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longshotgene

Roman Valli?

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I disagree. I have walked the wall in depth and studied extensive parts of the remains of the vallum.

..myself also. You are quite correct that it is far less formidable now than it used to be. The vallum as it is today has some 1800 years of accumulated topsoil and erosion, and was considerably deeper and its mounds higher than today. I have some experience of horses, and would take great care crossing the vallum even as it is today. A cavalryman - minus stirrups, remember - would have had to pick his way very carefully to cross the vallum in its second century state, still seated. A laden cart full of contraband goods, or a war chariot would have found it impossible. A look at the following drawing (Handbook to the Roman Wall: Breeze) will illustrate this very clearly; the ditch of the vallum is ten feet deep and the sides very steep, as are the flanking mounds. What we are looking at here is a second - century tank - trap, and in relative terms it would have been just as effective. A pallisade would have been totally unneccessary.

24wy6bb.jpg

The vallum appears to have been dismantled in the Antonine period, as can be seen by multiple crossings which were made round about the time the frontier was moved north to the Antonine wall - and once the frontier moved back to Hadrian's Wall, the crossings remained in place, and the Vallum allowed to fall into disuse for the remaining 220 years of the Wall's occupation.

 

The Caledonii were not the people immediately to the North of the Wall; the Brythonic tribes Selgovii and Votadinii were, as well as a small chunk of Brigantian territory, and they appear to have followed the military tradition of using chariots and cavalry like the rest of the Britons to the south. Like Caldrail stated on an earlier post, the area even to the south was not entirely pacified in the second century, so it could be that the Vallum system formed a temporary obstacle against sudden mounted and chariot attack whilst the forts and other permanent defences were still being installed. In any case, the Votadinii were apparently pro - Roman, and there is a theory that the outpost forts North of the Wall were as much to prop up the pro - Roman leadership as to guard against incursions from the Caledonii of the far North. The Caledonii were living in a line roughly drawn from Dumbarton in the West, to Aberdeen in the North - some 120 miles North of the Wall, and remained so throughout most of the occupation.

Edited by Northern Neil

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I disagree. I have walked the wall in depth and studied extensive parts of the remains of the vallum. Cart, yes, it may be a little difficult. As far as a horse, it would be easy to traverse the vallum. The Caledonians mostly would have been on foot, which would have proved far more suitable for crossing the vallum. I just don't see a giant mound of dirt as being an effective deterrent without some further measure. Something else had to have been there at one time. Even if Agricola had built the vallum as an early means of defense, it had to have had something else on it. Sheep cross it every day as they graze. Either it has been worn down, or it is not even a fragment of its once glory.

 

Let me put it this way. first of all you are looking at remains which have been there for at least 1,600 years but more likely had their origins nearly 1,800 years ago.

 

Hadrian's Wall and its associated works run approximately east - west across a narrow point in the British mainland from coast to coast, mainly across a natural ridge of rock with a sheer face to the north in places. The Romans approached this area from the south, while the unconquered or semi-pacified natives (in some Roman texts a few of of whom were referred to as Caledonians), lived to the north of the wall.

 

The original military presence was a series of forts along the Stangate a military road built by the Romans. This was later 'fortified' with the construction of Hadrian's Wall which mainly ran to the north of the orginal defensive line, although incorporating a few of the original forts. North of the wall was a defensive ditch with a raised 'berm' immediately north of it that made a sloping approach to the ditch embankment allowing defenders on the wall to fire missiles on any enemy trying to attack the wall. Some time after the wall was built a second ditch was built at least 60 feet to the south of the Wall (in some places nearer quarter of a mile south of the Wall), which is referred to as the vallum. From archeological excavations it has been proved that vallum was not constucted in the same 'defensive' way as the berm to the north as a ramp which could be fired on from the Wall defenders instead it had simple earthwork mounds constructed a short way back from the ditch.

 

The usual interpretation of such a structure by archaeologists as having a non-defensive but more demarkation/ border control area use seems obviously correct to me.

 

Could you explain why do you instead think the Caledonians, who lived a long way to the north of the Wall, would be trying to attack the Wall across it from the south on a regular basis?

