Line of fortifications built by the Roman emperor Hadrian across northern Britain from the Cumbrian coast on the west to the North Sea on the east. The wall itself ran from Bowness-on-Windermere on the Solway Firth to Wallsend on the River Tyne, a distance of 110 km/68 mi. It was defended by 16 forts and smaller intermediate fortifications. It was breached by the Picts on several occasions and finally abandoned in about 383.
Referred to colloquially as the Picts' Wall, it was covered in some parts with a glistening, white coat of mortar. Numerous modifications were made to the original plan, usually owing to the need to conserve labour and resources for such an enormous project.
In 1985 Roman letters (on paper-thin sheets of wood), the earliest and largest collection of Latin writing, were discovered at Vindolanda Fort. Hadrian's Wall was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987.
In its most complete state, Hadrian's Wall consisted of a continuous linear stone wall 1.8 m/5.9 ft thick with a wide ditch in front. At distances of 1 Roman mile (1,480 m/1,618 yds) a gateway was placed in the wall protected by a fortlet, known as a milecastle. These gateways allowed local people to pass through the frontier and aided the deployment of troops. Two watchtowers were placed between each milecastle to ensure that any movement could be observed. Fifteen auxiliary forts were placed on or beside the wall to provide the garrisons for patrolling the Wall and regulating the movement of traffic. Earth and timber fortlets continued down the Cumbrian coast to prevent outflanking by sea, and a fort at South Shields at the Tyne mouth fulfilled a similar function. Strong naval patrols would also have ensured that no one bypassed the Wall. Beyond the Wall itself were outpost forts. These acted as early-warning systems and probably also provided security for the local population who were allied to Rome and predated the boundary created by the Wall. Between 138 and 161 the Wall was shut down in favour of the Antonine Wall, before being recommissioned after the death of the emperor Antoninus Pius. The manpower needed to patrol the Wall and maintain its fortifications could not be met by the depleted army in Britain and the Wall was breached at least twice before it was finally abandoned in the late 4th century.
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