Wednesday, June 20, 2012

History Points: Hadrian's Wall

Today I am excited to bring you the second in our new History Points series in which we will be looking at different historical events, artifacts, and other things of an antiquated nature. Today we're going to learn about Hadrian's Wall. This structure stretches across Great Britain and was begun in 122AD! Constructed at the order of Roman Emperor Hadrian, it marks the far reaches of the Roman Empire, establishing a boundary between England and Scotland. Although the border has shifted a bit since then, this great wall served as a protective barrier and was the most heavily fortified border in the entire Empire! 

It is not entirely known as to why Hadrian had the wall built. One can assume it was to protect the Roman holdings from invading "barbarians" as the Romans called everyone who did not speak Latin.  While the wall was heavily fortified it is unclear as to the severity of the threat posed by the Scots. It is more likely that the many gateways and passages built into the wall allowed for trade and the levy of taxes. This would have allowed the Romans to exercise tight control over the trade of goods and immigration as well as provided protection against smuggling and illegal trade. 

The wall, all 73 miles of it, would have also represented the power of Rome in a country far removed from their rulers. It is easy to imagine that the Britains could have easily shrugged off their status as members of the Roman Empire, but a gigantic wall in their backyard would have been a constant reminder that they were a conquered people. During Hadrian's rule he had to deal with rebellions in Britain as well as in Africa and the Middle East and this wall may have been a way for him to flex some muscle. Some archeologists believe that once the wall was constructed it would have been covered in whitewash and polished! This would have resulted in a shiny, reflective surface that would have been visible for miles. There were approximately eighty watchtower or garrisons spread across its length and at its height it was home to 9000 soldiers! 

Originally the site of a Roman fort, a medieval tower now stands in its place.
The wall is now a ruin and the many watchtowers and fortifications have been knocked down and all that remains are stone outlines in the ground. The wall stretches across some of the most beautiful countryside in England and is still a tremendous witness to the might, power, and vast expanse of one of the mightiest empires to ever exist. I visited a portion of the wall a few years ago and was struck by the imagination and effort it still reflects nearly two thousand years later. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a popular tourist destination. As an "unguarded" heritage site it is fully accessible to visitors!

If you want to learn more about the Romane Empire, I suggest the following titles:

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