The Antonine Wall In Scotland: Britain’s Other Roman Wall

Antonine Wall profile

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You may be familiar with Hadrian’s Wall, the 117 km defensive structure that the Romans built across northern England in 122 CE. But did you know that they built a second line of defence – the Antonine Wall – in central Scotland a few years later? I set out to find out a bit more about the Antonine Wall and to discover if anything could still be seen today.

The Frontiers Of The Roman Empire

Running between the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth, the Antonine Wall was the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire. There were similar frontiers elsewhere in northern Europe, most notably the Limes in Germany. Today the Antonine Wall, Hadrian’s Wall and the German Limes make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Frontiers of the Roman Empire.

Hadrian’s Wall was built as a sort of national border, allowing the Romans to control the movement of people and trade from one territory to another. The Antonine Wall seems to have been an attempt to push the border further north. It also provided housing for the troops who had the unenviable task of trying to impose order on the lawless tribes of the region. In practice, the Antonine Wall was only occupied for a few years, and the northern frontier reverted to Hadrian’s Wall.

The Remains Of The Antonine Wall

The Antonine Wall was a much less impressive structure than Hadrian’s Wall. Built around 142 CE, it was 63 km long and was built from turf and wood, on a base of stones. A deep ditch and a military road ran alongside the fortification and the wall was protected by a series of forts. At one end of the wall was the Old Kilpatrick fort, beside the River Clyde, and the other end was close to Bridgeness.

Antonine Wall, Bar Hill
Bar Hill Fort, near Glasgow – the turf rampart and the ditch followed the contours of the land

Because it fell into disuse so quickly, the Romans did not maintain the wall. Combined with the impermanence of the building materials, this meant that much of the fortification disappeared over time. However, many of the earthworks remain, and it was these that I set out to discover.

Exploring The Antonine Wall

The first section I found was at Croy Hill, around 16 km from Glasgow. We could see where the ditch had run and it looked as if there were some stones that had been used for banking. It was clear that the Roman army made use of the contours of the land, putting forts and signal stations at the tops of tall hills. In many places the landscape – with its rugged hills and barren countryside – would itself have been a physical barrier.

Antonine Wall, Croy Hill
Banking and a ditch at Croy Hill

One of the best preserved sections was at Rough Castle (a short walk from the Falkirk Wheel Visitor Centre). There is a massive ditch here and you can see the layout of the fort. Excavations at the site have unearthed various Roman artefacts, including an altar, and the site of some stone buildings.

Antonine Wall, Rough Castle
The deep ditch is clearly visible at Rough Castle

Walks Along The Antonine Wall

Where the earthworks are still visible there are waymarked walks and information boards – have a look at the website for information. Although there is no formal route linking the separate sections, attempts have been made to create a trail. If you want to explore everything that remains have a look at the book An Antonine Trail (I haven’t read it myself, but it looks like a useful companion, taking in other items of interest along the way such as the Falkirk Wheel and Dumbarton Castle).

You can also learn much more about the Antonine Wall, and see some of the artefacts recovered, by visiting the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.

Rough Castle Fort, Falkirk
A pleasant walk around Rough Castle

Overall, the Antonine Wall may not be as magnificent or well preserved as Hadrian’s Wall. However, plenty of it is visible today if you look closely enough. And it is a good excuse for a peaceful walk through the beautiful Scottish countryside.

Finally, if you are interested in discovering more Scottish heritage, note that the Antonine Wall is just one of 13 places included in the Scotland UNESCO Trail, a tourist route covering all of the country’s UNESCO sites.


2 thoughts on “The Antonine Wall In Scotland: Britain’s Other Roman Wall”

  1. We’ve walked portions of Hadrian’s Wall, but I have to admit I’d never even heard of its northern cousin. We’re planning a trip to Scotland this year and will have to check it out, as I’m sort of a Roman history geek. Thanks for the info.

  2. Hugely interesting. Amazing how the Romans built such massive structures and so quickly. Your photos show that if you didn’t know it was there you may never think about any of it. Now we’ll have to read more about it.

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…


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