Contact FutureLearn for Support Facing the enemy: why bother with a ditch? - Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier - Newcastle University Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 13 secondsHere we are at Limestone Corner. And this is a great place to think about how the Romans built the ditch in front of the wall. For the most part, they could have used tools like these, a spade, a reconstructed spade, and mattock. But unfortunately, the geology was not terribly understanding or forgiving. This is not an area of limestone at all. What we're dealing with here is volcanic rock. And this is one of those cases, where Roman military efficiency came up against the natural order and lost. And we can actually see that moment. Soldiers have clearly come through. They've cut away a ditch here, despite the hard rock. And then they've got to this point. They've prepared the stone for breaking.

Skip to 0 minutes and 57 seconds We can even see where they've tried to drive or started to prepare to drive wedges into the stone to break it, and they've given up. It's an interesting moment in the history of the wall.

Facing the enemy: why bother with a ditch?

To the north of the Wall lay a ditch, normally omitted only where the presence of crags and marshes rendered it unnecessary.

Its appearance varied from place to place, but it was generally between 8.23-8.53 m (27-28 ft) wide. Some of the material from the ditch was smoothed out to make a mound to the north, other elements may well have been used to help build the Wall itself. How important was the ditch to the Hadrian’s Wall system? It clearly had a role to play, but it is fascinating to see what happened when the Roman working party began digging a ditch at Limestone Corner. Unfortunately, despite its modern, rather ironic name, the geology of this area is not characterised by nice soft limestone, but by brutally hard volcanic dolerite! One wonders who decided what to do next. An interesting point to note is that while the Romans did not complete the ditch to the north of the Wall here, they did persist in completing the vallum to the south, despite the fact that it obliged them to cut through the same stone!

This video is from the free online course:

Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier

Newcastle University

Course highlights Get a taste of this course before you join: