Downtime on Hadrian’s Wall @VindolandaTrust

As we move into the weekend and we start to think about how we are going to spend our downtime, and pursue leisure activities, we’d like to share a video with you which gives a lovely insight into leisure time on Hadrian’s Wall.

Meet Dr Andrew Birley, one of our guest contributors to Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier. We asked Andrew to talk about his one of his favourite objects at Vindolanda where he is Director of Excavations.

Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier is a Newcastle University free online course lasting 6 weeks which starts on Monday 19 February (

We can’t wait for Monday! Can you?

Why build the Wall?

At the end of week one of Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier we have been asking “Why was the Wall built?”

If you would like to find some of the diverse views on this topic you can watch this extra discussion that Professor Ian Haynes held with world experts on Hadrian’s Wall.

In this 13 minute film, recorded in 2014,  you will see Ian talking with:

  • Professor David Breeze (Visiting Professor, Newcastle University),
  • Dr Sue Stallibrass (Historic England, Regional Science Advisor, NW England
  • Dr Nick Hodgson (Principal Keeper of Archaeology: Strategic Project Management, Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums)

Have their ideas changed your own thoughts at all?

Meet The Archaeologist: an interview with Prof Ian Haynes

Each year we open up Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier to thousands of new learners.

While we know Prof Ian Haynes as the architect and lead Educator of Hadrian’s Wall, this is only a small facet of his life as an archaeologist!

Ian spoke to Archaeosoup Productions as part of their “Meet the Archaeologist” series – you can find out more about Ian’s interests and projects from this YouTube video:

Ian has made much of his scholarly work available on – this can be accessed by creating a free account.

View Ian’s papers on

Find out about the next scheduled dates for Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier


To go alongside the summer 2015 run of our Hadrian’s Wall course we held a panel discussion on the theme of “Why do we employ Visualisations“.  Dr Rob Collins chaired the session and posed questions from learners on the course to our lead Educator, Professor Ian Haynes,  and to Bill Griffiths, Head of Programmes at Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums.

Transcript for this video

Here is a list of questions asked – the links jump to Ian and Bill’s responses.


What fascinates our FutureLearn educators about Hadrian’s Wall?

With the third run of our Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier free online course in full swing on FutureLearn, we asked our Lead Educator, Professor Ian Haynes and Educator, Dr Rob Collins what fascinates them about the World Heritage site, here on our doorstep in Newcastle upon Tyne. Here are their responses:

Professor Ian Haynes, Lead Educator on Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier, and Professor of Archaeology, Newcastle University.

Now I must confess that there are times when a walk along the Wall lifts my heart and moves me to poetry. I shall not offer a sample here; my spontaneous compositions would only disappoint, but there is something about the Wall in its landscape setting that is so dramatic it is hard not to be moved by it all. This poetic impulse of course wrestles with another darker perspective. The Wall witnessed many acts of brutality in its long history; in a profound sense it monumentalised division.
Yet if I were to discuss what I find most enduringly intriguing about the Wall, I would have to say that the answer lies somewhere between a love of the Border Country’s beauty and an awareness of its savage past. And it may not surprise you at all that this fascination would concern one of my particular specialities, the auxiliary units and their families, the communities that sustained Rome’s presence on the northern frontier. The place the auxilia occupy not simply on the Wall, but in the wider story of the Roman Empire is something I sought to convey in my book Blood of the Provinces. I can put my fascination with these groups no better now than I did when I wrote that book back in 2013:
‘Marginalised even in many studies of the Roman army, themselves marginal in so much of contemporary scholarship of empire, auxiliary soldiers and the formations in which they served are both classic products and vital instruments of the empire’s ongoing capacity to incorporate the diverse into the whole. They are, furthermore, the invisible made visible. Our knowledge of rural settlement has grown dramatically through major survey projects and innovative excavation in the last few decades, but all too often, students of the empire find themselves at a loss when they seek to address the fate and experience of the mass of the provincial population. In many provinces, the lives and beliefs, homes and graves of the majority have received scant scholarly attention. Yet those who enrolled in even the humblest units of Rome’s armies – the auxilia – become much more accessible to modern researchers. Partly as a result of the very nature of material culture in the provinces and partly as a result of academic fashion, there are vastly more data currently available for these men and their families than those they left behind in the empire’s villages’. Hadrian’s Wall provides some of the richest data for these people, so often treated as the poor relations to Rome’s celebrated legionaries and to my mind so much more fascinating. Working on the Wall, I am constantly encountering their legacy, and repeatedly intrigued by Rome’s capacity to build an empire out of such diverse peoples.

