It was built mainly of turf on a stone base, although at least one stretch was built of clay. It was probably around three metres high with a timber breastwork running along its top. When completed, the Antonine Wall had forts of varying sizes at 3km intervals. A ditch was dug to the north of the Wall and the space between the Wall and the ditch (the berm) contained pits with stakes inserted into them.
The Antonine Wall itself was abandoned in the 160sAD and Hadrian’s Wall was reoccupied. The Romans maintained a presence to the north of Hadrian’s Wall with outpost forts at High Rochester and Risingham in the east and at Bewcastle, Newstead and Birrens in the west. Following a major campaign led by Emperor Septimius Severus north of Hadrian’s Wall in the early third century AD, the northwest frontier was peaceful compared with other parts of the Empire. Troubles began again during the fourth century as the Empire faced increasing instability on all frontiers. Centralised administration of Britain from Rome ended around AD400.
Evidence suggests many of the forts along Hadrian’s Wall were occupied into the fifth and sixth centuries, possibly providing a power base of local warlords seeking control and security in the absence of centralised power. Over time, Hadrian’s Wall and the Cumbrian coastal defences fell into disuse, with the stone re-used to build other structures.
The Roman Frontier Gallery at Tullie House Museum explores the ebb and flow of the Roman frontier in Britain in response to economic, political and social forces at play across the Roman Empire.