Progress Report – New 15mm scale Hadrian’s Wall range Gateways

Jun 18th, 2010 | By | Category: Rome, Workbench

click image for larger viewCustomers and colleagues who’ve followed Long Range Logistics since I relaunched the brand in 2003, will be aware that for a long time I’ve been talking about the new upscaled Hadrian’s Wall set that I’ve been designing.

But first a warning – there’s a lot of pictures on this page, it might take a bit of time to fully load them all – it’s well worth allowing them to do so.

LRL customers from the 1990s will remember the 6mm scale Hadrian’s Wall set that I made and displayed at shows throughout the UK between 1990 and 1992.

Eventually, I’ll put that 6mm range back into production – as soon as I can get the master models shipped over to Thailand from my mother’s place in the UK – but until then I thought it would be a good time to upscale and upgrade the designs originally issued in 6mm.  That’s where the new 15mm range began.  For a number of reasons, it has taken far longer than intended for the range to become a reality.

Now, as the new core range nears design-completion, I’m more than pleased to provide a preview of what’s coming, for all our readers here at, and hope you like what you see in the photos (click any of them for a larger view) …

So what’s been designed so far?  First, please remember these are mostly incomplete designs so some features will change or be added / removed before final production begins, but you can see the general appearance at this stage.  I’ll describe the known modifications that are planned, as I describe each model.  This week I’m looking at the gatehouse.

Background Research

One of the most controversial pieces in the initial range will be the gatehouse shown (almost complete) in the picture at the very top of the article.  I know in advance that a great many gamers will immediately cry, “That’s not a Roman Gate” and they will have some justification as the first two of the next set of photos show, but hold your breath for the “proof of design” further down this page.

First of all, I’m going to self-justify my design criteria.  As far as I can tell, the Romans of Hadrian’s time – the prolific builders-in-stone of the northern frontier – used at least three main gatehouse design groups.

Reconstructed Roman City Gate at South Shields in North East England - Front (outer) view
Reconstructed Roman City Gate at South Shields in North East England - Rear (inner) view
Roman Frontier Gate and bridge over outer ditch at Saalburg Weisbaden in Rhein Main, Germany
Roman Frontier Gate and bridge over outer ditch at Saalburg Weisbaden in Rhein Main, Germany

Porta Primus

This first pair of photos display the double-gated city gatehouse style from the reconstruction at Arbeia in South Shields in North East England.  Notes that I’ve read reveal this design was used much like a modern dual carriageway toll booth – one gate for inbound traffic, and the other for outbound traffic.  This is understandable when you consider that the Romans only provided four gatehouses per city, and thinking about all the urban comings and goings than any major provincial centre would have.

As such, I’ve allocated this style of gatehouse the working names of “City Gatehouse” and “Porta Primus“.  They’re not real naming conventions (as far as I know) but serve the purpose of classifying the gatehouses for wargaming use.  I’ve not yet started on this design, but there are a couple of points from the photos to note that are guiding my design of all the gatehouse styles the range will eventually have, which will be more than three.

Firstly, note the difference in Arbeia’s parapet topping between the inner and outer faces.  Whilst the inner (city-facing) face is a flat wall-topline, the outer face is crenelated.  But also look closely at those crenelations – the “space” is twice the width of the raised “shielding” part.  This is counter-design to later medieval crenelations, where the shield was twice the width (or more) of the space between them. It’s a distinctive feature, particular to Roman defensive architecture.  However, as the second pair of photos show, outside of Britain, the Romans used a style similar to the later medieval style of narrow gaps and wider shields.

Also, note the window height-spacing.  The ground floor chambers seem to be 150% of the floor-to-ceiling height of the two levels above – if you use the rear view photo to gauge room heights (of the top and middle floors).  That’s an interesting proportional detail to note, and one which I’d missed when I first started the “Porta Secundus“.  After I spotted it, the “secundus” was relegated to “porta triarus” (see a long way down below on this page), and then more recently has been re-promoted to a Porta Secundus Limes.  The German gatehouse in the second pair of images also displays this 1.5 to 1 proportion of ground to upper floor ceiling heights.

