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Hadrian’s Wall: the hidden history of a Roman frontier

posted on 27/01/23


‘Matthew Symonds is acknowledged as one of the leading scholars on the Roman frontiers in Britain and this book provides a lively account of the new directions of study which are transforming our understanding of Hadrian’s Wall.’ So comments Professor Richard Hingley, of Durham University, about the latest publication by archaeologist Matthew Symonds, Hadrian’s Wall: creating division (Bloomsbury Academic). Matthew leads our Walking Hadrian’s Wall in May 2023.

1,900 years ago northern England witnessed the sights and sounds of a building project that was utterly unprecedented in Britain. On the command of the emperor Hadrian, the Roman legions garrisoning the island sent work parties to erect a formidable barrier cutting across previously open country. The result of their endeavours was what is surely still the greatest military fortification ever created in Britain. Hadrian’s Wall presents a mystery that has confounded generations of scholars: why did the Roman army need such an imposing barrier? Answers have ranged from the Wall representing no more than a hollow – albeit impressive – statement of imperial control, through to it repulsing barbarian armies from the north.

Praised for seriously influencing the way we look at Hadrian’s Wall in the future, Symonds latest work makes the case for the barrier being a calculated response to the attitudes and prowess of the farming communities living in the region when the Roman army arrived. Their responses to the occupation ranged from collaboration to full-throated resistance, with Roman troops proving vulnerable to guerrilla-style warfare. Rooting our understanding of the Wall in an appreciation of these local communities reveals how Hadrian’s new barrier disrupted longstanding and sophisticated political, religious and working landscapes, with unpredictable results.

The tour Walking Hadrian’s Wall in May presents an opportunity to investigate how this story played out on the ground – how the Wall shaped events and was in turn shaped by them – while exploring some of the most majestic Roman archaeology that Britain has to offer.


The remains of Turret 41A

Praise for Hadrian’s Wall: creating division

‘In this stimulating addition to the burgeoning literature of Hadrian’s Wall, Matthew Symonds…brings fresh emphases to the study of this endlessly fascinating Roman monument…The result is a thought-provoking volume that will seriously influence the way we look at Hadrian’s Wall in the future.’ 

‘it is [Symonds’] holistic, comprehensive and non-partisan approach to the story of the Wall that sets it apart and gives the reader as rounded a picture of its origin and life from AD 120 to the present day as you’re likely to get.’
Classics for All

‘A great read’
British Archaeology

‘Matthew Symonds offers a compelling and often refreshing analysis…The most significant aspect of this book…is that it is the first monograph of a new phase of Hadrian’s Wall studies’
Journal of British Studies

‘all will surely agree that this is an important volume that considers the Wall in its setting both geographically and chronologically, in a readable and engaging style.’

‘every student of Hadrian’s Wall needs to have [this] on their shelves.’
Archaeologia Aeliana

‘this new book by Matthew Symonds provides a thoroughly interesting and different perspective to the scholarship surrounding the impact that the Wall has had’
Journal of Classics Teaching 


View itinerary for Walking Hadrian's Wall

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