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Hadrian, Building the wall

In 122 C.E. Hadrian ordered a mighty frontier system to be built across the north of Britain. The result was Hadrian's Wall, a 73 mile barrier stretching from the Solway Firth on the west coast of Britain to the River Tyne on the east coast. © Trustees of the British Museum. Created by British Museum.

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  • blobby green style avatar for user TMLaneDesign
    How tall is the wall? Was it taller originally?
    (12 votes)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user T
    Sorry if this question is stupid but did Hadrian do this all around the empire?
    (4 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user srodgers85
      Actually yes, the Romans built border fortifications all around their empire. The term for it were Limes. For example, Limes Germanicus were the fortifications along the Rhine. Hadrian's Wall is called Limes Britannicus, unsurprisingly. Not all of them included walls, but most incorporated them in huge stretches, such as the best surviving example shown here.

      This was a military culture that would march twenty miles in full armor and pack, then build a fortification around their camp, sleep, wake up, break camp, de-fortify, march twenty more miles, etc. Not some little dinky camp either, but an area large enough for thirty thousand soldiers, plus support personnel, to live, sleep, and muster. They surrounded it by a ditch twelve feet deep. Inside that was a twelve foot high mound, topped by a wooden wall called a palisade (the soldiers carried the poles with them on the march). Inside that was usually a few watchtowers etc. And this was for an overnight stop. When a legion was garrisoned somewhere, they embarked on massive building projects. Huge engineering feats were what the Roman Army did.
      (13 votes)
  • hopper jumping style avatar for user Seas
    When did the Romans conquer Ancient England and why? (Since it's so far away and remote compared to other Roman areas)
    (4 votes)
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  • starky seedling style avatar for user Ivanov
    Perhaps the wall was strategic in that Hadrian could have been trying to separate the Picts from the other Celtic tribes in Britain and Wales. If they(the Picts) remained undefeated while the other tribes on the island had fallen to the iron fist of Rome,perhaps Hadrian thought that this would incite the defeated Celts to rebel when they interacted with their Scottish neighbors. So, maybe he built a wall to keep the Picts in Scotland, and the other Celts out. Any ideas?!
    (5 votes)
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  • starky ultimate style avatar for user Jack
    How did the wall keep invaders out? Because it doesn't look that big.
    (0 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user CJ Holmes
      The wall didn't stand on its own. There were thousands of troops stationed along the wall in small forts every mile. The romans cleared the vegetation away from the wall to improve visibility, and patrolled the areas beyond the wall to keep tabs on potential adversaries. Attackers either had to slip over the wall while the romans weren't looking, or assault the wall while the legion defended it. Imagine climbing up a 20 foot stone wall while someone on top of it is poking you with a sharpened stick or shooting you with arrows, and you'll get the general idea. A 20 foot wall can be pretty imposing under the right circumstances.

      But the wall was more than a defensive structure: it was a political statement. A good summation might be, "Here begins Rome". People went through the gates in both directions on a daily basis, under the watchful eye of roman soldiers and almost certainly tax collectors. It was a border, a display of power, and a declaration of the limits of the empire. Hadrian had a lot of revolts to deal with, and consolidating his territory instead of trying to take more may have made a lot of sense at the time. A big wall would help with that.
      (7 votes)
  • female robot grace style avatar for user welfare726
    Why did the Romans conquer England and what was the wall made of?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Tabby Williamson
    Why didn't the Romans conquer all of Brittania? Why did they leave Scotland out of the empire?
    (1 vote)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Jack
      While I tend to agree with the previous two answers, likely because we were all taught the same story concerning Hadrian and the Picts in our respective History classes, I would also like to point out that the answer was given quite explicitly in the video, namely: over-extension of resources and wealth during the reign of previous emperors left Hadrian's legions spread too thin. Rather than attempting to maintain too vast an empire, and probably risk losing the Pax Romana in the process, Hadrian wisely hedged his bets and dispensed with further expansion of the empire (for the time being at least). Another reason I've heard explaining the abrupt halt in the Roman conquest of Britain is simply that the Picts were pretty much some gnarly, savage mother f***ers. Also, the topography and climate of the north of Britain is harsher, and may have been prohibitive -- or at least deterrent.
      (3 votes)
  • female robot grace style avatar for user Penelope Stuart
    I know that it was a tall and thick wall, but could the Scottish not climb over the wall? If it was made of brick, it must have been fairly easy to climb. Was the point simply that they couldn't climb over it with weapons? Or were the Scots just terrible climbers? Or was the wall truly that difficult to climb? Or was it that Romans were stationed around the wall to guard it?
    Thanks! :)
    (1 vote)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user None
    From what group, or groups, did Hadrian build the wall to protect the empire from?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Brett
    This is very interesting from a historical and engineering point of view, but why is it included in an Art History course?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

In AD 122 the emperor Hadrian visited Britain From London he probably came to the far North of England to one of the remotest points of the Roman Empire Here he built which is now a world heritage site he built this wall, Hadrian's Wall With this wall he left us one of the great monuments of Roman history and the reason for its creation is key to understanding Hadrian's reign Hadrian inherited an Empire that suffered from serious problems of overstretch And one of his first big tasks was to fix the limits of the Empire that Rome could control He fixed it in Germany, in Syria, in North Africa and here in Northumberland on the borders between England and Scotland with it's greatest of all surviving Hadrianic boundaries Hadrian's wall this great stone fort you see here on the edge of the Empire on the Northern edge of the world an Empire that ran from here to Egypt Hadrian's wall wasn't a simple defensive barrier it was a brutally efficient security installation that allowed a very efficient military and economic control of the area here because probably of ongoing tunnel and warfare they have to be much more efficient about it and they built this huge structure Three legions are involved over many years a lot of manpower It's a huge engineering achievement the wall is eighty miles long and it stretches from Bowness-on-Solway to the River Tyne originally only to Newcastle and then extended right the way down to Wallsend on the Tyne Estuary We are on Hotbank Crags and in between a couple of mile castles the little garrisons of maybe twenty, thirty men who originally were intended to look after Hadrian's Wall Walking along this wall, up and down you get some idea of what the Romans were up against in garrisoning something like this thinking of the functions of what that wall might be controlling movements, this is what the mile castles were for If you look at the many wall which go up in the world today we can get a sense of the original intention behind Hadrian's wall and it was a very aggressive symbol and also very efficient practical tool of Roman dominance And this is only one of the borders of the Empire this was built all in stone and therefore seems now very impressive but there was the Limes in Germany and there was as similar sort of border installation in Northern Africa It went all around the Empire and that's very impressive