Progress Report – New 15mm Hadrian’s Wall range Wall Sections

Jul 2nd, 2010 | By | Category: Rome, Workbench
Hadrian's Wall (Black Line) terminated at Wallsend in the east - a significant distance from the coast
Hadrian's Wall's western end did not reach the coast at Bowness on Solway

Route

A significant portion of Hadrian’s Wall’s foundations and lower sections still exist, particularly the middle lengths, and for much of its original course it can be followed on foot on the Hadrian’s Wall Path, or on bicycle using National Cycle Route 72. It is claimed as the most popular tourist attraction in Northern England, and was made into a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

English Heritage, a British 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 extended west from Segedunum, at modern-day Wallsend, on the north side of the River Tyne, to near the shore of the Solway Firth, ending a short (but unknown) distance west of the village of Bowness-on-Solway.

The A69 and B6318 modern roads follow the course of the wall from its start in the suburbs of Newcastle upon Tyne, and its travels to Carlisle, then along the northern coast of Cumbria (south shore of the Solway Firth). The Wall is entirely within  England, and south of the border with Scotland (by less than one kilometre in the west at Bowness-on-Solway), and by 110 kilometres (68 miles) in the east.

Wallsend, today (first map), does not abut the banks of the Tyne, nor does the western end-point project into the historical or modern waterline of the Irish Sea. This implies that  Hadrian’s Wall was not a closed barrier at the “coastal” points (Wallsend is at least ten miles from the North Sea coast at Tynemouth, on the mouth of the River Tyne) and therefore it was not quite the coast to coast barrier it is often cited as being.

Although Hadrian’s curtain wall ended near Bowness-on-Solway (second map), this did not mark the end of the line of defensive structures in the west.  A system of mileforts and turrets is known to have continued south along the Cumbrian coast as far as Maryport. For classification purposes, the mileforts west of Bowness-on-Solway are referred to as Milefortlets.

Purpose

As discussed last week in the Wall Turrets article, and the week before in the Gatehouses article, opinions differ as to the purpose of Hadrian’s Wall.  On one hand is a consensus that The Wall was built as a readily defended fortification which clearly defined the northern frontier (Latin: limes) of the Roman Empire in Britain. On the other, is the growingly proven theory that it was built for ability-demonstration, prestige, and to improve economic stability while providing peaceful conditions in the frontier zone.  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 to levy taxation.

Hadrian’s Wall was the most heavily fortified border in the Roman Empire. Despite that, at its most fully garrisoned strength, it did not have enough troops to provide more than one soldier per 12.5 metres of its length – and that assumes every available northern-district soldier at a wall-post, with none resting in barracks, or engaged in other duties.  This known fact, alone, discounts any theory of it being a strategic and secure military construction; it could not be one any more than today’s barbed wire and wood-posts frontier lines (around the world) could be classed as providing total border security.

Frontiers in the Roman Empire were largely based on natural features, or on fortified zones with a heavy military  presence. Military roads alone 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.

In both Britain and Germany, the walls were constructed primarily to prevent entrance by small bands of raiders or unwanted immigration from the north, not as fighting lines for defence against a major invasion. The walls would have made cattle-raiding across the frontier extremely difficult.

The British wall was built following a visit to Britain by the Roman Emperor Hadrian (AD 117–138) in AD 122, and as such is named after him. 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.  He had to impose order to attain stability and prosperity, and pacify critics in Rome.

The construction of a wall, as impressive as the British stone frontier, was therefore not just for security but also a symbol of Roman power, both to occupied Britain and to those dissenting voices in Rome.  To construct his wall and passify the occupied border zone, Hadrian reduced Roman military presence in the territory of the Brigantes, who lived between the rivers Tyne and Humber (essentially modern Durham and North Yorkshire), and concentrated on building a more solid, linear fortification to the north of them. This was intended to replace the Stanegate Road, which some historians believe served as the Limes Brittanica until that time.

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