Hadrian's Wall

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 September, 2009, 12:00am


Everybody knows about the Great Wall of China, but how many people in know about England's wall? It cannot really be described as 'great', but it has an interesting history. For a start, like the wall on the mainland, it was built as a defence to keep the 'barbarians' out.

In China's case, the 'barbarians' were tribes on the Mongolian steppes. In England, they were the Picts. The Picts lived in what is now Scotland. The Romans invaded England in the year AD 45. In the year 122, the Roman Emperor Hadrian visited England, and learned that the Picts were making it difficult to rule northern England. He decided a wall was the answer.

From wood to stone

The Romans started building the wall the same year the emperor visited. Historians think it took them about 20 weeks to build the original 117-kilometre-long wall. They did it so quickly because it was built from wood.

It took the Romans six more years to turn it into a stone wall. Every Roman mile, there was a lookout post for soldiers. A Roman mile was 1,000 paces - it is about 1.5km. They also built much larger forts at different places along the wall. Nobody knows the exact number, but maybe as many as 17. Lining the far side of the wall was a 3-metre deep ditch of water - like a moat. There were about 10,000 soldiers defending the wall.


When Emperor Hadrian died in 138, a new emperor took his place in Rome. Emperor Antoninus (AD 86-166) decided it was time to defeat the Picts. He built another wall 160km further north in what is now Scotland. It was called the Antonine Wall and was about 60km long.

This turned out to be not such a good idea. The Picts were too fierce even for the Romans. When Antoninus died in the year 166, the new emperor in Rome told the soldiers to retreat to Hadrian's Wall. Hadrian's Wall remained the edge of the Roman empire until the Romans left England in 410.

Tourist attraction

By the 19th century most of Hadrian's Wall had disappeared. But in the 1830s, a man called John Clayton began to buy farmland around parts of the wall. He used the money he made from his farms to restore the wall. He even dug up an old Roman fort and some of the 'mile castles' - the lookouts every Roman mile.

In 1987, Hadrian's Wall became a Unesco World Heritage Site. Today, it is a very popular tourist attraction. A walking path has been built along it (but only used in the summer). There is also a cycling path.

now do this

1 Hadrian's Wall was built to keep out the ...

a. English

b. Picts

c. Mongolians

2 Originally Hadrian's Wall was built of ...

a. wood

b. mud bricks

c. stone

3. Hadrian's Wall is named after ...

a. a Roman emperor

b. an English king

c. the king of the Picts


1. a, 2. a, 3. b