Hadrain’s Wall

There are man-made places that are extraordinary. Hadrian’s Wall is such a place. Julius Caesar invaded Britain the first time in 55 BC. One year later, he was back. He dealt with the resistance to Roman Rule with treaties and alliances. By 79 AD what is now England and Wales were under Roman control. The Picts to the north were a problem. Roman Emperor Vespasian decided they needed to be brought into the Roman fold. The Roman soldiers found that was easier said than done, especially by a ruler who was several thousand miles away in Rome.

Eventually there was a forced battle in 81 AD. It took place at Mons Graupius in present day Aberdeenshire. Thirty thousand Picts or Caledonian’s, as the Romans knew them, were killed. The Roman’s had the victory, but did not win the war. The defeated Picts melted back into the highland mist, and were never subdued. Hadrian became emperor in 177 AD. He wanted to protect and consolidate his borders. He visited Britain in 122 AD and ordered a wall to be built between Solway Firth in the west and the River Tyne in the east. The wall was built by three auxiliary legions. They worked from east to west, and it has been estimated they used more than a million cubic meters of stone.

The wall is 73 modern miles in length and took about six year to build. The wall consists of forts, milecastles and turrets. There were sixteen larger forts. They held five hundred to one thousand soldiers. They were built into the wall with large gates on the north flanked by lookout towers.v There were over 80 milecastles. They also housed troops. They were built at regular intervals along the wall. Between each milecastle, there were two turrets. They were primarily lookouts for invading Picts. Each side of the wall contained defenses. To the north was a deep ditch. To the south was an earth mound, ditch, another earth mound, and an open road that allowed access to the length of the wall.

For the natives to the south the mounds and ditch may have been the equivalent of present day fencing. The wall had more than one purpose. The main one being the control of the border. It would not stop an invading army with its necessary accompaniments, but it would slow it down. It could and did keep those who would collaborate with the Picts from having easy contact with the enemy. The building of the wall also helped with the local economy. Boomtowns, of a sort, developed along the south length of the wall. These towns were hastily built and easily disbanded. The locals provided goods and services to the army. By 410 AD, the last of the Roman army left Britain. The wall began to deteriorate without the constant upkeep of the Roman soldiers. In the early 1970s, housing was cleared and the University of Newcastle upon Tyne began an comprehensive series of archaeological digs of the Roman forts.

In 1985 Roman letters written on paper thin sheets of wood were discovered at Vindolanda Fort. In 1987 the wall was designated a «World Heritage Site.» This makes it of equal importance to the Taj Mahal and other man made world treasures. In 1991-92, Tyne and Wear Museums excavated and did a complete reconstruction of a selection of the wall. At the time it was completed Hadrian’s Wall was the most strongly defended frontier in all the Roman Empire. Today it is a reminder of the greatness that was Rome and the resilience of a people who refused to be subdued.

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