New exhibit sheds light on Antonine Wall, the Roman Empire’s northernmost border

Antonine Wall, ScotlandThere’s not much left of it now, just a deep swale in the earth and a few stones jutting out of the grass. Almost two thousand years ago, though, it was the northernmost boundary of the Roman Empire.

The Antonine Wall protected a narrow part of Scotland between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde, from the 140s to 160s AD. After the Emperor Hadrian built Hadrian’s Wall across what is now the border of England and Scotland, his successor Antoninus Pius decided to move 100 miles further north to gain a military and propaganda victory and add more land to the empire. The wall was built of turf on a stone foundation and stretched 39 miles, as opposed to the stone Hadrian’s Wall that ran 73 miles. Forts placed at regular intervals strengthened the both walls.

Now a new permanent exhibit at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow brings together numerous artifacts from the wall to show what life was like for the soldiers living up there. Included are several elaborate sculptures commissions by Antoninus Pius to show off his great victory.

The Antonine Wall was only used from 142 to 162, and briefly again around 208. Later emperors decided it wasn’t worth the expense and effort and instead used Hadrian’s Wall as the northernmost boundary. Despite this short lifespan, several communities sprang up around it and there were at least two Roman baths. Excavations have yielded some interesting artifacts such as preserved sandals and a gravestone that shows someone from the Middle East lived there.

I’ve walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall along the Hadrian’s Wall Path and would love to do the same with the Antonine Wall, but sadly there is not yet a trail going along this important remnant of the glory of Rome.

Antoninus Pius, Antonine Wall

[Wall photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Photo of coin of Antoninus Pius also courtesy Wikimedia Commons]