Separation barriers in Grindon

Hadrian's Wall

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Hadrian's Wall (Latin: Vallum Aelium) is a stone and timber fortification built by the Roman Empire across the width of what is now northern England. Begun in AD 122, during the rule of emperor Hadrian, it was the first of two fortifications built across Great Britain, the second being the Antonine Wall in what is now Scotland. Hadrian's Wall is the better known of the two because its physical remains are more evident today.

Opinions differ, but the growing consensus is that the Wall was built as a readily defended fortification which clearly defined the northern frontier (lat. limes) of the Roman Empire in Britain (Britannia). It would also improve economic stability and provide peaceful conditions in the frontier zone.

The wall was the most heavily fortified border in the Empire. In addition to its role as a military fortification, it is thought that many of the gates through the wall would have served as customs posts to allow trade and levy taxation.

A significant portion of the wall still exists, particularly the mid-section, and for much of its length the wall can be followed on foot by Hadrian's Wall Path or by cycle on National Cycle Route 72. It is the most popular tourist attraction in Northern England, where it is often known simply as the Roman Wall, or the Wall. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. English Heritage, a government organisation 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 was 80 Roman miles (73.5 statute miles or 117 kilometres) long, its width and height dependent on the construction materials which were available nearby. East of River Irthing the wall was made from squared stone and measured 3 metres (9.7 ft) wide and five to six metres (16–20 ft) high, while 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 eight Roman feet wide (7.8 ft or 2.4 m) on a 10-foot (3.0 m) base. Some parts of this section of the wall survive to a height of 10 feet (3.0 m).


Hadrian's Wall extended west from Segedunum at 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 along 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.

Purpose of construction

Hadrian's Wall was built following a visit by Roman Emperor Hadrian (AD 117–138) in AD 122. Hadrian was experiencing military difficulties in Roman Britain and from the peoples of various conquered lands across the Empire, including Egypt, Judea, Libya, Mauretania, and many of the peoples conquered by his predecessor Trajan, so he was keen to impose order. The construction of such an impressive wall was, however, probably also a symbol of Roman power, both in occupied Britain and in Rome.[]

Frontiers in the early empire were largely based on natural features or fortified zones with a heavy military presence. Military roads 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 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. The wall was constructed primarily to prevent entrance by small bands of raiders or unwanted immigration from the north, not as a fighting line for a major invasion. The wall would have made cattle-raiding across the frontier extremely difficult.

Hadrian reduced Roman military presence in the territory of the Brigantes, who lived between the rivers Tyne and Humber, 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.


Construction probably started sometime in AD 122 and was largely completed within six years. Construction started in the east, between milecastles four and seven, and proceeded westwards, with soldiers from all three of the occupying Roman legions participating in the work. The route chosen largely paralleled the nearby Stanegate road from Luguvalium (Carlisle) to Coria (Corbridge), upon which were situated a series of forts, including Vindolanda. The wall in the east follows a hard, resistant igneous diabase rock escarpment, known as the Whin Sill.

The initial plan called for a ditch and wall with 80 small gated milecastle fortlets, one placed every Roman mile, holding a few dozen troops each, and pairs of evenly spaced intermediate turrets used for observation and signalling. However, very few milecastles are actually situated at exact Roman mile divisions; they can be up to 200 yards east or west because of landscape features or to improve signalling to the Stanegate forts to the south. Local limestone was used in the construction, except for the section to the west of Irthing where turf was used instead, since there were no useful outcrops nearby. Milecastles in this area were also built from timber and earth rather than stone, but turrets were always made from 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.

.]] The milecastles and turrets were of three different designs, depending on which Roman legion built them — inscriptions of the Second, Sixth, and Twentieth Legions, tell us that all were involved in the construction. All were about 493 metres (539 yards) apart and measured 4.27 square metres (46.0 square feet) internally.

Construction was divided into lengths of about 5 miles (8 km). One group of each legion would excavate the foundations and build the milecastles and turrets and then other cohorts would follow with the wall construction. it was finished in 128 AD

Early in its construction, just after reaching the North Tyne, the width of the wall was narrowed to 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) or even less (sometimes 1.8 metres) (the "Narrow Wall"). However, Broad Wall foundations had already been laid as far as the River Irthing, where the Turf Wall began, demonstrating that construction worked from east to west. Many turrets and milecastles were optimistically provided with stub 'wing walls' in preparation for joining to the Broad Wall, offering 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 to 17 (sources disagree) full-sized forts along the length of the wall, including Vercovicium (Housesteads) and Banna (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 Segedunum (Wallsend) on the Tyne estuary. Some of the larger forts along the wall, such as Cilurnum (Chesters) and Vercovicium (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 (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.

at Hadrian's Wall near Milecastle 42 (Cawfields).]] After the forts had been added (or possibly at the same time), the Vallum was built on the southern side. It consisted of a large, flat-bottomed ditch six metres (20 ft) wide at the top and three metres (10 ft) deep bounded by a berm on each side 10 metres (33 ft) wide. Beyond the berms were earth banks six metres (20 ft) wide and two 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 wall was thus part of a defensive system which, from north to south included:

  • a glacis and a deep ditch
  • a berm with rows of pits holding entanglements
  • the curtain wall
  • a later military road (the "Military Way")
  • a north mound,a ditch and a south mound to prevent or slow down any raids from a rebelling southern tribe.


