I was going through some old pictures the other day, and came across this image, and I was so excited that I just had to share! These may look like holes in the ground…and they are. But once, long ago they were one of the many lines of defense that the Romans used to secure the Antonine wall. Most people have heard of Hadrian’s wall, but its more northern cousin is less well-known. The Antonine Wall was a fantastic piece of earthen engineering built by the Romans during their very brief foray into what is now Scotland.
The Romans wanted territory in the North of the British Isles really for no better reason than, well…they wanted it. And we all know that what Roma wants, Roma gets. But the people that were there weren’t big fans of the Roman invasion, and after just 20 years Rome decided that it was just too much trouble to maintain a frontier border at the Antonine wall.
The Antonine wall was good while it lasted, stretching over 37 miles across Scotland. It was a 9-12 foot tall mound of dirt, with a huge ditch in front of it. There were forts along the wall almost every 2 miles, including the well-preserved Rough Castle fort near Falkirk.
But back to the pits, which are the best part. They were named lilia (lilies) by the Romans, who had a surprisingly wicked sense of humor (and rather strange associations with flowers). Caesar himself described them best:
“…pits three feet deep were dug, which gradually diminished in depth to the bottom. In these pits tapering stakes, of the thickness of a man’s thigh; sharpened at the top and hardened in the fire, were sunk in such a manner as to project from the ground not more than four inches; at the same time for the purpose of giving them strength and stability, they were each filled with trampled clay to the height of one foot from the bottom: the rest of the pit was covered over with osiers and twigs, to conceal the deceit. Eight rows of this kind were dug, and were three feet distant from each other. They called this a lily from its resemblance to that flower.” Caesar, Gallic Wars, VII lxxiii
The purpose of these pits was to ward off attackers from the north who really enjoyed making the Romans lives miserable. They provided an extra layer of defense to the few men who defended a crumbling, ill-defended border that was constantly under attack and poorly provisioned by a distant capital city that was too wrapped up in it’s own drama to care. Sound familiar?
Ok, Game of Thrones doesn’t have the awesome stake-lined pits at the walls, and the Scottish clans were way cooler than ice-zombies, but other than that, this is about as close to The Wall as we’re ever going to get in our world.