Trade and Empire
“By the time the Emperor Hadrian entered the purple, Rome controlled a vast area stretching from northern Europe to the Middle East. Sea trade and transport were vital to the functioning of the Empire and so numerous ports sprung up along the coast of Britannia. On the Tyne side of Hadrian’s Wall the fort of Arbeia (now known as South Shields) grew into one such port and was the destination of many supply shipments to the wall.
Trading ships, such as the one depicted in this scene, were common visitors to Arbeia and came from all corners of the empire. A funeral monument found at the site tells us much about what this trade meant to the area. It is dedicated to a lady called Regina and is unique in Britain for its bilingual inscription, written in Latin and Palmyrene. The inscription reveals that Regina was of the Catuvellaunian tribe while her husband Barates, was a Palmyrene merchant living at Arbeia, which had attached to it a substantial civilian settlement. From Barates’ own funeral monument we know that he supplied military standards to the cohorts along the wall.
Despite being on the edge of the Empire, the civilian settlement at Arbeia must have been home to a diverse polyglot population. Thanks to the trade bought by the Empire’s many ships, people, ideas and symbols must have circulated frequently, making it lively and interesting place to live.”
Historical context given by Macsen Wledig and available here.