A. Sutherland – MessageToEagle.com – The Romans were skilled builders and throughout their vast empire, we find their impressive, huge, and long-lasting structures.
Famous Hadrian’s Wall, also known as Picts’ Wall, Vallum Hadriani (in Latin), or simply the Roman Wall, was built on the northernmost fringe of the empire. The emperor Hadrian visited Britannia in AD 122 and ordered his generals to build a wall from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea, to prevent raiders from the north destroying the strategic Roman base at Corbridge, in Northumberland.
The 800 soldiers living and working at Housesteads in Roman times. The fort’s original name was ‘Vercovicium’ meaning ‘the place of the effective fighters’.
Hadrian’s famous construction consists not just of the Wall itself, but a number of structures such as forts, bridges, towers, temples, civil settlements, mile castles (small guard posts) with two turrets built at each mile, and many other constructions.
The structure was 80 Roman miles (about 73 modern miles or 117 km) long. It was built in 5 mile stretches, with seventeen forts. Smaller forts called ‘milecastles’ were built every mile and between these were signal turrets.
Much of Hadrian’s Wall was about 10 Roman feet wide – 3m or 9.7 modern feet. It stood about 5 to 6 meters tall (16 to 20 feet). It was about a third wider at the base than it was at the ramparts.
Most of the Wall and buildings were constructed of local stone, only the eastern 30-mile-long section was in turf. Building the wall, to which 4 million tons of stone were used, was a huge and ambitious task for eighteen thousand soldiers, who worked hard. It took 15 years to complete the work.
Although mainly built by soldiers of the three legions of Britain, the Wall was manned by the second-line auxiliary troops. Its purpose was to control movement across the frontier, record low-intensity threats, but there was no intention of fighting from the wall top. The soldiers were trained to encounter the enemy in the open. They were organized into regiments nominally either 500 or 1,000 strong and either infantry or cavalry or both. The 500-strong mixed infantry and cavalry unit was the workhorse of the frontier. Each fort on the Wall appears to have been built to hold a single auxiliary unit.
The troops based in the forts and milecastles of the Wall were mostly recruited from the north-western provinces of the Roman empire, though some were from further afield.
Hadrian’s Wall – a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia – served as a frontier for several Roman incursions into Caledonia, the Latin name given by the Romans to the land in today’s Scotland north of their province of Britannia, beyond the frontier of their empire.
There were originally 12 main forts along the Wall and a few others that were added later, totally 17. They were occupied by about 10,000 troops and controlled traffic between Caledonia and the Roman Empire.
Hadrian’s Wall did not exclusively serve the purpose of protection; when the Romans were not in war with the Caledonians, they were trading with them.
Vallum, an earthwork to the south 120 Roman feet (about 35 meters) wide, consisted of a central ditch between two mounds. Did this unusual feature of Hadrian’s Wall serve for traffic between north and south, or was it built for protection?
Another important building was the granary, built with ventilation beneath the floor to avoid humidity and rot. Each had enough food stored to survive a year’s siege. Hadrian’s Wall appears to have continued in this form into the late 2nd century. After Hadrian’s death in 138, civilian settlements began to be built just outside the gates at Housesteads and other forts. There were built several temples to honor Jupiter and eastern mystery religions such as Mithraism.
A major war took place shortly after AD 180, when ‘the tribes crossed the Wall which divided them from the Roman forts and killed a general and the troops he had with him’, according to ancient historical sources. The forts on Hadrian’s Wall had a long life of nearly 300 years and all continued to the end of Roman Britain that is into the early 5th century.
The latest coins found on Hadrian’s Wall were minted in AD 403–6.
In the years that followed, Hadrian’s Wall became a quarry for the stone to build castles and churches, farms and houses along its line. It was only from the mid-19th century archaeologists and historians began to study Hadrian’s Wall or rather its still outstanding remains.
Written by – A. Sutherland – MessageToEagle.com Senior Staff Writer