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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The taxing riddle behind the building of Hadrian's legacy
10 May 2008
The Times

Source :

The Romans invaded Britain in AD43 but Hadrian's Wall was not built until about AD122, following the Emperor's visit to Britain. Thousands of soldiers are believed to have taken six years to complete the job, The wall is the most spectacular of the Roman remains in Britain and a World Heritage Site. It stretches for 73 miles across the narrowest part of England from Wallsend-on Tyne in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in the west and is a dramatic example of Britain divided by occupation, with Rome marking out the boundaries of its empire.

The construction of the wall was an stupendous achievement, requiring nearly four million tons of rock to be quarried by hand and hauled up to the crags and ridges where it was built. It was maintained by the Romans for nearly 300 years.

But why build a wall? Why didn't the Romans just carry on their conquest as far north as possible? For 80 years they had tried to move their empire ever northwards to achieve the total conquest of Britain, their most northerly province. It has been suggested that one reason the wall was built was to raise money.

When the wall was being built the Romans were feeling the pinch of having to govern their widespread provinces and one theory is that they wanted to create a customs frontier to raise taxes from "foreigners" crossing into their territory to trade.

However, a Roman biographer, during Hadrian's rule, wrote that the purpose of the wall was to "separate the Romans from the Barbarians".

The so-called Barbarians were Caledonian Picts and a tribe called the Brigantes. There had been no physical border to separate them before the Romans arrived and their territory lay on both sides of the wall. They were neither English nor Scottish since neither England nor Scotland existed in Roman times. So the notion of a customs border sounds feasible. About the middle of the 3rd century AD, the Romans faced more battles with the Goths and Vandals in Europe, which created a heavy demand for extra soldiers to fight the enemy.

The great Roman Empire was crumbling. It was too big and, possibly, too ambitious and the need for more troops gradually led to a depletion in the numbers stationed in Britain.

After the Romans left in AD410 the wall was used as building material by just about whoever wanted to carry off the stones. For a long time it was a source of ready-cut and dressed stone for castles, churches, and farmhouses.

In the 1970s archeologists discovered ancient wooden tablets at the site of what was once Vindolanda, a garrison fort near Hexham. They provide an amazing record of life at this outpost of the Empire. On pieces of wood, in inky spidery writing, army recruits recorded their grumbles about the weather, the shortage of beer and complaints about the locals, nicknamed Brittunculi "wretched little Brits".

Today Vindolanda has been excavated extensively, together with other buildings. There is an excellent museum displaying finds such as the wooden tablets and Roman shoes.

The museum is beside one of the best-preserved parts of the wall, which wends its way across a landscape that probably has not changed much since Roman times. It winds through a dramatic setting that is still one of the least populated and unspoilt areas of England - a paradise for walkers.

142,690 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
What Hadrian did - for empire and walkers A new exhibition looks at the man behind the Wall, who gave us a route across some of the most beautiful landscapes in Britain.
12 July 2008
The Daily Telegraph

Probably the least embarrassing of all the ****-ups perpetrated by BA and BAA during the opening of Heathrow Terminal 5 a few months ago was the claim that Richard Rogers' building was the largest free-standing structure in Britain.

Wrong. That record has been held for the past 1,880-odd years by Hadrian's Wall - which is, in my view, a rather more impressive sight.

Walking along the Walltown Crags with my family last month, I kept stopping to admire this extraordinary relic of Roman times. The long, low stub of the rampart snaked eastward over the uneven line of crags and bluffs like the articulated tail of a stone lizard. What had once (probably) been a crenellated battlement up to 20 feet high, studded with turrets and mile-castles, was reduced to a few courses of fine-hewn stone topped with ragged turf. Over the centuries, it had seemingly fused into the landscape. In a sense, this feat of engineering has become a geological feature.

I had certainly never seen it looking so serenely beautiful. The last time I was here - on this very spot - a bitter wind was swirling snow flurries over the ramparts and the tractor ruts in the mud were frozen like steel rails. Even the hardy Cumbrian sheep were taking shelter under clumps of storm-blasted rowan trees.

