Hadrian’s Wall. A study in archaeological exploration and interpretation

David J. Breeze shares some thoughts on his recent delivery of the 2019 Rhind Lectures and their simultaneous publication.

There are no doubt many reasons why people write books. For me, it is the end point of a piece of research. Some may be content to undertake research and file the results in a drawer; that is not for me. But publishing the Rhind lectures was different. I had been asked two years ago to deliver the six lectures to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, to be given over the weekend of 10-12 May 2019. As I started to prepare the lectures, I realised that the decennial Pilgrimage of Hadrian’s Wall would be just 2 months after the Rhinds and there would be much to be said for having them published in time for that event. Archaeopress agreed that the lectures could be published in time for the Pilgrimage, indeed in time for the lectures themselves. As a result, I switched my mind to writing the book first and subsequently tweaking the text to fit more the style of lectures, though maintaining as much conformity as possible, as David Davison requested. The book was duly completed, submitted and published the weekend of the lectures. There was no problem in tweaking the lectures, but what I had not bargained for was the fact that the pursuit of knowledge continues, be it in one’s own head or through further reading. In the weeks between the submission of the text to Archaeopress and the lectures I came across Kyle Harper’s work on a plague in the 250s and 260s which affected the inhabitants of the Roman empire. Could this be the reason for the abandonment of civil settlements outside many forts on the northern fringes of the empire? Too late to include this thought in the book, but it was embraced by the lectures, and is now an interesting line of research to pursue.

Dr David Caldwell, President of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, introduces the 2019 Rhind lectures. Photo © Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
Professor David J. Breeze delivers the 2019 Rhind Lectures. Photo © Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Header photo: Hadrian’s Wall at Castle Nick. Photo © Peter Savin.

9781789691672Excerpt: Hadrian’s Wall: A study in archaeological exploration and interpretation by David J. Breeze. Archaeopress, 2019. Paperback, ISBN 9781789691672, £19.99; PDF eBook, ISBN 9781789691689, from £16 +VAT (if applicable).


This book stems from the invitation of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland to deliver the Rhind lectures in 2019, sponsored by AOC Archaeology Group. The lectures were endowed by Alexander Henry Rhind, the first being held in 1874, and with rare exceptions they have been held every year since. His legacy stipulates that six lectures have to be delivered. Until 1986 these were held over the course of one week from Wednesday to Wednesday, but in 1987 the pattern was changed and the lectures are now held over a weekend from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. The first lecture of the series sets the scene and, as it is followed by a reception, is something of an occasion. The last lecture tends to be shorter than normal as it may be followed by questions. The subject of the lectures should relate to ‘some branch of archaeology, ethnology, ethnography, or allied topic, in order to assist in the general advancement of knowledge’. I was asked to speak on an aspect of my research on Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman Limes and army, and ‘its wider international, practical and theoretical implications’.

The first two lectures – chapters in this book – provide the historiographical background to our present understanding of Hadrian’s Wall. They start with John Collingwood Bruce, the leading authority on the Wall, from 1848 until his death in 1892, who gave the Rhind lectures in 1883 and whose influence continues to this day. Research on the Wall in the field and in the study from 1892 to the present day are covered in the second lecture. The third and fourth lectures consider the purpose(s) and operation of Hadrian’s Wall from the first plan drawn up soon after Hadrian became emperor in 117 through to the final days of its existence as a frontier shortly after 400. Five distinct ‘plans’ for the Wall are promulgated. The fifth lecture examines the impact of the frontier on the people living in its shadow and beyond. The last lecture reviews the processes which have brought us to an understanding of Hadrian’s Wall and considers the value of research strategies, with some suggestions for the way forward. The chapters in this book reflect closely the lectures themselves with the main change being the addition of references. I am grateful to the Society for its agreement to publish this book to coincide with the lectures and for its support in its preparation.

In order to try to retain a relationship with the lectures I have restricted the number of references in the text. Quotations are always referenced. Detailed references to structures on the Wall may be found in the Handbook to the Roman Wall (Breeze 2006) while work during the last decade is reported in the handbook prepared for the 2019 Pilgrimage of Hadrian’s Wall (Collins and Symonds 2019).

