In AD122 emperor Hadrian faced a problem. The tribes in northern Britain were unruly, highly mobile, had no real wealth and were proving very resistant to being civilised.
What was he to do? The tribes needed to be controlled and the province protected, but war was an expensive business. His solution turned out to be rather remarkable. Hadrian ordered his soldiers to build a Wall from one side of the country to the other.
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Stretching across the island for 80 miles, the Wall was the showpiece of the frontier works and a powerful symbol of the might of Rome. However, with delays, changes in plan, inadvertent demolition and some far from perfect work, it appears things didn’t go entirely smoothly during construction. Yet, once finished, it must have looked spectacular, alien and intimidating to the local Britons.
© Hadrian's Wall at Sycamore GAp
The soldiers of Rome didn't just build a wall; They studded the area with auxiliary forts. Whether temporary marching camps or full blown bases, they tended to have a similar layout and shape (probably a very helpful feature for soldiers retuning from a night in the local tavern).
Milecastles were small forts built at every Roman mile along the Wall. With thick, high walls and two stout, wooden gates they offered protection from the harsh weather, wild animals and the nefarious locals. Between the milecastles, the Romans built two stone towers. Rising to a height of 30 feet or more, the turrets provided observation and signalling points along the wall.
© A milecastle near Housesteads
Roman soldiers were expert at digging, and they were busy on the Frontier. In front of the Wall was a deep defensive ditch. Meanwhile, behind the Wall, the Romans dug a deep flat bottomed ditch, flanked by two earth mounds that became known as the Vallum.
© The Busy Gap