The rise and fall of the Antonine Wall
The Romans. They thought the Scots (Celts) were all a bit mad. Aggressive, violent and by all accounts pretty terrifying people. Imagine if you will, that nutter in the pub with the twitchy eye. The one who everyone avoids making any sort of physical or visual contact with, due to the very understandable fear of receiving a vicious beating. Now imagine an entire country full of them. Got an idea? Good.
Welcome to second century Caledonia.
“What had the Romans ever done for us?” said the Caledonians, when the Romans asked to come in. The Romans replied, “well we gave the world, law, philosophy, religion, irrigation, we perfected the use of aqueducts,” (there has been evidence to suggest Egyptians invented the aqueducts), “social care, the concept of newspapers and a variety of other things that have benefited society as we know it.” (I paraphrase of course).
Unfortunately the Scots replied “an whit?”, refusing to let the Romans into their hearts and lives, and then to add insult to injury, also began systematically attacking the Roman soldiers.
At no point during the invasion of Caledonia (Scotland) did the Romans ever have full control over the country.
Scotland, at the time, was a country separated by tribes and religion (not much has changed) and were as likely to be fighting amongst themselves, as an intruding army.
The Romans, upon seeing the inherent madness amongst the natives thought, “naaaah why don’t we just leave this crazy country. I mean, it hasn’t even stopped raining since we got here and I’ve heard England is just lovely at this time of year.” (Editor’s note: these Romans sound very middle class).
Following that, the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall, generally to stop the slightly unhinged Scots from crossing the border into England, raiding livestock while taking part in a bit of stabbing and pillaging. Generally just causing quite the mischief.
But did you know that as well as Hadrian’s wall the Romans built another barrier to defend themselves against us pesky Scots? The Roman army believed that by separating the country, the new wall would help lead to the future conquering of Scotland.
The Antonine Wall ran for 60 kilometres across Central Scotland, and when initially built, was the most complex frontier ever constructed by the Roman Empire. Being almost half the length of Hadrian’s Wall, the Romans managed to double the strength of the Antonine thanks to the reinforced garrison.
They used the same amount of protection on the Antonine Wall as they did on Hadrian’s.
The Romans used the hostile landscape, cliffs, glens and huge ditches to reinforce the Wall, rather than building the entire thing out of stone and rock (e.g Hadrian’s), which would have proven financially untenable. The Antonine Wall extended through five modern day councils: East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire.
(For those so inclined, The Hunterian Museum has an in-depth exhibit exploring the biography of one of Rome’s greatest monuments.)
After eight years of construction and the completion of the Antonine Wall, the Romans presumed an eternity of peace and prosperity was on the horizon. The Wall was expected to be the home-base for the eventual conquering of Scotland.
Surprisingly, once completed, things didn’t quite go to plan, and instead of looking onto a horizon of peace, they instead gazed onto a horizon of incredibly irate natives.
The plan to conquer Scotland was in disarray as the Antonine Wall came under constant attack. Who would have ever thought building an enemy barrier across the middle of a country would annoy the locals? This led to almost 60 years of war in the north of Britain.
Less than ten years after its creation (150AD), the Romans decided they had put up with quite enough of the violent murdering attacks, elderberry-smelling mother taunts, and hamster-father mockery. They fled to Hadrian’s Wall where the Roman soldiers were assured none of that sort of behaviour was tolerated.
After the death of Emperor Antoninus in 161 AD, (the man responsible for initialising the construction of the wall), Marcus Aurelius, his successor, arrived in Britain with the expectation of reclaiming the Central Scottish fort. But shortly into his reign it was abandoned for good and the Romans began instead to reinforce Hadrian’s Wall.
Although the Antonine Wall was a marvel of Roman engineering, the native Scots were without fear. The result of this meant that the Romans, instead of conquering Scotland, spent most of their time repelling attacks and defending the Wall.
For sixty years many Roman Emperors attempted to conquer Scotland, but none succeeded.
The Antonine Wall became a sign of the grand ambition of the Roman Empire, however it also showed that there contained an arrogance within the army that led to an underestimation of the defiance of the Caledonian people.
Scotland remained unconquered.
The Rise and Fall of the Antonine Wall: Written by Richard Garland.