Hadrian's Wall (Latin: Vallum Hadriani) is a stone and turf
fortification built by the Roman Empire across the width
of England. The 'Roman Wall' stretches across the counties
of Cumbria and Northumberland and is often incorrectly though
of as the border between England an Scotland.
Today the route
racing the 'Roman Wall' is popular with walkers from across
the globe. The Hadrian's Wall walk was opened in 2004 and
enables hikers the chance to walk the entire length of the
was the second of three such fortifications built across
Great Britain, the first being Gask Ridge and the last the
Antonine Wall. All three were built to prevent military
raids by the tribes of (what is now) Scotland to the north,
to improve economic stability and provide peaceful conditions
in the Roman province of Britannia to the south, and to
physically mark the frontier of the Empire. Hadrian's Wall
is the best known of the three because it remains the most
physically preserved and evident today.
The wall was
the northern border of the Empire in Britain for much of
the Roman Empire's rule, and also the most heavily fortified
border in the Empire. In addition to its use as a military
fortification, it is thought that the gates through the
wall would also have served as customs posts to allow trade
portion of the wall still exists, particularly the mid-section,
and for much of its length the wall can be followed on foot.
It is the most popular tourist attraction in Northern England,
where it is often known simply as the Roman Wall. It was
made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
a government organization in charge of managing the historic
environment of England, describes it as "the most important
monument built by the Romans in Britain".
Hadrian's Wall remain near Greenhead and along the route,
though other large sections have been dismantled over the
years to use the stones for various nearby construction
projects. It is alleged that stone from Hadrians Wall was
used to construct Chollerton
Church and many other buildings across Tynedale.
was 80 Roman miles (73½ modern miles or 117 kilometres)
long, its width and height dependent on the construction
materials which were available nearby: east of the River
Irthing the wall was made from brick shaped stone and measured
10 Roman feet (9.7 ft or 3 m) wide and 5 to 6 metres (16-20
ft) tall; west of the river the wall was made from turf
and measured 6 metres (20 ft) wide and 3.5 metres (11.5
ft) high. This does not include the wall's ditches, berms,
and forts. The central section measured 8 Roman feet wide
(7.8 ft or 2.4 m) on a 10 foot base.
extended west from Wallsend on the River Tyne to the shore
of the Solway Firth. The A69 and B6318 roads follow the
course of the wall as it starts in Newcastle upon Tyne to
Carlisle, then on round the northern coast of Cumbria. The
Wall is entirely in England and south of the border with
Scotland by 15 kilometres (9 mi) in the west and 110 kilometres
(68 mi) in the east.
was built following a visit by Roman emperor Hadrian (AD
76-138) in AD 122. Hadrian was experiencing military difficulties
in Britain, and from the peoples of various conquered lands
across the Empire, including Egypt, Judea, Libya, Mauretania,
and many of the peoples were conquered by his predecessor
Trajan, so he was keen to impose order. However the construction
of such an impressive wall was probably also a symbol of
Roman power, both in occupied Britain and in Rome. Frontiers
in the early empire were based more on natural features
or fortified zones with a heavy military presence. Military
roads or limes often marked the border, with forts and signal
towers spread along them and it was not until the reign
of Domitian that the first solid frontier was constructed,
in Germania Superior, using a simple fence. Hadrian expanded
on this idea, redesigning the German border by ordering
a continuous timber palisade supported by forts behind it.
Although such defences would not have held back any concerted
invasion effort, they did physically mark the edge of Roman
territory and went some way to providing a degree of control
over who crossed the border and where.