Today the warm breeze was barely enough to shake the seedheads on the dandelions, while a slight haze shimmered over the moorland so that the distant forests seemed to float above the horizon. On days like this, it is easy to see why up to a million visitors a year stream off the M6 or the A1, on school trips, family days out and holidays, to cycle, ramble, or visit some of the many museums and sites along the wall.

If Hadrian ever came here, it would have been in the high summer of AD 122. The view to the north, and perhaps the weather, might not have been all that different. But what was he doing here? And why did he decide to build his wall?

According to Thorsten Opper, curator of an exhibition about Hadrian that opens at the British Museum later this month, the answer is complex, and made all the more intriguing because we know so little about Britain under Hadrian's rule.

Modern scholarship has tended to play down the wall's role as a fortification, interpreting it also as a symbolic frontier marker, or protection for the vital coast-to-coast supply line, or even a customs and immigration control point. The Romans did not relish defensive battles fought from ramparts; they preferred to fight out in the open and maintain their positions by sending raiding parties to make pre-emptive strikes against potential enemies.

Recent excavations in the ditches in front of the wall have revealed evidence that the defences were strengthened with the Roman equivalent of barbed wire - a barrier of tree and thorn branches stuck into the bank and designed to slow any direct attack on the wall - so maybe the defensive role needs to be re-emphasised. As Opper points out, what scanty evidence we do have suggests these were troubled times in Britain. One account notes that the British could not be kept under control, while a short inscription refers to the deaths of many Roman soldiers in both Judea and Britain.

Undoubtedly we will learn more, but it will take a long time. Archaeologists at the Vindolanda fort, near the middle of the wall, estimate that it will be another 150 years before the excavations there are complete and the finds fully evaluated.

What has become much clearer to modern historians and archaeologists is the complex political psychology behind frontier lines such as this one. Walls are not built simply to keep people out; they can, as we saw not so long ago in Europe, keep people in. They can also - a greater consideration in Hadrian's time, perhaps - create identity. If you lived inside the line you could consider yourself Roman; outside, you were nothing but a barbarian.

Perhaps most important of all, construction on this scale was also a spectacular, and permanent, demonstration of the power and efficiency of the empire. If, in its ruined state, it can still impress us today, its propaganda value nearly 2,000 ago would have been immense.

Hadrian certainly seems to have understood the power of architecture; in fact, he seems to have had a passion for it. Two of the most important surviving buildings in Rome were commissioned by him. The towering form of the Castel Sant'Angelo, overlooking the Tiber, was built originally as his mausoleum, while the 142ft-diameter dome of the Pantheon, one of the greatest buildings of antiquity, remains the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever constructed.

The buildings that formed his villa near Tivoli were spread over an area almost as big as Rome itself; and he founded an entire city - Antinoopolis in Egypt - in memory of his pre-pubescent lover, the Greek youth Antinous, who drowned in mysterious circumstances in the Nile in AD 130.

So when Hadrian came to Britain in AD 122, it is perhaps not surprising that he was attracted to the idea of a wall. We don't know for certain whether he came this far north, but we do know that he was in Britain for three months, and it seems likely that he would have wanted to survey what was probably one of the most troubled parts of the province. This idea is strengthened by archaeological evidence that unusually grand living quarters were constructed at Vindolanda - which would have been one of the principal military bases - around this time.

He was certainly concerned with the security and delineation of the Roman frontiers. One of his great achievements, having taken over from the bellicose Trajan, who had stretched the military capacity of the empire with a succession of aggressive campaigns, was to withdraw to more secure and defendable lines. A former military commander, he was also assiduous in the attention he gave to his troops.

The visit to Britain was part of a programme that took him to military zones in nearly every corner of the empire. In fact he spent nearly half his reign travelling.

The programme for my own visit here was partly to try to bring alive for my teenage children some of the dry history of their classics books at school. But the longer we walked, the more it came home to me that the wall doesn't have to be treated as a history lesson. If you knew nothing about when or why it was built, if you stopped at none of the forts, passed by all the museums and simply used it as a walker's guide, it would lead you across some of the most beautiful landscapes in England: from the steep wooded hillsides of the west, via the dramatic crags of the Northumberland moors to the high pastureland that tails down towards Newcastle.

