It may be Spring, but Winter is Coming to Hadrian’s Wall

  • English Heritage appoints its own Watchers on the Wall
  • Watchers to highlight how Hadrian’s Wall inspired Martin’s Ice Wall  


English Heritage has appointed Watchers on the Wall at its Roman forts along Hadrian’s Wall as Game of Thrones approaches its epic final season, the charity announced today (19 March). From Birdoswald Roman Fort in Cumbria to Corbridge Roman Town in Northumberland, the Watchers on the Wall, identifiable by their black cloaks and shields, will be on hand to answer visitors’ questions about the series and sort the bloody fact from the even bloodier fiction.

Think you know your Lannister from your Greyjoy or your Stark from your Targaryen? If you’ve lost the plot on the last seven seasons (spoiler alert: a lot of people died), and are interested in learning about the real historical inspiration behind the gory fantasy, English Heritage has you covered. Since the series first graced our screens in 2011, staff at the charity’s Hadrian’s Wall sites have been fielding more and more questions from visitors about the similarities between the Roman Empire’s northern frontier and author George R. R. Martin’s own giant ice wall. In advance of the premiere of the last season of Game of Thrones on 14 April, English Heritage has appointed Watchers on the Wall to identify the fake news and the real history until the rightful King or Queen sits upon the Iron Throne.

Frances McIntosh, English Heritage’s Curator of Hadrian’s Wall, said: "As Curator of 'The Wall' and a huge Game of Thrones fan myself, it’s hard not to see the many similarities between the fictional fantasy and real life. From the watchers on the wall to the Roman soldiers’ oath, the wealth of historical events interwoven with the popular show is clear. From this week, our Watchers on the Wall will be on hand at our sites to answer questions, and in April a new collection of Roman objects uncannily rich with Night’s Watch symbolism will be on display at Housesteads Roman Fort."

Frances continues: "Today it may not be supersized like George R. R. Martin’s colossal ice wall, but when it was built nearly 2000 years ago, Hadrian’s Wall would have been a huge, hulking sign of Roman imperial strength and standing on the precipice looking North, you can tell why Martin was inspired by this ancient monument!"

Standing as the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire for nearly 300 years, Hadrian’s Wall stretches a vast 73 miles across northern Britain from sea to sea and stood at an imposing height of 4.5m. Designed by Emperor Hadrian to keep out what the Romans termed barbarians, this mammoth fortification was made up of a myriad of 16 forts, 80 milecastles and 160 turrets, and manned by thousands of soldiers. This is not dissimilar to author of A Song of Ice and Fire (on which Game of Thrones is based) George R. R. Martin’s imposing 'The Wall'; a colossal ice wall running along the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms, designed to keep out Wildlings and White Walkers and protected by the Night’s Watch (a group of men sworn to defend it). In fact, the author himself has confirmed that the Roman wall was the inspiration behind the series. But this is not the only similarity, from the men who swore oaths on Hadrian’s Wall, to the symbolism of lions, sea creatures and wolves, the closer you look the more Martin’s series becomes a case of art imitating life.

English Heritage’s Watchers on the Wall will be at the charity’s main four Roman sites along Hadrian’s Wall from this week until the final series ends later in the year. These sites are: Birdoswald Roman Fort in Cumbria and Corbridge Roman Town, Housesteads Roman Fort and Chesters Roman Fort in Northumberland.

From April, visitors will be able to see a new display of objects at Housesteads Roman Fort, including a gaming board, and other items from daily Roman life on the frontier which echo life on the Ice Wall. At Corbridge Roman Town a trail will take you around the museum to spot both GoT and Roman symbols in our collection.

Game of Thrones: Top 5 Fact vs. Fiction


  1. "Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children…" [The Night’s Watch Oath, Game of Thrones]
    The Night’s Watch famously take an oath which forbids them from marrying or fathering children, and the Roman soldiers on Hadrian’s Wall found themselves in the same sorry situation – although this didn’t stop family life from mysteriously flourishing on the Wall! Luckily for the Roman soldiers, the rules changed in AD 197 when Emperor Septimius Severus lifted this ban.

  2. "When you play a game of thrones you win or you die." [Cersei Lannister, Game of Thrones]
    After the death of King Robert Baratheon in the series, there is a struggle as the ‘Five Kings’ fight it out for control of the Iron Throne. This is a perfect comparison to when Emperor Severus came to power in AD 193 during the Year of the Five Emperors, which began with the murder of the Emperor Commodus. Severus won after killing two of his rivals and defeating their supporting armies.
  3. "Everyone is mine to torment." [Joffrey Baratheon, Game of Thrones]
    Possibly one of the most hated characters in the entire series, King Joffrey’s reign is one of terror and cruelty until he meets his untimely (or most would argue timely) death by poison at his wedding feast. From AD 37 to AD 41, Caligula was Roman Emperor and sources note his cruelty, sadism, extravagance, and sexual perversion, presenting him as an insane tyrant. Once, at some games where he was presiding, he was said to have ordered his guards to throw a section of the audience into the arena during the intermission to be eaten by the wild beasts because there were no prisoners to be used and he was bored. He too was assassinated. For an extra spooky similarity, search online for depictions of Caligula and note the remarkable resemblance between the Roman Emperor and King Joffrey in the series.

  4. "I have never been nothing. I am the blood of the dragon." [Daenerys Targaryen, Game of Thrones]
    Last surviving member of her house, Daenerys Targaryen’s ultimate aim is to take back the Iron Throne after her family line was severed and she went into exile. She is the mother of dragons and they are her main weapon. This is similar to the real life Henry Tudor during the War of the Roses. His banner was adorned with a red dragon and he was the last surviving member of the Lancastrian family with a legitimate royal claim. He was forced to flee England when the Yorkist Edward IV took back the throne in 1472.

  5. "A lion does not concern himself with the opinion of sheep." [Tywin Lannister, Game of Thrones]
    Father to Cersei, Jamie and Tyrion, and grandfather to Kings Joffrey and Tommen, Tywin Lannister was Hand of the King and one of the most powerful nobles in the Westeros. It was partly to save him that Jamie ‘The Kingslayer’ Lannister murdered ‘The Mad King’ Aerys, and then his support which saw Robert Baratheon take the throne in his place. In English history, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (also known as 'Warwick the Kingmaker') was one of the richest men in England. His involvement in the War of the Roses, in which he switched from the Yorkist side to the Lancastrian side, was pivotal in removing the mentally ill King Henry VI in favour of Edward IV. 


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