40. What did the Romans call Hadrian’s Wall?

In the biographies of Hadrian and Severus it is called a wall (murus) and that is what Bede called it (distinguishing it from the Vallum). However, elsewhere in the biography of Severus, it seems to be mentioned again in connection with a curious incident involving North African troops with the phrase ‘apud vallum’ or ‘near the Wall’. The Notitia Dignitatum supplies a list of units and their commanding officers ‘per lineam valli’, or along the line of the Wall. An inscription from Kirksteads, south-east of Burgh-by-Sands, set up by the commander of the legio VI Victrix, records a successful operation ‘trans vallum’ or ‘beyond the Wall’. The Latin word vallum can mean wall or rampart (Latin can be annoyingly vague at times) but it may be significant that one of the souvenir copper-alloy pans, the so-called Staffordshire Moorlands Pan, includes before its list of forts the phrase ‘rigore Vali Aeli Draconis’ and which might mean ‘along the Wall, (belonging to) Aelius Draco’ or ‘along the Aelian Wall, (belonging to) Draco’. The last interpretation, if correct, would be interesting, given that Hadrian’s full name was Publius Aelius Hadrianus, in which case Val(l)um Aelium (or the Aelian Wall) would be the equivalent of our Hadrian’s Wall (and recalls the Roman name for Newcastle and its bridge, Pons Aelius, the Aelian bridge).

Further reading: Breeze 2006