, all worn and blackened but still instantly recogniseable. A large man's shoe, medium woman's shoe, and small child's shoe.

Brass arm guard

X.FRA 116.2
Find location: Trimontium

Roman soldiers were heavily armoured to protect themselves in battle. Infantry often wore a flexible arm guard on their sword arm. The metal would stop the cut of a blow, with a padded lining to absorb the shock. Most arm guards were of iron, but this one is of brass, one of only three known from the whole Roman empire. This is the lower part, tapering towards the hand which was protected by the rectangular plate. Small holes in the corners once held rivets for leather straps; the larger holes at the ends were used to fasten the padded lining.

Rusted, speckled-green rectangular metal plates fastened together forming a protective layer over protective foam shaped like an arm

Iron dolabrae (pick-axes)

X.FRA 225-231
Find location: Trimontium

The pick-axe (dolabra) was a fundamental part of a soldier’s kit. It was a multi-purpose construction tool, mounted on a wooden shaft and used for breaking ground, shaping timber, and levering things into place. Some of these examples have damaged edges from heavy use.

Seven pick-axe heads, all rusted and varying from light brown to light green in colour, together in a loose pile

Iron scythe

X.FRA 288
Find location: Trimontium

This scythe is a formidable tool, almost 80cm long, which was used to gather hay for ever-hungry cavalry horses. The blunt end once fastened to a long wooden shaft. Its remarkably good condition is because it was buried in waterlogged conditions, preventing the iron from rusting.

Large scythe head resembling a fishing hook both in shape and position, set against a black background

Iron hanging lamp

X.FRA 1108
Find location: Trimontium

In the long dark nights of a Caledonian winter, soldiers needed light. In the barracks, this came from burning wooden torches or tapers, or the light of a fire. For the officers, oil lamps lit up their quarters. This iron example is similar to a traditional Scottish crusie lamp. Its long spike allowed it to be stuck into a timber or hung from a hook at different angles.

Olive oil was poured into the figure-of-eight base, and a wick of rush or cord was hung over the edge and lit. The attention lavished on small decorative details, such as twisting the rod and rolling the ends of the hooks, shows that this was an expensive item.

Rusted, brown-black hanging lamp. Basin forms a figure-eight shape, with thin stem leading up to a ring from which a spear-like appendage juts out

Bronze cooking pot

X.FRA 1187
Find location: Trimontium

The soldiers in one barrack room cooked communally. Vessels like this, hammered to shape out of bronze sheet, were highly practical. They were much more durable than pottery, making them suitable for campaign use as well as back at base. Pairs of holes in the rim once held fittings for an iron carrying handle.

Light brown cooking pot with no lid, tapered at the top and bottom with a sharply protruding bump two thirds of the way up

Pair of imported quernstones

X.FRA 1641
Find location: Trimontium

Quernstones were used by soldiers to grind flour for baking bread. Grain was poured into the hole in the top. The iron plate held a spindle which stabilised the two stones and allowed the fineness of the flour to be adjusted. A wooden handle in the iron socket on the edge was used to turn the upper stone. This crushed the grain and flour fell out of the edge between the two stones.

The best querns were made from imported lava from Mayen, near Koblenz in western Germany. The natural bubbles in its structure meant it didn’t wear out, and that there were always fresh sharp edges exposed. Finished querns were shipped up the Rhine and across the North Sea.

Perfectly round, brown quernstones one atop the other. An iron bar pierces the middle, while the outer texture resembles lattice work or the crust of rye bread

Gemstone showing the emperor Caracalla

Find location: Trimontium

The fields around Newstead have produced a rich crop of Roman gemstones. This remarkable example was discovered by local amateur archaeologist Walter Elliot when he was walking over the ploughed fort site in 1998. It brings alive a key moment in Scotland’s history when massive Roman armies marched north in AD 209 and 210 to quell unruly tribes. This huge army was led by the emperor Septimius Severus and his son and co-emperor Caracalla, whose face is carved into this gem.

The gem of red jasper was once set into a ring, probably of gold. It was given as a personal gift from the emperor to one of his close supporters who was travelling with him. The recipient must have been rather worried about the emperor’s reaction when he discovered the gem had popped out of the ring!

Small, smooth red gemstone, egg-shaped with a profile bust of the emperor sporting curly hair, large nose and a scarf-like wrapping

Iron ring with a gem showing Maenad

Find location: Trimontium

Carved gemstones were both beautiful and functional. This example is the only one from Trimontium which still preserves its iron finger ring. Gem-set rings were practical jewellery: the design on the gem acted as the owner’s mark when they impressed it in wax seals.

The designs often featured deities or mythical figures. This one shows a Maenad, a female follower of the wine-god, Bacchus. She is playing an aulos, a double-pipe, and dancing ecstatically, her dress flowing as she spins. For the wearer, this probably evoked the good life they dreamed of.

Small blue-grey gemstone set within a badly rusted, light brown ring. Gemstone has a nude figure holding tongs surrounded by swirling, wing-like patterns

Aerial bird's eye view looking straight down on a green-yellow field, in which you can clearly see geometric lines tracing a now vanished Roman fort.

Find out more about the Trimontium Trust

Discover the new Trimontium Museum in Melrose, containing a vast array of objects and information about the Romans in Scotland including those on loan from National Museums Scotland.

Visit Trimontium Museum's website
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