The wall was garrisoned by auxiliary (non-legionary) units of the army (non-citizens). Their numbers fluctuated throughout the occupation but may have been around 9,000 strong in general, including infantry and cavalry. The new forts could hold garrisons of 500 men, while cavalry units of 1,000 troops were stationed at either end. The total number of soldiers manning the early wall was probably greater than 10,000.

They suffered serious attacks in 180, and especially between 190 and 197 when the garrison had been seriously weakened, following which major reconstruction had to be carried out under Septimius Severus. The region near the wall remained peaceful for most of the rest of the third century. It is thought that some in the garrison may have married and integrated into the local community throughout the years.

After Hadrian

In the years after Hadrian's death in 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 160 kilometres (100 mi) north, in what later became known as the Scottish Lowlands through the short strip running West South West to East North East from coast to coast sometimes referred to as the Central Belt or Central Lowlands. This turf wall ran 40 Roman miles (about 37.8 mi (60.8 km)) and had significantly more forts than Hadrian's Wall. Antoninus was unable to conquer the northern tribes, so when Marcus Aurelius became emperor he abandoned the Antonine Wall and reoccupied Hadrian's Wall as the main defensive barrier in 164. The wall remained occupied by Roman troops until their withdrawal from Britain.

In the late fourth 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 fifth century. Enough also survived in the eighth 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 , 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 twentieth century a large proportion of the stone was reused in other local buildings.

The wall fascinated John Speed, who published a set of maps of England and Wales by county at the turn of the seventeenth century. He described it as 'the Picts Wall' (or 'Pictes'; he uses both spellings). A map of Newecastle (sic), drawn in 1610 by William Matthew, described it as 'Severus' Wall', thus giving it the name ascribed by Bede. The maps for Cumberland and Northumberland not only show the wall as a major feature, but are ornamented with drawings of Roman finds, together with, in the case of the Cumberland map, a cartouche in which he sets out a description of the wall itself.

John Clayton

]]Much of the wall has disappeared. The preservation of what remains can be credited to John Clayton. He trained as a lawyer and became town clerk of Newcastle in the 1830s. He became enthusiastic about preserving the wall after a visit to Chesters. To prevent farmers taking stones from the wall, he began buying some of the land on which the wall stood. In 1834 he started purchasing property around Steel Rigg. Eventually he had control of land from Brunton to Cawfields. This stretch included the sites of Chesters, Carrawburgh, Housesteads and Vindolanda. Clayton carried out excavation work at the fort at Cilurnum and at Housesteads, and he excavated some milecastles.

Clayton managed the farms he had acquired and succeeded in improving both the land and the livestock. His successful management produced a cash flow which could be invested in future restoration work.

Workmen were employed to restore sections of the wall, generally up to a height of seven courses. The best example of the Clayton Wall is at Housesteads. After Clayton’s death, the estate passed to relatives and was soon lost at gambling. Eventually the National Trust began the process of acquiring the land on which the wall stands.

At Wallington Hall, near Morpeth, there is a painting by William Bell Scott, which shows a centurion supervising the building of the wall. The centurion has been given the face of John Clayton.

World Heritage Site

Hadrian's Wall was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and in 2005 it became part of the larger "Frontiers of the Roman Empire" World Heritage Site which also includes sites in Germany.

Hadrian's Wall Path

Main article: Hadrian's Wall Path

In 2003, a National Trail footpath was opened which follows the line of the wall from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway. Because of the fragile landscape, walkers are asked only to follow the path in summer months.

Rudyard Kipling

English Nobel Prize-winning author Rudyard Kipling contributed to popular image of the "Great Pict Wall" in his short stories about Parnesius, a Roman legioner who defended the Wall against the picts and vikings. These stories are part of Puck of Pook's Hill cycle.

Roman-period names

39, near Steel Rigg, between Housesteads and the Once Brewed Visitor Centre for the Northumberland National Park.]]

