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  • ♪ (When Fortune Turns the  Wheel, Brothers Gillespie) ♪

  • England is saturated with Roman history.  A ruthlessly efficient invading force, the  

  • Romans changed Britain forever. Arriving in AD 43,  they brought with them military might and advanced  

  • engineering along with cultural forces in the form  of new religious practices. Today the Romans live  

  • on through us in countless ways but there can be  few Roman legacies so poignant as the majestic  

  • Hadrian's Wall which originally stretched from  Wallsend in North Tyneside on the eastern tip  

  • of England westwards to an unknown location  as it stretched down England's western coast.

  • The emperor Hadrian visited Britainnia in AD 122  

  • and decided to build a wall marking the limit of  the Roman Empire right across northern Britain.  

  • While it is a wall, it appears as if it was always  intended to manage small-scale movement north  

  • and south. Perhaps it should be seen really  about controlling the landscape around it.  

  • It's not a fundamentally closed barrier. It's 73  miles long and that's 80 Roman miles and it's got  

  • 80 milecastles, a very large of turrets as well as  17 more substantial forts along its entire length.  

  • It's linked in to the network of Roman roads  that were constructed throughout England and  

  • Wales. It might feel like the end of the Earthespecially when you're standing here in winter,  

  • but it was very much plugged into an  empire that stretched thousands of  

  • miles all the way to present-day Iraq  and even as far as the Sahara Desert.  

  • And now it stands as the most remarkable monument  to the Roman Empire as well as to the tenacity  

  • and the spirit of the people who built it and  the tribes in the areas through which it ran.

  • The dramatic landscape that surrounds the wall  today serves as a reminder of what an incredible  

  • feat of engineering it was. Hadrian's Wall sprawls  over a vast and variable stretch of terrain  

  • and the men who contructed it  had to build over rolling hills,  

  • fierce river torrents and the hard  rocky outcrop of the Whin Sill.

  • The wall took more than a decade to build and it  required the collective efforts of soldiers from  

  • all three of the Roman legions that were stationed  in Britain at the time. Each legion consisted of  

  • around about 5000 men and we've got inscriptions  from right across the wall that actually tell  

  • us who built certain sections. These are called  centurial stones and they really help to fill in  

  • some of the detail, the human endeavour, that went  into the construction of this fantastic monument.  

  • For some, being on the wall could have been  extremely difficult. For others, it could have  

  • been extremely boring. Outside of open warfare  there was always training and there were duties  

  • around the fort and there's evidence that things  perhaps got a little bit slack in prolonged times  

  • of peace. One writer has actually commented, "what  did you expect was going to happen? Rome dropped  

  • 500 or maybe 1000 men with money in their pockets  into the middle of a wilderness." You can imagine  

  • the rest. They wanted to buy wine, they wanted  to buy extra food, they wanted to buy company  

  • and of course small settlements built up around  the forts to be able to cater to those needs.  

  • But it wasn't just soldiers who came from  distant lands: they brought with them  

  • many of their gods and goddesses and we see  evidence of those being worshipped along the wall.  

  • The official religions of course are well  recorded and we see lots of dedications  

  • to Jupiter for example, but we also know that  other gods travelled from elsewhere in the Roman  

  • Empire - Mithras is a fantastic example - and also  we see some of the local gods subsumed into the  

  • Roman religious practices or surviving as spirits  of local places that we see attested to in small  

  • carvings and inscriptions. So we see this really  heady mix of beliefs from all over the empire.

  • Some of the men stationed on  Hadrian's Wall would have come  

  • thousands of miles from their homelandThere were Dacians from modern-day Romania,  

  • and there were bargemen from the Tigris in  what modern-day Iraq based now what is now  

  • South Shields and it's fascinating to think of  all those partings, all these people moved from  

  • their home countries to places that  felt so very very alien to them.

  • Hadrian's Wall was likely built by  men who were foreigners to the area,  

  • billetted thousands of miles away  from their homes and families.  

  • Fortune Turns the Wheel is a classic song of the  locality resonating with this site. This is a  

  • beautiful parting song often sung between friends  at the end of a night of drinking or at funerals  

  • as the gathered bid a friend or family member  farewell. The lyrics convey the regret of a  

  • bitter-sweet goodbye as the protagonist prepares  to launch head-first into an uncertain future,  

  • one that will hopefully see a reunion with  the assembled company should luck befall them.  

  • It's sung for us here by the Brothers Gillespiewho grew up just a stone's throw from the wall.

♪ (When Fortune Turns the  Wheel, Brothers Gillespie) ♪

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When Fortune Turns the Wheel | Songs of England #3 | Hadrian's Wall

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    Summer posted on 2021/06/21
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