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Hadrian's Wall: A Journey Along the Edge of the Empire

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Hadrian's Wall
History of the Edge of an Empire | A Journey Along the Edge of the Empire | The Staffordshire Moorlands Patera
The Western Defences | The Forts And Camps North Of Hadrian's Wall

This is a journey of 741 miles2 from west to east along Hadrian's Wall, the Roman defensive wall built through some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain. Hadrian's Wall runs from Bowness (Maia) in the west to South Shields (Arbeia) in the east, forming one of the most formidable military fortifications in the Roman Empire.

The Roman name for Hadrian's Wall is unknown. There is some evidence provided by an inscription on a bowl known as the Staffordshire Moorlands Patera that they called it the Vallum Aelium, or the Aelian frontier.

In brief, the route travels from Bowness on Solway to Drumburgh, Burgh by Sands and then on to Stanwix where it crosses to the southern bank of the River Eden. The road then goes on to Castlesteads, then on to Birdoswald and then to Great Chesters.

From there the wall continues to Housesteads, Carrawburgh and Chesters where it crosses the North Tyne River. The wall continues to Halton Chesters, Rudchester, Benwell Hill, Newcastle upon Tyne and a bridge over the River Tyne. The last two forts are on the banks of the River Tyne; the first at Wallsend on the north bank and the second at South Shields on the south bank at the mouth of the river.

The Start of The Journey

The journey is from west to east and the forts on the wall are numbered from 1 to 16. For clarity the forts on the Stanegate Road, Carlisle, Carovian, Chesterholm and Corbridge are therefore not numbered.

The condition of the towns and forts today3.

1 = No longer visible. Or built over.
2 = Building platforms, mounds and crop marks.
3 = Some ruins are visible above ground.
4 = Visible site with museum support.
5 = A major site and tourist attraction.

Wall Fort 1. Bowness

Roman name: Maia
Translation: 'Large Fort'
Condition: 2

A Hadrian's Wall Fort thought to be one of the largest (estimated size 30,320 square metres) and constructed close to the shore. The settlement that developed to the south of the town was small but quite possibly prosperous, as sculpture and evidence of trade has been found. The fort and settlement were likely to have been part of the western end of the supply route, with access by land and sea. From the Mais Fort the coastal defences continue west along the coast for over 20 miles.

Total so far 0 miles.

  • Hadrian's Wall east to Drumburgh (Concavata) 3 miles.

Wall Fort 2. Drumburgh

Roman name: Coggabata
Condition: 1

Added after this section of the wall was built and also known as 'Coggabata', this was a small fort on Hadrian's that held a garrison of up to 800 foot soldiers. Little is known of the fort apart from the location.

Total so far 3 miles.

  • Hadrian's Wall east to Burgh by Sands (Aballava) 4 miles.

Wall Fort 3. Burgh by Sands

Roman name: Aballava
Translation: 'Orchards'
Condition: 1

This fort on Hadrian's Wall was built to defend an important river, crossing the fords of the Solway. Little evidence of the fort remains and the settlement has suffered a similar fate; it is thought it was of timber-framed and stone housing and with no municipal buildings.

Total so far 7 miles.

  • Hadrian's Wall east to Stanwix (Uxelodunum) 5 miles.

Wall Fort 4. Stanwix

Roman name: Uxelodunum
Translation: 'River Fort'
Condition: 1

Also known as Petriana fort on Hadrian's Wall (estimated size 32,420 square metres) built by Legion XX, The Valeria Victrix. This was the largest fort on the Wall and placed at the point where the course of the Wall moved from the north bank of the River Eden to the southern bank. It appears that Stanwix was built on a ridge of high ground clear of the northern edge of the flood plain to defend the side of the Wall north of the river. The fort also was positioned to defend the end of River Eden bridge supported by Carlisle in guarding the southern end4.

As one of the three major crossing points of the wall, the road continued north to Neatherby (Castra Exploratorum) with access to the west coast. This meant settlement was a focus for trade and became prosperous, with paved streets, timber-framed and stone housing and some municipal buildings, trade buildings and warehouses.

Total so far 12 miles.

  • Hadrian's Wall east to Castlesteads (Camboglanna) 8 miles.
  • On Local Roads north to Neatherby (Castra Exploratorum) 12 miles.

