1. Introduction

The Antonine Wall, built in the years following AD 142, was the most developed of all the Roman frontiers. It was a physical statement of Roman power and of imperial politics. It is unique amongst all the Roman frontiers for the highly ornamented Distance Stones which provide important information on its date and construction as well as its wider context and strategic significance. Its numerous construction camps are also a unique feature. In addition, it was the most densely defined of the Roman frontier systems, as well as the largest turf-built structure in the Roman Empire. Consequently, the Antonine Wall is extremely important for understanding the construction, operation and development of Roman frontiers, as well as the impact of imperial policy on military strategy. Furthermore, it holds an enormous amount of information about the landscape and vegetation at the time of its construction and provides a buried control horizon for environmental studies. Moreover, understanding the nature, purpose and function of this well-preserved frontier system can help with our understanding of modern studies of conflict and frontier zones.

Atmospheric landscape shot of a of fields and forests from an oblique aerial view. The sky is red and orange, the sun it peering through the clouds. A rectangular cropmark can be seen on the left side in a field.
Bar Hill on the Antonine Wall © Rediscovering the Antonine Wall

The Outstanding Universal Value of the Antonine Wall has been recognised through its inscription as a World Heritage (WH) property, being part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire (FRE) WH property along with Hadrian’s Wall in northern England and the Upper German-Raetian Limes in Germany. Two more FRE WH properties were inscribed in 2021: the Lower German Limes in Germany and the Netherlands, and the Danube Limes (Western Segment) in Austria, Germany and Slovakia. The intention is to manage these as a ‘cluster’. Further stretches of the Roman frontiers are likely to be added to this WH cluster in coming years (Ployer et al 2017). With World Heritage inscription comes a responsibility to sustain the Antonine Wall in its current form for future generations to appreciate and enjoy; and to raise its profile in support of UNESCO’s wider cultural and education objectives. This Research Agenda is part of the process of helping to understand, sustain, interpret and promote this significant monument in its global, national and local context.

Digital map of western europe with the land in green and outlined in red in the different frontiers of the Roman empire, such as southern Britain or 'Britannia' and Belgium or 'Gallia Belgica'.
Map of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire © HES

The focus of this Research Agenda is the area of the FRE: Antonine Wall WH property defined in the inscribed list, that is the Wall itself and its immediate corridor, though reference is occasionally made to other relevant sites. The importance of understanding the wider geographical and social context of the Wall is fully recognised, but there is not space to explore that sufficiently in this document. However, researchers are encouraged to encompass the wider context of the Wall and make use of additional information available in the ScARF resource for Scotland’s Iron Age, Roman and early medieval periods.

A vertical timeline showing key dates and events during the Roman period in Britain. It begins in 55BC at the top, when Romans first invaded Britain, and end with AD165 at the bottom, when the Antonine Wall was abandoned.
Timeline of the Antonine Wall © HES

In order to consider a wide range of topics, the Research Agenda is divided into sections. There are many overlaps between these sections and some issues are intertwined or run through each topic. For example, how the natural landscape and environment affected military choices on the one hand, and were altered by the presence of the military and associated retinues on the other. It is hoped that researchers will bear this in mind and remember that any dichotomies are likely to be more apparent than real.

Similarly, there are some issues that are not explored much here. For example, the Research Agenda does not look in any detail at the role that studies of the Antonine Wall might play in contemporary cultural heritage issues like Black Lives Matter, decolonising heritage or migration. Nevertheless, both as a physical expression of a global imperial power and as a component part of an international World Heritage Site, the Antonine Wall offers promising avenues into such areas of research. Indeed, some relevant community-based projects are already under-way (see The Value of the Wall today), and it is hoped that further projects will be developed in future.

A group of 15 people wearing waterproofs and jeans stand on top of a large mound in the grass which is covered in trees. The mound stretches off in a line towards the distance.
Visitors at Seabegs Wood © Neil Hanna

The Research Agenda is set out in a series of topics. Each topic contains a succinct summary of the state of current knowledge and a list of key research issues intended to identify gaps in our knowledge and guide further research to help address those gaps. Although these summaries are condensed, there are ample references to allow further pursuit of any topic. This Research Agenda complements the wider Scottish Archaeological Research Framework for Roman Scotland and aspects of it will feature in the new Regional Research Frameworks being developed as part of Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy.

