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History of Hadrian's Wall

A close-up section of Hadrian's Wall
A section of Hadrian's Wall | © National Trust Images/John Malley

Hadrian’s Wall was built on the orders of Emperor Hadrian at the northernmost limits of the Roman province of Britannia. It is a striking example of the organisation of a military zone and illustrates the defensive techniques and geopolitical strategies of ancient Rome.

Origins of the wall

Around AD 122 during Emperor Hadrian's reign he ordered that a wall be built to act as a defence tool. The structure was most likely planned before Hadrian's visit to Britain and he was clever to include gates along the Wall acting as customs posts.

16 years later, and largely due to three legions made of 15,000 men, there was a wall, reaching 6m high in some places. Although it has changed somewhat since then, alongside the remains of the wall itself there are ditches, forts, fortresses, watchtowers and civilian settlements.

Frontiers of the Roman Empire

Today, it's part of a much larger and more ambitious site: the Frontiers of the Roman Empire (FRE), a ‘transnational’ Site, the result of the German Limes being added in 2005; and the Antonine Wall (between the Forth and the Clyde, in Scotland) in 2008.

The Antonine Wall, a 38 mile (60km) long fortification in Scotland, was started by Emperor Antonius Pius in AD 142 as a defence against the ‘barbarians’ of the north. It constitutes the northwesternmost portion of the Roman Limes.

Hadrian's Wall is a perfect example of the Romans' forward-thinking, planning, tenacity and power. The structure they accomplished was a massive feat of engineering creeping over the countryside, crossing rivers and hugging the formidable crags of the Whin Sill near Bardon Mill.

Today, the wall stands as the best known and best preserved frontier of the Empire.

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