Hadrian’s Wall has acquired its own terminology. At every mile there was a small enclosure called a milecastle (MC), similar to a fortlet (a small fort), which contained a small barrack-block and protected a gate through the Wall. In between each pair of milecastles there were two towers known as turrets (T) after the Latin for a tower, turris. On the Cumbrian coast, the equivalent terminology is milefortlet (MF) and tower (T). These structures on the Wall are numbered westwards from Wallsend and on the Cumbria coast westwards from Bowness-on-Solway. Behind the Wall is an earthwork known as the Vallum. It consists of a central ditch with a mound set back equidistant on each side. As the essential feature is the ditch, it should be termed the Fossa, but it was named the Vallum over a thousand years ago and it is too late to change the name. One issue is to differentiate easily between the Wall, meaning the whole of the frontier complex, and the linear barrier, here called the curtain wall.

Also by or featuring David J. Breeze:

Maryport: A Roman For and Its Community by David J. Breeze. Archaeopress, 2018. Paperback, ISBN 9781784918019, £14.99; PDF eBook, ISBN 9781784918026, from £10 +VAT (if applicable).

Bearsden: The Story of a Roman Fort by David J. Breeze. Archaeopress, 2018. Paperback, ISBN 9781784914905, £20.00; PDF eBook, ISBN 9781784914912, from £16.00 +VAT (if applicable).

Roman Frontier Studies 2009 Proceedings of the XXI International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies (Limes Congress) held at Newcastle upon Tyne in August 2009 edited by Nick Hodgson, Paul Bidwell and Judith Schachtmann. Archaeopress Roman Archaeology Series #25, 2017. Paperback, ISBN 9781784915902, £90.00; PDF eBook, ISBN 9781784915919, from £16.00 +VAT (if applicable).

Latrinae: Roman Toilets in the Northwestern Provinces of the Roman Empire edited by Stefanie Hoss. Archaeopress Roman Archaeology Series #31, 2017. Paperback, ISBN 9781784917258, £35.00; PDF eBook, ISBN 9781784917265, from £16.00 +VAT (if applicable).

The Mycenaean Cemetery at Achaia Clauss near Patras: People, material remains and culture in context

Constantinos Paschalidis introduces his new volume with Archaeopress reporting on excavations of a Mycenaean cemetery, located by the historic Achaia Clauss wine factory, near Patras, Greece.

This work comprises the study of the finds from the excavation of the University of Ioannina and the Archaeological Society at Athens in the Mycenaean cemetery, located by the historic Achaia Clauss wine factory, near Patras. The research was carried out between the years 1988-1992 under the direction of Professor T. Papadopoulos (figs 1, 2). The presentation of the topic expands into seven thematic chapters, proceeding from the whole to the parts – and then returning to the whole. Thus, one progresses from the general review of the cemetery space and the sites, to the analytical description of the excavation, to the remarks on the architecture, to the study of the finds, to the analysis of the burial customs and finally to the narration of the overall history of the cemetery according to chronological period and generation of its people. The eighth and last chapter is an addendum including a presentation of the anthropological analysis of the skeletal material.

Fig. 01
Fig. 1. The vineyard of Achaia Clauss wine factory as it looks from the cemetery site.
Fig. 02
Fig. 2. The vineyard of Achaia Clauss and the Koukouras hill with the Mycenaean cemetery at its feet, seen from the wine factory.

More precisely, the study is organized as follows: Chapter 1 includes a complete and brief catalogue of the Mycenaean sites in Achaea. The cemetery site is described separately with special mention of the neighbouring excavations (fig. 3). Furthermore, in this chapter the distribution and character of the sites across the entire territory is examined and presented as a general overview.

Fig. 3. The Mycenaean settlement on top of the Mygdalia hill, overlooking the Achaia Clauss cemetery at the foot of the Koukouras hill (right), the plain and the gulf of Patras.

