Book Review: The Antonine Wall


by David J. Breeze

Edinburgh: John Donald/Chicago: Independent Publishers Group, 2006. Pp. xiv, 210. Illus, maps, tables, append., biblio., index. $19.95 paper. ISBN:0859766551

During the reign of the Emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161), the Romans advanced their frontier in Britain some 100 miles from Hadrian's Wall, to construct a new defensive line, known as the Antonine Wall.  Stretching nearly 40 miles across Britain from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth, although the turf-and-earth work wall took a dozen years to build, it was abandoned after only about 20 years, the frontier falling back on Hadrian's Wall, where it would remain until the collapse of Roman power in Britain.  Why the wall was built, and why it was abandoned after so short a time, despite the enormous investment in manpower and resources that went into it, are both alike largely a mystery.

In The Antonine Wall, David J. Breeze, author of a number of books on Roman Britain, takes a comprehensive look at Rome's northern frontier and this rather enigmatic defensive line.  He provides an excellent analysis of contemporary strategic and military conditions, discusses the construction of the wall, and its several functions (since it was probably not merely intended to mark the "edge" of the Empire), provides details on the Roman garrison, and gives us a glimpse of what life on the wall must have been like for the troops and civilians who accompanied them. Breeze then goes on to discuss the probable reasons for the wall's abandonment, and provides an account of its subsequent history. 

The book, which includes a guide for tourists, is a very valuable addition to the literature of the Roman frontiers.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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