Stanegate Fort Carlisle

Roman name: Luguvalium
Translation: 'Luguvalos Town'
Condition: 1

Carlisle was built as a fort on the Stanegate Road. This was a fort placed to support Stanwix Fort which was built at the point where the course of the wall moved from the south bank of the River Eden to the northern bank.

There are three crossing points on the Wall and Carlisle was well placed as a trading centre. Goods came up from the coast via the port of Ravenglass (Glannoventa). Other roads also entered the town, from York via Catterick connecting with Ermine Street, and the west coast road from Ribchester. The traffic meant trade would have been good and the town prosperous with paved streets, stone housing, municipal buildings, trade buildings and warehouses.

The town was the access point for the western end of Stanegate Roman road, passing through Carvioan, Chesterholm and ending at Corbridge.

  • On Stanegate north to the Wall at Stanwix 1 mile.
  • On Stanegate west to Burgh by Sands (Aballava) 6 miles.
  • On local roads south west to Carlisle (Magolna) 11 miles5.
  • On Local Roads South East to Wreay 5 miles.

Wall Fort 5. Castlesteads

Roman name: Camboglanna6
Translation: 'Winding valley'
Condition: 3

Also known as Camboglanna, a fort on Hadrian's Wall (estimated size 11,420 square metres), the garrison was of both cavalry and foot units numbering approximately 1,200. The settlement, a vicus7, was located to the south of the fort. The settlement was of timber-framed housing and a few stone buildings, with some paved streets and a temple dedicated to the Mother Goddess. There is little of the settlement left to provide more information.

Total so far 20 miles.

  • Hadrian's Wall east to Birdoswald (Banna) 8 miles.

Wall Fort 6. Birdoswald

Roman name: Banna
Translation: 'The Spur'
Condition: 4

Built in 112 AD, and overlooking the River Irthing Birdoswald (size 22,259 square metres) this is a major fort on Hadrian's Wall. The fort could hold up to 1000 soldiers and is typical of the shape which has become known as the 'playing card type'. With a gate in each of its walls, it was furnished with the standard military buildings. However, in addition to a headquarters building, granaries and barracks, Birdoswald also had a basilica-style training hall. A vicus developed around the walls of the fort and along the service roads.

It was at this point the original construction method changed from stone to turf and timber with stone reinforcements.

  • On local roads north to Bewcastle (Fanum Cocidi) 8 miles.
  • Total so far 28 miles.

    • Hadrian's Wall east to Burgh by Chesters (Aescia) 7 miles.

    Stanegate Fort Carvoian

    Roman name: Magnis
    Translation: 'Place of Stone'
    Condition: 2

    A Stanegate Fort (size 34,859 square metres), it was founded in 92 AD, and pre-dates the building of the Wall by approximately 41 years. This is the point where the central Roman road, the Maiden Way, joins the Wall. After the building of Hadrian's Wall, the settlement developed further; there was a large Imperial official residence built8. A development programme was started in the settlement; quality housing, a forum with courtyard and store houses were erected, together with workshops. Temples were also built, several granaries and a trading centre. The settlement was awarded the status of civitas and was possibly the tribal capital of the Textoverdi tribe; at least two bath houses were found within the town.

    • On Stanegate east to Great Chesters (Aescia) 7 miles.
    • On Stanegate west to Nether Denton 4 miles.
    • On the Maiden Way south to Whitley Castle (Epiacum) 10 miles.

    Wall Fort 7. Great Chesters

    Roman name: Aescia
    Condition: 2

    This was a Hadrian's Wall Fort (size 12,179 square metres) and vicus on the south western side of the fort. This was the only fort on the Wall with direct access to the Stanegate supply road. This meant the settlement was a local centre for trade, with timber-framed and stone housing and some municipal buildings, trade buildings, paved streets and warehouses.

    Total so far 35 miles.

    • Hadrian's Wall east to Housesteads (Vercovicium) 5 miles.

    Stanegate Fort Chesterholm

    Roman name: Vindolanda
    Translation: 'White Fields'
    Condition: 5

    A Stanegate Road Fort (size 40,468 square metres) the original fort was built in timber reinforced with earthen ramparts and originally part of the 85 AD frontier. Vindolanda was built by the troops assigned to the fort 9 and was garrisoned by a mixed force of foot and cavalry of between 800 to 1100 men. During the building of the wall Vindolanda was rebuilt in stone and when completed had a headquarters building together with wooden barracks and military workshops. There are written records from the fort known as the Vindolanda Tablets that show examples of the organisation and daily routine.