The second major proportional feature (at Arbeia and at Saalsburg in the second pair of photos) is that after also studying many other photographs and plan drawings, the towers of the gatehouses are not square.  They’re deeper than their frontage is wide.  That’s something I got wrong with the 6mm range I made in 1990, but something I’ve corrected in this 15mm range.

However, the critical factor in the Arbeia gatehouse is that it’s three storey, with a tiled roof and not a fortified open-roof.  That’s important because all the frontier gates were only two storey, sometimes with a tiled roof, and sometimes with an open crenellated roof, but always with only two habitable, enclosed floors, comp0ared to Arbeila’s three enclosed floors.

The two greystone photos above, are of the equivalent frontier gate from Saalburg Weisbaden in the German Rhein Main region.  This was a main highway gate through the northern German frontier wall (the Limes Germanicus).  It was not a city gate, and I am convinced that is why it has only a two storey construction – ground floor, plus a wall-walkway-level upper floor, with the over-gates bridge-way at the same level as the main wall’s walkway.

In the angled photo, note the depth and steepness of the dry ditch that reinforces the defence of the gatehouse and flanking wall.  Other design differences (from the Arbeia reconstruct) are the lack of the small overhang in the wall face at the floor-level of the uppermost floor – that also does not appear on the German main wall, but does on the British one.

Porta Secundus

What’s the difference between a primary gate and a secondary gate?  This is subject to some conjecture. It could be argued from the photos in the Porta Primus section that the 3-storey city gate is the primus and the 2-storey frontier gate is the secundus, simply based on their scale and grandeur quotients.  However, I believe that would be the incorrect grading.  My belief is they’re both primus, but of different purpose, and that the twin gate design is what makes them prime.

This reasoning leads to the thought that secundus and lower would have a single gateway, perhaps with the gateway becoming more primitive (square not arched?) as the gate’s rank drops lower?  There is some evidence for this, as displayed in the photo selections that follow.

Side note – By now, you might be asking why it’s important to rank the gates?  For the moment, the main considerations are regarding the number of troops permanently within a gatehouse (the standing watch), and the proximity range of a larger supporting garrison, plus, for the visual grading of the gates and their purpose on the gaming table.

If we follow the logic that the Arbeia and Saalsburg gates are both primus for their purposes, then would the primus of a garrison (as opposed to a commercial) town also have it’s own style of primus and secundus?

The archaeological excavations and reconstructions at Corstopitum (modern-day Corbridge), Housesteads,  and Vindolanda (the garrison town west of Corstopitum) on Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England, give us some clues.  All of these garrisoned towns were near the mid-point of Hadrian’s Wall, as opposed to South Shields which was at the east end of the wall, and on the opposite side of the steep-valley and wide/deep River Tyne, therefore a particularly “civilian” city.

Vindolanda garrison town - click for larger viewIn this artist’s impression (click image for larger view) you can see that Vindolanda had four identical gates, one in each side.

Looking closely at them, the gatehouses were fully crenelated on both towers (two-storey plus roof platform) and on the bridge between the towers, which I suppose is to be expected for a military frontier town. The gatehouses also had only one arched gate, and the gate-tower front walls were slightly proud of the gate-arch / bridge fascia, as well as of the flanking wall.

Those are distinct differences from the gatehouses at Arbeia and Saalsburg. Does this mean then, that all the gates of a garrison town should be classed as “Porta Primus Militum” and the Arbeia gate as “Porta Primus Civica“, with the Saalburg gate as “Porta Primus Limes“? (Limes is the Latin singular for Limites or, frontier and frontiers respectively in English).  Remember these gatehouse-naming terms are most likely not what real scholars of Roman history would use, (I have no idea if they’re even correct Latin – but they’re comprehensible) they’re simply terms I’m using for identification purposes that non-Latin-speaking wargamers should be able to relate to.

