The Emperor Hadrian (born Publius Aelius Hadrianus Augustus) was one of history’s great builders and is viewed as one of the Five Good Emperors. He profoundly admired Greek civilisation and recognised the importance of building and infrastructure as a means of sustaining, protecting and projecting the stability and power of the Roman Empire.
During his reign, he embarked on an impressive building program of temples, civic buildings and infrastructure throughout the Empire. This, of course, included the building of the Vallum Hadriani or Hadrian’s Wall.
Hadrian also set out to personally explore and manage his Empire, spending half of his relatively peaceful reign travelling to its outermost reaches. Although Hadrian was fully aware of the problems of controlling the borders in Britain, it was while visiting there, that he witnessed, first hand, the age-old problem of constant disputes and skirmishes with the Picts on the northern boundary of his domain.
His solution was both a sound military and a builder’s one. Construction of the wall began in 122 CE which corresponded to Hadrian’s visit to Britain. Originally 10-20 feet wide and 12-20 feet high, it was built in an incredible six years, entirely of stone and turf, and stretched for 73 miles across variable terrain. There were approximately 16 forts along the length of the wall and a deep ditch, or vallum, constructed of earthworks running laterally to the wall. The vallum itself measured 20 feet wide by 10 feet deep and was bordered by large banks of earth. Also built were approximately 150-160 turrets at fairly regular intervals in order to permit for tactical mobility, cover and troop accommodation. These also permitted Hadrian to design a system of signal fires so that alerts could be transmitted very quickly up and down the length of the wall thus providing enhanced security.
The wall, it is said, was originally plastered and white washed and was meant to project the stability and power of the Roman Empire. Having endured for very nearly 2 millennia, it is a true testament to the abilities of Hadrianus Augustus.