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Athena Review  Vol.1, no.1

The Antonine Wall in Scotland

The Antonine Wall, begun in AD 142 during the reign of the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius, consisted of a turf rampart set on a stone foundation stretching 37 miles across central Scotland. A broad ditch was dug in front of the Wall as part of the overall defenses, and the fill from this ditch formed a low mound to the north.  To the south, a road called the Military Way ran behind the wall. The barrier, built from east to west, stretched between the Firth of Forth at Bo'ness and the mouth of the River Clyde at Old Kilpatrick.

[Fig.1: Map of the Antonine Wall, showing Forts and the individual Legions (Roman numerals) who built each wall section (after Keppie 1990).]

Like Hadrian's Wall to the south, the Antonine Wall had a series of regularly-spaced forts which housed detachments of Roman soldiers and auxiliary troops. The original plan of the Antonine Wall called for 6 forts spaced 6-8 miles apart. Yet after the wall had been built as far as Castlehill, only four miles from its completion, the plan was revised to more than triple the number of forts to 19 (fig.1). A series of inscribed stone markers called distance slabs record the sections of wall completed by each of the three Legions (II, VI, and XX) stationed in Britain during its construction in AD 142-144.

In spite of the additional defenses, the Antonine Wall was abandoned after 20 years when the Roman army withdrew from Scotland in AD 164, pulling the northern frontier back down to Hadrian's Wall. After barbarian invasions from the north in AD 197, the emperor Septimius Severus arrived in AD 208 to restore order along the Scottish borders, briefly reoccupying and repairing portions of the Antonine Wall. Related to this, the Antonine Wall is called the Severan Wall by a series of Late Roman and Dark Age historians including Eutropius, Orosius, and Bede. After only a few years, however, the turf-built Antonine Wall was abandoned permanently and the main Roman defensive line reverted south again to the more substantial, stone and masonry barrier of Hadrian's Wall.

Parts of the Antonine Wall and its ditch can still be traced today. The visitor can see remains of several forts including Kinneil, Rough Castle, and  Bearsden; and intact sections of wall and wall foundations at a number of sites including Watling Lodge and Hillfoot Cemetery.

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