3.5 The Antonine Wall

Reconstruction of the Antonine Wall at Callendar Park, reproduced courtesy of Falkirk Museum and M. J. Moore DA FSA Scot

The Antonine Wall has seen considerable interest in recent years, leading up to its inscription as a World Heritage site in 2008 (and see 4.2). A programme of geophysical survey has provided some additional information about forts and the military way, although much is still to be learnt. A study of the coarse ware pottery found along the Wall identified styles in use in North Africa, leading to the suggestion that troops from this area arrived on the Wall after the Mauretanian War (Swan 1999). An alternative historical sequence has been proposed for the construction and development of the Wall, but this is not fully reconcilable with an earlier proposal relating to the timetable for the addition of annexes to forts along it (Bailey 1994). Indeed, the timetable for both the building and abandonment of the Wall are subject to much debate (e.g. Breeze 2006a, 99-102).

The Antonine Wall Management Plan (Breeze 2007) identified the need for 'a research programme for the Antonine Wall within its international framework'. Such a detailed consideration lies outwith the scope of this Framework document, but it is hoped that some of the issues raised here will be of relevance to Wall studies, and that following on from this wider Roman Iron Age study, a more detailed research framework for the Wall will be created. Perhaps the key point to stress here is how many issues remain ripe for research.

The crucial date relating to the end of the Antonine Wall system is an inscription from Hadrian's Wall recording rebuilding in 158 (RIB 1389; Hodgson 2011).This indicates an intention to reoccupy Hadrian's Wall and abandon the Antonine Wall, and is supported by the continuing rebuilding programme on Hadrian's Wall through the 160s (Breeze and Dobson 2000, 131-3).

The latest dated coin from an archaeological context on the Antonine Wall is a worn coin of Lucilla from Old Kilpatrick, struck between 164 and 169 (Robertson 1978, Abdy 2002, 196, 211), though there are later chance finds. It is possible therefore to envisage a significant period when there was activity on both frontiers, with one being de-commissioned and the other repaired/rebuilt.

The decommissioning of the Antonine Wall involved the removal of the distance slabs from their stands and, it would appear, their burial in pits. Other inscriptions might have been dropped into wells, as at Bar Hill. Fort buildings were demolished and in some cases burnt; ramparts were slighted. There was, however, no attempt to flatten fort ramparts or the Wall itself, as its survival and visibility as an earthwork demonstrates. Reasons for the withdrawal remain the matter of debate.

Some of the detailed questions which remain unanswered about the Antonine Wall at this time include: (a) the location of the eastern terminus; (b) in places, the exact course of the Wall where no longer visible; (c) the purposes of the enclosures, expansions, and platforms attached to the rear of the rampart; (d) whether or not there were fortlets spaced 1 Roman mile apart all the way across from the Forth to the Clyde; (e) and if towers and/or a Wall-walk existed along the length of the Wall and (f) what were the social and environmental impacts of construction of the Wall. In addition, north of the Wall, and contemporary with it, there was a corridor of forts linked by a well- built road extending up to and beyond the River Tay. This would seem to be more than a superficial chain of outpost forts, and raises the question: just where was the boundary of the Roman province in Antonine times?

Publication of the excavations at Bearsden, Croy Hill, Falkirk, and Mumrills (see Table 4) would be extremely beneficial, as would analysis and publication of the geophysical survey results obtained for the World Heritage Site nomination process. Further analysis of the finds from excavated sites along the Wall is recommended, building on the work undertaken by Hartley (1972), Gillam (1970) and Swan (1999), for instance to study life on the frontier, compare the nature of finds from different types of site (e.g. primary c.f. secondary forts), and use their potential as a dating horizon of much wider relevance to Roman studies.

Fieldwork issues include the need for more work at Auchendavy to determine whether it or Bar Hill is likely to have been a 'primary' fort; to address the perennial question of the eastern terminus of the Wall; and whether there are further outpost forts or fortlets to the east (eg at Blackness) to strengthen the known 'screen' along the coast.