 

[Edit - This posting seems to have originally been made overlapping with that by Northern Neil but I agree with the other points he raised]

 

Melvadius

Edited by Melvadius

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I have read several texts stating the Caledonii were present along Hadrian's Wall. Their attacks became worse as the Romans pushed north with further expansion. The berms as you mentioned are still typical today in modern armies. A berm's function is to act as an obstacle in time of attack and to become in essence a "killing hole". In the American Army doctrine, if you have time to modify your berm, you should. The reason no palisade has been found remaining in Hadrian's Wall is because the British civilians probably picked it clean. If you look at much of Hadrian's Wall, it has been dismantled by the local population. In fact, during the middle 19th century, the remains of the docks at Newcastle upon Tyne were submerged by the new shipping and fishing port. Wood rots, but there should be something down deep if we are to believe in the accumulation of topsoil. Something has to be there. The berm would have acted as a fallback line should the wall be over run. It was over run a couple of times through out the Roman occupation. Generally as history moves on, the Saxon incursions bipassed the wall and attacked lower England in conjunction with the Northern tribes.

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I have read several texts stating the Caledonii were present along Hadrian's Wall. Their attacks became worse as the Romans pushed north with further expansion. The berms as you mentioned are still typical today in modern armies. A berm's function is to act as an obstacle in time of attack and to become in essence a "killing hole". In the American Army doctrine, if you have time to modify your berm, you should. The reason no palisade has been found remaining in Hadrian's Wall is because the British civilians probably picked it clean. If you look at much of Hadrian's Wall, it has been dismantled by the local population. In fact, during the middle 19th century, the remains of the docks at Newcastle upon Tyne were submerged by the new shipping and fishing port. Wood rots, but there should be something down deep if we are to believe in the accumulation of topsoil. Something has to be there. The berm would have acted as a fallback line should the wall be over run. It was over run a couple of times through out the Roman occupation. Generally as history moves on, the Saxon incursions bipassed the wall and attacked lower England in conjunction with the Northern tribes.

 

You are covering centuries of time in describing the Caledonii as 'present along Hadrian's Wall'. For most of the Roman period as Northern Neil has pointed out they lived at least 120 miles away from the Wall area, so would not have been an immediate threat to Roman activity.

 

I should point out that only about 45 miles of the eastern end of Hadrian's Wall was ever rebuilt in stone the other 31 miles at the Western end, where there was less availability of suitable building stone was only ever built in turf as an earthern embankment - the same as the Antonine Wall was. As such the western end probably did have a palisade top but there would have been no need for a wooden top to a stone wall at the eastern end.

 

As far as the Wall being over run this mainly seems to have occured when the garrrison troop strengths were reduced due to civil wars or campaigns in other parts of the Empire. Even if the wall was over run the fall back positions would have been the individual fortified buildings - the watch towers, mile castles and forts. Why would the defenders run out into the open over open moorland away from possible help from other garrision troops who were in easy reach to help out and usually located only a few miles away to the east or west along the wall? If everything went 'pear' shaped it would be much more sensible to sit things out in a defended position until help could arrive along the military road.

 

The 'berm' lies to the north of Hadrian's Wall.

The Caledonii lived to the north of the Wall.

The vallum ditch (including the earthern mounds immediately north and south of it) lies to the south of the Wall.

The vallum mounds are too high and/or too far from the wall to let defenders fire over them at any potential attackers so probably did not have a primarily defensive function.

 

The vallum therefore most likely provided a demarkation zone for areas directly controlled by the military. It did have some crossing points but these would have been needed to control direct access to the wall area and funnel traders to where they could be searched and made to pay any necessary taxes on the goods they were carrying with them.

 

Melvadius [edited to clarify a couple of minor ponts]

Edited by Melvadius

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There are a lot of misconceptions here about the Wall and Vallum and what their purposes were. Walking the Wall and Vallum today gives no real understanding of what they were about unless you study the correct texts and not those guessing at what went on from its inception to demise. If you consider why the Vallum was ever in place to the south of the Wall then you must ask what was going on to the north and south when Hadrian gave the order to build his frontier.

The initial defense line, as stated earlier, was the Stanegate which ran to the south of where the Wall is now. This was merely a road for military purposes and of course the distribution and supply of goods to the frontier line. Evidence on the Vindolanda tablets states, or at least suggests, these roads were not brilliant. When Hadrian was made Emperor he decided no more expansion of the Empire was needed and built a frontier wall across Europe too. This is an extension of Hadrian's Wall of sorts and has been documented well.

 

The Wall itself in England was built along the area that gave the most natural defence line possible in order to keep out the tribes to the north who were not pro Roman and to stop the non pro Roman tribes to the south from escaping north. This is perfectly logical. Stopping tribes collaborating would be essential to the Romans. Hadrian designated the Wall as a frontier that signified his Empire would not expand further and was to have signalled as such to the northern tribes both here and Europe etc. There was no need for a ditch in some places north of the Wall for obvious reasons - like the fact that a sheer drop on some cliff faces where the Wall presented itself (Housesteads for example) made it pointless. The ditch, or Vallum, to the south varied in distances from the Wall simply because of the terrain.

