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The Roman Frontier in Britain

  • R. G. Collingwood

It was Augustus who first realized that the Roman Empire could not go on expanding for ever. Horace could write

Caelo tonantem credidimus Iovem

Regnare; praesens Divus habebiiur

Augustus adiectis Britannis

Imperio gravibusque Persis;

but a very real part of Augustus' claim to grateful veneration lay in the fact that he made up his mind to leave Britons and Parthians alone—to seek in them not new subjects, but peaceful and respectful neighbours. Coercere intra terminos imperium was the advice he left to his successors; and in principle they never departed from it. Claudius might conquer Britain, Trajan Mesopotamia and Dacia; but these were “rectifications,” as we say nowadays, not obliterations, of the imperial frontier.

For the frontier of the Empire, as Augustus left it, was far from perfect. Tiberius, concerned above all to maintain intact the system created by Augustus, played here, as everywhere, a waiting game, and did not meddle with the Augustan frontiers. But his successor Gaius, or “Caligula,” may have contemplated a conquest, or at least an invasion, of Britain; he certainly made a demonstration on the shore of the Channel. And Claudius, the fourth Emperor, took the decisive step. Britain and Gaul were too close together, too intimately linked by geography, blood and civilization, to permit of an unfortified Channel frontier. Southern Britain was already in part Romanized, and the flag followed trade.

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page 15 note 1 Odes iii, 5.

page 15 note 2 Tacitus, Ann. i, II.

page 15 note 3 Suetonius, Gaius, 46.

page 16 note 1 Tacitus, Ann. xii, 31 : cunctaque cis Trisantonam et Sabrinam fluvios cohibere parat (accepting Bradley’s emendation for castris antonam, and assuming Trisantona= Trent). This interpretation of the Fosse was advanced by the writer in the journal of Roman Studies, 14 (1924), where the whole question is discussed.

page 16 note 2 Limes, limitis : from limus=transversus (cf. limen threshold : so Festus) and the root-it ‘going.’ Cf. Fabricius, art. ‘Limes’ in Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyclopädie.

page 16 note 3 Haverfield, , Agricola and the Antonine Wall, Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., 1917-18, 174–81. Macdonald, Roman Wall in Scotland, 382-8.

page 16 note 4 Macdonald, op. cit., 385-6.

page 17 note 1 Excavations: Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot. 1901-2, 182242 , and Jour. Rom. Stud. 9. 113122.

page 17 note 2 Macdonald, The Agricolan Occupation of North Britain, J.R.S., 19, 111138 . Home, Roman York, 3637 , seems to express dissent, but makes no attempt to reinterpret the facts in any other way, and bases his case on false assumptions as to the implications of Macdonald’s theory. For Newstead, see Richmond in Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot. 1923-4, 309321 . While this was in the press I heard of a further and apparently conclusive confirmation in the excavations going on at Mumrills.

page 18 note 1 C.I.L., vii, 241, where the date is given as 108-9 ; but see Cagnat, Cours d’Epigraphie latine, p. 194.

page 18 note 2 For the date see Ritterling in Pauly-Wissowa, xii, 1606.

page 19 note 1 Spartian, Hadr. v, 2

page 19 note 2 Fronto, 218 N.

page 19 note 3 Ritterling, op. cit. 1669 , argues that certain recorded careers (L. Aemilius Karus, L. Novius Saturninus) suggest a decidedly later date—after 120, and preferably after 125. I cannot think that this is consistent with the legion’s absence from the British mural inscriptions.

page 19 note 4 Pelham, Essays on Roman History, 162.

page 20 note 1 Mommsen, Provinces of the Roman Empire, E.T. i, 157.

page 20 note 2 C.I.L., iii, 3385 (=Dessau 395) rapam omnem burgis a solo extructis itempraesidisper loca opportuna ad clandestinos latrunculorum transitus oppositis munivit : ibid. 10312-3.

page 20 note 3 Fabricius, art. Limes, in Pauly-Wissowa, xiii.

page 21 note 1 The separate existence of this period is not proved. Nether Denton was certainly occupied then, but we do not know that it was then first occupied. Archaeologia, Ixiv, 303.

page 21 note 2 Haltwhistle, Burn, and Throp, are the dated examples. For the establishment of their date, see Cumb. and West. Trans., N.S., Xiii, 379381.

page 22 note 1 For a general description of the works, see Collingwood, Hadrian’s Wall, a history of the problem, J.R.S., xi, 3766 , or Guide to the Roman Wall, Reid, Newcastle, 6d.

page 22 note 2 The whole view is set forth in detail in the article Hadrian’s Wall, cit. in the preceding note.

page 22 note 3 I refer to Professor Fabricius, who took endless trouble to understand the English theories during the preparation of his invaluable Limes article for Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyclopädie.

