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Tours > Hadrian's Wall

David Ford, History Editor

Hadrian's Wall
by David Nash Ford BA, Editor, History on Britannia

Only forty years after the Roman invasion, the Imperial army had overrun almost the whole of Britain. With their great victory at Mons Graupius (AD 84) in the Grampian Mountains of modern Scotland, the Latin peoples made themselves the new masters of the Isles. However, troubles elsewhere in the Empire soon led to troop withdrawals and, by about AD 105, the Northern border of the Empire was set at Stanegate, the road running between the supply bases of Carlisle (Cumberland) and Corbridge (Northumberland). The Emperor Hadrian then visited Britain and decided to formalise the arrangement by building an eighty Roman mile stone wall as a frontier to keep out the troublesome Picts. Work was begun in AD 122 and was probably completed by the end of the decade. Though the area was abandoned for a push north in the AD 140s, by AD 161, it was firmly established as the Imperial border.

Hadrian's Wall stretched some seventy-three and half modern miles from Bowness, on the Solway in the east, to Wallsend on the Tyne in the west. It consisted of a fifteen Roman foot high stone wall behind a V-shaped ditch. Faced with carefully cut limestone and filled with rubble, it was planned to be ten Roman feet thick, though this was later reduced to six or eight feet in places. There was a large ditch with attendant earthworks to the south, called the Vallum, and the wall was punctuated by a series of twenty-four playing-card shaped forts for large garrisons. Between these were built little 'milecastles' every Roman mile (1,620 modern yards) for a maximum of sixty-four men; while two-storeyed turrets, two between each milecastle, acted as signal stations manned by four soldiers at a time.

Over the years since the Roman military left our shores (around AD 410), the wall has been a convenient stone quarry for generations for Northcountrymen. Roman stonework can be detected in almost every ancient building in the district along the wall and churches in the area even have topsy-turvy inscriptions embedded in their walls. Despite this, its historical importance was recognised by a number of eminent antiquaries by the beginning of the 19th century and large stretches have been preserved for the generations of today and tomorrow. The wall has now even been proclaimed as a World Heritage Site. 'Walking the Wall' is a popular holiday passtime and many of the excavated forts are open to the public. Some of the best places to see the wall itself are at Birdoswald, Willowford, Walltown Crags, Cawfields, Hotbank Crags, Steel Rigg, Housesteads or Sewingshield Crags. All are well signposted from Stanegate (the B6318).

First Stop: The Tullie House Museum



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