As the main entry point to Britain from mainland Europe, Richborough transitioned from a military base to a thriving port town, originally the size of over 50 football pitches, and back to a military base again over the course of its 360 years’ history. The collection of objects found at Richborough is one of the largest for any Roman site in the country, including an extraordinary 450 brooches, over 1,000 hairpins, and 56,000 coins. Alongside the surviving ruins of the later Roman fort, these objects add an invaluable insight into the people of Richborough. Individual items can be identified as belonging specifically to soldiers, farmers, officials, craftsmen, pagans, Christians, and women and men of all social classes, and there are even hints at individuals who travelled from other parts of the Empire, many from the areas of northern and eastern Europe as well as some from as far away as Byzantium in modern Turkey.
A few of the rare treasures on display for the first time at the museum in Richborough are a 2000-year-old glass cup made from blown glass from the Middle East, a trader’s weight in the shape of Harpocrates, the god of silence, which is the only one of its kind in Britain, women’s hairpins, introduced by Romans as new fashions, including one design depicting a female head which appears at Richborough in three forms: a delicate gold example; a finely crafted version in bone imported from the Continent; and a simple local copy – suggesting the differences in wealth at the site, and finally statuettes of Roman gods which would have been present in shrines where worshippers presented offerings as gifts.
Visitors can now also enjoy new audio guides, led by historian and broadcaster Tessa Dunlop, to accompany their walk around the site. Drawing parallels between Richborough’s Roman inhabitants and modern occupations, the guide includes interviews with real-life local miners, oyster sellers, stonemasons, a special-forces solider, a former harbourmaster and an Olympic boxer, who bring a contemporary take to life in Roman Richborough.