In Chapter 2, the description of the tombs is to be found, arranged into three parts for each in turn. The first section focuses on the description of the tomb’s architecture and the clustering and appearance of the finds in it. The second part sums up all the above evidence, following the chronological sequence of the burials. The third part displays, through easy-to-understand tables, the burials along with the gender, the age and the grave-goods of each individual, grouped in chronological order of introduction into the tomb. These tables also record any other non-burial episode that has been attested through the history of the chambers, in chronological order too.

In Chapter 3, the area of Clauss is examined, as well as the layout of the cemetery (figs 4, 5), the architecture of the tombs, the bedrock, the manner of construction and the structural problems related to them.

Chapter 4 contains the analytical catalogue of the finds in each tomb, recorded according to their excavation numbering, accompanied by the corresponding Museum of Patras inventory number. The catalogue contains one or more photos and drawings of each find, its detailed description and bibliographical documentation with parallels selected mainly from published assemblages from the rest of Achaea, Elis and the nearby Ionian islands.

Chapter 5 deals with the analytical presentation of the finds from the cemetery (figs 6a-b), citing typological parallels from the entire Mycenaean world, including comments on their use in the cemetery and in their era, in general. The examination of the finds is arranged according to category: pottery, bronze, bone, stone finds, along with minor objects made of various materials (spindle whorls, seals, beads and a figurine).

In Chapter 6, the burial customs of the cemetery (fig. 7) are discussed as these emerge from the investigation of the archaeological finds and the results of the osteological study by Dr Photini J. P. McGeorge, whose full analysis is not included in the present work and by DrWiesław Więckowski, whose report is presented in Chapter 8.

Fig. 07
Fig. 07. The couple of warrior and his partner from chamber tomb Θ at Clauss. (Drawing by Y. Nakas).

Chapter 7 sums up all of the research data into a brief and concise overview of the burials according to chronological period and generation (phases 1-6 of the LH ΙΙΙC period), with reference to the society that the Clauss people and their contemporaries in the rest of Achaea had brought into being, and with a presentation of the cemetery’s history.

In Chapter 8, Dr Photini J.P. McGeorge presents her detailed study of cremation Θ in tomb N, while Dr Wiesław Więckowski offers the results of his study on the anthropological material from alcove I and tombs K-N.

The richly illustrated documentation of the tombs derives from the archive of the excavation. The photographs of the nearby Mycenaean settlement at Mygdalia Petrotou (fig. 3) come from the archive of its ongoing excavation project and contribute to the understanding of the region’s archaeological landscape. The presentation of the data tables at the end of this book (Appendix) facilitates the comprehension of specific aspects of the cemetery (burial practices according to gender and age, grave-goods according to gender/age/generation, demographic data per generation etc.).

C.Paschalidis et al. The Mycenaean Cemetery at Achaia Clauss near Patras, Archaeopress Archaeology (2018)

The publication of the Mycenaean cemetery at Clauss near Patras, yields information on various aspects of an unknown society situated at the periphery of the Mycenaean world, soon before its gradual end. It presents in a concise way the material culture of the society: the products of the local pottery workshops and their distribution, the metalworking industry of Achaea, the imported bronze objects from the Adriatic coasts, and discuss the role played by the NW Peloponnese in the distribution of these bronze objects throughout the rest of the Postpalatial world.

The detailed presentation of innumerous aspects of the material culture is followed by an analysis of other less tangible aspects of this society such as: the burial customs, the demographics of the cemetery, the palaeopathological findings, signs of social differentiation based on burial practices and offerings, details of family life (fig. 7), habits, and stereotypes, and any other unexpected finds from a society, which despite our ambitious approach remains anonymous, largely unknown, and enigmatic.

The study of the Mycenaean cemetery at Clauss near Patras, offers the chance to enlighten the ‘golden era’ of the NW Peloponnese in the years of the deep crisis that followed the fall of the Mycenaean palaces.

Constantinos Paschalidis
Curator of Antiquities
National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Sincerest thanks to Constantinos for providing this latest entry for the Archaeopress Blog. The Mycenaean Cemetery at Achaia Clauss near Patras is expected to publish late November/early December 2018. Further information on our website here: http://www.archaeopress.com/ArchaeopressShop/Public/displayProductDetail.asp?id={F7224A06-B955-4A45-9279-2A242F2BC99B}