Archaeologists confused over Roman quirk at Hadrian’s Wall: ‘Don’t know why’

Hadrian's Wall: Archaeologists uncover ‘unknown part’

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Remnants of the Roman Empire are dotted all around Britain. The imperial power began its conquest of the country some 2,000 years ago. It uprooted and claimed the lands of the Celts, Britain’s native tribes, many of whom put up defiant struggles against their continental foes.

The Romans stayed in Britain for around 400 years, creating landscapes that suggested the planned on staying.

Hadrian’s Wall is perhaps the most salient Roman building in the UK.

A stretch of wall spanning 73 miles, it starts at the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea and goes all the way west to the Solway Firth near the Irish Sea.

Work on the Wall began in 122 AD on the orders of Emperor Hadrian.

It was used as a way to mark the base from which soldiers would travel north, towards Scotland, as well as to “separate Romans from the barbarians” as said by Hadrian himself.

The wall stands to this day having been poured over by archaeologists for decades.

A peculiar quirk that researchers have yet to fully explain was explored during History Hit’s documentary, ‘Hadrian’s Wall: Building the Wall’.

Frances McIntosh, the Wall’s English Heritage curator, talked through the mystifying layout of one of the ancient garrisons at the Housesteads site in Northumberland, and how it has baffled researchers.

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Commanders traditionally enjoyed “luxurious quarters” with modern and spacious living areas that allowed for privacy, a sought after commodity.

Meanwhile, everyday soldiers would sleep eight to a room in cube-shaped dorms.

Things changed in the latter half of the Roman’s stay in Britain, however.

As Ms McIntosh explained: “In the fourth century, the soldiers’ barracks were amended and we don’t know if that’s because the treatment was different, maybe families were allowed to move in, but they’re no longer just eight men in a room.

“They’re what are known as ‘chalet barracks’, so they got separated.

“It’s not one block split into rooms, they’re split into individual buildings.

“There’s actually gaps between each room, each block.

“It’s a really nice example of how much things change in the 300-year period the site was occupied.”


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Barracks at South Shields and other locations along the Wall are segmented and small though connected.

The discovery at Housesteads is unparalleled.

Researchers have suggested that the Empire’s logistics developed as time went on, and so the find is an example of an evolving style.

Although this has left many unsatisfied.

Talking through the setup, Ms McIntosh said: “This one is about the same size, but we just don’t know how many men would be in here and what the layout would be.

“For some reason, they’ve fully separated it, so it’s not just that it’s a wall separating each room, it’s fully separated into an individual building.

“We don’t know why, and Housesteads is only one of the places it’s been found, but we presume it happened at other forts as well, as the garrison of the fort changed and the makeup of the troops changed.”

Roman presence in Britain gradually faded from 370 AD.

Each outpost in the country left at different times.

The soldiers left for Rome which was at the time under attack.

Britain subsequently fell into chaos with native tribes and foreign invaders battling it out for power.

There was a great spread of Anglos, Saxons and Franks after the Romans left.

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