Just in case you're not too bored with my entries about my recent break in the very north of England and the very south of Scotland, this is the last entry, the last Roman fort, the last visit I made before steeling myself for the long journey home.
Housesteads is just about the most famous Roman fort along Hadrian's Wall. And again, it is worthwhile visiting because of the bit of an effort you need to make to get there. You park by the Military Road, and then have to walk uphill across a few fields to get to the escarpment that the fort sits on. I was there, up the hill and waiting outside when the little English Heritage ticket office opened. I'd been to Housesteads a couple of times before and I couldn't imagine that it had changed very much. I didn't expect them to have built a whole new wing, or got the decorators in during my absence.
I think that most people believe Hadrian's Wall was built as a frontier, a barrier to keep the scruffy, unpredictable tribes to the north out. That isn't the case. Before the wall was built the Roman invaders had been as far north as Aberdeen. They hadn't found much to interest them up there, especially when you consider that they were here for our mineral wealth and to subjugate people who fitted in with their view of Empire.
The Wall came about because of a much more practical consideration. Suddenly they had about twenty thousand men sitting around on the fringe of the Empire with nothing to do. If you're of a military bent, that's not a good thing because sooner or later those men generally feel constrained to turn on you, especially when the wind whips up their shorts, when the snows fall on their Mediterranean sun-warmed heads and when it gets so cold that they can't feel the hand of oppression on their shoulders.
So, what do you do to keep them busy and their minds free of thoughts of rebellion? You give them something to do. Why not build a wall? The route of the Wall crosses the country at its narrowest point, so there was a well thought-out plan. Then, when they've built your wall, you would be silly to use it as a barrier to anyone on the other side of it. It's far more sense to use it to control the passage through it. You can keep tabs on everyone as they move around, make sure that the cross where you want rather than where they want and you can charge them, through taxation, for the privilege.
To me, and this is more and more as I think about it and learn more about them, the Romans were fascist long before the term was ever used. It's just that they wrote their own history and portrayed themselves in the way they wanted to be seen. They were not averse to a spot of genocide if it helped them get what they wanted; they were happy to get people onside by insisting that it was done their way or there would be a separation of head and body. And it worked because there was no-one left to object: sound familiar?
|The military road straight and up and over.|
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