Page last updated at 06:07 GMT, Tuesday, 8 July 2008 07:07 UK

Recognition for empire's final frontier

By Jo Perry
Central reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Antonine Wall at Rough Castle. Pic by Undiscovered Scotland
Defensive pits or 'lilia' on the north side of the wall at Rough Castle

The decision by Unesco to award world heritage status to the Antonine Wall represents the perfect conclusion to a long-fought campaign to have the significance of the landmark fully recognised.

Built in AD142 on the orders of then Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius as a defence against Celtic tribes after the conquest of southern Scotland, the wall spanned 37 miles (59.5km) across central Scotland.

The decision to grant it world heritage status also marks a further addition to the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site, an ambitious international project to recognise the entire frontier, which stretches through Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Unlike Hadrian's wall in the south, the Antonine Wall was abandoned by the Romans after about 20 years despite the huge effort that would have gone into its construction.

The scale of the structure that was imposed on the landscape would have been dramatic for people in the area
Dr George Findlater

It was built by soldiers on stone foundations, topped with turf and stood about 4m (13ft) high and would have been a formidable sight for locals.

It was also fronted by a huge ditch thought to be about 4m (13ft) deep and anything up to 12m (39.3ft) wide.

Experts believe the structure, which ran from Bo'ness near Falkirk to Old Kilpatrick in West Dunbartonshire, probably carried a wooden walkway protected by a wooden breastwork.

It was also linked by a road so soldiers could be easily be moved to trouble spots quickly.

Forts were constructed along its length at two-mile intervals, resulting in a total of 19.

Just under two miles west of the centre of Falkirk is one of the best preserved forts at Rough Castle.

'Roman power'

Here visitors can get a real impression of what the wall would have looked like, and what life would have been like for the troops manning it.

At this fort, the soldiers installed an additional line of defence consisting of pits of sharpened stakes concealed by brushwood.

Known to the Romans as lilia, their role was to break up any attack on the north gate of the fort before it reached the line of the wall itself.

Dr George Findlater, a senior inspector of monuments with Historic Scotland, said the wall was a potent symbol of Roman power at the time.

He said: "The scale of the structure that was imposed on the landscape would have been dramatic for people in the area.

"Society then would've been tribal and family-based. It is unlikely they would have seen anything like this before. It would have been almost shocking for them to see."

Despite being an arresting structure, the wall did not fulfil its role for long and instead the Romans fell back to their positions at Hadrian's Wall.

The reasons for its abandonment remain unclear although some have speculated that constant attacks from the Celts may have contributed.

The wall runs from the Clyde to the Forth across central Scotland
The wall runs from the Clyde to the Forth across central Scotland

Today however, the 22km (13.6 miles) of the structure that remain, represent the most northerly walled frontier of the Roman Empire.

Along with Historic Scotland, the successful bid to have the wall recognised was put forward by East and West Dunbartonshire Councils, Falkirk Council, Glasgow City Council and North Lanarkshire Council.

The benefits of being granted World Heritage Status, an accolade shared by such iconic landmarks as Stonehenge and the Great Wall of China, are clear.

Falkirk councillor, Adrian Mahoney said: "Gaining world heritage status is a major achievement and there are so many new opportunities to maximise the benefit to our local area in the future.

"There will be many economic and tourism related advantages as the international interest in the wall and its significance increases.

"Our local area has the most extensive parts of the wall remaining at Rough castle near Camelon, Callendar Park in Falkirk and Kinneil in Bo'ness.

"We would expect that these areas would attract the most interest, as would our museums at Callendar House and Kinneil.

"The significance of the announcement cannot be underestimated."

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