THIS week we look at Graham’s Dyke. That’s how the Antonine Wall came to be known in medieval times. With no disrespect to the many Grahams out there, including a couple of pals, it doesn’t have the same ring to it. Among the Romans there never was, alas, an Emperor Graham, nor for that matter an Emperor Derek, Colin or, heaven forfend, Rab.

No one could have taken the last named seriously. “Hail, Rab!” “Aye, right.”

As usual with the irritating past, there’s no definitive explanation as to how the wall came to be known as Graham. It seems to have started off, in medieval times, as Grymisdyke or Gryme’s Dyke, this being an older or northern version of Graham. If you were Graham, it was Grym up north.

But who was Graham? Well, according to the medieval chronicler John of Fordun, he might have been the grandfather of an ancient king called Eugenius. There was a Gryme who allegedly stormed the wall in the 5th century AD, when it was still supposedly of use to those living south of it.

One Robert Graham also crops up in an inscription dated rather dodgily to 1057, and thought to be a forgery. Certainly, it has no connection to Roman times, as there weren’t any Rab Grahams around then.

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I was also discomfited to discover that Graham or Graeme was a nickname for the devil in parts of Scotland – kinda puts old Satan’s gas at a peep; like being called Harry or Bernard; ooh, scary! So, that would make it Devil’s Dyke. Grímr or Grim are also handles for Odin or Woden, who were considered devils by Christians.

At any rate, as walls go, Graham is seen as a poor man’s Hadrian, with much of that perception due to the fact that little of it survived, which is what happens when you use turf and wood rather than stone like that big fancy effort 100 miles south.

I should say this is more of a Roman than a Scottish icon. If you’ve never heard of the Romans I can exclusively reveal they were a ghastly bunch of fascists who tried to militarise the world. Their only saving grace was that the peoples they conquered were often even worse, though hopelessly disorganised.

Emperor Antoninus Pius ordered the wall to be built as a northern frontier against the barbarians (looking at you, dear reader). You might ask why the Romans decided to stop there rather than going the whole hog. If you’re a common or garden anti-Scottish Scot, you say: “They could have taken all of Scotland if they wanted to but there was too much forest and stuff.” Naw. They couldnae. It was an ever-expanding empire. They didn’t say: “D’you know what, I think we’ll just stop here.” And the whole of Britain was forest. They built a wall there to stop themselves getting skelped.

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Construction began in 142AD and went on for 12 years, which sounds as if their tradesmen were even worse than ours until you factor in that it was 39 miles long, stretching right along today’s Central Belt from Old Kilpatrick in the west to Bo’ness in the east.

The number of forts along it is put variously as 17 or 19, and there were also nine fortlets, built especially for shorter people.

The wall was 10ft high and 16ft wide, with a deep ditch on the northern side. It was constructed by the soldiers of three legions – the 2nd Augustan, 6th Victorious and 20th Victorious Valerian (the 13th Ever Losing Legion were knocked out during the bidding process). It’s thought that these fellows were mostly auxiliary troops, drawn from across the Empire, often from places with better climates. They must have had a blast, living in leather tents or wooden huts and singing morosely through the rain at the end of another day’s labour: “All in all, it’s just another turf in the wall.”

There were around 7,000 soldiers stationed at the wall, and it’s not known what they did all day other than marching up and doon, like these goons guarding things that you see in movies. Some would be training or mending tools or just sitting about the bath-house gossiping. A board game was found in Bearsden, where many people still play bridge today.

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Other items have been found, such as altars and children’s shoes, which are more interesting than that usual standby from archaeology: pottery. They must have had a lot of evening classes in the subject back in ancient times.

Some lucky archaeologists who get to examine ancient poop have found that the soldiers’ diet was mainly vegetarian (modern meatheads: “Oh no, how did they get their vitamin B12?”) and consisted of stuff like figs, herbs, berries and nuts. Ooh, yummy.

They weren’t vegetarians on ethical grounds. A distance slab found at Bridgeness, West Lothian, depicts a bull, a pig and a sheep being led to sacrifice, with musicians drowning out their screams.

The Romans, precursors of western civilisation, believed that offering animals to their gods brought good fortune. This was because, like all people in the past, they were nutters. So were their gods.

Another panel shows Britons being trampled, speared and beheaded, the last thought to display contempt for the Celtic veneration of folks’ nappers.

That distance slab can be seen in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, but most others are in Glasgow University’s Hunterian Museum. They’re said to constitute the best collection of sculpture from any Roman frontier.

The wall didn’t stop the Caledonians from congregating outside shouting, “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”, before legging it at the first sign of a door in the wall opening.

Antoninus Pius died in 161AD and never even visited his stupid wall, which was abandoned just nine or 10 years after its completion, having been a monumental waste of everybody’s time and effort. So, remember, folks, when we Scots are asked the question, “What did the Romans ever do for us?”, we reply: “Damn all.”