Antonine Wall


Map of Wall
Map of Wall from Clyde to Forth
Antonine Wall
Rough Castle: where the slight rise which is all that remains of the Antonine "Wall" can still be seen as well as the defensive ditch.
Layout Wall
Layout of wall.

The Antonine wall is a world heritage site. It was built by the Romans and stretches some 39 miles from Old Kilpatrick on the Firth of Clyde through Kirkintilloch Peel Park (by the library) to Bo'ness on the Firth of Forth  following roughly the course of the Forth-Clyde canal. Although called a wall, all that remains of the turf stacked into wall today is a slight rise in a few places. However, the ditch that lay to its northern defensive side still marks the landscape in in places such as Croy where cuts across the landscape and West of Kirkintilloch the ditch forms a stain across landscape that can be seen on aerial photography.

Origin of the the wall

Like much of Roman Britain, very little is recorded about the wall by the Romans who built it. Tacitus in the biography of his father in law (Agricola) written around 98AD suggests that he built the earliest fortifications along the line of the wall:

"The fourth summer (AD81) was spent securing the ground that Agricola had overrun and had the ardour of our armies and the renown of the Roman name permitted it, he would have found a frontier to our conquests in Britain itself. For Clota (the Clyde) and Bodotria (the Forth) are estuaries where the tides of two opposite seas are carried far into the country, separated by but a narrow strip of land. This narrow strip Agricola fortified and as all the country to the south was now occupied, the enemy were effectively pushed into another island."

Many of the forts have finds dateable from this period. However Tacitus does not mention a wall and so Agricola probably only built forts which were later joined together by the wall. This wall is only mentioned in a much later biography of the emperor Antoninus Pius (after whom the wall is now named) which says:

'For he (i.e. the emperor Antonine) conquered the Britains too, through the governor Lollius Urbicus, after driving back the barbarians and building a second wall made of turf' 

Presumably the first was "Hadrian's wall" but the first could be another wall along the Rhine or another wall. If Lollius built the wall, we can date its construction as it must have been begun some time after the date of the earliest inscription mentioning Lollius (139AD), and before or shortly after the first coins denoting Antoninus as imperator (victorious commander in chief believed to refer to events including building the wall) which were minted in late 142AD or early 140AD.

Wall Foundation
Wall Foundation is visible at New Kilpatrick Cemetery, Bearsden.

Construction of the Wall

The wall was built of layered turf on a stone foundation and it would have been higher than the 4m recorded in the earliest English texts. To the north of the wall was the ditch and to the south was a road called the military way. There are 19 known forts along the root spaced approximately every two miles as well as a few smaller fortlets believed to have been spaced about every mile. The wall was abandoned around 162AD, but reoccupied and repaired in 208AD only to be completely abandoned a few years later.

The Roman Names of the Forts

The names of the forts are not recorded except for Velunia. This is assumed to be Carriden because the Ravenna Cosmography, which was written about 700AD, lists Velunia first in the list of forts along the wall and Carriden is the first fort along the wall. The only other information in the Revenna Cosmography is in these lines:

"Here are listed the stations within the said Island joined together along a straight track where Britain is at its very thinnest from ocean to ocean, they are named:

Velunia ,Volitanio, Pexa, Begesse, Colanica, Medio Nemeton, Subdobiadon, Litana, Cibra, Credigone."

The only other information we have is in a note to Nennius (History of the Britons) which tells us that there are seven forts along the wall. But recently a proposal has been made linking names in the Ravenna Cosmography with modern places as shown in the table below. The principle points of this proposal are:

Based on these assertions, the following table shows the likely identification of the names given in the Ravenna Cosmography close to the wall (first column). The next column shows any names given in the second century AD map of ptolemy which are in this area and close to the Ravenna Cosmography names. The next column shows letters which are common to the ancient and modern place names. The next column shows the earliest known names of the modern site and the next gives the current name and additional details. The last column is an approximate figure for closeness of match between the ancient and modern. Note that we expect all names to change to some degree so 50% match is not unusual for Roman place names. However, even completely unrelated words may by pure chance have common letters so up to a 20% match could happen by pure chance with entirely unrelated names.

Whilst individually the names are not very convincing as a whole it would be very unusual to get so many with a match much better than would be expected by pure chance. So, whilst individually the case for many identifications are weak, when viewed as a whole it would be extremely unlikely to get so many place names with a much higher than pure chance match. As such this appears to be strong evidence confirming this identification of the place names.

Roman

Modern

Reason given in text

VELUNIA

Carriden

Suggested in Ravenna Cosmography

VOLITANIO

Mumrills

Largest site

PEXA

Castlecary

Continuous Occupation

BEGESSE

Barhill

Site dominates wall

COLANIA

Kirkintilloch?
(see below)

Key site still occupied today on hillock with rivers to two sides. Size of fort uncertain.

