10 Things About Hadrian’s Wall

I’m not a runner. Generally, if there isn’t a scoreboard involved, you can’t make me run. I need a goal. Running marathons isn’t about winning (I know they have winners, but I’ve never met anyone who actually expected to be victorious in a marathon). They were named for a legend in which a man ran roughly 26.2 miles to Marathon, Greece to deliver a message and then dropped dead. Recreating that event for fun is madness to me. But I digress. My husband is a runner. He runs for St. Jude every December and usually has at least one or two (or more) other, shorter races throughout the year to help him train. He’s starting to collect quite a few shiny medals.

Shiny medals are something I can get on board with. My competitive streak has slowly awoken from her slumber and is now staring at those shiny medals. She’s rubbing her hands together like Gollum and saying, “Must get a medal, precious!” But I can’t just attack the nearest 5k from nothing and expect to not embarrass myself. It’s not that I have to be able to come in first. I need to be able to finish. Preferably not last.

Plain speak: I’m out of shape. Way out of shape. But I’m competitive. It’s a strange combination. I want to win a race medal, but I don’t want to run alongside skinny people who ARE in shape. That’s not my idea of fun. That’s masochism. While I was contemplating this for the 100th time, a new kind of race challenge appeared on my newsfeed in that creepy way they do these days. A virtual race.

Wait. Virtual? A race that I run on my own. By myself. On my own time. I’m competitive, but I’m also an introvert and that means that I was immediately intrigued by this concept of a virtual race. And the one I saw was for a course near Hadrian’s Wall. I’m a history nerd who can’t afford to travel. But this challenge would give me a shiny medal if I finished AND give me 360-degree views of my spot on the course along the way? Sold.

It’s a ninety-mile challenge, so it’s not meant to be finished all in one day. But Hadrian’s Wall is…not ninety miles. It is, however, a UNESCO World Heritage site so maybe it’s worth a look.

10 things you might not know about Hadrian’s Wall:

  1. Julius Ceasar first sent Romans to what is modern-day England in 55 B.C., but in an ironic turn of events, an island that would basically come to be synonymous with colonization was full of people who were determined not to allow Roman colonization. Eventually, the Romans decided the island wasn’t worth it and went home. They wouldn’t come back until 43 A.D. and spent the next thirty years solidifying control over what is now southern England and Wales.
  2. In 117 A.D. Emperor Hadrian came to power in Rome (under some shady circumstances that made even the Roman Senate raise their eyebrows, by the way). He decided that the Empire was big enough already and didn’t need to keep expanding. This was great news for the troops in Britain. They were having trouble with a particularly stubborn group of tribes (Picts) that refused to be conquered in what is now Scotland. Suddenly, all they had to do was hold on to what they had instead of forging into a land of angry, hostile, guerilla warfare.
  3. The wall’s construction began in 122 and took six years to finish. It was approximately 80 miles long, had forts built at intervals and was additionally protected by a large ditch on one side. The dimensions were not uniform, but it was generally 10 feet wide and 16-20 feet high.
  4. Scholars don’t agree on the exact reason the wall was built. Some say it was to protect against attacks from the Picts. Some think it was more of a way to control immigration, smuggling, and customs. Logically, the second explanation makes a lot more sense given the population density (or lack thereof) along the wall. Though the Picts did still raid Roman land after the wall was completed.
  5. After Hadrian died, his successor returned to the previous policy of constant expansion. Under his orders, troops once again marched northward. They made it 100 miles before deciding to just build another wall. This wall was never actually completed because after the Emperor died, the next Emperor decided Hadrian’s wall was just fine as a border because the Picts were too savage to control.
  6. Today, the parts of the wall we can see are only remnants, about 10% of the original. Much more would have been lost if not for the efforts of John Clayton in the 1800s. When he realized that much of the wall hadn’t just been lost to time, but dismantled in order to build roads, cottages, and farm fences, he began buying up as much land around the wall as he could. He established a large farming operation on the land in order to pay for restoration work. After he died, the successful farming operation, the land, and the wall section all passed to relatives who subsequently lost it all while gambling (or so I’ve read). Eventually, the National Trust stepped in and acquired the land.
  7. In 1987 it was designated a World Heritage Site. There is a path for tourists to walk along the wall, however, it is suggested to only use the path during summer.
  8. In 1990, excavations of a milefortlet (a small fort built as part of the wall according to Roman mileage measurements) shed light on what life was like for the garrisons assigned to the wall.
  9. There are bathhouses that have been excavated along the wall that have the best-preserved Roman toilets in all of the United Kingdom. There are also some stones along the wall with the name of the Centurion in charge of the construction of that portion of the wall carved in them. That’s a pretty old “Lucious was here.”
  10. George R. R. Martin has stated that a visit to Hadrian’s Wall served as inspiration for The Wall built by Brandon the Builder in Game of Thrones. Because of this admission, many believe that the Romans’ descriptions of the Pictish people are also what inspired the Wildlings.

Are there weird archeological sites in your fictional world? Do they serve a purpose? Does it have bearing on the story itself? Are you envisioning your own Wildlings/Picts?

And if you’re wondering how my challenge is going the answer is that I’m ahead of schedule, but my knees are super angry about it. But I WILL earn the precious  finisher’s medal.

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