The building of Hadrian's Wall Open or Close
The Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of the wall as an artificial continuous barrier. It’s purpose, according to his biographer, writing two centuries later, was ‘to divide the Romans from the barbarians. Hadrian brought one of his most trusted friends, A Platorius Nepos, to Britain as governor to oversee the construction of the new frontier. Most of it appears to have been completed during his governorship.
How long is it? Open or Close
The curtain wall itself was intended to be 76 Roman miles long and to close off the Tyne-solway isthmus. It was built in stone east of the river Irthing as far as the north side of the river Tyne at Newcastle. Initially built to a gauge of ten Roman feet, after two seasons it was decided to reduce the width to between six and eight Roman feet. In many places this ‘Narrow wall’ was built on broad foundations laid the previous season.
Is it still there? Open or Close
The wall does not survive to full height at any point, although at Hare Hill the core stands at 3m high. The faces were constructed of coursed rubble, weakly mortared, and the core was mainly clay bonded, There is no conclusive evidence as to how the top of the Wall was finished. Inscribed stones, of varying degrees of sophistication, recorded completion of individual sections by the units involved, including the names of centurions.
What route does it follow? Open or Close
The line of the Wall from Newcastle to Chesters was surveyed to run in straight sections between high points, with the section from Newcastle to Wallsend added later. From Chesters to Sewingshields the Wall followed a broad crest with extensive views north over the North Tyne valley, but between Sewingshields and Walltown the line sinuously followed the crest of the Whin Sill. Through the less dramatic topography of eastern Cumbria the Wall again followed a straighter line between high points. The Wall crossed three major rivers on substantial bridges, initially limited to pedestrians: the North Tyne at Chesters, the Irthing east of Milecastle 49 and the Eden at Carlisle.
Milecastles along the Wall Open or Close
Small fortlets, or milecastles, approximately 25m square with characteristic rounded exterior corners, were attached to the rear of the Wall at intervals of approximately one Roman mile. A central road flanked by one or two internal barrack buildings linked north and south gateways. Of the supposed 80 milecastles, only 58 have been firmly located and partially excavated, and six have been fully excavated.
Subsequent Hadrianic modifications Open or Close
The first major change of plan during construction of the Wall was to build new forts attached to it. Some replaced earlier turrets and milecastles. At the same time the curtain wall was extended eastwards for four miles, wholly as Narrow Wall, to Wallsend on the north bank of the River Tyne.
The Vallum Open or Close
The Vallum, constructed in the same period as the new forts, runs south of the Wall. It consisted of a steep sided flat bottomed ditch, 6m wide and 3m deep flanked by two mounds each 6m across, with a third and smaller mound on the south lip of the ditch. The course of the Vallum was surveyed quite independently of the Wall, and the distance between the two linear elements varies from close proximity to nearly 1km. The precise purpose of the Vallum is still a subject for debate, but the generally accepted view is that it was to provide a secure area under direct military control to the rear of the Wall across which unauthorised access was virtually impossible.
Post-Hadrianic Modifications Open or Close
The Roman withdrawal from southern Scotland and the Antonine Wall, which began in the late AD 150s, saw further changes. A new metalled road, the Military Way, ran between the Wall and the Vallum, connecting all the forts and milecastles. Many of the turrets were seen as superfluous and were abandoned in the late AD 180s. Some of these were demolished in the early third century. The remainder of the Turf Wall was rebuilt in stone, incorporating the primary stone turrets, as were the turf and timber forts.
Civilian Settlements along the way Open or Close
Wherever the Roman army went, its wealth attracted a civilian following, and civilian settlements (vici) developed outside the forts, initially south of the Vallum. Although little excavation work has taken place on these sites on Hadrian’s Wall, recent geophysical survey and work elsewhere in Roman Britain suggests that they contained a mixture of official, semi official and commercial buildings, including bathhouses. A number of these have been identified along Hadrian’s Wall, and are displayed at Chesters, Vindolanda and Ravenglass.