Hadrian’s frontier policy in Britain (CIL VII, 498)

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Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Found re-used in St Paul’s Church, Jarrow. Original site unknown.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Great North Museum, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK: Hancock. Inv. 1851.11 and 1965.7.1
119 CE to 138 CE
Physical Characteristics: 

The inscription survives in two fragments, one of which (a) was re-used in the Saxon period; it was placed face down and additional carvings in the shape of the arms of a cross were added to the back. Identified in 1782 during the restoration of Jarrow church. 

Fragment a:
Height: 0.5588 m
Width: 0.5588 m

Fragment b:
Height: 0.5334 m
Width: 0.5842m
CIL VII, 498
In 1782 two fragments of a monumental inscription were discovered in the ruins of church in Jarrow, in northeast England. Although fragmentary, a reconstruction of the text has been proposed – and widely accepted – which suggests that the fragments come from a large commemorative monument, possibly a tropaeum or ‘war memorial’. The surviving fragments of text are indicative of a monument that was set up to celebrate Hadrian’s confirmation of the border line in the north of England, and the construction of the wall that bore his name. The inscription is, therefore, an important source for understanding Hadrian’s approach to the frontier in the province of Britannia, which shall be shown to be part of his wider policy of expansion and border control. 
The two fragments excavated in the eighteenth century were not always understood to have come from the same monument, or to contain parts of the same text. However, the systematic examination of the fragments by Ian Richmond and Richard Wright, which was published in 1943, has revealed that they are in fact from one single monument, whose full inscriptional text is also proposed (Richmond and Wright, “Stones from a Hadrianic War Memorial,” p. 93-120). The text that they reconstructed was originally composed of perhaps 18 lines, and took a narrative form; according to their reconstruction, the inscription began with an acclamation of Hadrian’s titles, which linked him to the tradition of the imperial cult through the declaration that he was a “son of all the gods” (divorum omnium filius). The reconstructed dates also suggest a date for the inscription; if they are correct in line 5 that Hadrian’s third consulship was referred to, then the earliest the stone can have been set up is 119 CE, when his role in that magistracy began. Following the imperial titles came a statement of policy, that it had been necessary for him to keep the empire within its limits (imposita necessitate imperii / intra fines conservati), and that this policy had come to him through a divine precept (divino praecepto). The central portion of the inscription is entirely lost, but Richmond and Wright propose that it dealt with “the achievement of victory” and the means by which Hadrian secured the British limes (frontier). Fragment B comes from the final section of the inscription, in which the construction of physical borders to the empire – such as Hadrian’s Wall – is described (for a full discussion of how this text was originally composed, see Richmond and Wright, “Stones from a Hadrianic War Memorial,” p. 103-118). Later examinations of the inscription, such as by Eric Birley, have questioned whether or not the two fragments of stone were inscribed by two hands; he observed that HADR, in line 2 of fragment a, is cut in “smaller letters than any of the others” (the lettering of line 4 of fragment a is actually slightly smaller), which is somewhat at odds with typical dedications to the emperor and the imperial house. He suggested that this was a Severan inscription, based on the lettering, which referred to Hadrian as the original builder (Birley, Research on Hadrian’s Wall, p. 159). Ian Richmond and Richard Wright found it impossible to restore Septimius Severus’s name and titles alongside the fragmentary letters of fragment a however, and thus their reconstruction – although far from certain – has remained the accepted version of the text (see commentary in RIB I, 1051a and 1051b). What is your view?
It is clear from the erection of an inscription and the suggestion of a commemorative monument, as well as the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, that there had been some trouble in the province of Britannia at the start of Hadrian’s reign. In the Historia Augusta it is reported that the Britons could not be kept under Roman control (Historia Augusta, Life of Hadrian 5), in an apparent reference to fighting between the British tribes and the legio IX Hispana, which resulted in heavy losses to Rome (Birley, Hadrian, p. 123). The trouble had broken out seemingly after the reduction of Rome’s military presence in Britannia during Trajan’s reign, after a number of regiments were reduced, or entirely removed, in order to support the campaigns of the Second Dacian and Parthian Wars (Birley, “Britain under Trajan and Hadrian,” p. 131-132). In order to subdue