Wall Mile 67

Wall Mile 67 [HB 347]

Once on the east side of Boomby Gill, we are now nearing Carlisle, but first we have the inestimable joy of our first sight of the Vallum. Just before we reach the pylons, its earthworks are visible off to our right, subdued but there nonetheless. The Vallum originally consisted of a broad flat-bottomed ditch 6m (20 Roman feet) wide and 3m (10 Roman feet) deep, flanked by mounds to its north and south formed from the upcast. Both mounds were separated from the ditch by a 9m (30 Roman feet) flat strip or berm. The name Vallum is modern, reflecting a name given to it by Bede in his Ecclesiastical History (1.5, using the Latin word for rampart). Its function is unknown but it is assumed to have delineated the southern boundary of the frontier zone, limiting access to the gates through the Wall.

The Vallum with pylons

The Vallum with pylons

Now might be an opportune moment to raise the subject of what the Romans called Hadrian’s Wall, if only in order to confront the inevitable confusion that is going to arise over that term Vallum. In the biographies of Hadrian and Severus in the Historia Augusta, the curtain wall is called a murus and that is what Bede calls it (distinguishing it from the earthwork he – and modern scholars – terms 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, which uses the phrase ‘trans vallum’ has already been mentioned. The Latin word vallum can mean wall or rampart (Latin can be annoyingly vague at times) but it may be significant that what appears to be a souvenir copper-alloy pan, the so-called Staffordshire Moorlands Pan, includes before a list of Wall forts the phrase ‘rigore Vali Aeli Draconis’. This could mean ‘along the Wall, (belonging to) Aelius Draco’ or ‘along the Aelian Wall, (belonging to) Draco’. The second interpretation is rather interesting, since Hadrian’s name was Publius Aelius Hadrianus, in which case the Roman equivalent of our Hadrian’s Wall would have been Val(l)um Aelium (or the Aelian Wall). This is strangely reminiscent of the Roman name for Newcastle and its bridge, Pons Aelii, the Aelian Bridge. And what did the Romans call the thing we call the Vallum? We have no idea.

Milecastle 67 (Stainton) [HB 347; haiku]

Milecastle 67 (Stainton) is another unlocated example and, yet again, one that spacing suggests should be perched on one side or another of a small tributary to the Eden.