page 23 note 1 Hull, The Excavations at Aesica, 1925, in Archaeoiogia Aeliana, 1926, 197-202.

page 23 note 2 The broad foundation may be admirably seen in e.g. Cumb. & West. Trans. N.S. xi, fig. 6 facing p. 404.

page 23 note 3 This fact is of importance. Great Chesters (Aesica) lies well away from the Vallum, which therefore it does not deflect. It is therefore open to anyone to hold that this fort, and conceivably one or two others, were built not simultaneously with the Vallum but at a later stage in the development of the frontier, when the broad-foundation Wall was added. In this case, the theory above described as holding the field to 1925 requires only two modifications : (a) the addition of the early broad-foundation Wall before the stone Wall ; (b) the hypothesis that certain forts were added at this stage. Personally, I regard this as the only working hypothesis likely to commend itself to those in possession of the facts as now known.

page 24 note 1 I should like to discuss a piece of circumstantial evidence on this head ; though to avoid breaking the thread I relegate it to a footnote. The ‘centurial stones’ which marked the beginning and end of each section of the Wall built by a century acting as an independent working-party certainly belong to the stone Wall, not to that of the broad foundation. I say this because in character and style they resemble the materials of the stone Wall. Now in Wales, centurial stones are quite common ; they seem to belong to a period going down to, perhaps, about the end of Trajan’s reign, when forts were being built in stone. The fashion of dividing up a fort-rampart into lengths and assigning each length to a century may thus be called a Trajanic fashion ; and the Hadrianic forts of the Wall, which belong to a type evolved in Trajan’s reign, are thus not the only Trajanic feature on the Wall—the centurial stones constitute another. Now the Antonine Wall was, as I point out below, divided not into centurial lengths but into much longer sections, plainly more economical to build. I understand the transference of a centurial division of labour from Trajanic fort-walls to a great stone wall under Hadrian, and I understand how, being there found cumbrous, it should be replaced by a better division of labour under Pius ; but I cannot believe that, after the Antonine Wall, anyone would exhume a Trajanic method of building forts and apply it in sheer wantonness and perversity to the stone Wall. I infer that the stone Wall is Hadrianic.

page 25 note 1 Archaeologia Aeliana, 1925, p. 103 and plate xiv.

page 25 note 2 My paper on The British Frontier in the Age of Severus (J.R.S., xiii), was written before the new evidence at Aesica came to light. But I do not see need to withdraw its conclusions in consequence of the new discoveries.

page 25 note 3 The Purpose of the Roman Wall, in the Vasculum, Oct. 1921.

page 26 note 1 The chief work is Macdonald, The Roman Wall in Scotland, which summarizes all knowledge to 1911. Later additions by the same author are published in Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot. 1914-15 and 1924-5, and by Miller, The Roman Fort at Balmuildy, 1922.

page 27 note 1 Macdonald, The Building of the Antonine Wall, in J.R.S. 11, 124.

page 27 note 2 lxxii, 8.

page 27 note 3 Antonine Wall Report (Glasgow Archaeological Society).

page 27 note 4 Foord, Last Age of Roman Britain.

page 28 note 1 Foord, op. cit. pp. 32, 50.

page 28 note 2 J.R.S. 10, 172.

page 28 note 3 History of England, ch. xxi.

page 28 note 4 See the reviews by Oman in J.R.S., xvi, Macdonald in History, April 1926, and Collingwood in Eng. Hist. Review, April 1926.

page 28 note 5 Haverfield in Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., 1904, 454 seqq.

page 28 note 6 viii, 43, 4.

page 28 note 7 Marcus Aurel. 8, 7.

page 29 note 1 Or at any rate, that not long after 182 it was rebuilt. Miller, Roman York, J.R.S. xv, 185.

page 29 note 2 The British Frontier in the Age of Severus, J.R.S., xiii.

page 30 note 1 Haverfield, Roman Coast Defences of Britain, J.R.S., ii. Collingwood, The Roman Signal-station on Castle Hill, Scarborough (pamphlet, 2d.)

page 30 note 2 Mothersole, The Saxon Shore : Haverfield, Litus Saxonicum in Pauly-Wissowa.

page 30 note 3 Wheeler, Segontium (Y Cymmrodor, 33, 97101).

page 30 note 4 Wheeler, Roman and Native in Wales (Trans. Cymmrodorion Soc. 1920-1).

page 30 note 5 See e.g., Bury, , The Notitia Dignitatum, J.R.S. , x. ; Collingwood, , The Roman Evacuation of Britain, J.R.S., xii ; Foord, op. cit. and reviews by Macdonald (History Jan. 1926), Oman (J.R.S. xiv), and Collingwood (Eng. Hist. Rev. Jan. 1926)

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