Frontiers of the Roman Empire
The Roman Limes represents the border line of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent in the 2nd century AD. It stretched over 5,000 km from the Atlantic coast of northern Britain, through Europe to the Black Sea, and from there to the Red Sea and across North Africa to the Atlantic coast. The remains of the Limes today consist of vestiges of built walls, ditches, forts, fortresses, watchtowers and civilian settlements. Certain elements of the line have been excavated, some reconstructed and a few destroyed. It is a striking example of the organisation of a military zone and illustrates the defensive techniques and geopolitical strategies of ancient Rome.
The map shows the Antonine and Hadrianic frontiers of the Roman Empire, with its legionary fortresses, provinces and select Roman towns, in the middle of the 2nd century AD. (The map was produced for the Frontiers of the Roman Empire project (2005-2008), which was led by Historic Scotland, a predecessor organisation of Historic Environment Scotland, and received funding from the European Union's Culture 2000 programme.)
World Heritage Site
The sections of the Roman Limes in the United Kingdom, the Antonine Wall in Scotland and Hadrian's Wall in England, and parts of the sections in Germany, the Upper German-Raetian Limes, form the transnational UNESCO World Heritage Site Frontiers of the Roman Empire, inscribed on the World Heritage List (under number 430) in 1987 and extended in 2005 and 2009. The two sections of the Limes in Germany cover a length of 550 km from the north-west of the country to the Danube in the south-east. The 118-km-long Hadrian’s Wall was built on the orders of the Emperor Hadrian c. AD 122 at the northern-most limits of the Roman province of Britannia. The Antonine Wall, a 60-km long fortification in Scotland was started by Emperor Antonius Pius in 142 AD as a defence against the 'barbarians' of the north. It constitutes the northwestern-most portion of the Roman Limes.
The extant remains of the fortified German Limes, Hadrian’s Wall and Antonine Wall constitute significant elements of the Roman Frontiers present in Europe. With their forts, fortlets, walls, ditches, linked infrastructure and civilian architecture they exhibit an important interchange of human and cultural values at the apogee of the Roman Empire, through the development of Roman military architecture, extending the technical knowledge of construction and management to the very edges of the Empire. As parts of the Roman Empire’s general system of defence the German Limes, Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall have an extraordinarily high cultural value. They bear an exceptional testimony to the maximum extension of the power of the Roman Empire through the consolidation of its northwestern frontiers and thus constitute a physical manifestation of Roman imperial policy. The fortified German Limes, Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall are outstanding examples of Roman military architecture and building techniques and of their technological development, perfected by engineers over the course of several generations. They demonstrate the variety and sophistication of the Romans’ responses to the specific topography and climate as well as to the political, military and social circumstances in the northwestern part of the Empire which spread all around Europe and thereby shaped much of the subsequent development in this part of the world.
The World Heritage Site conveys the extraordinary complexity and coherence of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire in northwestern Europe. Although some parts have been affected by land use change and natural processes, the integrity of the site is demonstrated through its visible remains and buried archaeological features. Their state of survival has been researched in many areas. Several areas of the frontier have been built over, but where significant archaeological remains have been proven to exist they have been included in the property.
ALApp site at the German Limes
In Bavaria, the ALApp project concentrates its activities on the archaeological landscape at Eining, a settlement in Lower Bavaria, about 40 km southwest of Regensburg. Located in the former Roman province of Raetia, the landscape at Eining is marked by the river Danube, flowing southwards, with gentle hills either side. To the south of the settlement lie the Roman remains of the fort Abusina, to the northeast those of a military campsite. Further northeast, on a hill, was a watch tower and shrine. For this landscape, the ALApp project develops an app which connects the various archaeolgical sites of this environ and places them into context with other parts of the German Limes futher north.
