Roman Britain wasn't just what is today England and Wales, it included (at times) much of what is now Scotland (then Caledonia). The Antonine Wall was built as the northerly Roman frontier in Britain around 2,000 years ago. If one is visiting the famous Hadrian's Wall in England, then don't forget to include the Roman's "other" forgotten wall in Scotland.
There is much more to Scotland's heritage than just being wild and free during the times of Roman expansion. For part of its history, the Roman Empire lorded over much of what is now Scotland. These Roman walls in Britain were also the inspiration for the "Wall" in A Song of Ice And Fire aka Game of Thrones.
History And Background Of The Antonine Wall
While the Romans first built Hadrian's Wall to the south in around AD 122, under Emperor Antoninus Pius in the years following AD 140 they pushed north into Scotland. The Romans had already previously occupied this part of Scotland and built a string of forts along the central belt of Scotland.
- Name: In Latin As Vallum Antonini
- Hadrian's Wall: First Built In AD 122
But under Hadrian, they pulled back and built Hadrian's Wall to the south. Returning north they set to work on building the 30-40 mile (60 km) long earthen wall from modern Bo’ness on the Firth of Forth to Old Kilpatrick on the River Clyde. That is north of present-day Glasgow and Edinburgh - those are on territory that was once part of Roman Britain.
The Antonine Wall stood as a physical barrier and as a symbol of the might and power of Rome. It was also the last linear frontier built by the Roman Empire and took around 12 years to complete. Even though it was built with the intention to supersede the southern Hadrian's Wall it was abandoned after around a generation - only around 8 years after completion.
- Abandoned: In The AD 160s
- Last: The Last Linear Frontier Built By The Romans
The Fortification System of The Antonine Wall
The wall was earthen (and so has been worn down by the elements over the years) - unlike the better known Hadrian's Wall to the south. Historic Environment Scotland remarks of the Antonine Wall:
"At the time it was built, the wall was the most complex frontier ever constructed by the Roman army."
The Antonine Wall was a turf rampart with a wide and deep ditch in the front. Along the wall were a number of forts and fortlets that housed the frontier troops. Linking the forts behind the wall was a Roman road called the "Military Way." In total there were 16 forts along the wall with a number of fortlets between them.
- Type: Turf Rampart With A Large Ditch To The Front
- Ran: Between The Firth of Forth and The Firth of Clyde
- Width: Around 5 Meters (16 Feet) Wide
- Height: Around 3 Meters (10 Feet) High
- Length: Around 60 KM (39 Miles) Long
The soldiers who built the wall even commemorated the building of the wall with their struggles with the Caledonians with decorative slabs - twenty of which are known to survive today.
In the 2nd century, Scotland was known as Caledonia and the people were Caledonians. The Scotti was a tribe that invaded from neighboring Ireland sometime later on and gave their name to Scotland.
Visiting The Antonine Wall
Today there is precious little of this wall left (although it is still visible in some places), so adjust one's expectations accordingly. The ruins of this once-formidable fortification are much less evident than those of the longer Hadrian's Wall.
There are a number of sites and museums along where the Antonine Wall once ran and more information can be found on the dedicated Antonine Wall website. Almost 8 kilometers or 5 miles of the wall is in the care of Historic Environment Scotland (download their Antonine Wall leaflet). Remains on the wall in this section can be found at the following locations:
- Watling Lodge, Falkirk: The Best Surviving Stretch of Ditch
- Twechar: Bar Hill Fort
- Bearsden: Bearsden Bath House and Latrine
- Croy Hill: Ditch And Expansions
- Seabegs Wood Bonnybridge: A Rampart and Ditch
- Rough Castle, Bonnybridge: Earthworks of The Fort & The Rampart Ditch and Military Way
In addition, there are also a number of lengths of the wall protected by local authorities at:
- New Kilpatrick Cemetery: A Rampart Base
- Kirkintilloch: A Fort Site
- Kinneil: A Fortlet With Several Lengths of Ditch Nearby At Callendar Park
A very detailed and informative interactive map of the wall and points of interest is on the dedicated Antonine Wall website - as well as a suggested tour route along the wall to get the most out one's visit.