It is hoped that this Research Agenda will help stimulate further active research on the Wall and its landscape context, either in its own right or in response to development or other activities in the Wall zone. It is also intended to help to develop good practice in scientific investigation, education and public involvement in this WH property, one of only six in Scotland. It will inform the development of the Research Strategy needed to support the delivery of the objectives set out here.

People in waterproof clothing are spread across the site of a Roman bathhouse, with low surviving stone walls to knee-height and foundations mapping the original layout. The man in the forefront is taking a picture of the site.
Visitors at Bearsden bath house in Falkirk © HES

There are some key general principles underpinning this Research Agenda, namely:

  • It is important to maintain a balance between the protection of the resource and the advancement of knowledge. Therefore, any interventions undertaken on the Wall or in the Wall corridor should be informed by the research issues set out in this Research Agenda and have clear research objectives, including when undertaken in a development context, that are designed to understand the Wall and its wider context and to contribute to longer-term conservation strategies. Care must be taken to encourage new research initiatives to further our knowledge.
  • To ensure that knowledge is shared as widely as possible and can be used for a range of audiences, it is important to publish, disseminate and archive the results of any research or intervention on the Wall and the Wall corridor, and Open Access publication should be actively encouraged to enable a wider reach.
  • In view of the fact that the Antonine Wall was part of a global frontier system and now forms part of a transnational WH property, it is important to pursue the tremendous scope this offers for international partnership and collaboration, to place the conservation and management of the FRE: Antonine Wall WH property in its wider context, and to inform studies of Roman and modern frontiers and conflict zones and their values.
  • In keeping with the education and public engagement objectives of a World Heritage Site, it is important to highlight the Wall both nationally and locally, by developing its role in tourism and education, and in pursuing benefits for the local community and economy.
  • It is vitally important to establish links between the component sites of the Wall and finds which are associated with them, through establishing closer links between the museums that curate the finds and the on-site remains cared for by Historic Environment Scotland, local authorities and other bodies.
  • There is an urgent need to ensure that the long-term tradition of research on the Roman frontier in Scotland is not lost due to the current shortage of relevant specialists in the museum and university sectors.  We need specialists not only to carry out research now but also crucially to educate and train the next generation of archaeologists who will undertake research and care for the Wall in the future. 
  • As one of the largest earthen monuments in Britain, the Antonine Wall is an important resource for investigating the character and conservation issues of turf-built structures, and, given its short timespan, provides a significant dated horizon for wider environmental research. Its relevance to this field of research needs to be explored further.
Site nameSite typeCanmore ID
Bar HillFort; Bath house45920
Barochan HillFort43107
BearsdenFort; Annexe; Bath house44532
Black Loch of MyrtonIA crannog62815
BonnysideFrontier defense46786
Bonnyside EastSignal platform46801
Bonnyside WestSignal platform122823
BridgenessFrontier defence49520
BroxmouthFort; Cist58800
Callendar HouseFortlet46763
CarridenFort; Annexe49589
CarridenBath house49590
Carron Iron WorksIron works (18th c)46979
Croy HillFortlet45875
CulduthelIA glass site163581
DullaturTemporary camp45888
ElginhaughFort; Annexe53492
FalkirkCoin hoard at Bell’s Meadow46780
GarnhallTemporary camp45817
Glasgow BridgeFortlet45253
InveravonFrontier defence47799
KirkintillochFort; Fortlet; Ditch45204
LauriestonFortlet; Wall47892
Little KerseTemporary camp; Cist47872
LochlandsTemporary camp46972
Military wayRoman road; Frontier defence227074
NewsteadFort; Annexe; Temporary camp55620
Old KilpatrickFort43327
Rough CastleFrontier defence46803
Seabegs WoodFortlet46788
ShirvaFrontier defence45157
StanegateFort (Oakwood)54330
StracathroTemporary camp35940
SummerstonFortlet; Temporary camp44482
TentfieldSignal platforms46781
Tentfield EastSignal platform127414
Tentfield WestSignal platform127415
TollparkTemporary camp45816
Traprain LawIA Fort56374
Watling LodgeFortlet; Frontier defence46783
WesterwoodFort; Fortlet; Frontier defence45870
Wilderness PlantationFortlet44475
Sites mentioned in the framework
A digital map of central Scotland showing terrain in gradiants of white, yellow and brown. Rivers are shown with blue lines. The antonine wall is shown as a dotted dark red line, with important sites dotted using bright red squares and labelled.
Map of the Antonine Wall showing key sites listed above © HES



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