How much do you know about Hadrian's Wall?
The History of Hadrian’s Wall
Built by the Roman army on the orders of Emperor Hadrian after his visit to Britain in AD 122, Hadrian’s Wall is the most celebrated frontier of the Roman Empire. Stretching from Bowness on Solway, Cumbria in the east to Wallsend, Newcastle in the west, the wall once covered an astonishing 73 miles. It was built to protect Roman England from Barbarian territories in Scotland and secure the Roman stronghold in the north of Britain allowing them to control who could pass in and out of Britain.
Building the wall
It was believed to have taken three legions (each of approximately 5,000 men) of infantrymen from the British army around six years to build the wall. Most of it was made of stone; however, the eastern 30-mile section at Bowness was made using turf.
Once completed, the wall was made up of 80-mile castles, 17 larger forts and a number of observation tours. Those employed to stand guard - auxiliaries organised into regiments - populated the wall every third of a mile. At 15 feet high and between eight and ten feet wide, it was one of the largest structure ever made by the Romans.
The life of Hadrian’s Wall
Following the death of Emperor Hadrian, the wall was temporarily abandoned when Emperor Antonius Pius re-located the frontier to the Forth-Clyde isthmus on the edge of the Scottish highlands. A new wall was built in AD 140 made entirely of turf and named the Antonine Wall. However, by AD 160 the Romans returned to Hadrian’s Wall, restoring the damage caused by its abandonment and also adding a new road.
It’s believed that subsequent wars re-shaped the wall (damaging it in parts), as well as modifications to buildings such as the barrack blocks and Commander’s house. Later in its lifetime, the wall was used as a quarry to store stone to build castles, houses and churches nearby. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that archaeologists began to study Hadrian’s Wall and highlight the need to preserve its remains.
Visiting Hadrian’s Wall today
In 1987 Hadrian’s Wall was named a World Heritage Site. Every year it is visited by millions of people interested in learning more about Roman architecture, history and local heritage. Nowadays, our Hadrian’s Wall trek is a great way to experience the history and spend longer looking at sections of the wall in detail. Running for three days, these adventures give you the chance to study battlement scenery, learn more about the surrounding landscape and even camp overnight like the villagers who once settled there centuries ago.
There are also a number of sites available to visit for the day, most notably in Bardon Mill, Hexham. Housesteads is home to well-preserved forts with barracks, the foundations of a hospital and even flushable toilets are still visible. Vindolanda is also one of the best-preserved sites with an onsite museum providing the opportunity to view Roman artefacts and an archaeological site that hosts live excavation sessions.
Tempted to plan your own exploration of this ancient Roman landmark? Find out more here!return to adventure journal