Antonine Wall with forts and fortlets © Crown Copyright Historic Scotland



3.4 Antonine Scotland (c. AD 139-165)

Antonine permanent forts 2nd century AD © Crown Copyright Historic Scotland

Upon Hadrian's death, Antoninus Pius seems to have taken a prompt decision to reconquer southern Scotland. This has been seen as the desire of an Emperor with limited military experience to achieve an easy military victory, but growing Hadrianic evidence for troubles on the northern frontier suggests that there may equally have been pressing local reasons for such a campaign (Gillam 1958, Jobey 1978). The campaigns were underway by 139/140 and victory celebrated in 142. A network of forts was re-established, augmented by a greater number of fortlets, covering similar ground to that held in the Flavian period, but not extending quite so far to the north. Many forts reused Flavian sites, but others were new foundations (such as at Inveresk) or shifted slightly from their Flavian precursors (e.g. Lyne). The most striking outcome of the campaign was the Antonine Wall, the premier Roman monument in Scotland (see 3.5).

Traditionally the Antonine occupation in Scotland was split by scholars into two phases with a period of unrest in the middle (Antonine I and II). This has been convincingly dismissed by Hodgson (1995), with most of the evidence representing site-specific local variation. There are, however, grounds for suggesting a phase of refortification and consolidation in Dumfriesshire, where various strands of evidence do indicate a period of unrest (Hodgson 2009; Wilson 2003), or certainly increased activity for some reason, as evidenced by a possible increase in the numbers of temporary camps in this area which may be Antonine in date (Jones 2009b), and the relative density of fortlets in the area. It is possible that the much-debated siege works around Burnswark hillfort relate to this phase (see section 4.1).

The occupation and operation of the Antonine Wall required the creation of outpost forts up to the River Tay (at Camelon, Ardoch, Strageath and Bertha). Precisely why they were deemed necessary remains a matter of interpretation, though it may be no coincidence that the installations precisely mirrored those of the first century. It certainly indicates that the Antonine Wall was not the limit of direct Roman occupation and control. The chain of towers (the Gask system) running along the Roman road seem to have been used only in the Flavian period, although dating evidence from them is scarce. The road itself is undated (see 3.8 below). There are suggestions from stray finds that some of the forts, including Dalginross and Cargill, may also have seen later occupation (Woolliscroft 2002b and pers comm); this merits further work but this remains to be resolved and emphasises the potential limitations of the existing picture. Our current knowledge base requires improvement in this area and hypotheses formulation and further testing.

Antonine temporary camps (mid-2nd century AD) © Crown Copyright Historic Scotland

The identification of temporary camps of likely Antonine date has proved even more difficult than those of potentially Flavian or Severan date, so the extent of campaigning remains speculative, though the objective appears to have been more limited (Jones 2009a). No temporary camps north of the Forth-Clyde isthmus have yet been confidently assigned to the Antonine period, but recent work at Innerpeffray West, Perthshire a 63-acre (25-ha) camp previously thought to have been of Severan date (St Joseph 1973), indicated that the probable road was later than the camp (Britannia 39, 2008, 274). This raises the intriguing possibility that these camps may be earlier in date and were possibly used in the Antonine, or even Flavian, period.

There is still disagreement about the nature of the Roman occupation of southern Scotland (and northern England) and whether it was opposed by the local population to the extent of stimulating an uprising or the need to impose a special control. Further study of the destruction deposits as well as the nature of the military occupation is therefore important. The reasons for, and the chronology of, the withdrawal remain a matter for debate (see section 3.5).

Further work at Bertha is required to fully understand its layout and chronology, and a better understanding of the defences at Ardoch is also needed. More work is also required on temporary camps to provide for their independent dating, along with more detailed work at Dalginross and Cargill in order to contextualise the stray finds located there. Continuing investigation and assessment of other northern forts is necessary in order to elucidate the possibility of the existence of later phases. The publication of the excavations carried out at Camelon (see Table 4: major unpublished Roman excavations) would considerably advance knowledge.