What is Hadrian's Wall?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Hadrian's Wall is an ancient Roman fortification located in northern England. When built, it was 73.5 miles (117 km) long, spanning the entire width of the island nation. The wall was built around 122 to 130 CE and served many functions for the Romans: it was a visible symbol of their might, the northern border of the Empire, a defense against the Picts of ancient Scotland, and a trading center. Today, much of the wall survives, though many parts are eroded and its stones have been culled for other building projects over the centuries.

Hadrian’s Wall in England was essentially the northern border of the Roman Empire.
Hadrian’s Wall in England was essentially the northern border of the Roman Empire.

Construction on Hadrian's Wall began after the Emperor Hadrian visited Britain in 122. Civil problems in other parts of the Empire, notably in the Middle East, inspired the emperor's decision for a massive fortification in Great Britain. The width and height of the wall varied along its length, but generally ranged from 10 to 20 feet (about 3 to 6 meters) in most places. It was constructed of stone and turf.

The wall incorporated milecastles, or small forts, at every Roman mile, for a total of 80 along its full length. Intermediate turrets were also included for observation. Later, a number of larger forts, from 14 to 17 depending on the source, were built near the wall for additional protection. A vallum, a large ditch with high earth banks on either side, was added to the southern side.

Hadrian's Wall was occupied by auxiliary Roman troops throughout the remainder of the Roman presence in Great Britain, and it is assumed that many intermarried with the native population. The emperor after Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, turned his attentions to the construction of a new wall, the Antonine Wall, within Scotland, and the more southern one was not heavily used during his reign. It became important again in the reign of the new emperor, Marcus Aurelius, after Antoninus Pius' attempts at northern expansion were unsuccessful. Roman forces withdrew from Great Britain early in the 5th century, though the wall remained occupied in parts for a few decades. Today, Hadrian's Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most popular tourist attraction in northern England.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


It was constructed with rocks and turf. Hadrian's wall helped keep the British out of Rome and marked the end of the world for most Romans. It is 10 to 20 feet tall and 173.5 miles long.


how was it constructed?


How did it help the empire?


how tall is the hadrian's wall?

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