Walk­ing in the foot­steps of the Ro­mans

Sunday Sun - - News - Dave Mor­ton david.mor­ton.ed­i­to­rial@ncj­me­dia.co.uk

SO, what did the Ro­mans do for us?

Well, how about san­i­ta­tion, medicine, ed­u­ca­tion, wine, pub­lic or­der, ir­ri­ga­tion, roads, a fresh wa­ter sys­tem, pub­lic health - oh, and peace?

You might recog­nise this im­pres­sive list from that very funny scene in Monty Python’s 1979 film, Life Of Brian.

But there is plenty of truth be­hind the hu­mour. It’s gen­er­ally ac­cepted the Ro­mans did have a civil­is­ing ef­fect on the bar­bar­ian ar­eas they con­quered.

And we have one mighty ex­am­ple of Ro­man oc­cu­pa­tion on our doorstep, of course - Hadrian’s Wall.

Build­ing started around AD 122 when the Em­peror Hadrian vis­ited the North of Eng­land to iden­tify po­ten­tial sites.

Hun­dreds of le­gionar­ies from Ch­ester and York marched North to quarry the stone and build the wall which took around seven years to com­plete.

It runs through the nar­row gap in the Pen­nines be­tween the Sol­way Es­tu­ary in the West to, of course, Wallsend in the East.

The wall is 73 miles (80 Ro­man miles) long.

It was the most heav­ily for­ti­fied border any­where in the Ro­man Em­pire.

The wall is usu­ally said to have been 15 feet high - and so it was, to the level where the soldiers would stand - but with a para­pet on top, it was more likely to be 20 feet - with a large ditch on ei­ther side.

On the North side, re­cent ex­ca­va­tions found ev­i­dence of pits which were likely to have been filled with wooden stakes to de­ter “bar­bar­ians” from the North.

To the south there was the Val­lum - a colos­sal ditch flanked by mounds of earth.

Fas­ci­nat­ingly there is ev­i­dence to sug­gest that it was painted white, mak­ing it even more of an im­pos­ing sight in the bleak Northum­ber­land land­scape.

Right along the wall, one mile apart, gates were pro­tected by small guard posts called mile­cas­tles.

Forts, spaced just over seven miles apart, were built on the wall wher­ever pos­si­ble.

The wall manned by reg­i­ments 1000-strong.

The troops based in the forts and mile­cas­tles of the wall were mostly re­cruited from the North Western prov­inces of the Ro­man em­pire.

The forts on the wall had a long life of nearly 300 years, but the wall was all but ob­so­lete when the end of Ro­man Bri­tain came in the early 5th cwen­tury.

And if, in 2018, we usu­ally cher­ish and aim to pre­serve items of an­tiq­uity, that wasn’t al­ways the case.

Af­ter the wall was aban­doned, for cen­turies it be­came a source of stone to build lo­cal cas­tles and churches, farms and houses.

It wasn’t un­til Vic­to­rian times that ef­forts to con­serve the wall be­gan and his­to­ri­ans and arche­ol­o­gists be­gan to study it.

Hadrian’s Wall be­came a World Her­itage Site in 1987.

En­joy our pho­to­graphs from the Sun­day Sun archive of sites along Hadrian’s Wall. was largely aux­il­iaries, in 500 or

Front: ‘Ro­man soldiers’ wait­ing in Joan Street, Wallsend, for the start of a march to Carlisle in 1979. Th­ese ‘Ro­mans’ would walk the length of Hadrian’s Wall in aid of the Can­cer Re­lief Fund. Joan Street was one of those that backed on to Swan Hunter ship­yard. When the streets were de­mol­ished, the site of Sege­dunum Ro­man Fort would re-emerge. To­day it’s a pop­u­lar vis­i­tor at­trac­tion

Above, school­boys sit­ting on the wall of the Ro­man Gra­nary at Hous­es­teads Fort, Northum­ber­land, in Au­gust, 1948; left, pupils of Walker Tech­ni­cal High School, New­cas­tle, on a trip to Hadrian’s Wall, 1961 (Pic­ture: Eileen Welsh)

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