The different elements of the Wall explained;curtain Wall, Milecastle, Turrets, Forts, Vallum
The curtain wall, the most famous and instantly recognisable part of Hadrian’s frontier system, has fascinated visitors to northern England for generations.
It certainly looks as though it could present a formidable obstacle, but recent excavations have raised important questions as to just what its purpose really was. Large and imposing it may have been, but could such a wall really have stopped a determined army, or even a small group of fast moving raiders? Excavations at the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall, at the aptly named Wallsend, have revealed more of the original wall, but also mysterious features on the berm, the strip of ground that lies between the wall and the ditch that ran along its northern side. How should these be interpreted? In this evidence we look at the Wall at Wallsend as it appears in both its surviving state and as a full scale model.
Any attempt to understand the role of the curtain wall must, of course, take into account the structures attached to it -the turrets, milecastles and forts which we will discuss in our next steps- but the question of linear barriers also touches on another unique feature of Hadrian’s Wall, the remarkable earthwork that runs immediately to its south known as the Vallum
We encountered this distinctive feature in Step 1.6 ‘What was the Wall?’. With its deep ditch, paralleled to the north and south by earthen banks, the Vallum must have been a major barrier in its own right. It was built within a few years of the Wall, blocking almost all access to the Wall from the south, and then slighted (cut through) when the army moved into Scotland. What does its shape, location and history suggest about Roman thinking on movement and control on the Tyne-Solway line?
For a magnificent technical guide to the Wall we recommend Breeze, D. J., 2006 (ed.) J. Collingwood Bruce’s Handbook to the Roman Wall
, now out of print but some copies still available directly
from the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne: Newcastle Upon Tyne