Guest Author - Asha Sahni
The Antonine Wall, a World Heritage site, was built in the second century under the direction of the Roman Emperor Antonius Pius. The turf wall straddled Scotland, running from the River Clyde to the River Forth, creating a thirty-seven mile long northern frontier for the Romans in Britain.
Very little remains of the original Antonine Wall today – some twenty or so years after the Wall was completed the Romans decided to abandon Scotland in order to focus their forces on other parts of the Empire. The fact that the Romans withdrew meant that their influence on Scotland was less lasting than on England, where substantial evidence of Roman occupation includes Roman baths, forts, roads, villas and Hadrian’s Wall. There is evidence that the Romans under Agricola did reach northern Scotland where they defeated the Caledonians, most of whom escaped to hide in the mountains of the land they knew so well. The result – Roman withdrawal to the south and, a generation after Agricola’s campaign, the building of a wall which announced their presence in the land. Roman records of the time provide the earliest recorded history of Scotland, a land to this day steeped in oral tradition.
On the northern side of the Antonine Wall the Romans dug a defensive ditch; they used earth from the ditch to make a smaller rampart on the far side, creating a substantial earthwork that was not easy to pass. Forts which were both guard points and living quarters for the soldiers were integrated along the length of the Wall, linked by a road called the Military Way. Thus the Romans gained control of much of the traffic between Scotland and England.
Remnants of the wall that have survived include a stretch of the stones that formed the base of the Antonine Wall at New Kilpatrick (also known as Hillfoot) Cemetery and sections of the ramparts and ditch along the route. Excavation of several sites along the wall commenced in the early twentieth century, uncovering forts including those at Croy, Castlecary and Rough Castle. Sometimes this work was driven by the need to unearth sites before new buildings covered the remains, as was the case at Mumrills.
The foundations of Roman bath houses were uncovered at Bearsden and Bar Hill (the latter being a good area to view what is left of the wall). Remains including stones on which Romans recorded information about the building of the wall (distance slabs) can be seen at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.
If you are interested in learning more about the Antonine Wall you may find the book about the subject by David J Breeze of interest. He is an authority on the subject and was instrumental in the achievement of World Heritage Status for the Antonine Wall.