The construction of the Wall was ordered by the Roman emperor Antonius Pius (reign: 138-161) after his legions conquered the south of present-day Scotland. Antonius Pius was the adopted son of Hadrianus and one of the ‘Five Good Emperors’ of the Nerva–Antonine Dynasty – who were Nerva, Trajanus, Hadrianus, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius.
The construction of this massive undertaking began in 142 AD and took 12 years to complete. The resulting wall stretched for 63 kilometers from Old Kilpatrick on the Firth of Clyde to Carriden on the Firth of Forth. The route made the most of landscape features such as ridges, crests and escarpments to create a forbidding barrier. Constructed mainly of turf upon a stone base, the wall was about 3 meters high and around 4.3 meters wide. In addition, a 12 meters wide and 3.7 meters deep V-shaped ditch was cut parallel to the rampart and 6 meters north of it. The material excavated from the ditch was piled up on its north side, forming an outer mound known as the counterscarp. Nineteen forts were also allocated along the wall, which provided accommodation for border-based troops, as well as places where the wall could be crossed. The Antonine Wall was only occupied for about 20 years. It was abandoned, and the border of the empire retreated south to its former line at the Hadrian’s Wall in about 165 AD. The reasons for the withdrawal are not known.
This mighty symbol of the power and authority of the ancient Romans fell into decay, and most of the barriers, forts and other military structures disappeared. Since 2008, the Antonine Wall has been part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire UNESCO World Heritage Site alongside Hadrian’s Wall and the German Limes. Today you can explore the traces of ramparts, steep ditches, and the remains of forts and bath-houses – and imagine what life was like for the Romans posted on this remote frontier.
The Bearsden Bath-house is the best example of stone structures along the entire Antonine Wall. The exposed remains of the bath-house and latrines stood within a fortified annex of a fort that once lay here and is now mostly covered over by houses and roads.
Two Hill Forts Walk – This walk along the Antonine Wall from Twechar to Dullatur follows the John Muir Way. The route includes Bar Hill, Castle Hill and Croy Hill. Bar Hill marks the highest point along the length of the wall at 250 meters. Some preserved fort remains can be found here. The adjacent Castle Hill is the site of an Iron Age fort. Further afield, Croy Hill also features some excavated fort remains. This walk offers the best views of the Antonine Wall in its wider landscape setting. The end of this walk in Silanus is marked by a sculpture of a Roman soldier’s head (Svetlana Kondakova and Gordon Simpson). The huge statue looks out from the line of the Antonine Wall to the Campsie Fells, a supposedly ‘barbarian’ territory beyond the Roman Empire. An alternative way back could be along the Forth and Clyde Canal.
The Rough Castle features the best-preserved fort, as well as the tallest surviving section of the Antonine Wall rampart and excellent ditch profiles. The defense of the fort also features the only known example of lilia pits, a series of pits that would have originally contained sharpened stakes at the bottom.
Callendar Park offers long open stretches of the Antonine Wall ditch, as well as a museum within the Callendar House. The House’s ‘The Antonine Wall, Rome’s Northern Frontier’ exhibition tells the story of how the Wall was built, among other things.
Although the Hunterian Museum of Glasgow is not located on the line of the Antonin Wall, it is an essential visit for those interested in the Antonin Wall and Roman Scotland in general. The Museum houses the largest collection of Antonine Wall artifacts.