5.1 Post-Antonine Archaeology

It was long thought that there were three phases when the Wall was in use and debate continued about the date of the final phase until the early 1970s, some wishing to see it extended until the reign of Septimius Severus. The seminal paper by Hartley (1972), demonstrating the absence of any overlap in the use of samian ware between the two Walls, and Gillam’s reassessment of later 2nd century coarse wares, which brought their dating into line with the samian (1974), resulted in agreement that occupation of the Antonine Wall did not extend beyond the early AD 160s. It is now widely accepted that the end of occupation began in AD 158, though it may have been a drawn out affair (Hodgson 1995; 2009; see The Wall in its historical context).

An orange pot lying on its side with hundreds of silver coins pouring out of it and lying around it. The background is black and the coins are all shiny. The  pot has large cracks as if it has been glued back together.
Coin hoard found in Falkirk © National Museums Scotland

There are slight hints of activity that may post-date the reign of Antoninus Pius. Famously, the latest dated stratified coin from the Wall is of Lucilla (AD 164–9) from the granary at Old Kilpatrick. There are also a very small number of unstratified coin finds of Marcus and Commodus from other fort sites (Abdy 2002, 200, 206 and 211). In addition, there is some evidence of the reuse of buildings for such different purposes that continuity of military occupation may be in question. Thus, ironworking was attested in the dismantled latrine of the bathhouse at Carriden (Hunter 2009b, 228–9). A pottery kiln was inserted into the stokehole of the bathhouse at Bar Hill when it was no longer in use (Keppie 1985, 60 and 72–3; Swan 1999, 426–7 and 456–7) and a kiln of uncertain purpose was inserted into the northern end of one of the granaries at Balmuildy (Miller 1922, 27–8 and pl XB). In general, there is scope for more research on late Roman activity on the Wall and in the wider area.

However, the abandonment of the Wall and its rapid integration back into the indigenous settlement landscape is suggested by the construction of a souterrain in the Wall ditch at Shirva (Welfare 1984, 314–16). It utilised Roman stonework, some of it inscribed, which probably came from the nearest fort at Auchendavy and its associated cemetery (Keppie 1998, 15–18; see Extramural activity). The Falkirk hoard of over 1900 denarii, deposited almost on the Wall line around AD 230, suggests continuing Roman diplomatic engagement (Robertson 2000, 90, no 415), part of a wider phenomenon (Hunter 2015) whose social and political impact in the area is not well understood. There is some evidence that a change also took place within indigenous settlements around this time, coincident with, and possibly linked to, the abandonment of the Antonine Wall (Armit 1999; Cook et al 2019).

Tombstone of Verecunda reused in the souterrain at Shirva © HES

Tombstone of Verecunda reused in the souterrain at Shirva © HES

Research issues

  • Ensure that future excavations within forts pay particular attention to any evidence for late phases of use.
  • Review the evidence for the latest occupation of the Wall.
  • Encourage further research on the evidence for late Roman activity on and around the Wall.
  • Explore changes in indigenous settlement and how these might relate to the abandonment of the Antonine Wall.



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