    The population of the settlement consisted of wives and families of the men, along with those making a living serving the fort. The small town also contained a mansio, a bathhouse, a hospital, a temple and a church was built towards the end of the occupation. The vicus was sited to the west of the fort and the access road to Vercovicium and the wall.

    • On Local Roads North east to Housesteads (Vercovicium) 4 miles.
    • On Stanegate west to Carvoran (Magnis) 8 miles.
    • On Stanegate North east to Chesters (Cilvrnum) 11 miles.

    Wall Fort 8. Housesteads

    Roman name: Vercovicium
    Translation: 'The Hilly Land'
    Condition: 4

    Hadrian's Wall Fort (size 21,181 square metres) with a gate set in each of the four walls. Initially, an infantry fort would have held up to 1,000 men. The fort and settlement were situated close to the Stanegate supply road and were connected to it by road. The town was built on the side of a hill and there were shops, inns, a range of municipal buildings and a mansio with a bathhouse; it was a prosperous settlement with timber-framed and stone housing. There were more than ten deities worshipped in the town, the most popular being Jupiter. There was also an unusual round temple in the settlement possibly dedicated to the Goddesses Alaisiagae.

    Total so far 40 miles.

    • Hadrian's Wall east to Carrawburgh (Brocolitia) 5 miles.

    Wall Fort 9. Carrawburgh

    Roman name: Brocolitia
    Translation: 'The Badger Diggings'
    Condition: 3

    Hadrian's Wall Fort (estimated size 10,820 square metres) with a fine legionary bath house built outside the fort on the western side. The fort was garrisoned by auxiliary infantry units from Germany and Gaul.

    The settlement was built to the south-west of the fort with a variety of well-built housing, a granary and storehouses together with several temples; one of which was a place of worship for the followers of the God Mithras known as a mithraem. To the south of the fort there was also a nymphaeum a home of the local Nymph or Goddess; this one was dedicated to the 'Goddess of wells and springs Coventina'. Of the ten inscriptions to Coventina in the settlement this is the one of the best preserved:

    I BAT L M

    To Coventina Goddess
    Titus D Cosconia The First Batavian Cohort Prefect
    freely gives this dedication stone

    Total so far 45 miles.

    • Hadrian's Wall east to Chesters (Cilurnum) 4 miles.

    Wall Fort 10. Chesters

    Roman name: Cilurnum
    Translation: 'A Cauldron'
    Condition: 4

    A Hadrian's Wall cavalry fort (size, 13,796 square metres) built across the line of the Wall housing a cavalry regiment Ala Milliariae, commanded by a Praefecti Alae, and divided into thirty-two units (alae). This was divided into sixteen turma each commanded by a Decurion; it was approximately the same strength as a legion - 1,000 men. The name of the first cavalry regiment stationed at the fort was the ala Augusta ob virtutem appellata awarded the name Augusta for valour in action. The fort guarded a bridge north of the wall, built over the North Tyne River; it was a timber bridge built on three stone piers with an original span of 53 metres. The castles to the east and western side of Cilurnum fort had direct road access to the bridge.

    The Settlement was built either side of the southern road that led into the fort. There was a variety of well-built housing and a market, a bath house and a small temple. There were also granaries and store houses in the settlement.

    Total so far 49 miles.

    • Hadrian's Wall east to Halton Chesters (Onnum) 6 miles.

    Wall Fort 11. Halton Chesters

    Roman name: Onnum
    Translation: 'A Rock'
    Condition: 2

    Hadrian's Wall Fort (size, 20,903 square metres with an extension in the south west corner of 37500 square metres) originally built by the Legion VI the Victrix. This fort was built across the Wall and had a garrison of mainly infantry with cavalry support. The settlement on the southern side of the wall included well-built housing and a market and there was also a bath house and temple. The settlement and fort had access to Dere Street Roman road with access to the granary and store houses in the settlement. The gods of Onnum included Fortuna and the spirit of the Emperors.

    Total so far 55 miles.

    • Hadrian's Wall east to Burgh by Rudchester (Vindobala) 7 miles.

