Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hadrian's Wall

Newcastle University (UK) prepared an online course about Hadrian's Wall built by the Romans around 122 AD as a frontier to mark the northern boundary of the Roman Empire in Britain. The six week course is one of the many online courses to be found on the FutureLearn website -

The structure known as Hadrian's Wall is not just a wall built across Britain but it also contained a series of forts, milecastles, turrets, outposts and watch stations. This complex not only housed one of the largest concentrations of Roman soldiers in the empire but also supported a large cosmopolitan civilian population. It is therefore not just a study of buildings but also of the diverse frontier communities living beside the Wall. The course looks at surviving sources from the Roman period as well investigating archaeological skills and methods used to investigate the past. The background to the building of Hadrian's Wall includes a study of the life of the people living in the area before the Wall was built, the arrival of the Romans and the building of the first outposts culminating with the actual building of the Wall. The organisation of the Roman army and what it was like being a members of such an organisation is explored as well as the interplay between soldiers and civilians two thousand years ago. Ritual and religion is another theme. The Romans were in Britain for around four hundred years so the course also looks at the later part of their time in the country and then explores what happened after the Romans left Britain and how subsequent generations tried to understand the Wall.

In one section of the course we looked at the use of geophysics (resistivity, ground penetrating radar and magnetrometry) to explore what is beneath the ground. The example used is investigations carried out at Maryport on the west coast of England just south of the Wall. We visited this area on one of our trips to the UK and had walked around one of the fields being discussed in the course so it was fascinating to see some of the results of the investigation of the area. Some of the stones from Roman buildings could be seen in the ground in the area we explored.
Another part of the course looks at some of the altars discovered at Maryport in the nineteenth century. During the past four years archaeological excavations have been undertaken in part of the grounds surrounding the museum.
I found a number of books about this period of British history in local  libraries.

Hadrian's Wall by Derry Brabbs (2008) - a detailed, illustrated study of Hadrian's Wall following its path from the west coast to Wallsend on the Tyne River. The illustrations in the book, as well as the text, provide the reader with a view of the area today as well as an understanding as to how it may have been 2000 years ago.

Journey to Britannia: from the heart of Rome to Hadrian's Wall AD 130 by Bronwen Riley (2015) - the author imagines a journey from Rome to Britain via Gaul then through Roman Britain to Hadrian's Wall. Places visited include London, Silchester, Bath, Caerleon and Wroxeter. An interesting introduction to life to life in the Roman Empire.

Roman Britain: a new story by Guy de la Bedoyere (2013) - an illustrated account of the Roman occupation of Britain. This book uses archaeological finds and sites to explain the impact of the Romans in Britain and life in Britain at this time.

The Wall: Rome's greatest frontier by Alaistair Moffat (2008) also published as an ebook in 2012 - a history of Roman Britain in general but the book includes chapters on Hadrian's Wall describing the building of the wall as well as the effects of the Wall on the people already living in the area.

Rosemary Sutcliff wrote a series of children's books about the Romans in Britain. The story of The Eagle of the Ninth revolves about the Ninth Legion which mysteriously disappeared in the area near Hadrians' Wall.
Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff (1954)  
Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles (2010) - as well as Eagle of the Ninth (1954) this work contains two other books,  The Silver Branch (1957) and The Lantern Bearers (1959).

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