By Emily Johnston
When you think about the Romans in Britain, one of the first things to jump into your mind might be Hadrian’s Wall.
Hadrian’s Wall is an incredible fortification - which is actually made up of many different (and important) sites! These sites can tell us a lot about what life was like as a Roman soldier, as well as aspects of life in Roman Britain.
There are different reasons for that historians think the wall was built. Some believe that it was built to keep the tribes to the North out - the Historia Augusta (an ancient text) says that the wall was built to keep the ‘barbarians’ from the Romans. The wall could control who entered and left the territory. There was also unrest within the Empire when Hadrian became Emperor. The wall also allowed the Romans to control not only what people came in and out, but also trade and economy.
In 1987, Hadrian’s Wall was inscribed as a World Heritage Site, and in 2005 it became part of the “Frontiers of the Roman Empire” World Heritage Site, which marks the greatest extent of the Roman Empire, in the 2nd Century AD. It includes Limes in Germany, and the Antonine Wall in Scotland.
Did You Know - You can still visit Hadrian’s Wall today, and there is a National Trail which follows the wall!
Inscriptions from Hadrian's Wall
Inscription now held in the British Museum ( Ⓒ British Museum)
There are so many artefacts that have been uncovered from sites along Hadrians Wall, and we’ll look at some in more detail in other posts on some of the sites along Hadrian’s Wall.
This inscription reads (This work) of the Emperor Caesar Trajan Hadrian Augustus, father of his country, the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix (built)
The inscription was discovered at the Moresby fort, near the location where it probably stood. The translation of the inscription helps to tell us
There are many inscriptions along Hadrian’s Wall which help to tell us about the people who constructed this wall. This inscription here tells us that the twentieth legion Valeria Victrix built this section of the wall. Inscriptions like these have also helped archaeologists to date Hadrian’s Wall. Until the 1800s, historians believed that the wall was built when Septimus Severus was emperor. An inscription, found near Milecastle 38, as well as other inscriptions like this one pictured, proved that the wall was built under Hadrian!
To find out about more of the inscriptions discovered along Hadrian’s Wall, have a look at this website! https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/sites/hadrians-wall
There are many forts, mile castles, barracks, ramparts and outposts which are interesting to study. Inscriptions have told us many of the names of the forts, as well as the Notitia Dignitatum (a Roman government document). We will explore many of these sites this month on Archaeo-Logic - so keep an eye out for new posts!
For this post, we will think of the whole of Hadrian’s Wall as a site!
The Wall stretches 73 miles long across Northern England, from Wallsend in the East, to Bowness-on-Solway, in the West. Construction of the wall began in AD 122, under Emperor Hadrian, and took around 6 years to build. It was built as a defence during the Roman invasions of Britain, and marks the most northern point that the Romans conquered.
The width of the wall changes at different points - and is referred to as “the narrow wall” and “the broad wall”. It is thought that the whole wall was planned to be 10 Roman feet wide, but there may not have been enough building materials and plans had to change. Some parts of the wall were originally built from Turf, before it was rebuilt using stone. This, again, may have been because there was not enough resources to build the entire wall from stone.
Images of Hadrian's Wall. Above Ⓒ English Heritage. Below Ⓒ BBC
Hadrian lived between AD 76 and AD 138 and was Roman emperor from AD 117 till his death in AD 138. He was born Publius Aelius Hadrianus, in Italica (which is now modern day Spain). When Hadrian was 10, his father died, and he attended school in Rome, where he was adopted by Trajan (later to be Emperor Trajan).
Hadrian had the support of the troops, when he became Emperor, as well as the support of the people, which made him a popular Emperor. Hadrian visited many of the provinces, visiting Britain in AD 122, and developed many of the cities with infrastructure and monuments throughout the Empire. Hadrian’s Wall is one of the great displays of strength and fortification in the empire.
Hadrian died in Rome, in AD 138. It is thought that he died of a heart attack.
Bust of Emperor Hadrian © The Trustees of the British Museum
Emily Johnston is a PhD candidate in Archaeology - and founder of this website! She has an undergraduate and masters degree in Archaeology, which she focussed on the Romans.
She can be found on her personal twitter at @emilyrjohnston and instagram @emilyrebeccajohnston or on any of the archaeo-logic social medias & email!