BMCR 2021.09.27

The Antonine Wall: papers in honour of Professor Lawrence Keppie

, , The Antonine Wall: papers in honour of Professor Lawrence Keppie. Archaeopress Roman archaeology, 64. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2020. Pp. 468. ISBN 9781789694505 $48.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Lawrence Keppie may be known to many readers outside of the UK for his history of the Roman army or his introduction to Roman epigraphy,[1] but he is better known in Scotland for his work on the Antonine Wall and related archaeology. Given his career of involvement with the site it is entirely appropriate that a volume to honor him takes as its topic the Wall. The thirty-two chapters on topics ranging from antiquarianism to Paul Zanker’s impact (see table of contents below) make this book an important resource on both the Wall and a variety of related topics of interest to scholars in diverse fields, not limited to ancient studies, archaeology, or Roman Britain.

Since it will not be possible to review thirty-two chapters in detail a summary of the chapter contents with select comments is provided. The volume is not split into parts; there is no obvious order to the arrangement of all the interconnected chapters, therefore, the chapters will, where appropriate, be considered within topical groupings.

The first two chapters lay the foundations for the volume. Breeze and Hanson provide a review of Keppie’s career and involvement with archaeology in Scotland and the Wall. The accompanying bibliography provides a good sense of the range of Keppie’s interests and contributions to multiple topics. The editors provide in the second chapter a good overview of the state of current knowledge about the Wall. Readers who need an update or introduction will find this chapter helpful and clear. Although future work will, it is to be hoped, require an update, this chapter will become a standard source on the basics of the Wall. Like the rest of the volume, this chapter is accompanied by helpful maps, plans, profiles, charts, sensor images, and photographs in black-and-white and color, and at good scales.

Four informative chapters relate to the building of the Wall. Drawing on a large body of research Davies provides a look at the landscape into which the Wall was erected. MacInnes examines evidence for various impacts of the Wall concluding that due to its short active lifespan, ca. 22 years, it had, in the end, little long-term impact on local communities. Based on a call for up-to-date measurements, Hannon, Wilson, and Rohl use the latest technologies to evaluate the 3-dimensional distances along the entire wall concluding that the forts, fortlets, and distance slabs were all laid out independently in different phases. Jones considers the camps created during surveying and construction of the Wall and their placement in the landscape. In chapter ten, Romankiewicz, Milek, Beckett, Russell, and Snyder reexamine the structure of the Wall, with special attention to modern archaeological methodologies and how the builders dealt with water management, a constant problem along many parts of the site. An interesting insight is the constant rebuilding of pieces of the Wall and how this was accomplished more easily with turf and earth than would have been the case with stone or timber.

Two especially interesting chapters discuss issues that contribute to understanding the Wall in the context of frontier-zone management both in Roman Britain and the northern frontiers of the empire. In the longest chapter Graafstal uses a variety of recent measurement and survey data and a systems analysis approach to argue that the Wall represented an innovation in frontier zone planning. Yet, it was an innovation that effectively spread soldiers out without reducing the effectiveness of garrisons to respond to local threats. Symonds brings a wider lens to the fortlets, examining them in the context of four limes systems, Hadrian’s Wall, the Antonine Wall, Upper Germany, and Raetia. Symonds’ and Graafstal’s complementary chapters provide a sense of where the Antonine Wall fits into Roman thinking about frontier-zone management and challenge a widely held traditional premise of Wall scholarship – notably, Gillam’s thesis on construction sequence, in which he proposed that fortlets were originally spaced a mile apart in between the larger forts, but that plans changed after construction had begun.[2] Grafstaal’s cross references to Breeze’s chapter on military personnel in this volume show that some of the contributors had access to each other’s work.

Military organization and maintenance of the garrisons are topics of several chapters. Bidwell explores the logistical problems of grain and pottery supply to the Wall, providing in the process a sense of Roman long-distance logistics and the limits of the sources. Breeze reviews the evidence for Roman military personnel posted in lowland Scotland concluding that recruitment problems as well as changes in thinking about frontier zones contributed to garrison size. In another useful chapter Hodgson considers whether the Antonine Wall was intended to replace Hadrian’s Wall and concludes that it was, but that local events or needs forced a change in plans resulting in a wall of turf instead of stone. Breeze and Hodgson provide some different interpretations of the evidence for work force distribution and the movement of units from Hadrian’s Wall to the Antonine Wall. Their diverse insights illustrate the scope for further analysis of issues connected with workers.