And since, for military reasons, it was built to hold the best vantage points, you can be sure you will always have the best views. To our modern sensibilities, Hadrian may have been a shameless paedophile and a vainglorious dictator who had his opponents brutally murdered, but he certainly knew where to draw the line.

* Nick Trend stayed at Fell View Cottage (0191 386 9045,, a four-star self catering cottage in the Allandale Valley about 10 miles south of the wall, which sleeps six; from pounds 500 a week. For other accommodation, see

* Hadrian: Empire and Conflict opens at the British Museum (020 7323 8181, on July 24 and runs until October 26, admission pounds 12.


Best section to walk

The most dramatic landscape and one of the stretches where the wall remains most intact for longest is on the 10 miles from the Roman Army Museum along the Walltown, Windshields, Highshield and Hotbank Crags to Housesteads Fort. That makes a good day's walk if you use the regular bus that stops at strategic points along the wall to return to your starting point. If that is too long, have a look at the website, which has some suggested walks and cycle routes and also details of the bus timetable and other relevant information.

Best sites to visit

There are several museums along the wall - most of them are based around excavations at the principal forts. No single site gives a satisfactory introduction to the history, though if you visit only two I would make them Housesteads and Vindolanda.

Unfortunately, the six museums listed on the right are run by three different organisations and there is no single ticket that allows you to visit them all. English Heritage runs three of the sites and does offer free entry to members (membership: pounds 42 a year), and you can get a small discount if you buy a ticket to both the museums run by the Vindolanda Trust. Otherwise you have to pay for each entry. Note that opening times listed may change after October 31.

Birdoswald ***

This restored, fortified farmhouse overlooks one of the principal military bases on the western stretches of the wall. Much of the defensive surround of this classic, lozenge-shaped fort remains, but only the foundations of the former granaries are currently exposed. The museum is fairly rudimentary, but the location of the site is spectacular. It backs on to a steep drop to a wooded meander in the River Irthing, while on the high ground to either side of the fort are some of the best-preserved stretches of the stone wall, the turf wall and the vallum (defensive ditch).

Open daily until October 31, 10am-5.30pm (4pm in October); pounds 4.50 (01697 747602,

Roman Army Museum ****

A former farm, right by one of the most spectacular stretches of the wall, this museum is run by the Vindolanda Trust (see right). There are no excavations to see, but, like Vindolanda, it has some excellent finds housed in a rather homespun environment. It also has a continuous showing of the film Eagle's Eye, which uses computer graphics to recreate views of the wall and is easily the best audio-visual introduction in any of the sites and museums.

Open all week, 10am-6pm (5pm in October and November); pounds 4.20 (or pounds 8 to include Vindolanda, right) (01697 747485,

Vindolanda *****

Hidden away about a mile south of the wall, this was an important military base some 40 years before Hadrian came to Britain. The excavations - exposing the foundations of the headquarters building and the commanding officer's house - are on the higher part of the site, and since the site is currently being worked on you see what is dug up each day. But the big attraction here is the quality of the exhibits in the museum, which include the only known surviving crest from a Roman helmet and some remarkably well preserved leather shoes, workmen's tools, hair combs and jewellery.

Most important of all, this is where the Vindolanda Tablets - scraps of wood used to write messages and letters - were found preserved in boggy ground. They are a unique record of everyday Roman life and include a reply to a party invitation written by a scribe but with a postscript in a lady's handwriting. This is the only extant female handwriting from Roman times, and probably the earliest surviving example in the world.

The tablets are far too fragile to display, but there is an excellent video describing their discovery and preservation.

Opening hours are the same as at Roman Army Museum; pounds 5.20 or pounds 8 to include Roman Army Museum (01434 344277,

Housesteads ****

This is the honeypot site for day-trippers and on a sunny day it can get quite crowded. It has two main selling points. First, it is next to one of the best-preserved sections of wall, with wonderful views over the Wark Forest and the moorlands to the north. Second, thanks to the extent of the excavations, large areas of the ground plan of the fort have been exposed. Best conserved are the latrines, complete with cistern and a flushing gully to take away the waste. There is also a tiny museum on site.

