Antonine Wall

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The Antonine Wall is a stone and turf fortification built by the Romans across what is now the Central Belt of Scotland, between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde. It represented the ultimate northern frontier of the Roman Empire. Sixty kilometers (37 miles) long, it was a linear barrier punctuated with gates, where the regulations which governed entry into the Empire would have been enforced.<ref>David J. Breeze, Edge of Empire, Rome's Scottish Frontier, The Antonine Wall (Birlinn, 2008) 13</ref>

The largest Roman construction inside Scotland, it is a sward-covered wall made of turf around 20 feet (6 m) high, with nineteen forts.

The Antonine Wall was built in 142-3 and extended for 37 miles (60 km) from Old Kilpatrick in West Dunbartonshire on the Firth of Clyde to Carriden near Bo'ness on the Firth of Forth.<ref>Michael Lynch, Scotland, A New History, (Pimlico, 1991)9</ref> Having taken twelve years to build, the wall was abandoned, then reoccupied and abandoned again as part of a retreat to south to Hadrian's Wall. <ref>Lynch, New History, 9</ref> The Antonine Wall was the final frontier built by the Roman Empire.<ref> (accessed 30th June 2014)</ref>

Most of the wall and its associated fortifications have been destroyed over time, but some remains are still visible. Many of these have come under the care of Historic Scotland and the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

Antonius Pius

Antonius Pius

Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius ordered the construction of the Antonine Wall around 142.<ref>Robertson, Anne S. (1960) The Antonine Wall. Glasgow Archaeological Society 7</ref> He succeeded the Emperor Hadrian in 138.

It has been speculated by David Breeze that Hadrian chose Antonius as a 'caretaker' until his preferred heir, Marcus Aurelius, was old enough. Antonius's reputation was reflected in his nickname 'pius' which means dutiful.<ref>David J. Breeze, Edge of Empire, Rome's Scottish Frontier, The Antonine Wall (Birlinn, 2008) 17</ref>However, Antonius Pius not only lived longer than expected but also overturned Hadrian's frontier arrangements in Britain<ref>Breeze, Rome's Scottish Frontier, 17</ref>, ordering the construction of a new wall to the north of Hadrian's.


Quintus Lollius Urbicus, governor of Roman Britain at the time, initially supervised the effort, which took about twelve years to complete.<ref>Robertson, Antonine Wall, 7</ref> The Antonine Wall was shorter than Hadrian's Wall and built of turf on a stone foundation rather than of stone, but it was still an impressive achievement. The stone foundations and wing walls of the original forts demonstrate that the original plan was to build a stone wall similar to Hadrian's Wall, but this was quickly amended. As built, the wall was typically a bank, about four metres (13 feet) high, made of layered turves and occasionally earth with a wide ditch on the north side, and a military way on the south.

Roman sculpture from the Antonine Wall

Despite its less enduring method of construction the Antonine Wall is seen as more complex than its southern counterpart. Its forts are closer together, and with an overall greater density of military installations. <ref>David J. Breeze, Edge of Empire, Rome's Scottish Frontier, The Antonine Wall (Birlinn, 2008) 15</ref>

The Romans initially planned to build forts every 10 kilometres (6 miles), but this was soon revised to every 3.3 kilometres (2 miles), resulting in a total of nineteen forts along the wall. The best preserved but also one of the smallest forts is Rough Castle Fort. In addition to the forts, there are at least 9 smaller fortlets, very likely on Roman mile spacings, which formed part of the original scheme, some of which were later replaced by forts. The most visible fortlet is Kinneil, at the eastern end of the Wall, near Bo'ness.<ref> (accessed 30th June 2014)</ref>

Distance Slabs

Antonine Wall distance slab from Hutcheson Hill

Some of the most notable remains of the Antonine Wall are its distance slabs, carved military sculptures which celebrate the work of the legions building the wall<ref> (accessed 1st July 2014)</ref> as well as glorifying Antonius Pius and his authority.<ref>Breeze, Rome's Scottish Frontier, 26</ref> These have been interpreted as emphasising the role the gods played in ensuring the Emperor's victories. <ref>Breeze, Rome's Scottish Frontier, 26</ref>