    Stanegate Fort Corbridge

    Roman name: Corstopitum
    Translation: 'Valley of Great Noise'
    Condition: 4

    Corbridge is a little further south than the wall itself, so if you continue along the wall you will miss it. However, the convention is to list it between forts 11 and 12, and this Entry follows that convention.

    A Stanegate Fort founded in 79 AD, and pre-dates the building of the Wall by approximately 43 years. The original garrison was probably a unit of 500 cavalry with a command headquarters, granaries, barracks and workshops. After the construction of the Wall the fort was garrisoned by infantry units in support of the Wall itself. The fort and settlement were at the important junction of Stanegate and Dere Street and the town that developed served a large garrison that occupied the original fort and later the troops on the Wall. After the building of Hadrian's Wall the settlement developed further; the original defensive walls were removed and a development programme was started. A forum with courtyard complex and store houses was erected, together with a workshop. Temples were built, then several granaries, and there was an aqueduct and a trading centre for the trade in iron, lead and coal mines nearby. An official residence for an Imperial official has been found within the town.

    • On Dere Street north to Halton Chesters (Onnum) 3 miles.
    • On Dere Street south east to Ebchester (Vindomora) 10 miles.
    • On Stanegate west to Chesters (Cilvernum) 7 miles.
    • On Stanegate south east to Washing Wells 14 miles.

    Wall Fort 12. Burgh by Rudchester

    Roman name: Vindobala
    Translation: 'The White Fort'
    Condition: 2

    Hadrian's Wall Fort (size, 13,006 square metres) possibly built by Legion II, the Augusta. This fort was built across the wall and extended to the wall's northern and southern sides; this was a fort where a garrison of around 600 men were stationed, mainly infantry with cavalry support. The settlement was on the southern side of the Wall. It had a variety of well-built housing and a market; there was also a bath house temple. The gods of Vindobala included Apollo, Anicetus and Mithras.

    Total so far 62 miles.

    • Hadrian's Wall east to Benwell (Condercum) 7 miles.

    Wall Fort 13. Benwell Hill

    Roman name: Condercum
    Translation: 'The Good Vista'
    Condition: 3

    Hadrian's Wall Fort (size, 8,361 square metres) and built by Legion II, the Augusta. The fort is built across the Wall extended to both the northern and southern sides which indicates that this was a fort where cavalry were stationed. The settlement was on the southern side of the Wall and it had a variety of well-built houses and a market. There was a bath house, with a water tank and filter system, and a temple. There was also a granary and store houses in the settlement.

    Total so far 69 miles.

    • Hadrian's Wall East to Newcastle upon Tyne (Pons Aelius) 2 miles.

    Wall Fort 14. Newcastle upon Tyne

    Roman name: Pons Aelius
    Translation: 'Bridge of Hadrian'
    Condition: 2

    Hadrian's Wall Fort (estimated size 11,000 square metres), crossing the River Tyne, is a fine timber bridge supported on ten stone piers. This is the Wrekendike Roman road access point to the Wall. The population of Pons Aelius at this period was estimated at 2,000. Situated at a major crossing of the river meant trade would have been good so the town was prosperous with municipal buildings, trade buildings and warehouses, with good housing, paved streets and and temples to the gods Neptune, Silvanus and Jupiter.

    Total so far 71 miles.

    • Hadrian's Wall east to Wallsend (Segedunum) 3 miles.

    Wall Fort 15. Wallsend

    Roman name: Segedunum
    Translation: 'Strong Fort'
    Condition: 4

    Hadrian's Wall Fort (size, 16,581 square metres) built by Legion II, the Augusta. It contained a granary, ten barrack blocks, a hospital and administration buildings. It was a fort with a mixed garrison of infantry and cavalry placed to hold the eastern end of the Wall; it also guarded a port built inside the Wall. The settlement was situated at the south-eastern end of Hadrian's Wall10. With a bathhouse and some good stone and timber housing, this was a busy trade area with warehousing built to serve the towns port.

    Total so far 74 miles.

    • On Military Road east to South Shields (Arbeia) 9 miles.

