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Early Britain—Roman Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 195 pages of information about Early BritainRoman Britain.

D. 3.—­How hopeless the task of effectually incorporating these barbarians within the Empire appeared to Hadrian is shown by the extraordinary massiveness of the Wall which he built[261] to keep them out from the civilized Provinces[262] to the southwards.  “Uniting the estuaries of Tyne and Solway it chose the strongest line of defence available.  Availing itself of a series of bold heights, which slope steadily to the south, but are craggy precipices to the north, as if designed by Nature for this very purpose, it pursued its mighty course across the isthmus with a pertinacious, undeviating determination which makes its remains unique in Europe, and one of the most inspiriting scenes in Britain."[263] Its outer fosse (where the nature of the ground permits) is from 30 to 40 feet wide and some 20 deep, so sloped that the whole was exposed to direct fire from the Wall, from which it is separated by a small glacis [linea] 10 or 12 feet across.  Beyond it the upcast earth is so disposed as to form the glacis proper, for about 50 feet before dipping to the general ground level.  The Wall itself is usually 8 feet thick, the outer and inner faces formed of large blocks of freestone, with an interior core of carefully-filled-in rubble.  The whole thus formed a defence of the most formidable character, testifying strongly to the respect in which the valour of the Borderers against whom it was constructed was held by Hadrian and his soldiers.[264]

D. 4.—­This expedition of Hadrian is cited by his biographer, Aelius Spartianus, as the most noteworthy example of that invincible activity which led him to take personal cognizance of every region in his Empire:  “Ante omnes enitebatur ne quid otiosum vel emeret aliquando vel pasceret." His contempt for slothful self-indulgence finds vent in his reply to the doggerel verses of Florus, who had written: 

Ego nolo Caesar esse,       ["To be Caesar I’d not care,
Ambulare per Britannos,          Through the Britons far to fare,
Scythicas pati pruinas.       Scythian frost and cold to bear.”]

Hadrian made answer: 

Ego nolo Florus esse,       ["To be Florus I’d not care,
Ambulare per tabernas,           Through the tavern-bars to fare,
Cimices pati rotundas.        Noxious insect-bites to bear.”]

To us its special interest (besides the Wall) is found in the bronze coins commemorating the occasion, the first struck with special reference to Britain since those of Claudius.  These are of various types, but all of the year 120 (the third Consulate of Hadrian); and the reverse mostly represents the figure so familiar on our present bronze coinage, Britannia, spear in hand, on her island rock, with her shield beside her.[265] This type was constantly repeated with slight variations in the coinage of the next hundred years; and thus, when, after an interval of twelve centuries, the British mint began once more, in the reign of Charles the

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