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Early in the reign of Antoninus Pius Roman troops under the governor of Britain, Lollius Urbicus, reoccupied the Scottish Lowlands. Hadrian's Wall was abandoned, and in its place another barrier, the Antonine Wall, was built ca. 160 km farther N, across the narrow isthmus between the firths of Forth and Clyde. The new Wall, completed by A.D. 143, ran from Bridgeness on the Forth to Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde, a distance of 59 km. It consisted of a ditch up to 12 m wide and 3.6 m deep, behind which was a rampart built for the most part of turf blocks set on a stone foundation 4.2 m broad; the height of the rampart, including the breastwork, is estimated to have been ca. 4.5 m. The garrison was housed in a series of forts, normally attached to the rear face of the rampart and spaced at intervals of ca. 3.2 km. Originally there were probably 18 or 19 such forts, but to date only 13 have been located: from E to W they are at Muminills, Rough Castle, Castlecary, Westerwood, Croy Hill, Bar Hill, Auchendavy, Kirkintilloch, Cadder, Balmuildy, Bearsden, Castlehill, Duntocher, and Old Kilpatrick. The E end of the Wall was guarded by a fort at Carriden, 1.6 km SE of Bridgeness. Other forts prolonged the defensive system along the S shores of the Forth and Clyde estuaries, while the forward area was supervised by a chain of outposts extending as far N as the river Tay. The Wall forts are of widely different sizes, the internal areas ranging from 2.6 ha (Mumrills) to only 0.2 ha (Duntocher), and while Castlecary and Balmuildy were defended by stone walls, the rest had ramparts of turf, rammed earth, or clay. The principal buildings were, however, generally of stone and the barracks of timber. A well-built road, the Military Way, linked the forts, but bypass loops were provided for through traffic.

Today the best surviving stretch of the Wall runs from the E end of Tentfield Plantation, 1.6 km W of Falkirk, to Bonnyside House. Throughout this sector the rampart and ditch are visible with only minor interruptions, the former standing 1.5 m high in places, and at the crossing of the Rowan Tree Burn is the fort of Rough Castle, with well-preserved defenses. Within, the foundations of the headquarters building, the commandant's house, and a granary are exposed, while a fortified annex on the E contains some remains of a bath house. From the N gate an unexcavated causeway across the ditch leads to a staggered series of defensive pits (lilia); it is possible that pointed stakes were planted in them. The fort has produced inscriptions of Cohors VI Nerviorum, but cannot have accommodated the whole of that regiment. Other auxiliary regiments known to have been in garrison on the Wall at one time or another are the Ala I Tungrorum and the Cohors II Thracum (Mumrills), the Cohors I Tungrorum and the Cohors I Vardullorum (Castlecary), the Cohors I Baetasiorum (Bar Hill and Old Kilpatrick), the Cohors I Hamiorum (Bar Hill), and the Cohors IV Gallorum (Castlehill). The only fort whose Roman name is known is that at Carniden, the Velunia of the Ravenna Cosmography, but Old Kilpatrick may have been Credigone, listed in the same source. From Old Kilpatrick a road led W along the N bank of the Clyde to a harbor at Dumbarton.

Traces of small posts attached to the back of the rampart have been found at Watling Lodge, where the road serving the outpost forts crossed the limes, at Wilderness Plantation, and at Glasgow Bridge. Each of these posts occurs about midway between a pair of forts, and it is possible that there was a regular series of them, comparable to the milecastles on Hadrian's Wall. On the other hand no evidence of a continuous system of turrets has been discovered on the Antonine Wall. A few turf platforms projecting from the back of the rampart have been identified as emplacements for beacons, but their disposition indicates that they were designed for long-distance communication with the forward and rear areas, and not for lateral signaling between the Wall forts. As at Rough Castle, most if not all of the forts were equipped with defended annexes. None of them has been adequately explored, but their main purpose was no doubt to protect the civilian communities of the kind attested epigraphically at Carniden; they could also accommodate stores and convoys.

The Wall was built by legionaries from each of the three legions in Britain at the time, II Augusta, VI Victrix, and XX Valeria. A number of temporary camps, which probably housed the working-parties, have been revealed by crop markings on air photographs, although no remains can be seen above ground. Each legion seems to have contributed two building squads, and as each sector was completed stone tablets were placed at either end recording the length of the sector and the name of the unit responsible. Initially the sectors were ca. 6.4 km long and were measured in Roman paces, but from Castlehill to the Clyde they were shorter and were measured in feet. To date 18 such tablets have been discovered, many of them elaborately decorated; like most of the other finds from the Wall, they are preserved either in the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh, or in the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow.

It used to be thought that every Wall fort was built on the site of one of the chain of posts (praesidia) which Agricola had constructed between the Forth and Clyde some 60 years earlier, but this now seems doubtful. The supposed praesidium at Muminills has been shown to be simply the annex of the Antonine fort; the Flavian date previously assigned to the curious earthworks underlying the forts at Croy Hill and Bar Hill has been challenged; and no trace of Agricolan occupation has been found during excavations at Duntocher and Rough Castle. On the other hand, fresh studies of the pottery from the Wall have confirmed that a few forts, such as Castlecary and Cadder, have produced small quantities of 1st c. sherds which may have been derived from praesidia on or near the sites in question.

The reoccupation of the Scottish Lowlands under Antoninus Pius was evidently intended to relieve the pressure on the cooperative tribes in the region, increasingly harassed by hostile neighbors. But the policy failed to establish lasting peace on the N frontier. The forts on the Antonine Wall were destroyed at least twice, first probably by the Romans themselves in A.D. 155-158, when the entire Scottish garrison appears to have been withdrawn to deal with a revolt of the Brigantes, a powerful tribe in the N of England. The date of the second destruction is uncertain, but there is no convincing evidence that the Wall was held after A.D. 196-197, when the usurper Albinus took the army of Britain to Gaul in an unsuccessful attempt to win the imperial throne. From A.D. 208-211 the emperor Severus conducted a series of punitive campaigns in Scotland, but his successor Caracalla abandoned any designs of bringing the country once more within the province, and Hadrian's Wall again became the fixed frontier line.


G. Macdonald, The Roman Wall in Scotland (1934); K. A. Steer, “John Hoinsley and the Antonine Wall,” Arch. Ael. 42 (1964) 1-39; Ordnance Survey Map, The Antonine Wall (1969); A. S. Robertson, The Antonine Wall (1970).


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