Hadrian’s Wall, a frontier wall built by the Roman emperor Hadrian, formed the border that separated the province* of Britain from non-Roman territory. Like other frontier walls constructed by the emperor, Hadrian’s Wall not only provided security against invaders but symbolized Hadrian’s policy of maintaining peaceful permanent boundaries for the empire.
Started in A.D. 122, after a visit by the emperor, Hadrian’s Wall was completed four years later. The wall ran from what is now Solway Firth on the border with Scotland to Newcastle upon Tyne on the North Sea, a distance of 73 miles. The first 42 miles of the wall were built of stone and the last 31 miles of turf, or sod. The wall ranged from 6 to 10 feet thick and may have reached as high as 15 to 20 feet. Later additions extended the wall and replaced the turf wall with stone.
Hadrian’s Wall had several valuable defensive features. Fortified gateways were built about every mile and a half, with observation towers placed every third of a mile. In addition, 15 forts were built in the wall at intervals of about five miles. By the end of Hadrian’s rule, more than 9,000 soldiers were stationed in these forts along the wall. Two wide, deep ditches ran along either side of the wall, providing extra security.
When Hadrian’s successor, Antoninus Pius, pushed back the frontier, Hadrian’s Wall was replaced briefly by the Wall of Antoninus. Repaired in the A.D. 160s, Hadrian’s Wall was substantially rebuilt about A.D. 200, and restored around A.D. 370. Much of Hadrian’s Wall still stands today, a lasting symbol of the Roman conquest of Britain. (See also Rome, History of.)
* province overseas area controlled by Rome