Note that the artist’s representation of Vindolanda (above) shows the city walls for this garrison town only had wall towers at the rounded city corners, plus one extra (non-gate) tower per long-side – odd huh?  It implies that the towers were used purely for overview vantage points, not as fighting platforms.  This hypothesis is also often espoused citing the  strength garrisoned along the full length of Hadrian’s Wall was 10,000 men maximum, and that it was built as a political and psychological barrier.  The number of gateways through it allowing a fairly free, though supervised, movement of civilian traffic, probably with tax levying.  The wall was 123 Km long – 123,000 metres – meaning the densest possible full-length defence was one man every 12.3 metres … hardly impregnable?

The same (civilian free-flow) thinking appears to have been implemented at the garrison towns.  The design and fighting style of the Roman army of Trajan, and his successors, was for open terrain where large formations could move cohesively, not cramped up on linear defences and isolated strong-points.  In all likelihood, the impressive stone-works were probably more intended to inflict awe and respect into the locals, than to be a serious attempt to keep them out of the defended zone.

Vindolanda intermediate wooden gatehouse - click to enlargePrior to the construction of the stone walls, gates, and turrets of a Roman town or garrison, there was also a temporary turf and wood defence built.

The archaeologists reconstruction in this photo (from Vindolanda) shows it clearly as rather ramshackle by Roman architectural standards, being apparently a log-built room over two parallel walls, with a crenelated roof space.  The ground-level parallel walls through the turf embankment  forming the gate corridor, with swinging gates that close the outer face.

Notice too, how the flanking walls do not appear to match in either height or in being flush to the face of the gate tower.  I’m not 100% sure if this is by design or due to misleading photography, but it does seem to suggest less attention to linear detail was taken with the temporary structures.

Vindolanda Roman garrison town reconstructed wooden gateway on turf wallsHowever, once again we see the “typical” Roman crenelation with the space being twice the width of the raised shield on the wall top.  Again, this may be due to reconstructor’s interpretation of historical documents, but for now let’s consider it a historical signature, for northern Brittania at least.

This second photo of the same gate does not clarify the question about mismatched wall levels, nor the one about whether the wall on the other side of the gate is flush with the front or not – perhaps someone has a photo from the other side that would clarify the issue?

Should I name this style, whether in wood or stone, as “Porta Quartus”  due to the small structure, the square gate aperture and tunnel, and the generally down-market design?  Or should it be a Porta Secundus Militum?  I’m undecided right now, and am leaving that question until I have the stone-built series complete, and thus have time to start a turf and log series.  Hopefully, by then, I’ll have more information and pictures to use as design sources.

Porta Triarus

Saalburg Weisbaden, Germany - Roman frontier secondary gatehouseLarge gateways with substantial permanent garrisons would have been used for supporting high volumes of cross border traffic, and situated across a lowland track-way route, or secondary road.  My belief is that the frontier wall mile-forts would not have been used for this purpose, that the mile-forts would have been reserved exclusively for military traffic only.

The photograph above (also from Saalburg Weisbaden) displays the gatehouse design I believe to be the frontier wall Porta Secundus Limes, however, if it were a Porta Civica, I believe it would most certainly be a city’s Porta Triarus due to the combination of single gate and only two floors – perhaps elevating to a secundus for a smaller provincial town.  Did you spot the similarity to my model at the top of the page?  Maybe you’re also understanding my earlier comments about demoting and promoting the model from / to a secundus and triarus?

Saalburg Weisbaden Roman Limes Porta Secundus or Triarus Gatehouse
Saalburg Weisbaden Roman Limes Porta Secundus or Triarus Gatehouse

As these twin-towered crossing points would have been frontier-line gateways in daily military and civilian use as security and customs entré-ports, the gateways themselves would have had to accommodate a standing guard or watch – probably of around 20 men at any given moment, with reinforcements not too distant, should they be needed.

Again, this causes a problem with using mile-forts for this purpose.  The garrisons of mile-forts were needed for patrolling and scouting, and for changing guard units at the quarter-mile (actually one third mile – 500 paces) turrets and towers along the frontier wall.  It’s unlikely they would have had the spare time or manpower for regulating civilian traffic passing through their living space.  This is why I’m sure that the gates in a mile-fort were reserved for military use only.

