Hadrian’s Wall is one of the most famous ancient landmarks in Britain. Where does the wall start and end?
Hadrian’s Wall spans 73 miles across Britain from the east to west coast. It starts in the modern-day town of Wallsend, near Newcastle, and ends in the village of Bowness-on-Solway. Both are situated on the sites of ancient Roman forts which served as barracks for the wall’s guards.
For more on Hadrian’s Wall and its location, read on.
In 55 BCE, Julius Caesar had enjoyed a series of victories as a military leader with successful campaigns in Gaul, in modern-day France. He turned his attention across the Channel and led the first Roman invasion of Britain.
The invasion in 55 BCE ended unsuccessfully, as did a subsequent attempt by Caesar in the following year. This marked the end of Roman ambitions in Britain for almost a century.
Rome’s interest was renewed in 43 CE when Emperor Claudius ordered another invasion of Britain. He entrusted the conquest to Aulus Plautius, one of Rome’s most senior generals.
Plautius took approximately 24,000 Roman troops across the Channel and invaded the south coast of Britain. Unlike Caesar, this large invasion was able to gain a foothold and Roman settlements were established in the south of England. Plautius became the first Roman governor of Britannia.
Over the course of the following decades, Roman territory grew, pushing back the native Celts until Rome controlled most of southern England and Wales. Despite their successes, the Romans struggled to push north as they clashed with the northern Celtic tribes.
The greatest resistance came from the Caledonians, a tribe in modern-day Scotland. In 81 CE, shortly after the reign of Emperor Vespasian, the Romans finally won a meaningful victory over the Caledonians and extended their territory into Scotland.
Despite the defeat, the Caledonians retreated into the wilderness and continued launching raids on Roman territory. In 117 CE, Hadrian became Emperor of Rome and adopted a policy of consolidating Rome’s borders, rather than continuing to aggressively expand them.
This policy included securing Roman territory in Britain by building a defensive barrier along the northern frontier. It was an enormous building project that would need to span the width of Britain in an attempt to keep out the “barbarians” to the north.
In addition to the need for better defenses, the wall was likely also intended to restrict free movement and reduce the amount of smuggling across the border. The wall, named for the emperor, became known as Hadrian’s Wall.
The wall is located near the modern-day border between England and Scotland but, despite a popular misconception, it has never marked the official border between the two nations.
Construction started on the east coast, near the River Tyne. The modern-day town of Wallsend was named for its position near the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall. During the Roman Empire, there was a Roman fort at the site called the “Segedunum”, remains of which can still be seen today.
Hadrian’s Wall was built over a period of more than six years, utilizing the impressive manpower of the Roman legions. When completed, it was approximately 73 miles long and reached the west coast and the modern-day village of Bowness-on-Solway. As the eastern end of the wall, there was once a Roman fort in the location of the modern village, called “Maia”.
When the Romans departed Britain for the final time by 400 CE, Hadrian’s Wall and its accompanying forts were abandoned. Britain entered the Dark Ages and many Roman structures were repurposed by the Britons.
Without the Roman legions to defend the border, Hadrian’s Wall became essentially useless. Over the following centuries, it was mainly used as a free source of stone for people who wanted to build their own walls and houses nearby.
In the 1800s, an antiquarian named John Clayton from Newcastle tried to protect Hadrian’s Wall by purchasing the surrounding land. He founded farms, using the profits to pay for restoration work on the wall.
Following Clayton’s death, Britain’s National Trust began acquiring the surrounding land to protect the wall. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 as part of the “Frontiers of the Roman Empire”.
Though much of Hadrian’s Wall has been lost, it is one of Britain’s most iconic ancient structures. People can trace the footsteps of its Roman builders by walking along Hadrian’s Wall Path, an 84-mile route from coast to coast.