Latin: Vallum Antonini
The Northern Wall
The Antonine Wall is a Roman defensive fortification located in present-day Scotland. This marked the northernmost frontier barrier of the Roman Empire, built about twenty years after Hadrian’s Wall. It stretches along the Central Belt of Scotland, approximately 63 kilometres (39 miles) long. Unfortunately the ruins aren’t as well preserved as Hadrian’s Wall.
In AD 730, Bede writes, in his Historica Ecclesiastica, that it was the Britons who constructed the wall, which is something Gildas had written in his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, which is not correct. Bede writes:
The islanders built the wall which they had been told to raise, not of stone, since they had no workmen capable of such a work, but of sods, which made it of no use. Nevertheless, they carried it for many miles between the two bays or inlets of the sea of which we have spoken; to the end that were the protection of the water was wanting, they might use the rampart to defend their borders from the irruptions of the enemies. Of the work there erected, that is, of a rampart of great breadth and height, there are evident remains to be seen at this day. It begins at about two miles' distance from the monastery of Aebbercurnig [Abercorn], west of it, at a place called in the Pictish language Peanfahel, but in the English tounge, Penneltun [Kinneil], and running westward, ends near the city of Aicluith [Dumbarton].
Antonine Wall | History
Construction | 142-154 AD
The Antonine Wall was constructed by the Roman legions under the command of Antoninus Pius, who ruled from 138 to 161 AD. Construction likely began around 142, and it was completed by 154. The wall ran for approximately 39 miles (63 kilometers) across central Scotland, between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde.
Purpose and Function
The primary purpose of the Antonine Wall was to serve as a northern defensive boundary for the Roman Empire in Britain. It marked the northernmost extent of Roman control in mainland Britain during this period, beyond which the Romans had difficulties maintaining a permanent military presence.
Structure and Features
The Antonine Wall consisted of a turf rampart, stone foundations, and a deep ditch on the northern side. A military road, known as the “Military Way,” ran along the southern side of the wall. Forts were built along the wall at regular intervals, providing garrisons for Roman troops.
Abandonment | 160s AD
The Antonine Wall was occupied by Roman forces for only a relatively short period. By the late 150s or early 160s AD, the decision was made to abandon the wall and withdraw Roman forces back to Hadrian’s Wall, which was further south. The reasons for this withdrawal are not entirely clear but my have been influenced by the challenges of maintaining a northern frontier and the desire to consolidate Roman forces in more defensible positions.
Legacy and Preservation
The Antonine Wall represents one of the best-preserved and most complete Roman frontiers in the world. In 2008, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its historical significance and archaeological value.
Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum | Bede, 731