(left) Two photos of another gatehouse from Saalburg Limes – this one has a wooden bridge over the gates (with its own roof) while the gates are the same square style as the wooden gate at Vindolanda (above).  However, note that the original pedestrian doorways were arched, not flat-topped.  They look to have been modified sometime after main reconstruction – possibly due to new research being uncovered.  This is also the only example I have seen with a window for the ground floor rooms – I treating this feature as suspect and wishful thinking.  My belief is that it is inaccuracy in reconstruction.

Is this the true, yet elusive, Porta Triarus Limes?  I am inclined to think so – the non-arched, not-stone, gate surround seems to be indicative of that.  There’s another clue too.  Look carefully at the upper of the two photos and mark the height of the main wall’s walkway.  It’s below the height of the ceiling for the ground floor rooms in the towers (which are proportioned at even height, not the 1.5 to 1 of the larger gatehouses), which is not the same as the single photo of the stone-arched gatehouse above.  Also the proportions of the towers are noticeably narrower than the secundus.  My belief is that this is certainly a triarus compared to the secundus and primus shown earlier.

Unlike similar sized gateways in Britain, the German design for the secundus and triarus gatehouses, have normal pedestrian doors in both the inner and outer faces of the towers’ lower floors – this is explicitly indicative of border control inspection and taxation for pedestrian traffic.  Note both the stone-bridged secundus and wooden-bridged triarus gatehouses, like Arbeia, also have a crenellated frontal (outer) bridge wall, and a flat-topline, rear (inner) wall, which is a feature I have previously normally associated more with Roman city and town gatehouses, not frontier wall versions.

Remember the British northern border was never fully pacified, with constant worries that the Brigantes tribe of north western Brits were about to rise up and rebel, joined by the Celts from north of the wall.   To house a secundus or triarus gatehouse’s standing guard, they too would need side-towers for accommodation and defence.  Using a mile-fort type enclosure would be impracticable, however desirable, as much more space would have been needed for inspecting traffic passing through the gate, plus, a bustling marketplace would spring up beside it, authorised or not, and that would certainly hamper routine military comings and goings, even if only from an espionage consideration.

Mile Forts and Porta Quartus

The tertiary gate design for Roman stone defences, particularly in the frontier zone of Northern England, is a topic of intense debate, and broad disagreements between different opinions.

On one hand is a strong argument that the unforgiving Northumbrian and Cumbrian winter weather absolutely precluded the use of tower-tops as fortified positions, and that they had to be tile-roofed to protect the living quarters below them (in a similar style to the Saalburg Porta Limites) from weather penetration of a flat fighting-platform floor acting as the roof covering.

On the other, is the tactical argument that the vantage point of the roof tops made them essential as fortified platforms for missile troops and watchmen.  For example, it is known that for a long period, a force of 500 Byzantine archers were stationed not far south of the wall at its western end.  Such a force would be ideal for manning fortified tower tops.  The Vindolanda artist’s representation displays this argument in his crenelated gateways. This therefore has some merit until you remember the wild and hilly undulations of the Hadrian’s Wall route already gives exceptionally elevated oversight positions.

There is also the argument that military establishments were crenelated, and civilian ones were roofed.  I’m not so sure this is a conclusive and provable argument – Saalsburg seems to preclude this being an absolute.

Oh Lord, where is a model designer to start when sorting this lot out?

1960s Airfix HO/OO scale Roman Mile-fort - click to enlarge
2008 scratch-built Roman Mile-fort model built by a wargamer -   click to enlarge

On one point I am sure.  Much of the design thinking amongst modellers and wargamers, even movie-makers, regarding the design of gateways along Hadrian’s Wall (away from towns and cities), has been inspired by the 1960s-released Airfix Roman mile-fort in HO/OO scale, shown in the box photo here.

