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A Wall in Scotland?

Hadrian’s Wall was abandoned after about 20 years when the next Emperor, Antoninus Pius, ordered and advance into Scotland and the construction of a new frontier between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde – the Antonine Wall. This new frontier was built mainly of turf on a stone base although at least one stretch was built of clay.  It was probably around 3 metres high with a timber breastwork along the top. When completed the Wall had forts of varying sizes at 3 km intervals.  A ditch was dug to the north of the Wall and the space between the Wall and the ditch (the berm) contained pits with stakes inserted into them.

The Antonine Wall itself was abandoned in the 160s AD and Hadrian’s Wall reoccupied.  The Romans maintained a presence north of Hadrian’s Wall with outpost forts at High Rochester and Risingham in the east and at Bewcastle, Newstead  and Birrens in the west.  Following a major campaign north of Hadrian’s Wall in the early third century AD under Emperor Septimius Severus the northwest frontier was peaceful compared with other parts of the Empire.  Troubles began again the fourth century as the Empire faced increasing instability on all frontiers. Centralised administration of Britain from Rome ended around AD 400.

Evidence suggests many of the forts along Hadrian’s Wall were occupied into the fifth and sixth centuries, possibly providing the power base of local warlords seeking control and security in the absence of centralised power.  Over time Hadrian’s Wall and the Cumbrian coastal defences fell into disuse, with the stone re-used in other buildings.

The Roman Frontier Gallery at Tullie House Museum explores the ebb and flow of the Roman frontier in Britain in response to economic, political and social forces at play across the Roman Empire – just like frontiers today!

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