The Building of Hadrian's Wall

The Building of Hadrian's Wall

Many people mistakenly believe that the wall was built by slaves. But by today's standards we could say that the wall was a kind of occupational therapy for Roman legionaries; men from all over the Empire who had voluntarily joined the army probably needed such an exercise to keep them fit and busy in what was, at that time, a lonely outpost at the farthest edge of the world.

The Roman army numbered amongst its ranks highly skilled architects, mason builders, surveyors and carpenters as well as soldiers for whom the wall was an opportunity to express their talents and also be part of what they felt was the greatest civilising force in the west at that time. Local people may have willingly helped for not dissimilar reasons. And undoubtedly local people benefitted from trade in goods and services.

Map of Hadrian's Wall

The majority of the wall was built of stone. At first 10 Roman Feet wide, and later 8, it began in the east and reached the river Irthing near present day Carlisle, from there it continues west to the Solway Firth but is built of 18" x 12" x 6" regulation turf blocks (460mm x 300mm x 150mm).

Milecastles were placed at regular intervals. Each pair of Milecastles had two Turrets between them. A Milecastle could garrison between 8 and 32 men. Turrets could also shelter some soldiers though they may have served primarily as look-out vantage points. As Hadrian's project evolved, more legionaries were moved up to the wall and large Forts were built which straddled it (see Chesters on the next page). These Forts had gates to allow traffic to pass north and south through the wall.

Turret then Turret Now

Today: Remains of the wall and Turret near Birdoswald Fort.

The same Turret, wall and ditch as it may have appeared at the time it was built.

During six years of building the wall reached its final basic form: From the south; an earth mound, then a ditch and further mound, then an open area on which a road was built to allow easy access to all parts of the wall all along its length, then the main wall itself, and just to the north of that, a deep ditch.

Wall Elevation

For native inhabitants the ditch and mounds to the south may have signified the start of a sort of reserved military zone.

From the point of view of a "barbarian" from the North, the wall might have seemed an almost superhuman accomplishment; perhaps a psychologically daunting symbol of power.

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