The lower photograph is a scratch built model, made by a member of “The Miniatures Page” online wargames forum in about 2008.  You can see exact design details copied from the plastic kit into the scratch built version – noticeably the tower window and the decorative stonework around the gate arch, plus that the gate supports are slightly proud of the flanking wall.  Inspect the crenelation spacings in both pictures to see where they differ slightly.

Look closely at the Airfix box shot (click it to enlarge it, if you need to) there are three major historical / military flaws in the design – can you spot them?  (Answers at the bottom of the article.)

To me, those design flaws remove some of the credibility from the model as being an authentic representation created from archaeological or chronicle and illustration evidence.  They in turn question the authenticity of overall representation, regardless of how pretty both models look.  Only the foundations outline is undisputed from archaeological evidence in the field.

Mile-forts were not primarily cross border gateways on Hadrian's  WallAre the through-turret mile-fort gates (in-line with the main wall alignment) a basis for the design of Porta Triarus?  I don’t believe so, and not just based on the design in the Airfix mile-fort model, which I maintain is incorrect for any civilian-level gate.

My belief is that the mile-fort  gate-style shown, is more in line with a less important gateway a “quadricus” or “quartus” fourth-rate gateway.  The attached fort itself says to me that this type of gate was for military traffic only.

As this open-country photo clearly shows, mile-forts were often in fairly isolated, yet strategic spots, not conducive to easy cartage for civilian traders.  Look at the cliffs and sheer slope to the left (north) of the fort and wall-line.  How do you drive an ox-cart up that, much less a “ladies wagon” drawn by several horses? Click to enlarge the photo and look closely at the foundation ruins inside the mile-fort wall.  To me the inner buildings appear detached from the mile-fort wall.  Another flaw in the Airfix design?

These same design flaws also showed up in the film-sets of the recent Clive Owen movie about Arthur of the Britons and his escapades along the newly abandoned Roman Wall, as well as to it’s north.  I can’t remember the movie’s name, but did enjoy it as entertainment.  For the most part it had a lot of attention to historical detail, and I liked the new twists it brought to the Arthurian legend – that his knights were dismissed Roman cataphractii was a nice twist that worked well. Another of my favourite British actors, Ray Winstone, was at his best in the role he had, which was similar to his first big break in the TV series “Robin of Sherwood” where he played a thuggish Will Scarlet.  He plays a good thug does our Ray.

The Long Range Logistics Porta Secundus Limes / Porta Triarus Civica

90%-built Porta Triarus from the new Long Range Logistics Hadrian's Wall range (front view)
90%-built Porta Triarus from the new Long Range Logistics Hadrian's Wall range (rear view)

The recognition of a Porta Triarus class of gatehouse seems to be needed for an important commercial or supplies centre, not quite a military garrison town’s size, but bigger than an undefended large village.

I believe such towns to have been less strongly garrisoned than other more important centres, and with commerce more prevalent, they would be “prettier” rather than “sturdy”.  Perhaps the structures of such a centre would have a little more in common with the familiar home-zone designs of the Mediterranean towns, but adapted for Northern England and Germany’s climates?  Built from undecorated quarried stone, rather than rendered with adobe or lime, as evidenced by both Arbeia and Saalburg’s structures?

Towers attached to such gateways would be the garrison’s accommodation, so as to segregate them from the freely-trading citizens, whilst retaining the occupying authority’s “fear factor” through non-familiarity between the citizen’s and the troops?

Later in the occupation, that fear would become more of a comfort factor to have the troops there daily.  Hadrian built the wall around 132 AD, the Roman occupation ended in 410 AD – almost 300 hundred years later.  That’s roughly 15 generations that would have known nothing else but the presence of the legionaries at their town gates.

That’s where my Porta Secundus Limes, also serves as a Porta Triarus Civica, and bridges the cold harshness of Hadrianic frontier garrisoning, through to the more assimilated later Empire period.  It’s not intended as a Portus Militus – a completely separate model will be built for that, nor as the gates for a mile-fort (also new models to be built), and it’s single arch makes it unusable as a Porta Primus for either the Limes or Civica (each also needing their own models, which will eventually be made).