If Ian’s enthusiasm for his subject isn’t enough to get you interested in studying archaeology more, or joining one of our Hadrian’s Wall study tours then perhaps Rob’s passion for the frontier communities in the late Roman period will inspire you?

Dr Rob Collins, Educator on Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier, and Research Associate, Newcastle University.

Try as I may, I’m not sure I can clearly explain why I love Roman frontier studies and Hadrian’s Wall in particular. For me, it is an interplay of many different aspects. At the foundation is a passion for archaeology – I like the puzzle-solving element of it, and the fact that there are new discoveries every year. Added to this is the frontier element. I know people are astounded by the huge temples and aqueducts that the Romans built, but I find the mix of Roman and native that you find in the provinces much more intriguing – the interplay of imperial culture and local tradition and understanding of this important foreign power. And the army magnifies this aspect, but all in the crucible of a military institution. And finally, I’m particularly keen on the later Roman Empire. I find it to be richer and more interesting than the early imperial period, with new forms and expressions of power and culture emerging as a pre-cursor to medieval Europe. So if you add all these separate strands together into an ‘intellectual rope’ – you get my real passion: the limitanei of Hadrian’s Wall (a frontier and its soldiers) in the late 4th and 5th centuries (late Roman Empire). From the outside, the whole scenario looks a bit like a tangled mess, but being able to wade in with research and tease out solutions to problems, or identify how we can solve a problem stimulates both the creative and the analytical. It’s great!

Wallsend’s Wonky Wall

In between posting comments on our Hadrian’s Wall course,  Dr Rob Collins has been out and about on the Wall itself.


“Yesterday I had the privilege to visit and examine recent excavations outside of the Roman fort at Wallsend, Segedunum. A recent grant has allowed Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM) and the WallQuest project to explore a stretch of the Wall curtain just northwest of the fort and the bathhouse to the southwest of the fort.

The stretch of Wall curtain is extremely interesting. As you can see from the photo, this stretch of the curtain is best described as wonky!   But this wonkiness, and detailed examination of the stonework reveals vital information. For one thing, there was a stream that the curtain crossed (which thanks to recent rainfall is very visible in the photo) and which ran behind the Wall. This stream seems to have destabilised the land on the eastern side of the stream, and made the Wall lean and probably collapse. You can see this from the very sharp angle of the lowest building courses in the picture. Subsequently, there were a number of rebuilds of the Wall curtain in this area, which canbe broadly dated with pottery. This seems to show that the curtain of the Wall was repaired and refurbished until at least the later 3rd century.

Wall excavations

The bathhouse has been excavated over recent weeks, and this is the first bathhouse along Hadrian’s Wall to have been excavated under modern standards. Only the lowest courses of the building remain, as the bathhouse seems to have been dismantled or demolished around 1814 when it was encountered by builders. The remains of the walls of the structure reveal a number of phases of activity,  proving that the Hadrianic bathhouse – that is the original bathhouse – was in use and adapted over at least a century, possibly more.

Results will be published in due course (though this can often take many years from completion of fieldwork), but for those that live locally, there is a conference in South Shields on Sat 14 November, where Dr Nick Hodgson will present the results of the excavation to date.”

Writings on the Wall

We asked some of the Wall experts you have met during the Hadrian’s Wall MOOC to each recommend 5 books on the topic. This is what they came up with. There is duplication and difference in their choices. You can suggest other books or add thoughts/reviews on those below through the comments.

