Part of Hadrian’s Wall at Brunton Turret has been damaged by metal-detectorists “‘Nighthawk’ metal detectorists damage Hadrian’s Wall“, BBC News 20 June 2018). Some 50 holes have been noted around this well-preserved section of the Roman frontier. This raises questions about how internationally significant heritage assets can be protected for future generations. Equally important is the question, how can the archaeological and heritage communities make it clear that such activity cannot be accepted?
The tower on Pike Hill lies between MC52 (Bankhead) and T52a (Banks East). Only the south corner survives after the road was adapted in 1870. The tower was excavated in 1931, and associated pottery suggests that it was probably constructed around the reign of Hadrian. Unlike the turrets on Hadrian’s Wall, the wall is attached at an angle suggesting that the tower predates the later defensive line.
An inscription recording Antoninus Pius was found here in 1862 (RIB 1957). The slab is now in the Tullie House Museum.
In 1865 a Latin inscription (RIB 2198) was recovered at Hutcheson Hill in the western section of the Antonine Wall. Casts were made and the original was taken to the Chicago Museum where it was destroyed in the great fire of October 1871. [See also Canmore]
The inscription records a vexillatio of the 20th Legion Valeria Victrix that had constructed 3000 feet of the wall.
Another inscription, now in the Hunterian Museum, was found in 1969 near Hutcheson Hill and similarly records a vexillatio of the same legion that had constructed 3000 feet of the wall (AE 1971, no.225) [JSTOR].
A third inscription of the Twentieth Legion probably comes from near Duntocher (RIB 2199).
A vexillatio of the Sixth Legion Victrix Pia Fidelis was found at Duntocher (RIB 2200). This stretch was 3240 feet.
A fragmentary Latin inscription is built (at an angle) into the garden wall of Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott (RIB 2216). It was first known c. 1797 at Callendar House in Falkirk (see Canmore). This location has suggested that the inscription may have been linked to the Antonine Wall. Scott lived at Abbotsford from 1812-32.
The inscription reads: A vexi[llatio] | of the XXI[I] legion | Primigenia.
At the top left appear to be the legs of what could be a Capricorn, the emblem of Legio XXII. This legion was posted in Upper Germany.
The Legio XXII is also attested from the Roman fort of Birrens, to the north-west of Carlisle (Canmore). An inscription attesting the presence of troops from Legio VIII Augusta and Legio XXII Primigenia was found in 1991 (Britannia 1992, 318, no. 20 [JSTOR]). It has been suggested that this inscription is Antonine in date, and probably associated with troop movements during the construction of the Antonine Wall.
As you stand on the northern edge of the Roman Empire it is hard not to speculate on why Hadrian decided to replace the string of forts along the military road (the Stanegate) to a fixed military frontier. Equally important is the economic cost: of the construction, but then of the garrison and upkeep of the defences. And was it effective? Within a generation the line was abandoned and the frontier moved north to the Antonine Wall.
How do you engage with archaeological heritage in a post-industrial setting? Hadrian’s Wall must rank as one of the premier Roman sites in the UK but the east end lies under Wallsend. The Segedunum project has this fantastic viewing tower overlooking the site with a banner that reads, ‘Where Rome’s great frontier begins’. This, of course, is not just Walls-end but Walls-beginning, especially for those walking from the Tyne to the Solway Firth. The tower itself reminds us of the shipbuilding heritage of the Tyne with clear views up and down the river, explaining the strategic location of the fort.