The fort Abusina at Eining is located south of the Danube on the river Abens, the steep slope of which protected the fort's western side. On the north, east and south, a double ditch defended the fort, which covers an area of circa 147 x 125 m. Abusina was constructed around 80 AD by a partially horse-mounted military unit, the 500-man strong cohors IV Gallorum. Originally an earth-and-timber fort, stone-filled timber framing was used for the praetorium (commander's residence) and principia (garrison headquarter), while the troops' barracks and stables were built of timber and wattle-and-daub. The fort was extended in stone after 125, at the earliest, while retaining the same layout and continuing the use of wattle-and-daub construction for the barracks and stables.
In the 2nd century, the cohors III Britannorum replaced the cohors IV Gallorum. The fort's usage changed during the 3rd century, with the Limes falling in 254, but the exact changes occurring are yet not fully understood. A reduced military presence certainly led to changes in the fort's buildings over the forthcoming centuries, until the evacuation of the fort during the mid-5th century.
Shortly after it was raised in the mid-160s, the legio III Italica was transferred to Raetia, where the Marcomannic Wars (166-180) required military intervention. In Eining-Unterfeld, slightly less than 1 km from the cohort fort Abusina, circa 3000 legionaries occupied a camp, estimated at a little over 11 ha in size, and used it as a base until the legionary fortress at Regensburg was completed in 179. The whole Danube-facing side of the camp site has been washed away by the river; the surviving section of 328 x 320 m was protected by three ditches. The camp did not have a stone rampart. Presumably, a turf wall surrounded it. Of the inner buildings, remains of the principia are known from aerial photographs. In addition, an imposing building with a 50 m front is thought to have been the praetorium. Despite the camp's brief expected service life, both of these buildings were constructed in stone.
Watch tower and shrine at Eining-Weinberg
In order to ensure intervisibility between the end of the Limes at Hienheim and the fort Abusina, a watchtower was erected on the Weinberg, a hill, about 1900 m northeast of Abusina. A presumably timber-built tower on stone foundations was the first to be built, while two other stone buildings were built in 226 or 229. One of the buildings was a small temple, dedicated to Mars and Victoria, whose cult images were found during excavations. The end of both temple and tower will likely coincide with the abandonment of the Raetian Limes. In the early medieval period, this spot was used by a Christian population, as evidenced by the large number of archaeological finds with Christian context.
For the ALApp project, the surviving Mars and Victoria statues were digitally recorded at the Archaeological State Collection, where they are now stored. The models of the scans will be available as interactive 3D reconstructions in the project's Bavarian app.
ALApp sites at the Antonine Wall
In ALApp, new digital content will be created for six sites of the Antonine Wall across Scotland: Old Kilpatrick, Bearsden, Croy Hill, Rough Castle, Watling Lodge and Kinneil. The first content, for Watling Lodge and Kinneil, will be available in 2017, followed by Croy Hill and Bearsden in 2018 and finally Old Kilpatrick and Rough Castle in 2019.
The western end of the Antonine Wall was marked by a fort at Old Kilpatrick, overlooking the River Clyde. Important finds include two sculptured distance slabs, an inscribed altar to Jupiter, and a possible bath-house located within an annexe attached to the fort. There may have been a harbour here, a supply base for goods brought in by sea. No traces of the fort are visible today but the site of Old Kilpatrick fort is worth visiting for the magnificent views across the Clyde: a viewpoint that places the modern visitor at the north-west corner of the former Roman Empire. The fort was positioned on the site of the former Gavinburn Bus Depot and the houses of Gavinburn Gardens, very close to the western end of the Forth and Clyde Canal.
The best examples of stone structures along the entire Antonine Wall can be seen within a modern housing development in Bearsden. The fort which once lay here is now mostly covered over by roads and houses, but you can visit the exposed remains of a Roman bath-house and latrine block within the area of the fort’s annexe. These buildings provide a valuable insight into the rhythms of the soldiers’ daily lives. Several artefacts have been found here including the carved head of a goddess, a gaming board, and a building stone inscribed by men of the Twentieth Legion. The site is signed from Bearsden Cross on A810 and lies approximately 600m down Roman Road. Free car parking is available 300m west along Roman Road from the site.
