My Illlustrated Travel Journal with Essays about Roman and Mediaeval History and some Geology

  Hadrian's Wall - Introduction

The anonymous 4th century Historia Augusta mentions that Emperor Hadrian "had a wall built to separate Romans and barbarians". It stretches 80 Roman miles (73 British miles, 123 kilometres) all the way from modern Newcastle / Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway in the west. Building began in 122 AD, but ideas for a more permanent frontier in different parts of the expanding empire had been discussed before. Nor was the Hadrian's Wall the only solid border defense - the German Limes, an earth wall and palisade construction across the area between Rhine and Danube, was erected during the same time.

Remains of the Wall at Birdoswald

Such frontiers served to control traffic - trade and thus taxes, and migration - not to separate people the way the Berlin Wall did. The Hadrian's Wall had mile castles every mile, and most of them, as well as the forts, protected gates. Between each mile castle lay two observation turrets, though the structure was sometimes interrupted by major forts directly at the Wall, like Housesteads.

At first, only the eastern part of the Wall up to Birdoswald was built of stone while the western part was a turf and palisade construction, but later Hadrian ordered to have that part rebuilt in stone as well.

The wall part was about 4 metres high. It might have been painted white with a stone structure outlined in red, but there is no sure proof for it.

A reconstructed section of the Wall at Segedunum.

The thickness of the Wall varies from 3.6 metres to less than 2 metres, which points at different engineers and plans. North of the Wall lay a deep V-ditch (except where the land made it unnecessary), and on the south side, some 30-40 metres away from the Wall, was another turf wall and trench line, the vallum. It is thought to have demarked some sort of no man's land, but another argument is that it was built before the Wall and served as protection - makes one wonder why south of the Wall in that case since the belligerent tribes were north of it. Or the Brigantes were less reliable than Roman sources make us believe.

Between vallum and Wall ran a military road, but the old Stanegate road further south was still in use as well, as were some of the older forts, like Vindolanda where several layers of timber and stone buildings point at an occupation over centuries. Those places, as well as the supply fort in Arbeia (South Shields near Newcastle) were part of a border defense network.

Vindolanda (Chesterholm), view to the Pennine Hills in the northeast

Some of the forts attracted a vicus, a civilian settlement; the largest was that of Vindolanda. But town-like settlements also developed, like Corbridge (known in Roman times as both Coria and Corstopitum). It had been an Iron Age settlement before the Romans built a fort nearby in AD 84 which was in use until the Antonine Wall was abandoned. The fort ramparts were then levelled and temples were built, as well as a central complex that may have been intended as forum (though it was never finished to the original plans), and some villa-like houses, one of them large enough to have been the quarter of Septimius Severus.

Some of the buildings would later be dismantled and the stones used in building Hexham Abbey, but there are still some impressive remains left.

Corbridge settlement, main street

The wall was built by legionaries but the garrisons in the forts were auxiliary troops; the nearest legionary fort was in Eboracum / York some distance south of the wall. The same distribution can be found at the German Limes.

The Romans used the lay of the land and its natural defenses wherever possible. A good example are the Walltown Crags. I didn't have the time to go round the cliffs to the side where you can climb them, but the view from the hill where I stood was quite spectacular as well.

Walltown Crags
(I used a strong tele for this shot which makes the crags look less menacing than they were.)

Between 142 AD until about 160 AD the Hadrian's Wall was abandoned in favour of the Antonine Wall further north, but in the end turned out the be the frontier that worked best.

During the 3rd century, the number of gates was reduced and part of the vallum trench was filled in. Some of the turrets were dismantled, then erected again, some of the mile castles lost their function as gate protections but still were garrisoned. The border remained an unruly place.

Vindolanda, reconstruction of a stone watch tower

After the Romans left Britain, stones of the Wall have been used to build houses, and some with ornaments and insctiptions can still be identified today. There are some interesting ones in Hexham Abbey. If the Hadrian's Wall hadn't been used as quarry, more of it would be left.

More photos can be found here.

  Auxiliary soldier Gabriela Germanica

Dressed up in Roman auxiliary reenactment gear at Segedunum (Wallsend/Newcastle).

This stuff is heavy, especially the shield, I tell ye. And it's not easy to get the mail shirt over long hair. Also, tightly fitting mail does bad things to those extra pounds on the hips. But it was fun, and the helmet is really stylish.

Now I just need a horse to go with it, and some enemies to poke that gladius into. *grin*

(Yes, I know the cavalry had spathae, but they didn't have one at the museum.)

  Hadrians' Wall - First Impressions

Here are the first pics of what my father jokingly called 'lots of photos of stones and sheep'. *grin* There were indeed some sheep grazing among the ruins in several places.

View towards the remains of Vercovicium (Housesteads)

I didn't play with the colours, the grass is so green. And the weather wasn't so bad most of the time; the afternoon I visited Housesteads was the only one with rain. I often got some real sunshine.

Cilurnum (Chesters), bath house at the river Tyne

On a sunless day with low clouds the wall could look quite threatening, though. Imagine those walls at their original height of about 4 metres and imagine you're some tribal warrior with no armour and only a spear.

The Wall near Birdoswald, seen from the northern side

Sometimes the air was a bit hazy despite the sun. I soon realised that was the pefect weather to get a sunburn. In Britain.

Afternoon at Corstopitum (Corbridge), Tyne Valley

A few features have been reconstructed, like the gates in Vindolanda. Vindolanda is not part of the actual wall, but of the earlier Stanegate forts and there was some discussion about the reconstructions.

The reconstructed Wall at Vindolanda - both a stone and an earth and timber part.

Personally, I think it's interesting to see such reconstructed places if it's done well. In Vindolanda, the reconstructed features fit into the entire site, and it's cool to see diggings going on only a few metres from the 'new' wall. It gives you a feeling of history being alive.

Me standing around near the south gate at Cilurnum (Chesters)

A little tidbit of interest: Cilurnum plays a role in Gillian Bradshaw's Island of Ghosts, a novel about the Sarmatian cataphracti auxiliaries in Britain. Cilurnum has never been proven as one of the places where the Sarmatians were stationed, but we can't blame Ms. Bradshaw for this - when she wrote her novel, not much was known about the Sarmatians in Britain at all, and newer discoveries (Sarmatians in Ribchester). The book is an entertaining read, minor problems nonewithstanding.

  I'm Back

It was a great tour and I managed to see a lot. I need a new set of feet, though, the ones I have are pretty much worn out. I only got supplementary plot bunnies, not new stories. And the suppies are nice.

Here's a short summary in 12 points.

- The Romans are everywhere.
- Especially their stones.
- Bookstores are evil.
- It only rained one afternoon, but then it poured.
- Kids in school uniforms look cute.
- They speak funny in Newcastle.
- British buses don't get you anywhere.
- I love the tea cooking facilities in B&Bs.
- Fish 'n Chips is ewww.
- The Normans really got around.
- Jorvik Viking Museum rocks.
- Everything except books and ale is expensive.

I've got some 800 pics to sort out, and that's only the digital colour ones. I took a nice bunch of black and white ones with my old analog camera as well. So here's an old one again - for Susan Higginbotham who wanted to know what Eilean Donan Castle looks like.

Me in front of Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland.

The Lost Fort is a travel journal and history blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and other places. It includes essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, as well as some geology, illustrated with photos of old castles and churches, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.
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Location: Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who hasn't yet gotten an Instagram account. :-)


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