The idea that there is something different (for which read hostile and culturally inferior) about the people who live north of the wall recurs every time political relations between the English and the Scottish come to the fore. — Christopher Catling (2012)

[The following passage opens Bruce's Chapter II, "A General Description of the Line of the Wall." The decorative initial "N" is in the original. — GPL].

decorated initial 'N' UMEROUS are the appellations which the Great Barrier of the Lower Isthmus has obtained. Camden, in the following sentence, enumerates them: — "Through the high part of Cumberland shooteth that most famous Wall (in no case to be passed over in silence) the limit of the Roman Province,' the Barbarian Kampier,' 'the Fore-fence,' and 'Enclosure,' for so the ancient writers termed it, being called in Dion [Greek word], that is, a crosse Wall; in Herodian [Greek word], that is, a trench or fosse cast up; by Antonine, Cassiodore and others Vallum, that is the rampier; by Beda 'Murus,' that is, the Wall; by the Britous 'Gual-Sever,' 'Gal-Sever; 'Bal,' 'Val,' and 'Mur-Sever;' by the Scottish 'Scottishwaith;' by the English, and those that dwell thereabout, 'the Picts Wall,' or 'the Pehits Wall,' the Keepe Wall,' and simply, by way of excellencie, ' The Wall.'"

This great fortification, which was intended to act not only as a fence against a northern enemy, but to be used as the basis of operation against a foe on either side of it, consists of three parts.

I. A Stone Wall, strengthened by a ditch on its northern side.

II. An Earth Wall or Vallum, to the south of the stone wall.

III. Stations, Castles, Watch-towers, and Roads, for the accommodation of the soldiery who manned the Wall, and for the transmission of military stores. These lie, for the most part, between the stone wall and earthen rampart.

The whole of the works proceed from one side of the island to the other in a nearly direct line, and for the most part in close companionship. The stone wall and earthen rampart are generally within sixty or eighty yards of each other. The distance between them, however, varies according to the nature of the country. Sometimes they are so close as barely to admit of the passage of the military way between them, whilst in one or two instances they are upwards of half a mile apart. It is in the high grounds of the central region that they are most widely separated. Midway between the seas the country attains a considerable elevation. Here the stone wall seeks the highest ridges; but the vallum, forsaking for a while its usual companion, runs along the adjacent valley. Both works are, however, so arranged as to afford each other the greatest amount of support which the nature of the country allows. The Wall usually seizes those positions which give it the greatest advantage on its northern margin; the Vallum, on the other hand, has been drawn with the view of occupying ground that is strongest towards the south.

The stone wall extends from Wallsend on the Tyne to Bowness on the Solway, a distance of seventy-three and a half English miles. The| earth wall falls short of this distance by about three miles at each end, not extending beyond Newcastle on the east, and terminating at Dykesfield on the west.


Bruce, John Collingwood. The Roman Wall: A Description of the Mural Barrier of the North of England. 3rd ed. London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1867.

Suggested Reading

Catling, Christopher. “Vandals and Hanoverians.” Times Literary Supplement (14 December 2012): 28.

Hingley, Richard. Hadrian's Wall. London: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Last modified 22 December 2012