For 400 years the majority of Britain was a part of the great Roman Empire. In the south of England the Britons were more or less fully integrated into the Empire adopting Roman customs and ways, but in the North the Roman Army remained very much an occupying force, constantly skirmishing with the fierce tribes of the border areas. Here the Roman legacy is a collection of forts, military camps, and defences which have endured to the present day. The most famous of these and now designated a World Heritage Site, is Hadrian's Wall. Built more than 1,800 years ago by the Emperor Hadrian, and stretching 73 miles from sea to sea, it defined the very edge of the Empire, separating it from the the rest of the world. All who lived inside the wall were Romans - all those who lived beyond were Barbarians.
Hadrian's Wall was not simply a barrier however, but rather a means to control access to the Empire. Several roads crossed the wall through a system of fortified gates and in this way the army controlled all trade with the lands to the North and extracted its taxes on goods moving in and out of the Empire. The system of forts, watchtowers and defences continued down the Cumbrian coast in the west where the Roman Army established a number of ports. Goods & military equipment were transported through the rugged mountains of the Lake District to supply the garrisons on the Stanegate, the military road connecting Carlisle and Corbridge, and later to the forts of the Wall. The wall was constructed between AD 122 and 128 following a visit to Britain by the Emperor Hadrian. It was built by the legions of Chester and York, and with labour supplied by the auxiliary soldiers drawn from the conquered lands of Europe. Until the beginning of the fifth century it defined the northern edge of the Roman Empire.
Location: Hadrian's Wall runs from Wallsend at Newcastle-on-Tyne on the east coast of England. to Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast. It runs broadly parallel to the first century military road known as the Stanegate which connected the earlier Roman forts at Carlisle and Corbridge.
Length: 80 Roman miles ( 73 statute miles).
Height and width: Approximately 15 feet high and 8 - 10 feet wide.
Built: by governor Aulus Platorius Nepos on the decree of the Emperor Hadrian (76 - 138 AD) following his visit to Britain in 122 AD.
Construction: The wall was built by the three Roman Legions stationed in Britain, namely the II Augusta, the VI Victrix Pia Fidelis and the XX Valera Victrix legions from Caerleon, York, and Chester. Originally built in stone from the Tyne to the River Irthing and then as a turf embankment from there to the Solway, the turf wall was gradually replaced by stone with the entire length being stone by 163 AD.
Fortifications: At every mile along the wall are 'Milecastles' which housed approximately 60 men, and between each milecastle, two turrets at one third of a mile intervals. Along the wall were sixteen forts each housing between 500 and 1000 men. The wall was not garrisoned by the Roman Legions but by 'Auxiliary' troops - soldiers recruited from the conquered lands of the Empire.
The Ditch: An integral part of the Wall defences was the 'Ditch', a deep V-shaped excavation at the base of the north side of the wall. This was almost certainly dug at the time of building and runs the entire length of the wall except where it passes over the crags of the Whin Sil escarpment and along the Solway coast.
The Vallum: A later addition to the defences, the Vallum is a broader flat bottomed ditch with built up mounds on each side. Excavated some 60 to 80 yards to the south of the wall, it is likely that the Vallum defined a military zone between it and the wall. Around 160 to 180 AD, a military road was added within this zone.
Building on Hadrian's wall began at Newcastle in 122 AD to a gauge of 10 feet. After approximately 27 miles the gauge was altered to 8 feet and at the same time the wall was extended in the east to Wallsend. In the west the wall was constructed in earth, and milecastles in earth and timber from the Solway to the River Irthing. East of the Irthing the wall was built to the 8ft gauge but on a foundation laid to the original 10 ft gauge. In 138 AD, following the death of Hadrian, the wall was largely abandoned as the new Emperor Antoninus Pius pushed north and constructed a turf wall from the Clyde to the Forth. This new 'Antonine' wall held for 20 years before the boundaries of the Empire were pushed back once again. Hadrian's Wall was re-occupied, renovated, and the last of the old turf and timber defences to the west of the River Irthing finally made stone. Hadrian's Wall then defined the Edge of Empire for a further 200 years until it was gradually abandoned as the Roman Empire in Britain collapsed between 380 and 410 AD.