 

There was no risk to the Wall as far as collapse was concerned as stated in other posts apart from natural erosion over time. The ground was solid and firm in the greater context and only at Segedunum was there real collapse on more than one occasion. This was, again stated prior, just to the west of the fort and recent excavations show this well. The Wall was built over a shallow stream and reused stone is plainly visible where repairs were required. A simple conversation with then curator Bill Griffiths gave me the story here. This was during a personal tour of Segedunum a few years ago and as I live only a couple of minutes walk away from it I was always there asking questions and got heavily involved both on staff and as a volunteer.

 

Quite a significant observation has been missed too in that no-one was allowed access directly to the areas between the north ditch and Wall nor the Vallum to the south and the Wall. Any gateways on the Vallum were standalone gateways that gave the only access between the Wall and Vallum and this was either to the obvious troops or those trading north and south of the Wall. Taxes were collected at selected gates (on the Wall) along the way which then allowed the frontier to become a 'border control' if you like. There was no pallisade along the Vallum. This was pointless and not required. Gates at certain points were manned but only because access, as I have already said, was very restricted. A classic example of this gateway is still visible at Benwell (Condercum) where the Vallum itself is still shown too but not at its original depth. Some of the stone working at the north of this site is Victorian garden terracing from when they turned that area into a park so the levels look raised. So be careful if you look at it and attempt to interpret it. This site was part of the meet in 2008 that I organised along with the Temple of Mithras nearby.

 

As for the Wall being attacked... there is absolutely NO evidence at all that the Wall ever was attacked. The forts were a different matter especially along the Stanegate before the Wall was built. As for the north side of the Wall and its ditches there is one small thing that has definitely been omitted here. Where the lay of the land allowed there was an extra defensive barrier between the Wall and north ditch. This was the cippi defences and has been proven especially on the eastern stretches of the Wall. Visible evidence I have seen of this was at Segedunum (where a reconstruction lies over the original) and on Shields Road, Byker, between Newcastle and Wallsend. The latter came as part of the discovery for the first time of the original line of the Wall between Pons Aelius and Segedunum (Newcastle and Wallsend). It has been noted that this form of defense was almost certainly deployed along the length of the Wall where the threat of attack was greater. So to answer the thought that something else lay between the Wall and north ditch - well, this was it. The defences were made up of thick posts laid a couple of feet apart in a staight line and the second row would be laid in front of but diagonally to the first line. There were sevral rows of posts and these would be intertwined with branches from thorn bushes and these thorns were extremely sharp and compacted as they were wound between all the posts. This is the Roman equivalent of barbed wire.

 

It is also certain that the Wall was actually plastered and painted along its entirety. This may sound strange to some but it is proven as wall plaster has been found at Segedunum and other places along the Wall. Just how intricate the pattern may have been (red brick lines to mimmick bricks have been suggested) or indeed if it was just plain white is yet to be attested but the fact remains it was plastered and painted almost without doubt on both sides. A reconstructed part of the Wall at Segedunum shows how it may have been done in several stages.

 

As for getting past the Wall... the only way was by sea if you didn't go between Segedunum and Arbeia. To get by that way you would have to cross the Tyne and tackle the troops sent from either fort on the north or south of the River Tyne. Pons Aelius was to have been the first fort on the Wall with the Tyne serving as a natural barrier but approximately three years after the Wall was started in Newcastle it was decided to build an aditional fort at Segedunum. This was to afford a good view between Segedunum and Arbeia and to allow troops to get to any enemy quicker than they might have from Pons Aelius. So you would have to go round the east coast past North and South Shields and the mouth of the Tyne (Tynemouth) or go via the west coast and past all the forts down to Maryport. Hadrian meant to build a barier that was formidable and hard to cross and he did it well.

 

The Vallum and north ditches were not built in any shape or form as drainage ditches even if they do have some evidence of drainage running into them. Their primary functions were as defensive ditches pure and simple and also to control trade. Water no doubt gathered at the base but this would be purely as rainfall but would not hold for long as the soil is not of the consistency to hold it in place for long periods. Why would you want to build a ditch that would be 30 feet deep only to fill it with water or use it as a drain? No sense in that at all.

 

If any of you want to read about the Wall at all then you should read the following... Hadrian's Wall by David Breeze and Brian Dobson, second edition. This is the ipso facto on the Wall and David Breeze is a very nice gentleman who became Patron to the Friends of Segedunum after my personal request to him. However, that is NOT why I mention his book. It is extremely rich in all facts about the Wall and indeed covers the move to the Antonine Wall and how and why it was built too.

 

I hope this has cleared things up.

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