A time to reflect

Thank you for your participation over the last six weeks. We hope that you have enjoyed it all, and we would really welcome your comments as to what you liked, what you liked less, and how we might develop the course for future students.

As we reach the end of the course, let us reflect on some of the key points we have tried to convey.

First, we explored Hadrian’s Wall as something that was much more than just a wall, and rather more akin to a network of cities forming part of a complex frontier system. We have seen how its initial construction raises questions as to imperial intentions and marks an important step in the development of notions of frontiers in the Roman world.

Equally, we have seen how the Wall continued to evolve for centuries after it was first dramatically imposed on the British landscape. And we have stressed the ways in which people adjusted their lives around it, and adjusted it in the process.

We have seen that the story of the Wall does not stop and start with Hadrian, nor indeed, with a wall!

We have shared with you just how thought-provoking the clues we find in these structural changes can be. Recall for example, the fascinating transformation that took place to the buildings of Birdoswald and Vindolanda. Roman buildings, designed for entirely different purposes, were adapted to serve the warrior bands that dominated the wall zone in the aftermath of Roman rule.

We have seen Hadrian’s Wall as a place bursting with life. We have encountered the diverse soldiers and civilians who lived there. What we have discovered is a far cry from the popular picture of shivering Italians staring out on a barren and hostile landscape.

Our Wall people came from across the Empire, a space stretching from the Wall to the mighty River Tigris in modern Iraq, and from the Carpathians to the fringes of the Sahara.

And we have seen too that the Wall is not simply about armed men holding barbaricum at bay. The frontier communities were homes to men, women and children from the poorest of the provincial poor, to representatives of some of the proudest senatorial families. Consider for example, the miserable slave woman of Cocceius Firmus, captured from the salt mines only to be sold into slavery once more, and reflect how different her life must have been from that of Lucilla, the clarissima femina and commanding officer’s wife from the outpost fort at High Rochester.

Along the way we have discussed how to read and interpret key ancient texts related to Hadrian’s Wall. We have looked together at a range of ancient text relating to Hadrian’s Wall. We have learnt to read inscriptions, from altars to building stones, and from dedications to funerary monuments.

Our hope here is that everyone will come away convinced that whether or not they can translate the texts in their entirety, they can certainly read some of the intended message, appreciate the rationale behind the text and identify the people originally involved.

We have seen some of the drama, such as the fate of the ‘overseas man’, and some of the banality, like bad roads and bad loans, captured in those great postcards from the past, the famous Vindolanda tablets. And we have looked at the works of celebrated ancient historians, such as Tacitus and Cassius Dio. In revisiting these classics of world literature, we have reflected on their strengths and limitations as sources, turning a spot light onto the different agenda that informed the accounts left to us.

And we have introduced some of the many archaeological skills and methods used to study Hadrian’s Wall and its people:

  • we have seen something of aerial photography
  • looked at the results of geophysical survey
  • considered laser scanning
  • seen open area excavation
  • reflected on environmental sampling
  • and seen how important artefact study can be.

There are in fact so many techniques that archaeologists use that we have only been able to touch on a few briefly, but we hope we have successfully conveyed just how complex, sophisticated and interdisciplinary the archaeological research that is taking study of the Wall forward can be. Be assured, new developments are taking place all the time.

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Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier

Newcastle University

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