 David Breeze:

1. S. Johnson, Hadrian’s Wall, London 2004  – offers a general introduction (available on Amazon)
2. D. J. Breeze and B. Dobson, Hadrian’s Wall, London 2000 – This is the basic text book on the Wall
3. D. J. Breeze, J. Collinngwood Bruce’s Handbook to the Roman Wall, 14th edition, Newcastle 2006  –  this is a detailed guide-book to the Wall (available at  and Amazon  – discounts available from to FutureLearn learners – if you contact them by email or phone)
4. P. Frodsham, Hadrian and His Wall, Newcastle 2013 – examines the relationship between the Wall and its builder (available on Amazon)
5. D. J. Breeze, The Frontiers of Imperial Rome, Barnsley 2011 – places Hadrian’s Wall in its international context. (available on Amazon)

Frances McIntosh:

1. D. J. Breeze, 2006. J. Collinngwood Bruce’s Handbook to the Roman Wall, 14th edition, Newcastle (available on Amazon)
2. D. J. Breeze and B. Dobson 2000. Hadrian’s Wall, London
3. E. Birley 1961. Research on Hadrian’s Wall (available on Amazon)
4. P. Bidwell (ed) 2008. Understanding Hadrian’s Wall, Arbeia Society (available on Amazon)
5. P. Hill 2006. The Construction of Hadrian’s Wall, Tempus (available on Amazon)

Lindsay Allason-Jones:

1. D. J. Breeze and B. Dobson 2000 (4th edition) Hadrian’s Wall. Penguin
2. Richard Hingley 2012, Hadrian’s Wall: a Life. OUP (available on Amazon)
3. W. F. Shannon 2007, Murus ille famosus (that famous wall): Depictions and Descriptions of Hadrian’s Wall before Camden. C&W Tract Series XXII. Kendal (available on Amazon)
4. L. Allason-Jones 2005, Women in Roman Britain (2nd ed.) CBA (available on Amazon)
5. L. Allason-Jones 2008, Daily Life in Roman Britain (Greenwood World Publishing). (available on Amazon)

Rob Collins:

1. D. J. Breeze and B. Dobson 2000. Hadrian’s Wall, 4th ed, London: Penguin
2. P. Bidwell (ed) 2008. Understanding Hadrian’s Wall, Arbeia Society (available on Amazon)
3. N. Hodgson 2009. Hadrian’s Wall 1999-2009, SANT & C&W (available on Amazon)
4. R. Collins. 2014. Hadrian’s Wall and the End of Empire, Routledge (paperback ed – a bit of a vanity, but otherwise very little coverage of the most interesting late period of the Wall) (available on Amazon)
5. S. Johnson 2004. Hadrian’s Wall, London: History Press (available on Amazon)

We also have a downloadable reading list (pdf) of primary and secondary sources


In the first week of this course we have been delighted have our distinguished Visiting Professor David Breeze, as a guest expert. As many of you will know, David’s jointly authored classic ‘Hadrian’s Wall’ (written with Brian Dobson) and his edition of the ‘Hadrian’s Wall Handbook’ are the most widely read studies of the Wall ever published.  You’ll see David’s contributions in steps towards the end of week 1.  We particularly liked his statement “…part of the fun of the study of Hadrian’s Wall is that certainty is difficult to achieve..” – no doubt a theme we will revisit as the course unfolds!

To hear more from David you can view the panel discussion we recorded last year on “Why build the Wall?”

Video length

On location at The Wall.

On our second run of Hadrian’s Wall we’ll be using this blog to address some of the frequently asked questions that arise on the course.  A couple of learners have asked about the length of the videos.

You’ll find that all of our videos are under 5 minutes in length. That has been done intentionally so that no single step requires too much time. While this can be disappointing for a topic you are interested in, it works very well in practice, particularly if you consider the course in full with approximately 20 steps in each of 6 weeks.  The short videos also force the educator to distil in a clear way what the main points are.

We know from research (eg this paper from Philip Guo) that when videos are longer that learners can lose interest.  If you’d like to read a little more about some of our thinking on building the course have a look at our blog post on Educational Vodka.