Three chapters engage with aspects of the lives of non-combatants and veterans along the Wall. Hanson surveys the limited evidence for civilian settlements (vici) outside forts and fortlets along the Wall. While more evidence has become available in the last decade, it is clear the missing evidence for settlements results in large part from lack of excavations and the limits of survey techniques, rather than a failure of communities to thrive. Allason-Jones, van Driel Murray, and Greene provide a much-needed discussion of Roman women in the region of the Wall. Drawing on material culture and epigraphic evidence they demonstrate that women were present, and from an early stage. They also remind readers that caution is necessary in analyzing the material culture evidence to avoid missing important indicators of non-combatants present at the sites. Meyer rounds out this set of chapters with a constructive review of evidence for veterans who served on the Wall. After a wide-ranging discussion of diplomas, inscriptions, and settlement patterns he concludes that the limited lifespan of the wall and the mobility of units, particularly the auxilia that occupied numerous of the forts and fortlets, militated against the settlement of veterans and the survival of evidence in Britain. All three chapters emphasize that continued excavation is necessary to build a more complete picture of the Roman communities and society along the Wall.

The material culture of the Wall occupies several chapters. In his examination of pre-Antonine coin finds Brickstock concludes there is no evidence for Flavian occupation on the site of the Wall. Campbell provides the results of analysis into the pigment colors used on Antonine Wall distance slabs and related reliefs. The images of reconstructed color palettes are fascinating. Ferris provides a good extended discussion of the distance slabs noting the recurrent themes that honor the emperor and the legions’ efforts. Hunter examines the topic of burial urns and Castlecary. Bateson provides a brief treatment of the Kirkintilloch Hoard.

Two chapters look back at antiquarian receptions of the Wall, an important aspect of its history and preservation. Brown provides a thorough treatment of Sir John Clerk’s antiquarian interests and the museum he created at his estate in Penicuik for his collection. Building explicitly on Keppie’s earlier work, Bailey and Mearns discuss the eighteenth-century Scot antiquarian and Glasgow professor, John Anderson, focusing on his interest in and work on the Wall. Their treatment of Anderson’s papers leads the authors to also discuss the nineteenth-century antiquarian John Hart who edited Anderson’s work. The value of these two chapters is the light they shed on eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century antiquarian work on the Wall, its intersections within the community, and how that antiquarian history still resonates.

Presentations of the Wall and similar sites in images and multimedia are the topics of several chapters. Devine presents a discussion on the Verecunda project—an effort to show the life of a young, enslaved woman and use it as a guide to the Bar Hill fort. Explicitly channeling Paul Zanker’s seminal work,[3] Flügel and Obmann, in an extremely interesting chapter, address the issue of using images of reconstructions to illuminate a site for visitors and the public. They draw upon German site-reconstruction projects as well as related issues along the Walls (Hadrian’s and the Antonine) and also discuss experimental archaeology. In the process, they compare images of reconstructions to archaeological evidence and conclude that problems arise when the archaeology undermines the images. Yet it can be difficult to go back and remake the reconstruction and images. Dobat presents the evolution of the phone app “Advanced Limes Applications” and how these tools were brought to interpreting the Wall for visitors. Finally, Weeks effectively discusses the Wall as a World Heritage Site and how efforts to manage the site and reach out to the public have changed over time. Some readers may in several years wish to return to Dobat’s and Weeks’s chapters to compare what they wrote here with future results and see how their efforts pay off and evolve over the next five years given the pandemic and its impact on visitation and use.

Birley examined Antoninus Pius’ Praetorian Prefect to reconsider aspects of the emperor’s reign and provide some “retractions” as he called them and corrections of some of his earlier published observations. Birley also provides some additions and clarifications for the prosopography of Roman Britain. Walker supplies an anecdotal chapter which will resonate with anyone who has walked fields or participated in surface survey. Maxwell and Hanson discuss the fortlet at Summerton. Hanson and Jones focus on geophysical survey of Castlehill. McKeague reviews the projects to map the Wall and why it is such a laborious process. In the final chapter, Brown reminisces on WWI echoes of the Antonine distance slabs.