The only ancient source for its provenance is the Augustan History. No sources survive to confirm what the wall was called in antiquity, and no historical literary source gives it a name. However, the discovery of a small enamelled bronze Roman cup in Staffordshire in 2003 has provided a clue. The cup is inscribed with a series of names of Roman forts along the western sector of the wall, together with a personal name and the phrase MAIS COGGABATA VXELODVNVM CAMBOGLANNA RIGORE VALI AELI DRACONIS.

Bowness (MAIS) is followed by Drumburgh-by-Sands (COGGABATA) until now known only as CONGAVATA from the late Roman document, the Notitia Dignitatum. Next comes Stanwix (VXELODVNVM), then Castlesteads (CAMBOGLANNA).

RIGORE is the ablative form of the Latin word rigor. This can mean several things, but one of its less-known meanings is ‘straight line’, ‘course’ or ‘direction’. This sense was used by Roman surveyors and appears on several inscriptions to indicate a line between places. So the meaning could be 'according to the course'.

There is no known word as vali, but vallum was the Latin word for an earthen wall, rampart, or fortification; today vallum is applied to the ditch and berm dug by the Roman army just south of the wall. The genitive form of vallum is valli, so one of the most likely meanings is VAL[L]I, ‘of the vallum’. Omitting one of a pair of double consonants is common on Roman inscriptions; moreover, an error in the transcription of a written note could be the reason: another similar bronze vessel, known as the Rudge Cup (found in Wiltshire in the 18th century) has VN missing from the name VXELODVNVM, for example, although the letters appear on the Staffordshire Moorlands cup. The Rudge Cup only bears fort names.

The name AELI was Hadrian's nomen, his main family name, the gens Aelia. The Roman bridge at Newcastle-upon-Tyne was called Pons Aelius.

DRACONIS can be translated as ‘[by the hand – or property] of Draco’. It was normal for Roman manufacturers to give their names in the genitive (‘of’), and ‘by the hand’ would be understood. The form is common, for example, on Samian ware.

The translation, therefore, could be:

"Mais, Coggabata, Uxelodunum, Camboglanna, according to the line of the Aelian wall. [By the hand or The property] of Draco." Another possibility is that the individual's name was Aelius Draco, which would only leave us with an unspecified vallum, 'wall'.


The Latin and Romano-Celtic names of some of the Hadrian's Wall forts are known, from the Notitia Dignitatum and other evidence:

  • Hunnum (Halton Chesters)
  • Cilurnum (Chesters aka Walwick Chesters)
  • Procolita (Carrowburgh)
  • Vercovicium (Housesteads)
  • Aesica (Great Chesters)
  • Magnis (Carvoran)
  • Banna (Birdoswald)
  • Camboglanna (Castlesteads)
  • Uxelodunum (Stanwix. Also known as Petriana)
  • Aballava (Burgh-by-Sands)
  • Coggabata (Drumburgh)
  • Mais (Bowness-on-Solway)

Turrets on the wall include:

  • Leahill Turret

Outpost forts beyond the wall include:

  • Habitancum (Risingham)
  • Bremenium (Rochester)
  • Fanum Cocidi (Bewcastle) (north of Birdoswald)
  • Ad Fines (Chew Green) [1]

Supply forts behind the wall include:

Illuminating Hadrian's Wall

, one of Cell 27 of the event volunteer 'legions'.]] On 13 March 2010, Hadrian's Wall was illuminated from Tyneside to Cumbria. This 84 mile route was lit by 500 gas beacons, flares and torches at 250m intervals, with the assistance of more than 1000 volunteers. Over 120 landowners allowed access onto their lands for this historic event to take place. This event created an iconic celebration of the landscape, and showed the wall in its former glory. 2010 is also the 1600th anniversary of the end of Roman rule in Britain in AD410 – one of the turning points in British history.

'Illuminating Hadrian’s Wall' was an ambitious project led by Hadrian’s Wall Heritage Ltd, supported by several other groups, which forms part of North East England’s word-class programme of festivals and events. This event marked the beginning of British Tourism week as supported by the Carlisle Tourism Partnership and the 500 points of light were filmed by a helicopter at dusk.

See also


  • Anglo-Scottish border
  • Antonine Wall
  • Via Hadriana
  • List of English Heritage properties
  • Gask Ridge
  • Hadrian's Wall Path
  • History of Northumberland
  • History of Scotland
  • List of walls
  • Offa's Dike
  • Roman Britain
  • Rudge Cup
  • Separation barrier
  • Scots' Dike
  • Silesia Walls


Further reading

External links

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Gerrit d
21 July 2013
Most beautiful part with pieces of wall between Humshaugh and Banks
Maria S
27 May 2011
Go to the Kings Arms pub!!
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B6318, Northumberland National Park, Hexham, Northumberland NE47 6NW, UK

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