In AD 122, the Roman Emperor Hadrian built a great wall across Northern Britain, as part of a border control and to separate the Romans from the barbarians. It runs a total of 74 miles across the top of Britain, and was the northern limit of the Roman Empire – beyond it was land belonging to the Ancient Britons including the Picts.
It took approximately 15000 men just under 6 years to complete the wall.
From North to South the wall comprised of a ditch, wall, military way and another ditch. There was a fort every 5 miles.
Milecastles (a small fort) were built along the wall between the major forts, along with barracks and ramparts.
For almost three centuries Hadrians Wall was a vibrant, multi-coloured frontier post, and despite it’s remote location life for the Roman soldier here probably wouldn’t have been that bad.
In the years following Hadrians death in AD 138, the new Emperor Antoninus Pius, essentially abandoned the wall, leaving it occupied in a support role, and began building a new wall called the Antonine Wall, about 100 miles North.
This new wall ran for 40 miles and had considerably more forts along it’s length. Antoninus was unable to conquer the northern tribes, so when Marcus Aurelius became emperor, he abandoned the Antonine Wall and reoccupied Hadrian’s Wall in 164.
The new Emperor Septimius Severus again tried to conquer the North and temporarily reoccupied the Antonine Wall in 208–211, but the campaign proved inconclusive and the legions were once again moved South back to Hadrians Wall.
By 410, the estimated End of Roman rule in Britain, the Roman administration and its legions were gone and Britain was left to look to its own defences and government. The Wall was abandoned in part, although archaeologists have found some evidence of parts of the Wall being occupied well into the 5th century. It has been suggested that some of the garrisons were later occupied by local Britons.
Soon the Wall was deserted forever, and local farmers dismantled the wall and forts to use the stone for their barns, and long sections were used for road building in the 17th century.
Much of the present day preservation can be attributed to a John Clayton. He was a local solicitor and landowner. After visiting one of the ruined barracks he bought up much of the land in the 1830’s and 40’s to stop farmers destroying the wall. With local workmen he set about preserving many of the sites.
Hadrians Wall became a World Heritage Site in 1987.
Hadrians Wall and the forts and barracks along the way are a superb example of life in Roman Britain 2000 years ago – and is well worth a visit. Apart from the Wall there are several excellent museums along the route.
Shirl and I spend a superb afternoon recently exploring the ruins of a couple of the forts and barracks.
There is lots more info on this fascinating place here.