One of the main things that attract people to Carlisle, and to the borders in general, is the study of the ancient Romans and their strange ways. One of the most famous relics of that bygone age is the great wall commissioned by the emperor Hadrian and, surprisingly, completed during his reign.
Hadrian is known as one of the ‘Five Good Emperors,’ and his purpose in building the wall seems to have been one of demarcation. The Romans, it seemed, were content to go no further, but were obviously unwilling to concede the ground they had gained. Picking a track that was no doubt far enough from the bases of whatever unconquered rebels lay further to the north that construction could proceed unhindered, Rome drew its line. Whatever wealth might lie beyond, the Empire had grown sufficiently in this particular direction.
Although the following Emperor Antoninus Pius did construct another wall further north, Hadrian’s Wall is much closer to what eventually became the border between England and Scotland. Antoninus, hoping to capitalise a little on his adoptive father’s success with Hadrian’s Wall, nonetheless conducted no military campaigns during his career. It was as if, with all the rebellions across Britain and the whole Empire as far away as Egypt, Hadrian and Antoninus had both decided enough was enough, and proceeded to build more than they took by force.
Antoninus was succeeded by the even more famous Marcus Aurelius, whose sayings are much-quoted today by those who wish to see the world in a more forgiving light. It is perhaps testament to the peaceful nature of his descendants that, after the Romans left, the wall he built, although missing and incomplete in many parts, is remarkably well-preserved considering its age. Locals have not torn it down in disgust as they may have if Hadrian and his kin had been as despised as Nero. Perhaps, for this short period at least, reasonable men held the reigns of absolute power.
A visit to Carlisle will give you a fascinating glimpse into the Rome of those times. If you are going to walk the wall, then take a metal detector. You never know what you might find!