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Antoninus’ Wall

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The impressive trench at Dullatur
The impressive trench at Dullatur | Photo:

Antoninus’ Wall was built in the years 142-154 CE. The decision to build the embankment resulted from the vicious attacks of the Caledonians on Roman territory. The wall was primarily intended to replace the Hadrian’s Wall built some 160 kilometres to the south, which meant that the Romans wanted to continue conquering the territories to the north. Ultimately, however, the expansion failed as it failed to defeat the Picts.

Thus, the Antoninus Wall remained the northernmost band of Britain. The area above the wall was called Caledonia by the Romans, and the area between the embankments “the Old North”. Although most of the dike was destroyed, some of its remains are preserved at Bearsden, Kirkintilloch, Twechar, Croy, Falkirk, and Polmont.

The history of the wall’s creation

Antoninus’ Wall (upper) and Hadrian’s (lower).
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

The construction of the Antoninus rampart (also known as the “Antoninus Wall”) was officially decided by Emperor Antoninus Pius, at the request of the governor of Britain, Quintus Lollius Ubrikus, who owed his lightning career to his military abilities. Antoninus Pius entrusted him with waging a campaign against the northern tribes of Caledonia. In preparation for this campaign, the Corstopitum (Corbridge) camp was expanded, adjacent to Deer Street, the main eastern road from the Tyne River to Caledonia. The campaign lasted from 139 to 142 CE – when Antoninus Pius was proclaimed emperor for the second time.

The war of 139-142 CE ended the process of stabilizing the new border system. During the campaign, the camps in Corstopitum (Corbridge), Habitancum (Risingham) and Bremenium (High Rochester) were expanded and strengthened. Immediately after the completion of the activities, the construction of a new embankment (murus caespiticuis) began.

Construction of the wall began in 142 CE and ended in 154 CE. The embankments ran across the central strip of Scotland on the natural throat line of the Forth-Clyde. It was half the length of Hadrian’s Wall and thus easier to defend in practice.

Construction of the Antoninus shaft

The wall was abandoned in 164 CE due to a series of devastating raids of the Picts. Then he was briefly used by the troops of Septimius Severus from 207 CE. The stones from the abandoned fortification served since then as the building blocks of nearby houses.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

The wall was a typical earthen mound, made of stone and peat. It was 39 Roman miles (about 63 km long), about 3 meters high and 5 wide. On the northern side, there was a moat 12 meters wide and 4 meters deep. From the south, along the wall, the Romans built a road that allowed them to move freely along the rampart. The fortifications consisted of 16 forts spaced every 3 km. To this day, one of the smallest forts – Rough Castle Fort – has remained the best preserved.

Antonin’s embankment was based partly on the Flavian camps (Cramond, Glenlochar), and partly on new camps, located on average every 2 miles. So far, 13 out of about 20 camps have been discovered, of which only 6 or 7 could accommodate entire troops; in the rest, only vexilationes could be stationed.

The builders of the new barrier were legionaries from all legions in Britain, with all the legio VI Victrix and legio XX Valeria Victrix inscriptions issued by vexilationes during when the inscriptions of legio II Augustus – by the whole legion.

The construction was probably started from the eastern end, but the castella in the western part was planned without waiting for the ramparts to be brought to them. The garrison of the Antoninus embankment (approx. 6-7 thousand people) was stationed in approx. 20 camps: 5 of them, with an area of ​​approx. 0.85 ha, could accept only vexilationes auxiliary units, 7 others (from 1, 2 to 1.8 ha) was designated for cohortes quingenariae, the Mumrills camp (2.6 ha) had 1000 foot or 500 horse riders; the sizes of the other camps are not exactly known.

The implementation of the new defence concept required regrouping of troops. More than a dozen vexilationes units from camps in Wales have been transferred to the northern border. The reorganization also took place on Hadrian’s embankment, where the existing auxilia crews were replaced by legion’s vexilationes, and the mile bourds were abandoned.
From then on, one or the other system of fortifications marked the border of Roman possessions in Britain.

Abandoning fortifications

Antoninus’ Wall was built in CE 154 on the orders of Antoninus Pius.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

The wall was abandoned only eight years after its construction was completed. The Romans withdrew from what is now southern Scotland and returned to Hadrian’s Embankment in 164 CE. During this period, when the Antoninus Embankment was abandoned, the area between the two embankments acted as a buffer zone, separating the territory of the Roman province from the untamed Caledonian tribes, absorbing the strength of subsequent Caledonian tribes. the invasion of these warlike peoples. This event is associated with the legend of the chief of the Graham clan, Graem. Apparently, he was a great Caledonian warrior who broke the power of the Romans and banished them beyond Hadrian’s wall.

In 197 CE, the wall was attacked many times. Under the Emperor Septimius Severus, it was decided to recapture the “Old North”. The area was captured in 208 CE. These areas were occupied by the Romans for the next several years, which is why the wall is sometimes called the Severus embankment.

  • Breeze David J., The Antonine Wall, 2006
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Poczet cesarzy rzymskich, Warszawa 2004

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