Rough Castle Fort

Arial view of the earthworks at Rough Castle

The earthworks at Rough Castle, near Bonnybridge<ref> (accessed 1st July 2014)</ref> are considered the best which survive.<ref>Breeze, Rome's Scottish Frontier, 51</ref> Excavations have revealed three stone buildings- a central headquarters, a granary, and a house for the commanding officer.<ref>Breeze, Rome's Scottish Frontier, 51</ref> There were also timber buildings which were presumably barracks.<ref>Breeze, Rome's Scottish Frontier, 51</ref>In addition there was a stone bath-house.<ref>Breeze, Rome's Scottish Frontier, 51</ref>

A defensive feature survives at Rough Castle in the form of a series of pits. These are the remains of the Lila, a type of trap for attackers consisting of a hole containing a sharpened stake covered over with twigs and brushwood.<ref>Breeze, Rome's Scottish Frontier, 51</ref>


Reconstructed view of a fort on the Antonine Wall

Post Roman History

In medieval histories, such as the chronicles of John of Fordun, the wall is called Gryme's dyke. Fordun says that the name came from the grandfather of the imaginary king Eugenius son of Farquahar. This evolved over time into Graham's dyke – a name still found in Bo'ness at the wall's eastern end – and then linked with Clan Graham. Of note is that Graeme in some parts of Scotland is a nickname for the devil, and Gryme's Dyke would thus be the Devil's Dyke, mirroring the name of the Roman Limes in Southern Germany often called 'Teufelsmauer'.

Grímr and Grim are bynames for Odin or Wodan, who might be credited with the wish to build earthworks in unreasonably short periods of time. This name is the same one found as Grim's Ditch several times in England in connection with early ramparts: for example, near Wallingford, Oxfordshire or between Berkhamsted (Herts) and Bradenham (Bucks). Other names used by antiquarians include the Wall of Pius and the Antonine Vallum, after Antoninus Pius.<ref>D.J.Woolliscroft & B.Hoffmann, Romes First Frontier. The Flavian occupation of Northern Scotland (Stroud: Tempus 2006)</ref><ref> Earthwork of England: prehistoric, Roman, Saxon, Danish, Norman and mediæval - 496, by Arthur Hadrian Allcroft </ref>Hector Boece in his 1527 History of Scotland called it the "wall of Abercorn", repeating the story that it had been destroyed by Graham.<ref>Boece, Hector, Historia Gentis Scotorum, (1527), book 7, chapter 16</ref>


Eighteenth Century map of Barr Hill Fort

The wall appears in a variety of historic maps. It is shown in Matthew Paris's thirteenth century map of Britain as one of two Roman frontiers.<ref>Breeze, Rome's Scottish Frontier, 97</ref> More detail can be seen on Timothy Pont's sixteenth century map<ref>Breeze, Rome's Scottish Frontier, 97</ref> where most of its route can be traced. The Wall was surveyed in the mid-eighteenth century by Timothy Pont, who was employed by the British army to map Scotland following the Jacobite Rising of 1745.<ref>Breeze, Rome's Scottish Frontier, 97</ref> He made a map of the entire wall as well as recording inscriptions and objects he saw.<ref>Breeze, Rome's Scottish Frontier, 97</ref>

Visiting the Site

Nearly 8km of the Wall is cared for by Historic Scotland and therefore in public ownership.<ref> (accessed 30th June 2014)</ref> These include the best surviving section of ditch at Watling Lodge, Falkirk; the earthworks of the fort together with the rampart ditch and Military Way at Rough Castle, Bonnybridge; the rampart and ditch in Seabegs Wood, Bonnybridge; the ditch and expansions on Croy Hill; the fort on Bar Hill, Twechar; and the bath-house and latrine at Bearsden.<ref> (accessed 30th June 2014)</ref>


In 2008 the Antonine Wall gained World Heritage Status.<ref> (accessed 1st July 2014)</ref> In September 2011 the University of Glasgow opened a new display of Roman artefacts from the Wall.<ref> (accessed 1st July 2014)</ref>