Johnson, Stephen. Hadrian’s Wall.

London: Batsford, 1989.

Hadrian’s Wall, spanning seventy-three miles from coast to coast across the north of Britain, isn’t the largest or longest such construction (that would be China’s Great Wall), nor is it the oldest known (that’s the Greek wall across the Peloponnese to keep out the Dorians), but it is probably the most carefully thought-out strategic design in the ancient world.

The popular image usually is of a line of Roman soldiers manning the top of the wall, like Foreign Legionnaires in a Saharan fort, staring down a horde of attacking Scots and Picts, but that wasn’t the wall’s purpose at all. After all, the wall was deliberately permeable, with a guarded gateway at every mile. It was, rather, intended to control the movement of the native population and their trade and livestock, and as a statement of the empire’s borders against the outside world.

The author spent thirteen years managing archaeological projects in the north, including those along Hadrian’s Wall, and has published several other books on the Roman period in Britain. He examines here the background to the decision to build the wall, how it was constructed, why the forts were added (and later removed), the several periods of abandonment and reoccupation, the makeup of the military garrisons along its length, the place of the civilian population that supported the army, and what happened to the wall after the Romans left. The excellent text is accompanied by a dozen color plates and nearly a hundred illustrations, diagrams, and maps. This is still the best overall source available on the subject.

Published in: on 13 March 2014 at 1:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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