the revolts and restore peace to Britain, Hadrian made an important strategic decision in 122 CE that saw an entire legion – the VI Victrix – moved from Vetra (Xanten) in Lower Germany to join the garrison of Britain; the emperor’s friend, Platorius Nepos, was given command of the province’s army and Hadrian himself likely accompanied him on the journey to Britain, arriving at some point in the second half of that year (Birley, Hadrian, p 125). Although it is not clear exactly when, Hadrian certainly visited the ‘frontier’ in the north of Britain, after which the command was given to mark the limits of the province with an artificial barrier (Birley, Hadrian, p. 128). It was a stone wall with regularly spaced guard-posts and towers every Roman mile, which connected the existing forts of the frontier (for the archaeology of Hadrian’s Wall, see Breeze, Hadrian's Wall). Various motivations have been proposed for its construction, with its utility as a defensive mechanism seeming to respond to the reports in the Historia Augusta of the hostility of the British tribes. The inscription seems to confirm this point, describing the “dispersal of barbarians” (diffusis barbaris). Eric Birley proposed that the wall was “an instrument of peaceful policy,” that would allow Rome to easily ‘Romanise’ all those within its line (“Hadrianic frontier policy,” p. 26-28). This was undoubtedly true; once an established boundary was set, the common practices of all those within the boundary could be more systematically controlled, and connections between the different communities of the province could be built. However, as Anthony Birley has noted, the wall should also be understood as a “symbolic gesture, aimed at a domestic audience, to signal the end to expansion” (“Britain under Trajan and Hadrian,” p. 133). This latter suggestion is an important point, especially when considered as part of a general ‘frontier policy’ rather than an isolated incident. In Germany too, between the Rhine and Danube rivers, Hadrian had erected a physical boundary; made of wooden palisades and a small section of stone wall, it defined the border of Roman territory as the bank of the lower Rhine, and was also served by towers and fortifications. The message on the Limes Germanicus was the same as in Britain, and one that significantly adjusted Rome’s ideological vision of imperium; although their power had been constituted as ‘without end’ (imperium sine fine) by Vergil’s Jupiter, by the early second century CE it had become clear that for the empire to survive, the age of expansion must come to an end. As Anthony Birley states, “[it] was still to last forever, no doubt, but it had now a precise and tangible spatial limit” (Hadrian, p. 134). Further evidence for this ‘frontier policy’ can be seen in Hadrian’s withdrawal from Parthia, after which he reaffirmed the line of the Euphrates River as the limit of Rome’s direct control and relinquished the territories of Armenia and Mesopotamia back to their client-kings and previous rulers (Sicker, The Pre-Islamic Middle East, p. 167-168). His intention appears to have been to consolidate control of Rome’s territories without further exposing the army to areas of weakness or potential threat; if that meant letting go of areas that had been hard to manage, their loss was surely a pre-emptive protective measure that ensured Rome’s longer-term safety.
The province of Britannia was retained and clearly defined by Hadrian’s Wall. The construction of an artificial boundary was innovative, and one that proclaimed the restitution of safety and security under Rome’s protection. There was, however, one further ideological statement made implicit in its construction; when the Legio VI Victrix had arrived at the border, it dedicated two altars to the Gods Neptune and Oceanus, close to where a bridge across the River Tyne (the Pons Aelius, named after Hadrian’s gens) was also built (RIB I, 1319 and 1320). Alexander the Great was known to have sacrificed to the same deities when he reached the Hydaspes, a tributary of the river Indus, and so the actions of Hadrian’s soldiers here may be an attempt at a kind of mirror-image (Birley, “Britain under Trajan and Hadrian,” p. 132. For Alexander’s sacrifice, see Arrian, Indica, 18.11). Just as Alexander had reached the furthest boundaries in the East, Hadrian was the first ruler to reach the furthest reaches of the West, where he marked his presence by building a monument – the wall – between the two shores of Ocean. 
Bibliographical references: 
Birley, Eric, Hadrianic frontier policy, in Carnuntina. Ergebnisse der Forschung über die Grenzprovinz des römischen Reiches. Römische Forschungen in Niederösterreich III (ed. E. Swoboda; Graz: H. Böhlaus Nachf, 1956), 25-33
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Hadrian’s frontier policy in Britain (CIL VII, 498)
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron
Publishing date: Sat, 10/21/2017 - 14:00
URL: https://www.judaism-and-rome.org/hadrian%E2%80%99s-frontier-policy-britain-cil-vii-498
Visited: Fri, 03/01/2024 - 19:52

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