Roman military presence in the territory of the Brigantes
and concentrated on building a more solid linear fortification
to the north of them. This was intended to replace the Stanegate
road which is generally thought to have served as the limes
(the boundary of the Roman Empire) until then.
probably started in 122 and was largely completed within
ten years, with soldiers from all three of the occupying
Roman legions participating in the work. The route chosen
largely paralleled the nearby Stanegate road from Carlisle
to Corbridge, which was already defended by a system of
forts, including Vindolanda. The Wall in part follows the
outcrop of a harder, more resistant igneous dolerite rock
escarpment, known as the Great Whin Sill.
plan called for a ditch and wall with 80 small, gated milecastle
fortlets every Roman mile holding a few dozen troops each,
and pairs of evenly spaced intermediate turrets used for
observation and signalling. The wall was initially designed
to a width of 3 metres (10 ft) (the so-called "Broad Wall").
The height is estimated to have been around 5 or 6 metres
was used in the construction, except for the section to
the west of Irthing where turf was used instead as there
were no useful outcrops nearby. The turf wall was 6 metres
wide (20 ft) and around 3.5 metres (11.5 ft) high. Milecastles
in this area were also built from timber and earth rather
than stone but turrets were always stone. The Broad Wall
was initially built with a clay-bonded rubble core and mortared
dressed rubble facing stones, but this seems to have made
it vulnerable to collapse and repair with a mortared core
was sometimes necessary.
were of three different designs, depending on which Roman
legion built them - the Second, Sixth, and Twentieth Legions,
whose inscriptions tell us were all involved in the construction.
Similarly there are three different turret designs along
the route. All were about 493 metres (539 yd) apart and
measured 4.27 metres square (46.0 sq ft) internally.
was divided into lengths of about 5 miles (8 km). One group
of each legion would create the foundations and build the
milecastles and turrets and then other cohorts would follow,
building the wall itself.
Early in its
construction, just after reaching the North Tyne (construction
worked from east to west), the width of the wall was narrowed
to 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) or even less (sometimes 1.8m) (the
"Narrow Wall"). However, Broad Wall foundations had already
been laid as far as the river Irthing, where the Turf Wall
began, and many turrets and milecastles were optimistically
provided with stub 'wing walls' in preparation for joining
to the Broad Wall; a handy reference for archaeologists
trying to piece together the construction chronology.
Within a few
years it was decided to add a total of 14-17 (sources disagree)
full-sized forts along the length of the wall, including
Housesteads and Birdoswald, each holding between 500 and
1,000 auxiliary troops (no legions were posted to the wall).
The eastern end of the wall was extended further east from
Pons Aelius (Newcastle) to Wallsend on the Tyne estuary.
Some of the larger forts along the wall, such as Chesters
and Housesteads, were built on top of the footings of milecastles
or turrets, showing the change of plan. An inscription mentioning
early governor Aulus Platorius Nepos indicates that the
change of plans took place early on. Also some time still
during Hadrian's reign (i.e., before AD 138) the wall west
of the Irthing was rebuilt in sandstone to basically the
same dimensions as the limestone section to the east.
After the forts
had been added (or possibly at the same time), the so-called
Vallum was built on the southern side. It consisted of a
large, flat-bottomed ditch 6 metres (20 ft) wide at the
top and 3 metres (10 ft) deep bounded by a berm on each
side 10 metres (33 ft) wide. Beyond the berms were earth
banks 6 metres (20 ft) wide and 2 metres (6.5 ft) high.
Causeways crossed the ditch at regular intervals. Initially
the berm appears to have been the main route for transportation
along the wall. The Vallum probably delineated a military
zone rather than intending to be a major fortification,
though the British tribes to the south were also sometimes
a military problem.
The Wall was
thus part of a defensive system which, from north to south
- a glacis and a deep ditch
- a berm with rows of pits
- the curtain wall itself
- a later military road
(the "Military Way")
- the Vallum - two huge
banks with a ditch between.
