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Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wal

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  • Category: Rome

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Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall are two of the greatest building achievements completed by the Romans. There are many differences between these two walls most notably the materials used in there construction. Hadrian’s wall was made a both stone and turf while the main material used on the Antonine Wall was turf. They also differ in the structures that can be found along the wall and the dimensions of the walls. There was a different level of planning that went into each wall and the number for soldiers stationed on each there also varies. The reason each wall was constructed is also different. Hadrian believed that at that time the best foreign policy was one of consolidation rather than expansion. The wall also restricted the communication capabilities of the Brigantes with those in southern Scotland, which was responsible for some local conflict. However, when Antonius Pius became emperor he reverted back to a foreign policy of expansion.

He was not Hadrian’s first choice as his heir and had no significant military experience so he needed something spectacular to concrete his right to the throne. Antonius built his wall for his own prestige. While the building of this wall was painstaking work once it was completed the soldiers stationed there provided with luxuries that soldiers in combat would not have had access to. These luxuries included bath houses, flushing latrines a very varied diet and other comfort provided by the villages that sprang up around the forts. It is suggested that the soldiers were required to work an eight hour observation shift rather than the having to be constantly alert to dangers that threatened their lives. The soldiers along the wall would have been much happier and healthier then their counterparts in active combat. The Emperor Hadrian commissioned the building of Hadrian’s wall in 120 AD. This wall was abandoned in 138 AD but reoccupied in 160 AD when improvements were made. Hadrian’s wall was a wall built of both stone and turf that started at Newcastle on the Tyne to Bowness on the Solway.

Initially the section from Newcastle to the River Irthing was meant to be made of stone and the remaining area from the River Irthing to Bowness on the Solway was supposed to be made of turf. The dimensions of the stone section of the wall were 45 Roman miles long, 10 Roman feet wide and 15 Roman feet high. The inner section of the wall was made of rough stones held together with either mortar or clay. The exterior section of the wall was made of “roughly dressed blocks of sandstone”. The dimensions of the turf section of the wall were 31 Roman miles long, 20 Roman feet wide and 14 Roman feet high. The materials used for the turf section was, turf, beaten clay, as well as “clogs dug out of a marsh or pond”. Later this section of the turf wall was rebuilt with stone. Along the wall there were small forts called Milecastles that were used to house the Roman troops. There were two towers called turrets equally spaced between each Milecastle. These turrets were used primarily as observation towers. The forts along Hadrian’s wall were separate to the wall itself “clearly on the wall line for convenience only”.

Another feature was the Vallum. This was a ditch south of the wall which measured 120 Roman feet wide and ran the entire length of the Wall. The ditch was reinforced by a mound on either side. When Antonius Pius succeed Hadrian in 138 AD he deserted Hadrian’s Wall and begun construction of the Antonine Wall 120km north of Hadrian’s wall. After the death of Antonius Pius the Antonine Wall was abandoned in 163 AD, this is the most widely accepted date. There are many differences between the two walls but the most notable is the materials used in construction. The Antonine Wall was built of either turf or clay that started from the Firth of Forth to the River Clyde measuring 40 Roman miles long. The base was made of rough stone which allowed for drainage and was generally 15 Roman feet wide. The exact height of the wall is unknown but it has been estimated to have been about 3 Roman feet high in most places. One element that the Antonine wall had which Hadrian’s Wall did not was the provision of a road that ran the entire length of the wall called Military Way.

The road was approximately five metres wide with a gully running along each side for drainage. The function of Military Way “was to aid communication, in particular between the forts”. The Antonine Wal appears to be void of any turrets. Another distinction that can be made is in the planning that went into their construction. It is apparent that Hadrian’s Wall was “built to a set of blue-prints, but on the Antonine Wall no such regularity can be traced”. On Hadrian’s Wall each type of building is designed almost identically with the same amount of spacing between each building. Even when the forts on the Antonine have been built by the same legions there appears to be differences in the specifications. There are also more forts along the Antonine Wall then Hadrian’s Wall and the forts on the Antonine Wall are closer together. After the death of the Emperor Trajan on 8 August 117 Hadrian became the new Emperor. Hadrian was unpopular with the senate because they believed he was not the true heir to the throne as his adoption was only official after Trajan had died. Also while Hadrian was out of Rome four ex-consuls were executed for suspected treason. Hadrian claimed not to have ordered these executions but the senate were nonetheless still hostile towards him. Trajan and Hadrian also differed in their foreign policy.

