“All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
Well, they built a bloody great big wall running from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth, a total of 70 miles, and over the weekend I got to visit.
The friends that took us tried to manage our expectations but that really wasn’t necessary as I thought that it was fascinating. The weather (it was blowing a gale and bitterly cold) also really helped to give a sense of what it would have been like to be posted out there and have to keep the barbarians at bay.
The wall itself isn’t that big in either height or width but it makes the most of the rugged surrounding countryside to make it difficult to penetrate. Along the wall there are forts that would have housed the poor soldiers that had to stand freezing their nuts off offering protection and every (Roman) mile a “milecastle”.
The Romans were clearly pragmatists as the mile posts had what must have been gates in them through which one can imagine all sorts of trade passing through so not everyone travelling south was unwelcome.
We walked along a short section of the wall and it appeared to be pretty complete but it turns out that large sections of it were rebuilt by the Victorians which is why it appears so pristine. Still it does give a much better sense of what it was like complete, rather than a pile of bricks.
Apparently it isn’t possible to see Hadrian’s Wall from space…