Significance of Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall is the most visible and best-known land frontier of the Roman empire, with parts of it visible through many miles. The most important and substantial of Roman remains in Britain, it is also one of the most dramatic features of the landscape of northern England.

View along the north wall of Housesteads Fort, showing the foundations of turret 36b partially overlain by later walls

View along the north wall of Housesteads Fort, showing the foundations of turret 36b partially overlain by later walls. Hadrian’s Wall is the only Roman frontier where the elements of the Wall are linked, which makes it possible to work out the sequence of building

Roman Frontier

For almost 300 years, Hadrian’s Wall was the north-west frontier of an empire that stretched east for 2,500 miles to present-day Iraq, and south for 1,500 miles to the Sahara desert. It differs in several respects from the other frontiers of the empire:

  • It is the only Roman frontier built largely in stone, of which there was an abundant supply locally.
  • Uniquely, the forts are built astride the frontier, rather than attached to one side or placed nearby.
  • Together with the Antonine Wall, it is the only frontier where all the elements are linked – in Germany and North Africa, the towers, for example, are separate in the landscape. The fact that many of the various elements of the Wall are linked to each other makes it possible to establish a building sequence, which is not possible on the frontiers of continental Europe.
  • The Wall was already famous in its own day. Enterprising Romans created their own souvenirs of the frontier in the form of small pans, some of them bearing the names of forts on the line of the Wall and what appears to be a depiction of the Wall itself. Such souvenirs are not known on any other Roman frontier.
The Corbridge lion, now in the museum at Corbridge, once adorned a fountain in the Roman town, but was probably originally carved as a grave ornament

The Corbridge lion, now in the museum at Corbridge, once adorned a fountain in the Roman town, but was probably originally carved as a grave ornament

Archaeological Resource

Although only a fraction of it has been excavated, the Wall is one of the most explored frontiers of the empire, and a substantial body of archaeological material is now available for further study. Research, including survey, geophysics and excavation, has shown that the Wall contains a wealth of material which can contribute to an understanding of its function and development, environment and material culture.

As new discoveries are made on the Wall, more and more is revealed about the Roman empire. Not least, Hadrian’s Wall demonstrates the ability of the Romans to protect their empire, as well as their engineering and buildings skills.

World Heritage Site

Hadrian’s Wall was made a World Heritage Site in 1987 in recognition of its historical and cultural importance. In 2005 it became part of the trans-national Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site which also includes sites in Germany.

Sycamore Gap, near Steel Rigg in Northumberland, is one of the best-known landscapes along Hadrians Wall, with a particularly fine stretch surviving up to 3 metres high

Sycamore Gap, near Steel Rigg in Northumberland, is one of the best-known landscapes along the Wall, with a particularly fine stretch of Wall surviving up to 3 metres high

Landscape and Culture

When the Wall was abandoned, its decaying remains served as a ready quarry or castles, churches and farms along its line. As a strong feature in the landscape, it was used to define parishes and estates. In time, it also attracted the attention of painters, photographers, poets and novelists as well as archaeologists and historians. Its fame remains a draw for tourists from across the world.

    

READ MORE ABOUT HADRIAN’S WALL

   

FIND MORE PROPERTY HISTORIES

'step into englands story