Figure (AD 77-84) between Carlisle and Corbridge (Hodgson,

Figure 1. Profile of the components of Hadrian’s Wall (Hingley,
2012: 19). A V-shaped ditch lay to the north of the Wall and the Vallum ran an
average of 65 metres to the south (Wilmott, 2009: 50-52). It is believed that
the Vallum went out of use around AD 140 and its exact function remains unclear.

It is
perhaps more likely that the Wall acted as an obstacle to deter smugglers rather
than armies (Collingwood, 1923: 30-2). Thus, the Wall’s function may have been
an attempt to control smuggling and immigration, and impose customs (Breeze,
2006). Every Roman mile (1.48 kilometres) along the Wall was a milecastle,
guarded by a small unit of soldiers, with two turrets between each (Breeze,
2006: 68). It is believed that the guards used pipes to signal between the turrets,
but as Graham (1979) notes, this is ‘one of the numerous legends about the Wall
that is not supported by archaeological evidence’. Nonetheless, guards could
easily have kept track of those crossing the Wall. Evidence has shown that the
construction of some milecastles may have had priority over others, especially
in areas where the topography allowed unregulated travel across the Wall (Symonds
2005: 72). This suggests that the Romans may have been concerned about
smuggling and untaxed trade in and out of the Empire. Additionally, each fort
had four main gateways, the biggest on the north and south side of the fort. The
gateways at Housesteads were the most elaborate along the Wall, featuring a guard-room
on either side of the gateway, and could
be closed at both ends by double doors. The prosperity
of Housesteads was probably facilitated by the gateway at Knag Burn, which encouraged
trade across the frontier (Graham, 1979). Interestingly, excavations at Chesters in 1987 revealed that
the portals of the west gate had been blocked, although it is unclear why (Shipley,
2009: 82-85). There is good evidence to suggest that the Stanegate to the south
of the Wall remained in use into the late Roman period and possible
re-engineering in the late fourth century AD (Hodgson, 2009: 20). The location
of the Stanegate in relation to the Wall is shown in Figure 2. The lateral roads
between the Stanegate and the forts are likely to have facilitated the movement
of people and goods in northern England (Hodgson, 2009: 10-33). Therefore, the
Wall’s location may have provided good opportunities to implement taxation and
discourage smuggling by providing organised check-points.

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Figure 2. A map of Northern England showing
the course of Hadrian’s Wall and the Stanegate, and the location of the forts
along the Wall. The Stanegate was constructed in the AD 70s and 80s under the
rule of Julius Agricola (AD 77-84) between Carlisle and Corbridge (Hodgson,
2009: 12).  Several forts were
established along this road and it is considered a precursor for the
construction of the Wall. Drawn by Christina Unwin (Hingley, 2012: 14).

 

Finally, the
role of Hadrian’s Wall can be interpreted as an expression of the power and
wealth of the Roman Empire (Breeze, 2006). The wall extends for 120 kilometres
with an original height estimated to be around 3.6 metres (Breeze, 2006: 53-8).
Several stones commemorating the construction of the Wall have been found, an
example of which can be seen in Figure 3. Excavations have shown that was
likely finished to a relatively high standard, with the facing completed using
carefully cut stones set in mortar, obtained from nearby quarries then perhaps
covered in plaster and whitewashed, giving the wall a striking appearance and
allowing it to be seen from miles away (Everitt, 2009: 223). The forts along
the Wall were equally impressive. At Housesteads, the Headquarters (Principia)
was the finest building in the fort, enclosing a shrine containing a statue of
the Emperor, which was guarded day and night. At Chesters, the Headquarters was almost twice the size of that at
Housesteads and featured a main entrance on the north
through a monumental gateway into an open courtyard (Graham, 1979).
Additionally, the fort includes one of the finest military bath houses in
Britain and an elaborate house for the Commandant, with a Roman central heating
system and a private bath house (Graham, 1979). Therefore, the magnitude of the Wall could simply
have been an expression of Hadrian’s imperial power and status (Everitt, 2009:
211). 

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