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Durham University

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Publication details

Hingley, Richard. (2010). ‘The most ancient Boundary between England and Scotland’ Genealogies of the Roman Wall(s). Classical Reception Journal 2(1): 25-43.

Author(s) from Durham


Drawing upon the writings of English, Scottish and Irish authors, this article explores the conceptual spaces created through the medium of the two Roman Walls of Britain. Late seventeenth- to early twentieth-century texts are addressed to explore how the location of Hadrian’s Wall has sometimes led to its use as a motif for what might be and what is not English. Significantly, the meanings attributed to this Wall are far more complex than any simple idea of inclusion in or exclusion from English national space. Interpretations are often bound up with a broader geographical focus drawing upon the remains of a second and less substantial Roman frontier, the Antonine Wall. The location of this more northerly monument, cutting across Lowland Scotland, complicated any simple territorial identification of England with the former geographical extent of Roman civilization. It is argued that the authors’ ideas of identity were influenced by where they were born in relation to the Walls, but these concepts were also challenged by physical or conceptual movement. Mobility turned Hadrian’s Wall into a spatial referent for a transformative and ill-defined concept of Englishness which, in the writings of some authors, drew upon a nuanced conception of identities within, between, and/or beyond.