Friday, 30 September 2011

Antonine Wall Museum

Distance SlabIt has been a while since the Antonine Wall was in the news.

One of the recurring features of this blog -- besides championing a sensible interpretation of the disappearance of the Lost Ninth Legion (most recently here) -- is to follow developments on the Roman frontier in Scotland (most recently here). So this emperor was excited to learn that Glasgow University's Hunterian Museum -- home of many spectacular finds from the Antonine Wall -- has re-opened after a two-year refurbishment.

The Guardian newspaper reports, with not a little hyperbole, that "one of the Roman empire's most enigmatic monuments is set to reveal some of its secrets". Enigmatic? Secrets? (Well, I suppose journalists have got to drum up interest in their stories somehow.)

In fact, journalist Charlotte Higgins' second attempt at the story is a lot better: no hyperbole; just the bare facts (to parody her headline). She draws attention to the beautiful new gallery showcasing the permanent "Antonine Wall: Rome's Final Frontier" exhibition, and praises the designers' avoidance of gimmicky interactive displays. Here, rather than a "most enigmatic monument", the Antonine Wall is described -- perfectly -- as "this relatively little-known patch of Britain's Roman past". Second time's a charm, Charlotte.


  1. By the way, Happy (slightly belated) Birthday.

    I have no present suitable for an emperor, but instead, I bring you a drill team to make your martial heart swell with joy!

  2. In view of the fact that your wall was built of turf and stood approx. 10 ft. high - combined with the supreme confidence of your military commanders and the scarcity of non-military Roman remains in the area; I am given to wonder whether this was ever seriously intended to be the 'new' northern frontier of the Empire.The scarcity of building materials alone cannot account for the fact that any permanent northern wall could have been constructed using the materials provided by stripping Hadrian's wall (which stood almost twice as high)of less than half of its extent. And why have a backup wall twice as high as your primary frontier wall? Unless the plan were not to move north at all. Perhaps the 'plan' was altogether something else entirely. The bronze coinage which you issued circa 154AD(the previously disagreed upon Brittania dejected series)would seem to coincide with your walls completion.The forced depopulation of this area between the 'walls'would not have bothered the Imperial authorities (Last chance! Everyone out!) and may have been part of a larger plan to create either a buffer/client state (veterans colonies?) in the long run or a militarily restricted area (ala the notorious 'free fire' zones during the Vietnam War)for the short term. The eventual 'abandonment' of the wall around 160AD may have been planned well in advance,(if it wasn't built to be permanent that is)especially if the locals were long since exterminated and or expelled. The words of the British Chieftain Calgacus, as quoted by Tacitus come to mind, " Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant." Is it just a coincidence that these words were spoken by a captive 'Brit' or was it personal experience on the authors part - and a point of fact for the 'greatest' of Roman historians (whose Military father probably influenced him greatly)

  3. Were other walls being constructed in the Empire at the same time? If so, were they like Hadrian's wall, or were they cheaper due to military budget cuts? Military fashions change over time, was a turf wall the latest bright idea from the boffins of the time? Was the turf wall actually intended to be a defensible wall or was it just a boundary marker? Was there really a forced depopulation, or did it become economically unviable to live there? Is there evidence of colonae being established between the walls?
    The questions just keep on coming!

  4. << By the way, Happy (slightly belated) Birthday. >>
    And slightly belated thanks!

  5. Nennius goes bizarre with Antonines Pale ?