Biography24 May 2010 06:15 am
A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “Hadrian” draws from the “Leaders” section of the Biographies edition.
Publius Aelius Hadrianus (76 –138), also known as Hadrian, was the third of the so-called Five Good Emperors (along with Titus, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus and Marcus), and the fourteenth Emperor of Rome. A foreign policy kinda guy, Hadrian spent an impressive eleven years touring his Empire, in an effort to implement reforms and consolidate all of the Roman provinces. Mementos of Hadrian’s far-flung travels endure today in a number of ambitious building projects he undertook during his reign. Hadrian ordered the construction of his most famous building project-aptly called “Hadrian’s Wall”- while traveling through the undefended no-man’s-land of northern England. Alarmed at the vulnerability of his troops, Hadrian decided to erect a defensive barrier between the Solway Firth in the West and the River Tyne in the east for the express purpose of separating “Romans from Barbarians.”
Built between AD 122 and 128, the wall stretched from the North Sea to the Irish Sea (from the Tyne to the Solway), was 80 Roman miles (about 73 modern miles) long, 8-10 feet wide and 15 feet high. In addition to the wall, the Romans built a system of small forts called milecastles (housing garrisons of up to 60 men) every Roman mile along its entire length, with towers every 1/3 mile. Sixteen larger forts holding from 500 to 1000 troops were built into the wall, with large gates on the north face. To the south of the wall the Romans dug a wide ditch, (vallum), with six foot high earth banks.
Many people assume that the wall was built by slaves, but it was actually built by the hapless Roman soldiers who had the misfortune of being stationed in this backwater province. The most heavily fortified border under Roman guard, it was considered the northernmost boundary of the empire until early in the fifth century. In addition to its role as a military fortification, it is thought that many of the gates through the wall may have served as customs posts to facilitate trade and levy taxation.
A significant portion of the wall still exists, particularly the mid-section, and for much of its length the wall can be followed on foot by Hadrian’s Wall Path. However, many of the stones have long since been carted away for use in more modest building projects.
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