The two photos above show the work in progress on the nearly complete initial Porta for use with the new wall set, which is being “loosely” labelled as a Hadrian’s Wall 15mm range.  As you’ve seen from the above narrative and photographs, the set will also serve for the Limes Germanicus, and for the north western Mediterranean coastal zones.  It has potential for many of the other Roman frontiers too, and for towns, cities, and garrisons throughout the Empire once the correct gateways are in production.  Right now, the priority is to get all the generic (interchangeable) pieces finished and released first.  I’ll have a design sprint on gatehouses later.

The figure used for scale in the model photos is an old Minifigs true-15mm  (not 18mm / 1:100) medieval figure – he appears in almost all of my 15mm models’ photos, which should help you scale them against each other.

Details unfinished in the current gatehouse (top photo is outer face, lower photo is inner face) are –

  • crenellations to the outer bridge wall,
  • extension of gate-arch dressing stones down to ground level (inner and outer faces),
  • blocking up of lower-floor outer-face windows to fit latest research,
  • adding shutters to inner face windows,
  • plus a few other minor details.

Yes, yes, I know the Romans didn’t dress up the arch facings of their military gateways – I told you there was a detail or two you’d have to forgive, didn’t I?  The “prettified” Porta Secundus Limes / Triarus Civica will, however, do double-duty anywhere along the North Mediterranean coast from Spain to Greece, for most periods from Roman to Napoleonic – simply due to the addition of those dressing stones … now that’s a big bonus for one piece of historical inaccuracy, isn’t it?  If not, tell me – post a comment below stating why.  Persuade me otherwise, and I’ll redesign, but it’ll delay release of the range (again).

After those few details are finished, this gatehouse will be finished, and I can start on the other Civica and Limes gateways, plus maybe a series of Militum gates in various styles.  But, those will have to wait until I’ve finished the other two most important sets within this range – the walls themselves, and the quarter-mile turrets and city-wall towers.

The walls are finished but for minor details and creating a 90-degree city corner bend (I’ll be previewing the existing wall designs here in two weeks time).

The quarter-mile turrets are finished and will be previewed next week – remember they were actually one-third of a mile apart, with two turrets between mile-forts, not three.  Based on 1500 metres to the mile (1,760 yards), the turrets were spaced at 500 metres counting mile-forts as enlarged turrets.  Arguably this is a 500-pace spacing at the run.  A walking step being shorter than even a jogging step.

The mile-forts will be buildable from the generic wall sets, but need gateways and non-towered corner bends specific to them.  As soon as I get time to do those gateways and corners, I’ll do a further write-up for mile-forts, and preview the designs in progress.

Quiz answers

The design faults in the Airfix mile-fort were –

  1. there is no method for the troops stationed in the fort to get up onto the wall walkway, and thus into the outer-facing gate’s upper floor – where are the ladders?  Outer gates in the mile-forts did not have internal rooms to house ladders for pulling up into the upper part of the tower look closely again at the open country photo of the ruins) – the ladders should be depicted in the fort’s yard.  Also, the Airfix design shows the fort wall’s crenelations extended across the walkway, with no method for troops to cross onto the rest of the wall, how then did they traverse to patrol it?  I believe that crenelation extension is inaccurate and should not be there.
  2. the box-shot illustration depicts the wall-top walkway floor as wooden and over-hanging the inner wall face – this is incorrect, both for reason three below, and because the walkway of Hadrian’s wall was stone-paved for its entire length.
  3. no inner side protective wall is shown for the patrols and sentries along the wall’s length – there’s some evidence that the wall sections adjacent to the mile-forts had both inner and outer facing walls protecting the walkway – Airfix did not depict this is their model.  Many movies have not either.

As always, please feel free to leave comments, queries, suggestions, or critiques, in the comments zone below.  (I love a good debate, and am always open to unarguable evidence of me being wrong – remember to cite your sources).

Next Friday – A preview look at the “quarter-mile” wall turrets – the history, real life examples, and the models.  Again lots of photos for you to see.


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