7.1 The Antonine Wall as a World Heritage (WH) Property

The Antonine Wall is an example of a Roman linear frontier that relied on an artificial barrier and supporting systems of military structures and communication routes to control the edges of the Empire. Together with the linear frontiers of Hadrian’s Wall and the Upper German-Raetian Limes, and the riverine frontiers of Lower Germany and the Danube Limes (Western Segment), it forms part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage (FRE WH) cluster. Each section of the FRE WH property makes its own contribution to the value of the whole, expressed in their Statements of Outstanding Universal Value (SOUV), and their individual characteristics have to be maintained for the future. Although physically and geographically distinct structures with individual histories, the fact that the several frontiers form part of a unified WH property means that they each have to be protected and managed collectively, though in ways which reflect their respective national legal provisions. Further stretches of the frontier in Europe will be submitted for inscription on the World Heritage List in due course (Ployer et al 2017).

Oblique aerial landscape photograph of the remains of antonine wall and its ditches stretching into the distance through trees and towards a dense village of houses and buildings. The grass is bright green and the sky is blue.
Oblique aerial view looking west from the fort at Rough Castle showing the Wall and ditches © Rediscovering the Antonine Wall

For the Antonine Wall, it is the pattern of ramparts, ditches and military structures that is of paramount importance to its World Heritage Site status; these were all constructed, used and abandoned in a very short period of time and reflected the impact of imperial policy in physical form. These elements are protected, managed and presented to the public in line with national and local policies for the historic environment with the aims of: retaining its key features in the face of change; identifying through archaeological investigation those elements which are currently invisible; and supporting public access and other community benefits wherever feasible. A Management Plan supported by all six WH Partners provides a unifying framework for achieving aims and objectives relating to the protection, management, interpretation and promotion of the World Heritage Site as a whole.

Of additional significance, though not part of the WH property itself due to their portable nature, is a unique and outstanding collection of Distance Stones that recorded details of the construction of the Wall (see The Distance Stones). These are protected separately as part of the collections of the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow University, Glasgow Life and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, while other artefacts relating to the Antonine Wall are curated and presented in these museums and in other local museums along the line of the Wall.

Diagonal angle of a distance stone displayed in a sandstone wall with two description boards on either side. The monument looks brand new, clean and in a park area.
Rediscovering the Antonine Wall display in Falkirk based on the design of a distance stone © Rediscovering the Antonine Wall

As part of the FRE WH property, the Antonine Wall has international value, as well as being of national and local importance. Where opportunities arise, research and investigation should reflect these different levels of interest and importance. Internationally it is important to understand the context of the Wall in relation to wider imperial and frontier policy; how it related to the other barriers included in the FRE WH property; how other frontiers influenced the design and function of the Antonine Wall; and how the Antonine Wall influenced subsequent frontier development. It is likely that many other types of Roman frontier systems will also be protected in future, including the further sections of the riverine frontier system of the Danube, other European systems and eventually the desert frontiers of North Africa (Ployer et al 2017). These are likely to be inscribed as new WH properties within the FRE Cluster, further extending the international profile of the Antonine Wall. Although additional sections will be inscribed separately, it is nevertheless intended that research and management issues will be tackled within a shared international framework for all inscribed sections of the Roman frontier.

Nationally and locally, there are still gaps in our knowledge. It is important to know exactly where the Wall runs along its full length; the full range of military structures involved and where they were located; the details of its history of construction, use and abandonment; the relationship between the Distance Stones and the structures; and the impact of the Wall on the local environment and population. There is scope to combine research on structural elements and on artefacts from them, and on the relationship between Roman military structures and settlements of the local population to try to understand the synergy between them. There is also scope to undertake international research, for example, on comparative and contemporary sites and artefacts.

A woman wearing a red dress is pointing and speaking to a group of people who are sitting in front of her on a stone step.
Members of the Tilal Project visiting Bearsden bath house © Gaby Somarriba

In the context of an international WH and to support UNESCO’s wider cultural and education objectives, the Antonine Wall must play its part in finding ways to improve international collaboration in the spheres of recording, protection, management, presentation and access, and community benefit. This includes developing standards of good practice and engagement that all current and future partners can adopt and put into practice locally. At a national level, challenges include harmonising the policies of six partner organisations, as well as agreeing, funding and delivering priorities for action. At a local level, it is important to ensure that the international profile of the Wall brings benefits to the local communities in which it sits and engages with diverse local groups (see Contemporary Values of the Wall). Any research should consequently seek to marry the international, national and local opportunities afforded by the WH status of the Wall, and to develop shared knowledge and benefits through networking and partnership projects (for some examples, see Jones 2021).

A man wearing a red jacket crouching down with a camera taking a photograph of stone features on a grassy bank
Collaboration in action: a visiting Professor from Germany examining the remains of the bathhouse at Bar Hill © HES

As part of the global system of World Heritage and given its place within the long tradition of Roman military archaeology, the FRE: Antonine Wall WH property also has an important contribution to make in understanding the dynamics of military operations and installations in modern zones of conflict zones (Roymans and Fernández-Götz 2018, 3), but this area is fairly unexplored at present.

Research issues

  • Develop a full understanding of the history of the development of the Antonine Wall in its local, national and international contexts, including impacts on the local environment and population.
  • Explore links between museum collections and the physical remains of the Wall itself so as to understand the Wall in all its aspects better.
  • Develop the Antonine Wall as an exemplar of good conservation practice and international collaboration in the context of a transnational WH.
  • Develop the Antonine Wall as a vehicle for community benefit and participation in the context of its status as a WH property.
  • Encourage research, investment, partnerships and collaborations related to the international status of the WH property.
  • Continue to develop partnership projects with other parts of the FRE WH cluster in relation to conservation, research and community engagement benefits.
  • Maintain knowledge of up-to-date interpretation and presentation practices and ensure that they are put into action.
  • Explore the relevance of the Antonine Wall in the context of Conflict Archaeology and understanding issues within modern conflict and frontier zones.



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