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Understanding the Wall


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Hadrian’s Wall is one of the best-known monuments in Britain. There are many books on the subject, although at the time of writing very few for any of the digital platforms. I therefore felt there was sufficient reason to produce a short introduction that answered many of the questions I get asked when I lead groups along or lecture on the Wall. It is not a profound academic work (but will point you to some that are) and merely rehearses some of the bigger questions, as well as some of the more obscure ones. Most are questions I have been asked at some time or other – the remainder intrigued me when I first started nosing around ‘that famous wall’.

My own connection with Hadrian’s Wall started out reluctantly (it never interested me very much when I first moved up to Newcastle to work on publishing the excavations on the much-more-interesting Roman site at Corbridge). I have excavated on it – in what may well have been the world’s narrowest archaeological trench – in the Roman fort at Rudchester, the origin of my dubious claim to be the only living human being who has touched (scraped knuckles on: it was a very narrow trench) the headquarters building of that fort. I brushed up against the Wall again (figuratively, at least) when I was involved in the original desk-based assessment for the National Trail (which seemed like a daft idea to me at the time). More recently I have led walking tours along the Wall for Andante Travels (thereby disproving my earlier impression), as well as for the occasional academic or learned society. I have walked it, cycled it, driven it, and flown over it (almost always wielding a camera), but I have yet to swim it.

Each question, besides a brief piece of text providing an answer, includes suggestions for further reading. I have not attempted any sort of detailed academic referencing system, but leave it to the reader how much they choose to pursue. Most of the references can be obtained fairly easily and, using secondhand bookshops (particularly via Amazon and Abebooks) and libraries, fairly cheaply and some of the most important – such as Symonds and Mason 2009 – are even available as free downloads (and in such cases I have provided links for them).

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