What’s on : Lectures

Hadrian’s Wall after Hadrian: the Survival of a Roman Frontier

9 Apr 2019
Start time
7:30 PM
Tempest Anderson Hall
Paul Bidwell
Hadrian's Wall after Hadrian: the Survival of a Roman Frontier

Event Information

Hadrian’s Wall after Hadrian: the Survival of a Roman Frontier
Paul Bidwell, formerly Head of Archaeology for Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums

The history of many of the installations on the line of Hadrian’s Wall – forts, milecastles and turrets – is well known. There has been little systematic excavation of the Wall itself, and most modern accounts have not been able to say much about the routine maintenance of the fabric and whether it survived in good order down to the end of the Roman period. A long-lasting project at Wallsend, recently published, has shown how in the face of many difficulties, particularly the unstable subsoil, this section of the Wall was repeatedly repaired until well into the fourth century. This lecture will consider similar repairs elsewhere, and how and why the Wall was maintained for centuries after Hadrian and his thousands of soldier-builders had been forgotten. It will also look at the significance of Bede’s description of the ‘famous Wall’ and its survival in the early Anglo-Saxon period.

The Elizabeth Hartley Memorial Lecture

Image of Hadrian’s Wall at Wallsend

Member’s report

Only about seven percent of Hadrian’s Wall itself is visible, and barely half of one percent of the rest has been excavated to modern standards. This has been partially remedied in 80 metres of the eastern portion at Segedunum (Wallsend) over the past twenty years. Several areas of bank between wall and ditch were found to be dotted with post holes, like those found at Byker in 2000. Thought to have been planted with ‘entanglements’ of spiked branches, they give us new ideas on the wall’s defence, to add to new information on how it was built and maintained. Repairs in three places, probably necessitated by destabilising floods, were dated to between 262 and 266 AD by altar stones, put there no doubt to mark the work done, while refacing elsewhere takes us well into the fourth century. That the wall stood here beyond the end of Roman occupation is attested by Bede, just across the Tyne in Jarrow, who described a wall eight feet wide and twelve feet high in the eighth century. In the nineteenth, with the mining of top-quality Wallsend coal, the site suffered major disturbance, but now Segedunum is laid out as an archaeological visitor attraction.

Bob Hale