The Antonine Wall is a stone and turf fortification built by the Romans across what is now the Central Belt of Scotland, between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde. Representing the northernmost frontier barrier of the Roman Empire, it spanned approximately 63 km (39 miles) and was about 3 m (10 feet) high and 5 m (15 feet) wide. Security was bolstered by a deep ditch on the north side. The barrier was the second of two "great walls" created by the Romans in Northern Britain. Its ruins are less evident than the better known Hadrian's Wall to the south.
Construction began in AD 142 at the order of Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, and took about 12 years to complete. Pressure from the Caledonians may have led Antoninus to send the empire's troops further north. The wall was protected by 16 forts with a number of small fortlets between them; troop movement was facilitated by a road linking all the sites known as the Military Way. The soldiers who built the wall commemorated the construction and their struggles with the Caledonians in a number of decorative slabs, twenty of which still survive.
Despite this auspicious start the wall was abandoned after only 20 years, and the garrisons relocated back to Hadrian's Wall. In 208 Emperor Septimius Severus re-established legions at the wall and ordered repairs; this has led to the wall being referred to as the Severan Wall. However, the occupation ended only a few years later, and the wall was never fortified again. Most of the wall and its associated fortifications have been destroyed over time, but some remains are still visible. Many of these have come under the care of Historic Scotland and the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
The wall was abandoned after only 20 years, when the Roman legions withdrew to Hadrian's Wall in AD 162 (although there is evidence to suggest that they left the wall in AD 158/60, its reliability is unclear), and over time reached an accommodation with the Brythonic tribes of the area who they fostered as the buffer states which would later become "The Old North". After a series of attacks in AD 197, Emperor Septimius Severus arrived in Scotland in AD 208 to secure the frontier, and repaired parts of the wall. Although this re-occupation only lasted a few years, the wall is sometimes referred to by later Roman historians as the Severan Wall. This led to later scholars like Bede mistaking references to the Antonine Wall for ones to Hadrian's Wall.
World Heritage status
The UK government's nomination of the Antonine Wall for World Heritage status to the international conservation body UNESCO was first officially announced in 2003. It has been backed by the Scottish Government since 2005 and by Scotland's then Culture Minister Patricia Ferguson since 2006. It became the UK's official nomination in late January 2007, and MSPs were called to support the bid anew in May 2007. The Antonine Wall was listed as an extension to the World Heritage Site "Frontiers of the Roman Empire" on 7 July 2008. Though the Antonine Wall is mentioned in the text, it does not appear on UNESCO's map of world heritage properties.
Mapping The Wall
The first capable effort to systematically map the Antonine Wall was undertaken in 1764 by William Roy, of Ordnance Survey fame. He provided accurate and detailed drawings of its remains, and where the wall has been destroyed by later development, his maps and drawings are now the only reliable record of it.