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The Story of Hadrians Wall

The Story of Hadrians Wall

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Hadrian’s Wall, a monumental feat of Roman engineering, snakes across the landscape of Northern England. Constructed under the reign of Emperor Hadrian in AD 122, it marked the Roman Empire’s northern frontier. This ancient barrier was not just a defensive structure but also a symbol of Roman power and control, stretching approximately 73 miles from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea.

Over the centuries, Hadrian’s Wall has captivated historians, archaeologists, and tourists alike. Its construction was a complex undertaking, involving vast amounts of manpower and resources. The wall, interspersed with forts, milecastles, and watchtowers, served multiple roles, from monitoring movement across its borders to asserting the might of Rome. Today, it stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a testament to the ingenuity and ambition of the Roman Empire.

When was Hadrian’s Wall built?

Hadrian’s Wall, was constructed under the reign of Emperor Hadrian. Initiated in AD 122, we believe it took around 6 years to comeplete. The inception of this grand structure was rooted in Hadrian’s visit to Britain, after which he ordered the building of a wall to separate the Romans from the barbarians.

Roman legions, primarily the Second, Sixth, and Twentieth legions, were tasked with the construction, leveraging both their engineering prowess and military discipline. These legions, supplemented by auxiliary units and local labor, worked on different sections simultaneously, ensuring swift progress.

The Wall stretched from the River Tyne in the east to the Solway Firth in the west, covering a distance of about 73 miles. This strategic choice of location allowed it to utilize natural topographical features for defense and surveillance, while also controlling movement across the width of Britain.

Every Roman mile along the Wall, a small fortification known as a milecastle was erected, with two turrets placed between each pair of milecastles for additional surveillance and defense. In total, the wall featured 80 milecastles and 160 turrets, alongside 15 larger forts that housed garrisons, further fortifying the frontier.

Width Variations and Resource Reallocation

An interesting aspect of Hadrian’s Wall is the evidence pointing to changes in its planned width during the construction phase. R.G. Collingwood, a notable historian, highlighted the existence of broad and narrow sections of the wall. The broad sections measured approximately 9.5 feet wide, whereas the narrow sections were 2 feet thinner, at about 7.5 feet wide.

This variance is particularly telling, as some narrow sections were built atop broader foundations, suggesting a design change post the commencement of construction. Originally, the entire wall was to span from present-day Newcastle to Bowness with a uniform width of ten Roman feet, entirely in stone.

Aside from modifications in width, the construction material of the wall underwent a significant shift. Initially envisaged to be built entirely from stone, only three-fifths of the completed wall met this criterion. The remaining sections to the west were constructed from turf, likely due to resource constraints. These turf sections were subsequently rebuilt in stone, signifying a phased approach to completing the wall in durable materials as more resources became available.

Purpose of construction

The construction of Hadrian’s Wall, stretching across Northern England, was not merely a monumental architectural achievement of the Roman Empire but also a nuanced response to various needs and threats of the time. Its purpose was multifaceted, serving both as a physical barrier and a symbol of Roman strength and determination.

First and foremost, Hadrian’s Wall was conceived as a defense mechanism. The Roman Empire faced constant threats from tribes in what is now Scotland, and the Wall provided a sturdy barrier to deter invasions. With its initial breadth of 10 Roman feet, later reduced in certain stretches, the Wall was a formidable obstacle. This physical deterrent was reinforced by the strategic positioning of milecastles and turrets, which facilitated surveillance and quick response to threats.


The strategic positioning and extensive length of Hadrian’s Wall necessitated a robust garrison to maintain and defend its boundaries.

Troops stationed along Hadrian’s Wall were not homogeneous but a mix of Roman legions and auxiliaries, the latter being non-citizen units recruited from the empire’s provinces. The soldiers’ primary duties included patrols, maintenance of the wall, manning watchtowers, and guarding gates which possibly served dual purposes as customs posts.

Life for the troops was rigorously structured but varied across different posts along the wall. Milecastles, housing small contingents, acted as gatekeepers for the passages through the wall, while the larger forts, such as Vindolanda, hosted more substantial permanent garrisons where community life flourished alongside military duties. These forts became essential cogs in the Roman military machine, supporting not only soldiers but also traders, families, and craftsmen.

Excavations have unearthed barracks, workshops, granaries, and even bathhouses, illustrating the self-sustained nature of these communities. The presence of such amenities highlights the Romans’ ability to create functional living spaces in the most remote outposts. It also underlines the significance of the wall not just as a military installation but as a catalyst for economic and social interaction.

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