Hadrian's Wall Forts
The Roman-period names of
some of the Hadrian's Wall forts are known, from the Notitia
Dignitatum and other evidence:
- Segedunum (Wallsend)
- Pons Aelius (Newcastle
- Condercum (Benwell Hill)
- Vindobala (Halton Chesters)
- Hunnum (Rutchester)
- Cilurnum/Cilurvum (Chesters,
aka Walwick Chesters)
- Procolita (Carrowburgh,
- Borcovicum or Vercovicium
- Vindolanda (Little Chesters)
- Aesica (Great Chesters)
- Magna (Carvoran)
- Vindomora (Ebchester)
- Corstopitum (Corbridge)
- Habitancum (Risingham)
- Bremenium (Rochester)
- Ad Fines (Chew Green)
- Banna (Birdoswald Fort)
- Alauna (Maryport)
- Arbeia (South Shields)
was a supply fort behind the wall.
In the months after Hadrian's
death in 138, the new emperor, Antoninus Pius essentially
abandoned the wall, though leaving it occupied in a support
role, and began building a new wall in Scotland proper,
about 160 kilometres (100 mi) north, the Antonine Wall.
This turf wall ran 40 Roman miles (about 37.8 mi or 61 km)
and had significantly more forts than Hadrian's Wall. Antonine
was unable to conquer the northern tribes and so when Marcus
Aurelius became emperor, he abandoned the Antonine Wall
and occupied Hadrian's Wall once again in 164. It remained
occupied by Roman troops until their withdrawal from Britain.
In the late 4th century,
barbarian invasions, economic decline, and military coups
loosened the Empire's hold on Britain. By 410, the Roman
administration and its legions were gone, and Britain was
left to look to its own defences and government. The garrisons,
by now probably made up mostly of local Britons who had
nowhere else to go, probably lingered on in some form for
generations. Archaeology is beginning to reveal that some
parts of the Wall remained occupied well into the 5th century.
Enough also survived in the 8th century for spolia from
it to find its way into the construction of Jarrow Priory,
and for Bede to see and describe the Wall thus in Historia
Ecclesiastica 1.5, although he misidentified it as being
built by Septimius Severus:
"after many great and
dangerous battles, he thought fit to divide that part
of the island, which he had recovered from the other unconquered
nations, not with a wall, as some imagine, but with a
rampart. For a wall is made of stones, but a rampart,
with which camps are fortified to repel the assaults of
enemies, is made of sods, cut out of the earth, and raised
above the ground all round like a wall, having in front
of it the ditch whence the sods were taken, and strong
stakes of wood fixed upon its top."
But in time the wall was
abandoned and fell into ruin. Over the centuries and even
into the 20th century a large proportion of the stone was
reused in other local buildings.
Hadrian Wall in the Movies
King Arthur - Hadrian's
Wall was featured extensively in the movie King Arthur (which
depicted the story of the people the Arthurian legends were
supposedly based on). The one kilometre (0.6 mi) long replica,
located in County Clare, Ireland, was the largest movie
set ever built in that country, and took a crew of 300 construction
workers four and a half months to build. The fort in the
movie where Arthur and his Sarmatian "knights" were garrisoned
was based on the Roman fort named Vindolanda, which was
built around AD 80 just south of Hadrian's Wall in what
is now called Chesterholm, in Northern England. In the movie,
the fort is attached to the wall.
Robin Hood Prince of Theives
- Sycamore Gap, a section of the wall between two crests
just west of milecastle 38, is locally known as the "Robin
Hood Tree". This location was used in the 1991 film Robin
Hood: Prince of Thieves, as the setting for an interlude
during Robin's journey from the White Cliffs to Nottingham
via Aysgarth Falls.
The Zombie Survival Guide
- The humorous 2003 book The Zombie Survival Guide (ISBN
1-4000-4962-8) by Max Brooks suggests that Hadrian's Wall
was built in response to a zombie attack. Brooks writes
that in AD 121, undead barbarian hordes descended upon the
Romans and were driven back in the area where Hadrian's
Wall was then built.
Power and Stone -
Alice Leader's 2003 children's novel Power and Stone (ISBN
014131527X) is set in Housesteads in AD 130, as the wall
Blackadder - In the
Roman Britain section of Blackadder: Back & Forth, Centurion
Blackaddicus, Legionary Baldrickus and Georgius are part
of the Roman forces defending Hadrian's Wall from the attacking
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