Open 10am-6pm (4pm from October 1); pounds 4.50 (01434 344363,

Chesters ***

On gently shelving meadows just above the River North Tyne, this is another lovely site. It was owned in the 19th century by John Clayton, an antiquarian who did much to conserve the walls and its forts. Best preserved is the bath house down on the river bank, but the small museum, little changed since it was opened in 1903 and crammed with finds from the site, is in itself a fascinating relic of its time.

Open daily 10am-6pm, 5pm from

October 1; pounds 4.50 (01434 681379,

Corbridge ***

About three miles south of the wall, straddling what was once the Stanegate Road, Corbridge Fort was founded under Agricola as part of his campaigns into what is now Scotland. If Hadrian did visit the north in AD 122, it is almost certain that he would have come here as well as to Vindolanda. Substantial ruins of the public and military buildings and part of the paved road remain. The audio tour offers a good introduction to the site and to Roman military life. There is also one of the better small museums. The site, however, is less scenic than those on or nearer the wall.

Open daily 10am-5.30pm (4pm from October 1); pounds 4.50 (01434 632349,


At last, here is a modern, well-designed museum devoted to the wall, with a main exhibition hall focused on explaining what life was like for soldiers at the fort. Exhibits include rare ring-mail armour and the only surviving stone lavatory seat in Britain.

The museum is sited at the fort, which probably housed both cavalry and infantry and once guarded the eastern end of the wall, on the banks of the Tyne immediately by the old Swan Hunter shipyard. From the viewing tower you get a good overview of the excavated layout, but it is a sparse site, with only the barest traces of the buildings remaining and a short stretch of wall nearby. To compensate there is a full-size, operational reconstruction of the Chesters bath house.

Open daily, 10am-5pm (3pm from November 1); pounds 3.95 (0191 236 9347,

142,690 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Hadrian: British Museum Exhibition overview

This special exhibition explores the life, love and legacy of Rome’s most enigmatic emperor, Hadrian (reigned AD 117–138).

Ruling an empire that comprised much of Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East, Hadrian was a capable and, at times, ruthless military leader. He realigned borders and quashed revolt, stabilising a territory critically overstretched by his predecessor, Trajan.

Hadrian had a great passion for architecture and Greek culture. His extensive building programme included the Pantheon in Rome, his villa in Tivoli and the city of Antinoopolis, which he founded and named after his male lover Antinous.

This unprecedented exhibition provides fresh insight into the sharp contradictions of Hadrian’s character and challenges faced during his reign.

Objects from 28 museums worldwide and finds from recent excavations are shown together for the first time to reassess his legacy, which remains strikingly relevant today.

Exhibition dates : 24 July – 26 October 2008

142,690 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Hadrian's haul
24 January 2009
The Advertiser

Archeological digs along Hadrian's Wall have unearthed a treasure trove of artefacts, writes JOHN WRIGHT.

CLAUDIA Severa wasn't to know when she invited her friend Sulpicia Lepidina to her birthday party that the brief note she sent would end up as one of the most treasured handwritten documents in history.

The friends were wives of fort commanders on the Roman Empire's northwestern frontier in Britain about 1900 years ago.

The note, written in ink and Latin script on a sliver of birch or alder, asked Sulpicia to be there ``to make my day more enjoyable''.

The thin wooden tablet, along with hundreds of others detailing daily life at the garrison of Vindolanda, in present-day Northumberland, found its way on to a rubbish heap and may have been earmarked for burning.

In an extraordinary story of unlikely preservation, the tablets survived, only to surface intact on an archeological dig at the Vindolanda site in the 1970s. They are the earliest written records in Britain, and the birthday invitation is the earliest surviving writing between two women in western Europe. The collection is housed in the British Museum and topped a 2003 poll of the country's most valuable treasures. More excavations at the site have unearthed other writing tablets and well-preserved artefacts.

The Roman army occupied the Vindolanda site and built a wooden fort there as early as AD 85. It was used to guard a section of an east-west supply route, which is known these days as Stanegate.

