With reference to the sites andmuseums visited on the fieldtrips and wider reading related to the lectures,discuss how archaeologists have interpreted the role of Hadrian’s Wall. Hadrian’sWall was constructed around AD 122 and marked the northern boundary of theRoman Empire in Britain (Hingley, 2012: 1).
Only a fraction of the Wall hasbeen excavated, yet the material found has made a substantial contribution tothe understanding of the role of the Wall. The role of the Wall must beinterpreted in the context of its environment and surroundings, including theStanegate, forts and civilian settlements (vici), and the features associatedwith the wall itself, such as the Vallum and watchtowers. No account of anexact explanation for the construction of the wall survives, although severaltheories of its role have been suggested, including to keep native people northof the wall at bay, limiting immigration and regulating trade, or simply as anexpression of Hadrian’s imperial power (Everrit, 2009; Breeze, 2006). Over time, the views of archaeologists have changedas more evidence has been uncovered and with the development of new techniquessuch as aerial photography and geophysical survey (Huntley, Gates , 2009: 111). As highlighted by Symonds and Mason (2009: xiv), evidencehas been collected over a “long period, under varying circumstances, usingvarious methodologies, and by individuals with differing priorities andpreconceptions, the nature and quality of the evidence is inconsistent but allof it is of value”. JohnCollingwood Bruce (1863: page) gave one of the first modern statementsregarding the function of Hadrian’s Wall, describing it as “a greatfortification intended to act not only as a fence against a northern enemy, butto be used as the basis of military operations against a foe on either side ofit”. It is possible that the Wall was used as a defensive barrier, althoughits military effectiveness has been questioned (Hingley, 2012: 29-30). Afterthe Roman conquest under Emperor Claudius in AD 43, uprisings were commonacross Britain, such as the revolt of Boudicca in AD 60/61 and the Battle ofMons Graupius (Creighton, 2000).
Consequently, the Wall may have beenconstructed to defend the Roman province, mainly from the Caledonians to thenorth (Collingwood, 1923: 30-2). Structural analysis has shown that the Wallfortifications were strong enough to withstand a small attack (Everitt, 2009).Cavalry was also attested to many forts along the Wall. Excavations at Chestershave uncovered stables and barracks, estimated to have been home to five-hundredmen and their horses (Graham, 1979).
Additionally, Collingwood suggested that theWall acted as “an elevated sentry-walk” allowing soldiers to patrol the top ofthe Wall (Collingwood, 1921: 6). Everitt (2009: 223) notes that the Stanegatecould have “enabled the rapid arrival of enforcements”, allowing the Wall toact as a base from which to attack if needed. The Vallum may have providedadditional defence, although no definite conclusion of its role has beenreached. A diagram of the structure of the Vallum and other features of theWall are shown in Figure 1. The Vallum is a steep, flat-bottomed ditch to thesouth of the Wall, approximately 6 metres wide and 3 metres deep, with twomounds on each side (Wilmott, 2009: 51). Although this deep ditch could havehindered an attack, Wilmott (2009: 53) notes that the course and layout of theVallum ignores “useful natural defensive features” such as marshes.
Moreover,aerial photography has been used to analyse the Wall’s location within thelandscape, showing it may not have been placed in the optimal position fordefence and it is unlikely that it would have been able to defend against alarge-scale attack (Everitt, 2009). Furthermore, Everitt (2009) questions theeconomic benefit of the Wall, suggesting that it was unlikely to have been”economically viable to construct and guard a wall” stretching for 120kilometres along a “sparsely populated border”. Therefore, the Wall may have strengthened the defences of thenorthern Roman Empire and this may have been a motive for its construction, butmilitary defence is unlikely to have been its principal role.