The Forgotten Antonine Wall,
I’m sure just about everyone has heard of the world famous “Hadrian’s Wall”, the ancient Roman wall separating iron age Scotland and Roman England which essentially served as the frontier of the Roman Empire. However the Antonine Wall doesn’t get nearly as much press, and is largely forgotten by all except historians.
Like many emperors before him Antoninus Pius (reign 138-161) cemented his rule over the Roman people through a program of public building projects and territorial expansion. As part of that program, Pius ordered the invasion of Southern Scotland beyond Hadrian’s Wall. They conquered all territory up to the Scottish highlands, then set a new border complete with a new wall. Located between the Firth of Forth and Firth of Clyde, Antonine’s Wall had the same purpose of the earlier Hadrian’s Wall; to define the border of the Roman frontier, prevent the barbarians from crossing into Roman territory, and serve as a buffer in case of invasion. Unlike Hadrian’s Wall, the Antonine Wall was not made entirely of stone. Rather it was built from turf, piled upon a stone foundation and lined with stone and wood for added strength. At the top of the wall would have been a wooden palisade, and in front of the wall was dug a large moat, as well as a series of trenches, pitfalls, and various other obstacles. The wall itself was 10 feet high and 16 feet wide.
Altogether the Antonine Wall stretched from the North Sea to the Irish Sea, covering a total of 39 miles. However it was not the wall by itself that kept barbarian invaders out, but the men who manned the wall. Across the wall, spaced out at two mile intervals were 16 forts, in between which were a series of guard houses and guard towers. In addition a number of forts were built north of the wall to protect trade routes leading to and from what the Roman’s called “Caledonia”. To supply the defenders of the wall, and allow for a quick response in case of invasion, a 39 mile long Roman military road was built on the southern side of the wall.
The Antonine Wall took 12 years to build, but was short lived. The Romans were never able to pacify the Caledonians, and thus the wall was under constant attack. In 162 Emperor Marcus Aurelius ordered the wall abandoned and its legions retired to Hadrian’s Wall. While the exact reasons behind abandoning the wall are unknown, it was most likely because the wall guarded territory that was not worth holding, in an attempt to rule over a people who had little to offer in tax revenue. In 208 the wall was re-occupied and repaired under order of Emperor Septimus Severus. However the new occupation was even shorter lived, only lasting a few years.
Over time the wall was deconstructed as locals used the wall for building materials. Eventually time and the weather also wore down the turf walls into small mounds. Today all that remains of the Antonine Wall are a line of mounds, trenches, and stone foundations, as well as the remains of Roman forts.