Scotland's Antonine Wall Is Given World Heritage Site Status

By Marian Cleary | 08 July 2008
Photo of a dip between two hills where the Antonine Wall once stood

A still visible section of the Antonine Wall at Falkirk. Courtesy Falkirk Council

A little-known piece of Roman Britain has been given the recognition it deserves following the July 7 UNESCO announcement of additions to its World Heritage Site list.

The Roman Antonine Wall, which stretches across central Scotland, has been named as the UK’s latest addition to the global list of places of outstanding historical and cultural importance.

The wall runs from Bo’ness, near Edinburgh to Old Kilpatrick, near Glasgow. While much of the length of the site has been built on over the centuries, evidence of the wall’s ramparts and buildings can still be found. One third of the still-visible parts lie at the eastern end of the wall in the Falkirk area.

Sites of particular interest here include a fortlet at Kinneil, Bo’ness, a fort at Roughcastle near Bonnybridge, along with visible wall sections at nearby Seabegs Woods and at Callendar Park.

A photograph of a child dressed as a Roman soldier

Pupils from Antonine Primary, Bonnybridge join The Antonine Guard Re-enactment group to relive Roman Scotland. Courtesy Flakirk Council

While the announcement puts pressure on the the local authority in Falkirk to ensure visitors are able to appreciate the site while not damaging it, Councillor Adrian Mahoney, Falkirk Council’s Convener of Environment and Heritage welcomed the addition of the wall to the list.

“It’s now our responsibility to look after this very important structure and preserve this important piece of world history for future generations. After all, this isn’t just any Roman artefact – it’s a World Heritage Site and we’re delighted to have that status,” said Councillor Mahony.

While the more famous Hadrian’s Wall is predominantly in a very remote and rural setting, much of the Antonine Wall is surrounded by urban areas. Councillor Mahoney hopes that this news will encourage people living nearby to discover the the amazing heritage on their doorsteps.

With the addition of the wall to the list, it is hoped museums and other historical sites across central Scotland will be given a boost.

Councillor Mahoney summed up the hopes: “There’s no doubt the recognition by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee will attract more tourists to the area, keen to find out more about our Roman history. We only have to look at northern England and see how Hadrian’s Wall has helped to boost the profile and fortunes of that area. Hopefully, the Antonine Wall will do the same for central Scotland.”

A photograph of children and adults dressed as Roman soldiers

Children from Kinneil Primary, Bo'ness learn about their local history at a World Heritage Site. Courtesy Falkirk Council

Museums along the wall's route already house artefacts uncovered at various sites. These include exhibits of Roman coins, sandals, brooches and a harness at Kinneil Museum in Bo’ness. Other objects are on show at Callendar House Museum in Falkirk and The Auld Kirk Museum in Kirkintilloch.

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and The Hunterian in Glasgow are also home to objects and finds from the Antonine Wall area. This includes the famous Bridgeness Slab now housed at the National Museum Scotland, dominating their Roman display. The Kinneil Museum houses a replica of this distance stone discovered near Bo’ness in 1868.

A photograph of a man dressed as a Roman soldier

How we used to live - Romans in Britain as depicted by The Antonine Guard re-enactment group. Courtesy Falkirk Council

Although less well-known than neighbouring Hadrian’s Wall, the Antonine Wall played an important part in the fortification of the Roman Empire. It was built around AD 142 by Emperor Antoninus Pius to keep the Caledonian tribes out of southern Scotland, which at that time was controlled by the Romans.

As Adrian Mahoney suggests, “The Romans were quite canny, in that they built the wall across what is thought to be the narrowest point of the Scottish mainland.”

The immense structure was constructed with soil ramparts built on stone foundations. The ramparts would have been covered in turf. This fortification alone stood at over 3.5 metres high.

However, the side of the wall holding back the tribes was increased further in height with the use of a wide V-shaped ditch. In addition, there is evidence of pits with spikes being built at the approaches to the wall as supplementary defences of the wall itself. As Adrian says, “The Romans were obviously trying and were determined to keep the wild Scots out.”

Despite their determination symbolised by the wall, the Romans abandoned their attempts in AD160 and retreated to Hadrian’s Wall.

A free guide to the Antonine Wall published by Falkirk Council outlines good walks along the route. This also has some aerial shots taken by the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments, Scotland, showing the extent of the remaining wall and additional features no longer visible at ground level.

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