IT was built to defend the most northerly outpost of the Roman empire from their most feared enemy, the Caledonians.

Emperor Antoninus Pius ordered the building of the Antonine Wall in AD 140, which stretched 37 miles from modern Bo’ness on the Firth of Forth to Old Kilpatrick on the River Clyde.

However, despite achieving Unesco World Heritage Status in 2008, awareness of the history and significance of the Antonine Wall amongst the Scottish public is said to be limited, dwarfed by the more visible legacy of Hadrian’s Wall.

This could all change after a mainly community-led project surpassed thousands in the UK to be held up as a European model.

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Rediscovering the Antonine Wall, led by West Dunbartonshire Council, includes Roman-themed playparks designed by local children and a Roman Baths trail in Bearsden, complete with the sound of soldiers chattering in Latin. A pilot project is also planned that will take elderly and those with limited mobility along the route in Trishaws.


The £2.1million project is the only one in the UK to be included in a new guide by Cultural Heritage in Action.

Professor David Breeze, formerly of Historic Scotland, has excavated and written about the site and was involved in the project in its infancy. He hopes the Antonine Wall, with its remains of ramparts, steep ditches, forts and bath houses, could become a popular and historically rich walking route.

“It’s not well known, even in Scotland,” said Mr Breeze. “It’s not as visually obvious as Hadrian’s Wall and it hasn’t really captured our imagination, but it has a lot to offer.


“Around five miles of it are state-owned and it’s now becoming a great walking route.

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“For 20-25 years it was the north west frontier of the Roman empire but it’s not quite the furthest point that the Romans reached because they got up into modern Aberdeenshire and they sailed round Britain.

“A lot of people think the Antonine Wall was the furthest point they reached. 

“The Romans used forts and towers along their frontier line and this clearly wasn’t working for them. They wanted control of people moving in and out of their empire, to stop raiding.”


Between 16 and 19 forts were built along the length of the wall to house the many hundreds of Roman soldiers that manned this cold, new frontier. 

On the north side a deep ditch was dug to further impress and deter the feared Caledonians.

Raiding was a problem because the Roman empire was rich. 

“There is no evidence the people between Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall were troublesome. The real enemy was always the Caledonians.

“We are not quite sure where they lived, probably Strathmore. They are not in the Highlands, it wasn’t agriculturally rich enough to support a big population.”

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The Romans never fully occupied Caledonia, which roughly corresponds to modern day Scotland. The wall failed to deter raiders and is thought to have been abandoned around the 160s. 

“It’s possible that what happened was that there was more serious were released for the fighting there.”


The £2.1m heritage project was chosen after a bid by Historic Environment Scotland in partnership with West Dunbartonshire Council and the other five local authorities the wall runs through.

Future plans include replica stone distance slabs and sculptures along the route and Roman-inspired community gardens.

“The crucial thing is that this is a grassroots project,” said Mr Breeze. “In the case of the playparks, the organisers went out to talk to the children to ask what they wanted.”

Patricia Weeks, deputy head of World Heritage and Antonine Wall coordinator at Historic Environment Scotland, said: “The project has really showcased the important role World

"Heritage sites can play to ensure local people can enjoy the internationally significant history on their doorstep.”