It took on a new role from AD 122 - about 20 years after Claudia's birthday note - when the emperor Hadrian began construction of the great wall separating England (Britannia) from Scotland (Caledonia). The 117km wall, between Wallsend (Newcastle) on the River Tyne to the Solway coast, was Rome's most important monument in Britain, protected its citizens for 300 years and remains beautifully preserved, in parts, 1600 years later.

The stone ruins at Housesteads, northwest of Hexham, constitute the best-preserved Roman fort in Britain and are perhaps the best-known among the legions of tourists who visit the wall every year. This famous Roman site includes a headquarters building, hospital, officer quarters and barracks and even a flushing toilet block. It is a superb site and views stretching into the English countryside are a photographer's dream.

Roman Vindolanda, as it is called these days, lies just south of the wall about 3km from Housesteads. It is administered by a charitable trust that doesn't charge for parking and has made the site another superb stop for exploring Hadrian's Wall.

The site has the largest collection of Roman buildings along the wall, a museum housing many artefacts excavated in the past 35 years, a cafe, shop and picnic areas. A separate Roman Army Museum lies not far to the west.

Its main tourist season is from mid February to early November. An annual archeological excavation runs between April and September. The success of the program, supported by a network of 500 volunteers worldwide, has been remarkable.

``We have excavated less than 10 per cent of the area and our team estimates it will take another 200 years to complete the job,'' says trust director Patricia Birley.

``Volunteers come every year for one or two weeks to help with the ongoing research.''

The author was a guest of regional development agency One NorthEast and Emirates airline.

Fast facts

* Emirates flies from Brisbane to Newcastle via Dubai daily. For details visit

* For details about Roman Vindolanda and its volunteer program, visit

* For information about housesteads and other Hadrian's Wall sites, visit

* For information about northeast England, including accommodation options, visit

142,690 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Residents build a wall of objections
28 January 2009
The Journal, Newcastle

FEARS have been voiced over plans to resume stone extraction operations at a disused quarry close to Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland.

Countryside guardians, dozens of local residents and parish councillors have objected to the bid to re-open the dormant Cocklaw Quarry near Hexham - which is just 515 metres from the Roman Wall world heritage site.

Tyne Roadstone Ltd wants to extract almost 600,000 tonnes of sandstone and limestone from the site over 10 years, and build a new haul route linking the re-opened quarry to the B6318 Military Road.

The scheme - which is being recommended for approval by the county council planning committee next week - has sparked 75 letters of protest and a 21-name petition from local residents.

They are worried about the effects on Hadrian's Wall and its national trail, the principle of resuming quarrying operations and the impact of heavy lorries using the B6318.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England and Wall Parish Council say the application should be refused, Humshaugh Parish Council says it has 'grave concerns' and the North East Assembly says particular attention should be given to the scheme's potential impact on Hadrian's Wall.

Cocklaw Quarry, which lies about four miles north of Hexham, was first given planning permission in the 1940s but it was declared a dormant minerals site in 1995.

To re-open it, Tyne Roadstone needs to have modern working conditions approved and build the new haul road for HGVs. Yesterday Humshaugh parish councillor Dick Moules said: "We are certainly concerned about the safety issue with HGVS because the Military Road is already very dangerous.

"If these concerns can be mitigated then we are not against quarrying in principle, although some local people are."

Next week, officers will recommend members of the county planning and regulation committee to give the scheme the green light, subject to a number of conditions which include governing the quarrying and restoration operations.

A report says the re-opened quarry will not be visible from the Roman Wall and English Heritage is satisfied that the new access road and lorries using it will not have a significant adverse impact on the wall's 'outstanding universal value'.

A maximum of 20 lorries a day will leave the site and measures have been put in place to tackle concerns over noise, dust and traffic generated by the quarry.

The report concedes: "The proposal to recommence mineral extraction has given rise to strong local opposition on the grounds of the impact of these operations on the local community."

It says officers feel the working and restoration proposals are acceptable, and will not harm the setting of the world heritage site.

We are concerned about the safety issue with HGVS because the Military Road is already very dangerous.

142,690 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Communities plan future of Hadrian's Wall
9 March 2009
The Journal, Newcastle

COMMUNITIES near one of the biggest attractions on Hadrian's Wall are being invited to help plan the next chapter in its long histor y.