    Wall Fort 16. South Shields

    Roman name: Arbeia
    Translation: 'The Arabs'
    Condition: 4

    Hadrian's Wall Fort (size, 18,431 square metres). The original garrison was a Spanish cavalry unit, Ala Milliariae, of 1,000 in total; this garrison was thought to have been replaced by a similar number of other cavalry units, mainly from the eastern Mediterranean - Jordan or Syria. This fort was also a supply and storage facility; there is reference to it being a fleet granary. The Roman fleet in British waters was the Classis Britannia and Arbeia may have been a fleet anchorage. The settlement was on the southern side of the fort. It had a variety of good housing, a market and a bath house and there was a temple and altar to the god Aesculapius. The town was served by a small port giving access to trade. The fort and settlement were also where the Wrekendike Roman road had a point of access to the Wall.

    The eastern end of Hadrian's Wall. Total on the Wall 83 miles.

    Town Status

    A vicus - An informal town development round a military installation.

    Civitates - Small planned settlements laid out as official towns.

    Coloniae - Similar to the civitates but with a population consisting of a high proportion of retired Legionaries, planned and laid out as official towns.

    Municipia - Formal towns or cities, often tribal capitals. Often created from native towns to serve as political centres.

    The Forts and Camps North of Hadrian's Wall

    There were several important forts and strong points established by the Roman army that were in the area north of the Wall11. These fall into three categories: there were those built prior to the wall, during the initial period of invasion, such as Birrens, Blatobulgium, built in 81 AD; there were those that were built during the construction period of the Wall, such as Neatherby, Castra Exploratorum, and Bewcastle and Fanum Cocidi, both dating from 120 AD; finally, there were those that were built after the construction period of the Wall - Risingham (Habitancum, 205 AD), Learchild (Alavna, 204 AD) and High Rochester (Bremenium, 216 AD). This last group may have been part of a system of rebuilding that coincided with the construction of the Antonine Wall.

    Hadrian's Wall World Heritage Site

    Today Hadrian's Wall is a peaceful place and nearly all 74 miles run through beautiful countryside; this, combined with the fact that there is plenty of the wall left to see, makes the area a great place to visit. If you are visiting then the The Hadrian's Wall Country visit planner will be very useful to you. This not only covers the 75 miles of the Wall but also the western coastal defences, which include some of the forts north of the Wall over a length of 150 miles. This is the best resource to explore the Wall and it will lead you to many discoveries on the way.

    Because of the sheer size of it, it would take many weeks to see all of the Wall and perhaps a lifetime to get to know it. There are many places that are worth visiting and which will make a fantastic day out.

    In Vindolanda you will find a museum, a reconstructed section of the Wall, a restaurant and picnic area, a film theatre and access to the site; in fact, everything you need for a brilliant family day out - there will be something there for everyone.

    Housesteads and Birdoswald are well worth a visit for those with a particular interest in the period. They have shops, restaurants and good museums, but younger children might not be as entertained.

    Chesters and Corbridge are very well preserved and should be visited as there are some very impressive ruins to see.

    In the urban setting, Wallsend and South Shields are of great interest. And the site at South Shields has a marvellous reconstruction of a gatehouse; it is worth the trip to see this feature alone.

    Visit the area if you can and discover for yourself the mystery and the magic of the Wall, and help take care of the monument by treating it with respect. Remember, sections of the Wall pass through areas of private land, but it is often possible to gain access once you get permission.

    1125 miles if the military road to the seven western coastal defence forts and Ravenglass is added to the total length.2The Romans measured the wall at 80 miles; the Roman mile was 1,000 paces and shorter than a standard modern mile.3Please note this is based on this Researcher's personal visits and a thorough search of the sites on the Internet. Please use this as a guide only, and check any site prior to any visit.4Both Stanwix and Carlisle forts have been built over, and the course of the Wall has been lost at this point.5There were two forts near modern-day Carlisle; Luguvalium and Magolna.6There is some confusion regarding the location of this fort; it could be either Castlesteads or Birdoswald, and the evidence is inconclusive. The Latin names indicate Camboglanna, 'the winding valley'. This fits Castlesteads better than the name Banna, 'the spur', which is better suited to Birdoswald located on a ridge overlooking the River Irthing.7An unplanned settlement, not to be confused with the civita, a planned and organised settlement.8Possibly built on the orders of Hadrian as the building is thought to date from the time the wall was commenced.9Originally an infantry unit from Tungaria Belgium. The 4th Cohort of Gauls initially occupied the rebuilt stone fort for the Hadrian's Wall period.10There is a section of reconstructed wall at the site.11They were built at various times; some were established before the Wall was built and these were maintained to support operations north of the it.

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