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What was the purpose of Hadrian's Wall?

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What was the purpose of Hadrian's Wall? In 1600, William Camden, an Elizabethan antiquarian, was the first person to seriously attempt an explanation as to the purpose of what we now refer to as Hadrian's Wall. In the 18th century, further antiquarians, concerned with the steady demolition of the wall for building materials continued further studies. Despite the interest in the wall, it was nearly a century after William Camden's first attempts to explain the wall that serious academic research was mixed with archaeological excavations on a large scale. It was with thanks t these original excavations that we now have a fairly deep understanding of the wall itself. However, its purpose is still undecided and many explanations have been offered. Northumberland has been a border territory for almost 2000 years. When the Romans invaded and occupied Britain in the mid-1st century the small area that is now called Northumberland was officially designated as the edge of their mighty Empire, which stretched hundreds of miles to the East and South. In AD122 the Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a wall from the west coast of Britain to the east (From the Tyne to the Solway) ...read more.


Sixteen forts were located along the wall and could easily accommodate whole auxiliary units, around 500 to 1000 men (In Stanwix, the largest fort along the wall, there are speculations that a military cavalry unit was stationed here (Ala Petriana), the only one in Britain). Between the forts ran mile castles and turrets, but as to the question of who manned these, the answer is unclear. Some have suggested the possibility that the unit of the forts were in charge of a certain section of the wall, and it was therefore their responsibility to man the mile castles and turrets. However, after the original plan it was not possible for each fort to spare the men to man these, hence the possibility of numeri being employed to be stationed in the buildings. Despite the possibility, there is no evidence of such troops in Britain during the second century. The alternative to this argument (and the most probable explanation) was that there were two or three auxiliary units with the exclusive task of running the mile castles and turrets along the wall. ...read more.


For civil persons, there was probably a very liberal handling suggested by the many gates through the wall. The movement in and out of the province was thus closely supervised by the army but allowed. Patrolling the wall between the turrets, mile castles and forts is still a matter for discussion since on broad parts of the wall it is possible, but as of yet there is absolutely no evidence. We are now gathering the idea that the wall was there to control movement and to discourage raiding parties. It is without doubt though that should someone wish to cross the wall undetected, it is easily possible. The psychological effect that the wall would have on the Britons and Picts though was possibly the most important effect of the wall. Despite the wall being breached quite easily, the sheer size and power indicated to those to the south the Pax Romana and the protection that they received and to those to the north, the power of the Romans. Therefore, the main function of the wall was most probably to "Shock and Awe" the inhabitants and designed to maintain order. Gary Denyer Ancient History ...read more.

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