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Hadrian's Wall: Archaeology and History at the Limit of Rome's Empire, by Nick Hodgson

Marlborough, Eng.: Robert Hale / Chicago: Trafalgar Square, 2017. Pp. 224. Illus., maps, plans, tables, appends., biblio., index. . $36.95. ISBN: 071981815X.

Delineating the Imperial Frontier

Books on Hadrian’s wall, the 84 mile barrier separating Roman Britain from Caledonia, are hardly rare , but Hodgson, a veteran archaeologist with the Tyne and Wear Museums, has written an informative work that offers some new insights on the subject.

After an introduction titled “What is Hadrian’s Wall?”, in which he reminds us that the exact purpose – or perhaps purposes – of the wall are by no means certain, Hodgson opens with a chapter offering an overview of the Roman conquest of Britain and the early history of Roman rule on the Island. There follows a chapter on the building of the wall, which initially took six years (AD 122-128), in which he discusses the techniques employed and several instances of upgrades or modifications over the ages. Hodgson then discusses the Wall’s relationship with the Antonine Wall, a less impressive 40 mile barrier primarily of turf, built AD 142-154 about 100 miles further north, only to be abandoned a decade later, though reoccupied briefly in 208-211.

Hodgson then gives us a several chapters on the history of the wall between AD 122 and 367, integrating military, political, and cultural influences. He follows this with one discussing the wall’s purpose, a surprisingly contentious subject, and while not making any decisive conclusion, Hodgson suggests it had multiple purposes: customs barrier, frontier demarcation, defensive trip wire, and so forth, but was primarily a military barrier. His final chapter discusses the wall in the final years of Roman rule in Britain, and then covers the uses made of it by post-imperial Romano-Britons and the early Anglo-Saxons, usually neglected in accounts of the wall. Two appendices offer extensive detail on the wall’s condition and construction.

Although the absence of notes is a problem, Hadrian’s Wall is an excellent look at the construction and history of the wall on the basis of the most recent excavations and scholarship, valuable reading for the seasoned student of Roman history, and particularly Roman Britain and Roman frontiers, while likely to be interesting even for someone with only a passing familiarity with these subjects.

Note: Hadrian’s Wall is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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