Antonine Wall

Advancing into Britain

Julius Caesar was the first Roman to attempt to invade Britain in 54 BCE, but his and subsequent campaigns were unsuccessful. Ten years later, the next large-scale movement into Britain was led by Aulus Plautius, who became governor of the first province.

Thirty years later, the Roman Army advanced towards Scotland. However, conquering these lands wasn’t easy. The Caledonians, a generalized term given by the Romans to the general inhabitants of the area, were primarily Picts and were a strong opponent of the Roman invasion. It would not be until 122 CE that Rome would set a strong footing in northern England with Emperor Hadrian’s mason-built wall. Hadrian’s successor, Antoninus Pius, would advance the limits of the Roman Empire by reinvading Scotland and establishing a turf-built fort with walls nearly 10 feet (3 meters) high and a fortified escarpment of 20 feet (6 meters) deep in some areas.

The Antonine Wall consisted of 17 forts. Supporting nearly 7,000 soldiers, the Wall was Rome’s largest construction in Scotland.

When Antonius Pius died twenty years later, the fort lost ground to the Caledonians, and the Roman army was forced back to Hadrian’s Wall, nearly 90 miles (144 km) south. Although Emperor Septimus Severus attempted to retake the fort between 197 and 208 CE, his victory was short-lived as he again had to retreat to Hadrian’s Wall only one year later. The fort would never be attempted again.

Documenting 37 Miles

The Antonine Wall was digitally documented in July, 2013 as part of the Scottish Ten, a partnership between CyArk, Historic Scotland, and The Glasgow School of Art’s Digital Design Studio. Stretching across the heart of Scotland and beyond, this project offered many technical challenges due to its scale. Aerial LiDAR was utilized to capture the majority of the Wall, with higher-resolution ground-based scanning of key sites employed to augment the aerial data. The resulting dataset provides accurate coverage of the Antonine Wall within Scotland’s borders, supporting the ongoing management plan of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and providing virtual reconstructions of Bar Hill. The Antonine Wall joins 9 other heritage sites in the Scottish Ten, an ambitious five-year project using cutting edge technologies to create accurate 3D models of Scotland’s five heritage sites and five international World Heritage Sites.

Living in a Roman Fort

The Antonine wall was made of seventeen forts, more than double the original plan of six. Connecting each fort was the “Military Way,” or service road, that enabled troops to quickly move between forts and send communications and supplies.

The primary population of the fort was made of auxiliary troops, non-Roman citizens who were either forced into work or had volunteered their services from all regions of the empire. After a 25-year enlistment, veterans could expect an honorable discharge and citizenship for the veteran, wife, and children; however, under the reign of Antoninus Pius, citizenship was limited to officers only.

Daily life for a soldier was varied and regimented. With a call at daybreak, and depending on his ranking, a solider could be expected to convene for breakfast, assemble, go on watch, or set the day’s plan and administration. Training was vigorous and diverse including archery, spear throwing, and swordsmanship. The intention was to develop a wide range of weaponry skills.

However, a soldier had jobs around the fort beyond training that ranged from administration to craftsmanship. Similar to their training, a fort trained their soldiers in a range of craft and administrative skills.

Life was flexible, often moving from one fort, station, or region to another as the empire needed.

Supporting 7,000 Men

The Roman forts represented the limits of the Roman Empire; therefore, it was in the best interest of the Emperor to keep the soldiers content and well fed. Olive oil and wine would have been common, while accounts from the Vindolanda Tablets (surviving accounts of a Pre-Hadrian Wall fort in the northern frontier) detail a diverse range of foods including pork, cereal, venison, spices, and beer. Accounts from the tablets show that low ranking soldiers could purchase such luxury goods as pepper from Asia.

The army consisted of more than military soldiers. Specialized soldiers, called immunes, were exempt from their general duties based on their specialization such as “ditch diggers, farriers, master builders, pilots, arrow makers, coppersmiths, helmet makers…” (Tarrentenus Paternus, Digest, 50, 6, 7, Trans, Bowman), leatherworkers, and cobblers. Though, not entirely self-sufficient, forts depended on regular shipments of supplies and food such as ham and cereals from southern England or wine, olive oil, and fish sauce from the Mediterranean.

Though efforts against the Caledonians were fierce in battle, in which heavy losses were accounted on both sides, the Antonine Wall witnessed enough peace time to manage a regular Roman life in between duties, administration, and regular fort maintenance. Civilians were a common addition to Roman forts. Wives, children, and traders would regularly call and make the fort home. Roman Forts, in many ways, would be the first town along the frontiers, only so long as the wall defense was maintained.


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