Hadrian's Wall: Rome and the Limits of Empire
Adrian Goldsworthy
Head of Zeus
192pp, 35 colour and 4 black-and-white illustrations
Hardback, £18.99

Hadrian's Wall is the largest monument remaining from the Roman occupation of Britain. Stretching across the northern reaches of the country, from the Tyne to the Solway for a mighty 73 miles (118km) and punctuated by a series of turrets, milecastles and forts, it is a unique feature of the British landscape.

Today it is one of the nation's most popular historic sites, and little wonder. Its arresting appearance, its longevity and the sheer audacity of its construction combine to form an irresistible attraction. It is also a good subject for Adrian Goldsworthy, an ancient historian, noted for his expertise in Roman military matters, and an accomplished
historical novelist, to tackle.

Hadrian is thought to have ordered the construction of the wall during his visit to Britain in AD 122 or perhaps before, and its construction continued throughout his reign. Although evidence of Roman Britain at the time is somewhat scarce, the presence of the wall suggests there was a real or perceived threat to Roman control in the region at the time, a view supported by the fact that it shows evidence of being hastily put together.

Early on, the wall was decommissioned and another defence, the Antonine Wall, was built further north, between the Forth and the Clyde. When that was abandoned, Hadrian's Wall became the northern frontier of the Roman empire again. Could it stop a strong invading force from the north? The author believes not, but it could slow it down, providing the Romans with time to respond. It also made it harder for spies to cross the frontier.

Goldsworthy deftly guides us through the entire, multifaceted life of the wall, including the methods used to build it and its later repairs and restorations. Its construction remains a formidable accomplishment and the units of legionnaires helpfully left inscriptions proudly noting their contributions. But he does more than just describe the physical and strategic aspects of the wall: he also evokes the atmosphere of the great forts scattered along its length that were added later and are now relics of their time.

Occupied for around 300 years, Hadrian's Wall was a focus of Roman life in northern Britain. Goldsworthy includes plenty of insights into the world of the soldiers and civilians who lived in its forts and surrounding settlements, enabling us easily to imagine the humming community around it.

Part of the Landmark Library series of compact volumes dedicated to the great achievements of mankind, Goldsworthy's book contains excellent colour illustrations, an array of arresting photographs and a useful guide for today's visitors to the wall.

This book provides a clear, concise guide to one of the favourite heritage sites of Britain and transports us back to the frontier life of the Roman Empire in another vital era of our history.
Diana Bentley

 

<back