The National Trust and English Heritage jointly manage Housesteads Roman Fort in Northumberland.

They are launching a series of activities aimed at inviting the communities to help shape the future the fort.

These include a visitor education centre for what is the best preserved of all the Roman forts on Hadrian's Wall.

Consultation will be carried out over a number of months starting this spring. On Thursday, March 12 staff from the National Trust and English Heritage will be joining a coffee morning at Haltwhistle Methodist Church Hall to test reactions to a range of ideas as well as asking for suggestions.

On Saturday, April 18 staff will be at Hexham and Haltwhistle markets.

Melanie Eve, community, learning and volunteer manager for the National Trust said: " We want to bring to life the people of Housesteads' past and display more important artefacts originally discovered at the site, as well as providing better educational and community facilities."

The fort attracted more than 100,000 visitors last year.

142,690 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·
16 April 2009
The Journal, Newcastle

A BUS linking sites along Hadrian's Wall is proving a big success.

The number of people using the Hadrian's Wall Country AD122 bus service increased by 13% last year and is now nearly 50% higher than in 2006.

The service, which begins its 2009 season tomorrow, provides connections to train stations in Newcastle and Carlisle and visits Hadrian's Wall attractions such as Housesteads, Vindolanda and Birdoswald.

Bryan Scott, Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd's Sustainable Access Officer, said: "We're delighted that the Hadrian's Wall Country Bus has been such a big hit with people travelling along the Wall.

"I think the success of the service is down to the fact that it is such a convenient way to visit the area's attractions and to enjoy a walk along the Wall.

"With so many more people taking an interest in their environmental impact, as well as wanting to plan a cost-effective break, we think the Hadrian's Wall Country Bus will continue to go from strength to strength. We also have onboard visitor guides on some of the peak time buses and they help to add an extra dimension to people's trips along Hadrian's Wall." In a survey of people using the service last year, about 40% said they were visiting the area from outside the UK. More than eight out of 10 people praised the helpfulness of the drivers, value for money and the cleanliness of the buses.

This year Northumberland County Council is providing additional funding to support the AD122 bus.

Coun Allan Thompson, Northumberland's cabinet member for highways and operations, said: "Northumberland County Council executive is pleased to be able to support this superb bus service.

"The executive considers it a duty to promote access to the Wall, and the many sites of interest along its length. The bus also helps meet the needs of residents who live alongside the route, many of whom would otherwise not be able to gain access to public transport." Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd has designed a series of itineraries for Great Days Out in Hadrian's Wall Country which link in with the AD122 buses.

There are eight itineraries including The Maximus Trip, which connects Roman-mad families to some of the most impressive Roman forts, and the Tea and Shopping Trip, which includes time in Hexham.

142,690 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
English Heritage invests in hi-tech electronic shelving system at Helmsley
2 May 2009
York Press

English Heritage has gone to “rack and ruins” in its mission to protect the North’s precious historic artefacts.

More than £140,000 has been invested in a hi-tech electronic shelving system at its Helmsley warehouse, which is capable of storing more than 430 tonnes of archaeological objects, from medieval carved stone to 19th century wooden water paddles and a Victorian organ.

With its capacity boosted by 60 per cent, the North Yorkshire facility will now be used as a repository for Roman stonework from Hadrian’s Wall, keeping it safe and secure, while still allowing scholars from across the world access to the remarkable collection.

Kevin Booth Senior, English Heritage’s curator for northern England, said: “It’s a leap forward in our ability to keep masonry and other items safe and sound while still making them accessible for study. The system makes much better use of the same space.”

To celebrate the move, English Heritage is staging free public tours of the warehouse, which is normally off limits to the public, starting on May 20 with further tours on June 24, July 29, September 23 and October 21 On view will be some of the 800,000 objects kept under lock and key, from a medieval water tap adorned with a cockerel to cannon-balls dating from the English Civil War. Each is an evocative reminder of bygone days with a fascinating story to tell. Places must be booked in advance through the Tourist Information Centre at Helmsley Castle Visitor Centre, phone 01439 770173.

Tours take place at 11am, 1pm and 3pm on each of the dates.
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