On a high plateau on the east side of Croy Hill, North Lanarkshire, is the site of a Roman fort, fortlet, and probable temporary camp on the Antonine Wall. The fort, fortlet, and temporary camp are not visible on the ground today, but the Antonine Wall ditch is easily identifiable across much of Croy Hill. You can see where the Romans had to cut through solid rock to create the ditch. Two small raised platforms known as ‘expansions’ are visible on the ground to the west of the fortlet, attached to the south face of the Antonine Wall rampart. These may have been used for signalling. Croy Hill’s high position offers one of the best views of the surrounding landscape, including the Firth of Forth and hills of Fife to the east, the Kilsyth Hills to the north, and the next fort at Bar Hill to the west. A tombstone was found at Croy Hill, showing a soldier flanked by men, possibly his sons. Other finds include this bronze arm purse, now in the Hunterian Museum. The site lies between Croy and Dullatur and can be accessed from Constarry Road off the B802.
If you can only visit one location on the Antonine Wall, Rough Castle fort is clearly the best choice. Although the fort is the second smallest on the wall, it is easily the best-preserved and offers the most spectacular and memorable views of the surviving Roman remains. Here you can see an excellent example of the Antonine Wall ditch, the tallest-surviving portion of rampart, defensive lilia pits to the north of the wall, and easily identifiable fort and annexe defences, including multiple ditches and gateways. This is the best site to gain an impression of how the frontier and its integral forts worked. Rough Castle is signposted at Bonnybridge, and then along a quiet side road from the B816 between Bonnybridge and High Bonnybridge. There is a small car park at the end of this road. Alternatively, park at the Falkirk Wheel, then follow the signposted path up from the visitor centre, a walk of about 15 minutes.
Perhaps the best-preserved section of Antonine Wall ditch can be viewed to both the east and west of Watling Lodge along Tamfourhill Road in Falkirk. Here the ditch has survived to almost its original dimensions, giving the best view of how it may have looked in Roman times. Near this portion of ditch, in the garden of Watling Lodge was an Antonine Wall fortlet, but no visible traces survive. A short distance to the south, in an open field between the Union Canal and Tamfourhill Wood, is the site of a Roman temporary camp, which is sometimes visible in aerial photographs, but which cannot be seen on the ground today. In Falkirk, the site is signposted from the A9 and is accessed from the B816, Tamfourhill Road.
In a field to the west of the 15th-century Kinneil House you can see the only example of Antonine Wall fortlet remains still visible today.The fortlet is marked out by original stone kerbing of its ramparts and part of the rampart of the Antonine Wall, which served as the north wall of the fortlet. Stone paving fills out the areas where original stonework has not survived. Timber posts mark out the location of Roman period post-holes, which give an indication of the gateways to the fortlet and its internal buildings. The Antonine Wall ditch can be partially traced in the fields between Kinneil House and the fortlet. The walk from Kinneil House to the site of the fortlet takes visitors over the site of a medieval village that was removed in the late 17th century. Several times a year Kinneil House itself is open for public viewing, and this is highly recommended for the extensive 16th-century mural paintings within the house’s Palace Wing. Exhibits, including a Roman harness loop found at the fortlet, are located in the nearby Kinneil Museum. The site can be accessed from the car park off Provost Road, Bo’ness. Then follow the signposted path to the west of (behind) the house and past the ruins of Kinneil Church and a small pond.
Note: Some text in the first two sections of this page is derived from the World Heritage List description of the site Frontiers of the Romand Empire and is copyrighted by UNESCO's World Heritage Centre. Text relating to the ALApp sites in Bavaria is derived partially from the book At the Edge of the Limes: Tours along the Limes in South Germany, published in 2015 and copyrighted by the German Limes-Commission and the Bavarian State Conservation Office.