The illustrations, many in color, are clear, effective, and well labeled. It is a pleasure to find each chapter has its own bibliography. Unfortunately, there is no index. There are some misspelled and dropped words, but not too many. Overall, the volume is well assembled.

Taken as a whole, readers from diverse backgrounds (not limited to the UK or to archaeology) will find much of value in the variety of chapters. The editors are to be commended for bringing together such a welcome and useful volume.

Authors and titles

1. Lawrence Keppie: an appreciation (David J. Breeze and William S. Hanson)
2. The Antonine Wall: the current state of knowledge (William S. Hanson and David J. Breeze)
3. The landscape at the time of construction of the Antonine Wall (Mairi H. Davies)
4. The impact of the Antonine Wall on Iron Age society (Leslie Macinnes)
5. Pre-Antonine coins from the Antonine wall (Richard J. Brickstock)
6. Planning the Antonine Wall: an archaeometric reassessment of installation spacing (Nick Hannon, Lyn Wilson, and Darrell J. Rohl)
7.  The curious incident of the structure at Bar Hill and its implications (Rebecca H. Jones)
8. Monuments on the margins of empire: the Antonine Wall sculptures (Louisa Campbell)
9. Building an image: soldiers’ labour and the Antonine Wall distance slabs (Iain M. Ferris)
10. New perspectives on the structure of the Antonine Wall (Tanja Romankiewicz, Karen Milek, Chris Beckett, Ben Russell, and J. Riley Snyder)
11. Wing-walls and waterworks. On the planning and purpose of the Antonine Wall (Erik Graafstal)
12. The importance of field walking: the discovery of three fortlets on the Antonine Wall (James J. Walker)
13. The Roman temporary camp and fortlet at Summerston, Strathclyde (Gordon S. Maxwell and William S. Hanson)
14. Thinking small: fortlet evolution on the Upper German Limes, Hadrian’s Wall, the Antonine Wall, and the Raetian Limes (Matthew Symonds)
15. The Roman fort and fortlet at Castlehill on the Antonine Wall: the geophysical, LiDAR, and early map evidence (William S. Hanson and Richard E. Jones)
16. ‘… one of the most remarkable traces of Roman art … in the vicinity of the Antonine Wall.’ A forgotten funerary urn of Egyptian travertine from Camelon, and related stone vessels from Castlecary (Fraser Hunter)
17. The Kirkintilloch hoard revisited (J.D. Bateson)
18. The external supply of pottery and cereals to Antonine Scotland (Paul Bidwell)
19. The army of the Antonine Wall: its strength and implications (David J. Breeze)
20. Why was the Antonine Wall made of turf rather than stone? (Nick Hodgson)
21. Antonius Pius’ guard prefect Marcus Gavius Maximus with an Appendix on new evidence for the Fasti of Britain under Antoninus (Anthony R. Birley)
22. Civil settlement and extra-mural activity on the Antonine Wall (William S. Hanson)
23. Roman women in lowland Scotland (Lindsay Allason-Jones, Carol van Driel-Murray, Elizabeth M. Greene)
24. Where did all the veterans go? Veterans on the Antonine Wall (Alexander Meyer)
25. ‘So the great Romans with unwearied care’: Sir John Clerk’s museum (Iain Gordon Brown)
26. John Anderson and the Antonine Wall (Geoff B. Bailey and James Mearns)
27. Reconstructing Roman lives (Jim Devine)
28. The power of vivid images in Antonine Wall reconstructions: reexamining the archaeological evidence (Christof Flügel and Jürgen Obmann)
29. The Antonine Wall: some challenges of mapping a complex linear monument (Peter McKeague)
30. Connecting museums and sites. Advanced Limes Application – a Creative Europe project (Eric Dobat)
31. The Antonine Wall as a World Heritage Site: people, priorities, and playparks (Patricia Weeks)
32. ‘Then ’twas the Roman, now ’tis I’ (Iain Gordon Brown)


[1] L. Keppie, Making of the Roman Army (London: Routledge 1998); L. Keppie, Understanding Roman Inscriptions(Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991).

[2] Gillam, J.P. “Possible changes in plan in the construction of the Antonine Wall.” Scottish Archaeological Forum(1975) 7: 51-56.

[3] Zanker, P. The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, trans. A. Shapiro (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988).