Hadrian's Wall, World Heritage Site

Hadrians Wall, UK

Hadrian's Wall became a World Heritage site in 1987. The World Heritage site now consists of various parts of the e Roman Empire border in the 2nd century A.D. These Roman Lines" stretched some 5,000kms from the Atlantic coast of northern Britain, through Central Europe to the Black Sea, and on to the Red Sea, across North Africa to the Atlantic coast. Parts still remain of the ramparts, walls and ditches, watchtowers, forts, and civilian settlements, across this vast area. .

The part of the frontier in Upper German and Raetian between the rivers Rhine and Danube was made a World heritage site in 2005, as an extension of Hadrian’s Wall. Other parts of the frontier will be eventually added. Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Croatia, as well as the Antonine Wall in the UK, are all likely to be put forward as part of this World Heritage Site.

Hadrian's Wall (In Latin it was called Vallum Hadriani) was a stone and turf fortification built across the width of Britain. Its purpose was to curtail military raids by the Scottish tribes into Roman controlled areas and to physically define the frontier of the Empire. Today the wall is in Eng lend, and does not, as is sometimes thought, actually define the border between Scotland and England today.

The wall was the most heavily fortified border in the Empire. It is believed that the gates in the wall acted as customs posts to allow trade and taxes to be collected.

Hadrians Wall near Housesteads

A reasonable portion of the wall still exists. This tends to be the part in the centre of its length, where there have not been pressures of population. Most of the wall can be followed on foot.

Hadrian's Wall ran due west, from Wallsend on the River Tyne to the shore of the Solway Firth on the other side of England. It was about 120 km long.

The Roman Emperor Hadrian (76-138).visited Britain in AD 122 and commissioned the wall. Hadrian was under pressure all across his empire - Egypt, Judea, Libya, Mauretania were all causing him concern. The wall was a symbol of Roman power, both in Britain and in Rome. Fifteen years after its completion, a turf fortification, the Antonine Wall, was built further north to run between the Clyde and Forth. The Antonine Wall was shorter in length, 40 Roman miles (about 60 km) and had significantly more forts than Hadrian's Wall. It was garrisoned with the same number of men, and more advanced with large platforms for ballistae. However within one generation the Antonine Wall had been abandoned, and Hadrian's Wall was reoccupied. . Antonine was unable to conquer the northern tribes and so when Marcus Aurelius became emperor, he abandoned the Antonine Wall and occupied Hadrian's Wall once again in 164. It remained occupied by Roman troops until their withdrawal from Britain.

Frontiers in the early Roman Empire were based on natural features and it was not until the reign of Domitian that the first physical frontier was constructed, in Germania Superior, using a fence. Hadrian improved on this idea, by building a continuous timber palisade backed by forts. Hadrian reduced the Roman garrison in the territory of the Brigantes and built his wall to the north of them. This new wall replaced Stanegate road which had been the boundary of the Roman Empire.

Construction of Hadrians Wall started in 122 and took about ten years to finish. Soldiers from the three Roman legions in Britain did the construction work. The route of the wall ran parallel to Stanegate road from Carlisle to Corbridge.

The plan was for a ditch and a wall with 80 small milecastle forts every Roman mile. Each milecastle fort would contain about 20 soldiers. Between each milecastle would be two intermediate turrets for observation. The wall was to be 3 metres wide and 5 or 6 metres high. Local limestone was to be quarried for the building - except west of Irthing where turf was used instead as there was no nearby stone. The turf wall was 6 metres wide and 3.5m high. Milecastles in this area were also built from timber and earth rather than stone.

Each Roman legion— the Second, Sixth, and Twentieth Legions - built their milecastle forts to a slightly different design, and there are three different turret designs.

Each 5 miles was assigned a contingent from a particular legion. One cohort would then build the foundations and the milecastles and turrets. Another cohort would then follow on to build the wall itself. Soon the wall design was narrowed to 2.5 metres wide.

Then 14 full-sized forts were added along the wall, including Housesteads and Birdoswald. Each of these held a garrison of 500 to 1000 auxiliary troops (no legions were posted to the wall). The total number of soldiers manning the entire length of the early wall was probably greater than 10,000.The eastern end of the wall was extended east from Pons Aelius (Newcastle) to Wallsend on the Tyne estuary. Also some time still during Hadrian's reign (before 138 AD) the wall west of the Irthing was rebuilt in sandstone to the same size as the limestone section to the east.

The Vallum was also added on the southern side. It was a large, flat-bottomed ditch 6m wide at the top and 3m deep bounded by a substantial earth bank on each side (called berms).

So in the end the defensive system was pretty formidable, from north to south there was:-

By 410, the Roman administration and its army had left Britain .Archaeology is revealing that some parts of the Wall remained occupied well into the 5th century. But in time the wall was abandoned and fell into ruin. Over the centuries a proportion of the stone was "liberated" for use in local buildings.

The National Trust owns 6 miles of the Wall, running west from Housesteads Fort to Cawfields Quarry. Access to the Wall and the public rights of way is from car parks operated by the Northumberland National Park Authority at Housesteads, Steel Rigg and Cawfields. Housesteads Fort is owned by the National Trust, and maintained and managed by English Heritage


Hadrians Wall - Wikipedia


Walk along Hadrians Wall

Hadrians Wall - National Trust

Housesteads Roman Fort - English Heritage

Vindolanda Trust

The German Wall the World Heritage site of Roman Borders continues in Germany


World Heritage Sites in Britain