Review – Hadrian’s Wall 2009-2019: A summary of recent excavation and research prepared for the Fourteenth Pilgrimage of Hadrian’s Wall, 2019

5 mins read
Compiled by Rob Collins and Matthew Symonds
Titus Wilson & Son, £15
ISBN 978-1873124825
Review Richard Hingley

This extremely important volume was produced to accompany the 14th Pilgrimage of Hadrian’s Wall, an event that was explored in CA 353. It stands in line with earlier volumes produced for previous Pilgrimages in 2009 and 1999. Rob Collins and Matthew Symonds were selected by the Committee that managed the 14th Pilgrimage to compile and edit this impressive volume, which forms a handy summary of the research that has been undertaken on Hadrian’s Wall during the past decade. The publication is very well produced and excellently illustrated, and it provides a clear demonstration of the considerable scale of innovative research that has illuminated the history and character of this World Heritage Site.

The volume contains a thorough and very well written summary of recent changes in knowledge of the Wall and its landscapes, carefully collated, summarised, and illustrated by the two compilers. The authors draw upon ten years of excavations and research along the Wall, and the book is thoroughly up to date, having been completed early last summer. Separate chapters address: previous pilgrimages, a round-up of developments, a survey of research and interpretation, and a section that lists the results of individual survey and excavation projects.

This decade has seen many important discoveries on the frontier – for me, one highlight is the increase in knowledge of the communities that occupied these lands when the Wall was being constructed during the early 2nd century AD. For generations it has been supposed that the Roman military commanders made decisions about constructing the Wall that had little if anything to do with the peoples whose territories they were conquering and subduing. The substantial excavations on the Northumberland Coastal Plain that were undertaken by Nick Hodgson between 2002 and 2010 have led to a considerable reassessment of the scale and intensity of the Iron Age settlement of lands just to the north of modern Newcastle. Hints are emerging to suggest that the evolution of Roman military planning that lay behind the creation of the garrisons along the Stanegate during the early 2nd century and the construction of the Wall during the AD 120s directly responded to the actions of the communities that were already living in these lands.

One highly significant discovery that helps to illustrate this point concerns the finds made through metal detecting at Great Whittington, just to the north of the Wall. Rob Collins has suggested that this site, located five miles north of Corbridge, originated as a marketplace at which local people traded with the Roman military, and that this trading commenced before the construction of the Wall. Our knowledge of the complex relationships between Roman soldiers and local peoples is beginning to shift, as several sections of this volume indicate, enabling a fuller interpretation of how the Wall was constructed to manipulate the local communities. After a century of serious scholarship on the Wall, archaeologists are beginning to develop a more informed understanding of the context within which the Roman military was operating.

It is unfortunate to end this review with a slightly awkward observation, although it is important to set the exciting new research represented throughout this volume in a broader context. The work that has been undertaken over the past decade is truly impressive and Collins and Symonds deserve considerable praise for the energetic way that they have collated the materials summarised in this volume. They are also two of the younger members of the community involved in researching and managing the Wall – a community that has increasing concerns about its long-term sustainability. Hopefully, the groundbreaking research that is evidenced in this volume will kick-start the interest of a new generation of scholars to help to take research forward before the 15th Pilgrimage (in 2029).

This review appeared in CA 357. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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