100. What is the best book on Hadrian’s Wall to read next?

51RZ1lUcf9L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_Much depends upon your reading requirements and level of interest. The most authoritative overall account of Hadrian’s Wall is the book of the same name by David Breeze and Brian Dobson, now in its 4th edition, whilst the best detailed description of the monument is the 14th edition of Collingwood Bruce’s Handbook to the Roman Wall, edited by David Breeze. An accessible popular account is Alistair Moffat’s The Wall: Rome’s Greatest Frontier, but Hunter Davies’ A Walk Along The Wall should not be omitted just because it is more than thirty years old: good books endure.

Further reading: Breeze and Dobson 2000; Breeze 2006; Moffat 2008; Davies 1974

PLV2 cover

99. Why was the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall at Wallsend?

4953566583_6a33c63be2_nThis is more difficult to answer than for Bowness, as the lowest bridging point of the Tyne has always been Newcastle, whilst the lowest ford has traditionally been thought to be Newburn, some way upstream. It is possible (but not very likely) that the Romans discovered the river could be forded below the lowest bridging point.

Further reading: Breeze and Dobson 2000; Breeze 2006

98. Why was the western end of Hadrian’s Wall at Bowness-on-Solway?

4953321507_c3479df6fd_nBowness represents the westernmost point at which the Solway could be forded, so extending the Wall to this point obviously protected it from being outflanked by those daring enough to attempt to cross the estuary (which cattle drovers regularly did right up into the 20th century). Its western flank was further protected by a series of towers and fortlets southwards along the Cumbrian coast as far as Maryport.

Further reading: Breeze and Dobson 2000; Breeze 2006

97. Who devised the Wall Mile numbering system?

R G Collingwood by Lafayette (National Portrait Gallery)

R G Collingwood by Walter Stoneman
bromide print, October 1934
NPG x166674 (National Portrait Gallery) (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The philosopher and Wall scholar R. G. Collingwood began the scheme of numbering the milecastles from east to west, with MC1 some 1.15km (0.78 Roman miles) south-west of Wallsend fort (and thereby begging the question of whether there had been a MC0 south-east of the fort). Milecastles first gained their name in 1708, courtesy of Robert Smith, whilst turrets had to wait until 1726/7 for Alexander Gordon to coin the term.

Further reading: Birley 1961

96. How much did Hadrian’s Wall weigh?

320px-apothecary27s_balance_with_steel_beam_and_brass_pans_in_woode_wellcome_l0058880This is a fairly meaningless question, except as an indication of how much material the Roman army would have had to acquire, move, and assemble. Assuming a volume of 10m³ for a metre of curtain wall (including parapet and consisting of dressed sandstone facing, rubble core, and lime mortar), and a mass of 20 tonnes for the requisite amount of stone and mortar, the curtain wall alone would have weighed in the order of 2.4 million tonnes over its 119km. With turrets, milecastles, and forts added in, this would probably come closer to 3 million tonnes.

Further reading: Hill 2006

95. How much would it cost to build Hadrian’s Wall now?

317381942_249555ebd4Collingwood Bruce was the first to play the game of guessing the cost of building a present-day Wall. He came up with a total of £1,079,446 for curtain wall, ditch, and Vallum, allowing for the use of dressed stone. At present-day values, that would be between £80m (US$130m) and £770m (US$1.25bn), depending upon the method used to calculate inflation. A later estimate, this time for a concrete wall, was obtained from Laings by Hunter Davies (£80m in 1974, which would be between £620m (US$1.01bn) and £990m (US$1.61bn)).

Further reading: Bruce 1853; Davies 1974

93. Can you see Hadrian’s Wall from space?

satellite_image_of_great_britain_and_northern_ireland_in_april_2002It is a familiar modern or urban myth that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object that can be seen from space, but this is in fact a very vague concept. Assuming that this means ‘with the naked eye’ it is still necessary to ask from how high an orbit such observations should be made and under what conditions. On its website, NASA shows how some segments of the Great Wall can be made out in photographs taken by astronauts but that the human eye cannot see it from low earth orbit. If it is that difficult for a large structure like that, Hadrian’s Wall stands no chance!

Nowadays, of course, remote sensing technology means that civilian satellites can routinely image down to 0.5m resolution and military satellites probably supply even finer detail. In that respect, Hadrian’s Wall is no different from any other monument in the degree of its visibility from space.

Further reading: Man 2008

92. Is there any truth in the stories about speaking tubes on Hadrian’s Wall?

320px-voice_tubeThe notion that the Romans used speaking tubes to communicate along the Wall can be traced back to at least Drayton in the 17th century and his poem called the Polyolbion where his personified Wall mentions

With hollow pipes of brasse, along me still they went
By which they in one fort still to another sent,
By speaking in the same, to tell them what to doe,
And soe from sea to sea could I be whispered through.

Although it was repeated by Camden, Collingwood Bruce rightly pooh-poohed the story and pointed out that no such brass pipes have ever been found, although noting that a similar tradition existed about the Antonine Wall.

Myth has a powerful place in the story of Hadrian’s Wall. The area of Sewingshields Crags has come to be associated with the tale of King Arthur lying asleep in a subterranean cave, waiting to be awakened to save England.

Further reading: Bruce 1853

91. How did the Romans communicate quickly along Hadrian’s Wall?

9641110147_038b5a6d0a_nBy means of signalling. A few basic facts about Roman signalling survive, including the use of fire, smoke, and wooden beams. The first two are fairly obvious but the last, which is only mentioned in passing by Vegetius, is rather obscure and not understood. Beacons are shown being prepared and used on Trajan’s Column, presumably for the purposes of signalling. Modern studies have examined lines of sight between signal stations, forts, milecastles and turrets in the region of the Wall. Some signal towers allowed sites that could not see each other to communicate, as Barcombe Hill signal station did for Housesteads and Vindolanda.

Further reading: Woolliscroft 2001