While Trajan expanded the control of the empire out into the Mesopotamia, Hadrian withdrew the legions and built Hadrian’s Wall. Hadrian’s position as emperor was not as supported as Trajan’s and it would have been necessary for Hadrian to have spent more time at home in Rome. The withdrawal of the legions from abroad would have provided him with military support closer to home. Troops not out on active duty would have been required to clean the baths and the latrines in Rome. The building of the wall meant these troops were being kept busy with appropriate duties as well as staying devoted to the emperor that commissioned it. The withdrawal of troops from previously conquered colonies shows that Hadrian was more concerned with containment rather than expansion. The purpose of the wall was “as much a barrier to keep people in as to keep unwholesome influences out”. The wall was meant to be the dividing line between the Romans and the others. The Brigantes relationship with the tribes in southern Scotland had “become a considerable destabilising influence” for Rome. The wall acted as a barrier to keep the Brigantes in and restrict their communication capabilities.

The wall was built north of the Roman tribal capital of Aldborough which incorporated the Brigantes into Roman territory. Rome had considerable trouble Romanising the Brigantes; this may have been due to the communication and influence of their Scotland connections. Restricting the communication between those in southern Scotland was the first step to Romanising the Brigantes. While the barrier would not have stopped a large army it would have slowed them down. The observation towers would have enabled the army to be more prepared and the Vallum would have significantly slowed down any intruders. After Hadrian’s death in 138 Antonius Pius became the new emperor of Rome. While Hadrian reverted to the policy of containment like Augustus and Tiberius, Antonius once again changed it back to expansion. The movement of the frontier 160km north is said to have been for two reasons.

The first being that there was an uprising by the Brigantes that needed to be contained. The evidence for this is the statement “Antonius deprived the Brigantes in Britain of most of their territory because they too had taken up arms and invaded the Genunian district, the people of which were subject to Rome”. This statement seems implausible as the Brigantes were already within Roman territory with the building of Hadrian’s wall. The more plausible reason for the building of the Antonine Wall was Antonius’ desire to strengthen his position as Emperor by gaining more territory for Rome. Antonius was not Hadrian’s first choice as his heir and with no military experience to strengthen his position within Rome he needed to do something to strengthen his position within Rome.

Antonius Pius built the Antonine Wall for his own prestige One thing that Hadrian’s wall and the Antonine Wall had in common was the benefits it brought in terms of acting as a custom’s barrier. It is believed that the gate on top of Stagshaw Bank at the Port gate is one of the special gates used to allow those selling goods to pass through. This is also were taxes would have been collected. External trade was charged at 12 ½ percent while internal trade was charged at 2 ½ percent which was extremely important for revenue raising. These custom’s check points were also important as it was illegal to export such things as “iron, bronze, arms, and armour”. Either the soldiers stationed on the wall or special customs officials would have been responsible for collecting these taxes. Life on the wall was substantially better from the legions when compared to those out on the front line or for the idle soldiers that were required to clean the latrines.

It has been estimated that Hadrian’s Wall was home to approximately 2,000 soldiers. This estimation is worked out on available sleeping quarters of the milecastles and the turrets. This meant that each soldier was required to work an eight hour observation shift. It is estimated that there was approximately 7,000 soldiers stationed on the Antonine Wall which is another significant distinction between the two walls. There were many services provided for those that resided on the wall to “ensure the comfort and health of the soldiers”. At Bearsden for example soldiers were provided with a bath house with a spa and a sauna as well as flush-water latrines.

Around the forts would have been villages supplying the troops with a variety of grains, vegetables, clothing, jewellery and wine. There were provisions for temples and cemeteries. Life along the wall was much more peaceful and well supplied than those engaged in active combat and would have brought the same prestige. Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall are very different from one another. The materials used, the structures located along the wall, the number of soldiers stationed there, the dimensions of the wall as well as the physical location of the wall all varied. While one wall was built to consolidate Rome’s power the other wished to display Rome’s grandeur as well as his own by once again trying to expand Rome’s territory.

Breeze, D. (2008). Edge of Empire, Rome’s Scottish Frontier. Edinburgh: Birlinn Breeze, D. (1982). The Northern Frontiers of Roman Britain. London: Batsford Academic and Educational Daniels, C. (1974). The Roman Wall Reconstructed. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Graham Hadrian http://0-www.oxfordreference.com.library.newcastle.edu.au/views/ENTRY.html?entry=t180.e993&srn=4&ssid=972577008#FIRSTHIT Wall of Hadrian http://0-www.oxfordreference.com.library.newcastle.edu.au/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t180.e2346&category=&authstatuscode=202

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