MEDIO

Balmuildy (see below)

Large, stone battlements, key location

NEMETON

Old Kilpatrick

End of wall & Size

Table showing the likely modern identity of old Latin names from around the Antonine wall courtesy of:
"A Proposal for the Names of the Main Stations along the Antonine Wall Based on an identification of the Nemthur of St. Patrick"

The Wall

West of Kirkintilloch: From the fort at Bearsden, the line of the wall goes across country until it crosses the River kelvin at the Balmuildy Bridge where there was a Fort. The line then heads alongside the road to a fort at wilderness plantation (on the opposite site from the waste disposal site). The line then set off again across country to a fort at Cadder and there the line of the wall crosses the Forth-Clyde Canal. The line of the wall then follows the Glasgow-Kirkintilloch Road: on its North as far as the Glasgow Bridge from where it follows the same Road to the South of the Glasgow -Kirkintilloch Road where on the outskirts of Kirkintilloch there was another fort. It then when through the town to Peel Park, where there was yet another Roman fort. Unfortunately, although this site has defensive earthworks, these are from a medieval castle built on the same location. Interesting, the name "peel" clearly comes from old Scots: "peill", meaning a stockaded  fort from the same origin and "pile" and "impale".

East of Kirkintilloch: The line of the wall runs just south of the Old High Street in Kirkintilloch (outside the library) and along Hillhead Road until it crosses the Forth-Clyde Canal after which the line of the wall runs along the southern banks of the canal until it crosses over to meet the Twechar road where there was another fort. It follows the Twechar road into Twechar and then up onto Bar Hill where there was yet another fort and then across country through Croy village and then onto Croy hill where there was yet another another fort.

Where to see the Wall

Rough Castle (Falkirk) Here ditch and to a lesser extent the wall can be seen.
Seabegs Wood (Falkirk) A good section of ditch, but the wall is visible only as a rise.
Watling Lodge (Falkirk) A good section of ditch
Hillfoot Cemetery (Bearsden) No visible ditch or wall, but there is a good section of foundation stones
Bar Hill (Twechar) The ditch can be seen running along the northern edge of the fort.
Croy Hill (Croy) The ditch can be traced rising up the hill.

Other things to see along the Wall

Bar Hill (Twechar) The size and shape of the fort can be discerned from the few remains of the earthworks,
a few internal features are also visible  notably the bathhouse.
Nearby is an iron age fort and the ditch of the wall is quite easy to find.
Roman baths (Bearsden) The foundation stones can be seen together with some raised flooring an pool
Hunterian Museum (Glasgow) Many of the inscribed stones are on display
Peel Park (Kirkintilloch) The later earthworks are worth a view as is the defensive position.


Details of sites.

Ravenna
Stations Along Wall
Ptolemy Stations Near Wall
Matching Letters Early Modern
Name
Modern Name
explanation
Name
Match

%**
VELUNIA


Karreden (1122-1159)
Presumed original
Cair Eden
Carriden
First fort on wall linked to first station in Ravenna Cosmography
0%
VOLITANIO


Mumrils Mumrills
Largest fort and possible inscription with "VAL"
0%
PEXA

KESA
Pictish P => K
in Gaelic


Castel cary Castlecary
Fort shows continuous occcupation
43%
BEGESSE

B Bar Hill Barhill
Site dominates wall
10%
COLANIA COLANICA
COL-

or

-L-N-I
Caldar
Pont 1600


Lenyie

Cadder or Kirkintilloch in parish of Lenzie
Note this identification is uncertain
38%


46%
MEDIO

M-DI Balmuydie
Pont 1600
Balmuildy
The site is a strategic location where wall crosses River Kelvin. Note name split from NEMETON.
43%
NEMETON

NEM-TO


NEMTHUR
Kilpatrick
An old text states St.Patrick was born in Nemthur. Although disputed, this has been identified by authorities such as the Catholic church as Kilpatrick.
50%



N-T
Dunotyr
Gordon 1636-52
Dun Otter
Rob Roy 1750
Dallnotariron, Charles Ross 1722-1806.
Next to Kilpatrick is Dalnottar. Nottar could be a very corrupted form of Nemeton.



25%
SUBDOBIADON

-DOBERTON
(D => T)
(IA => ER)
Dunbertan
1241-1286
Dumbarton
Known as important early site.
60%
LITANA LINDUM
LI-T-
(T => D)

Modern place unknown. 41%
CIBRA CORIA
C-R-A
" " 60%
CREDIGONE REREIGONIUM
RE-IGONE
" " 70%

BANNATIA
BANNA-T-A
BANNAUEM-TA BURNIAE Old texts say St.Patrick's family came from BANNAUEM TABURNIAE. 56%



BANN-TI-
Bennothine
1153
Benothyne
1280
Benauty
1296
Bonnington
This is a possible identification of this site as it is close to known early christian & Roman sites. Bonnington is just south of Lanark.
66%
RUMABO

R-M-O
Cair-R-M-O

Cramond
Fort to east of wall has already been linked to RUMABO in the Ravenna Cosmography.
46%
Table showing details of the likely modern identity of old Latin names from around the Antonine wall courtesy of:
"A Proposal for the Names of the Main Stations along the Antonine Wall Based on an identification of the Nemthur of St. Patrick"

** % = 100* ( 2 x matching letters + 1 x close match - number of additional rules like D => T)
/ (letters in starting word + letter in end)

By Mike Haseler