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Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier

Newcastle University via FutureLearn

This course may be unavailable.


Explore the archaeology of the most heavily fortified frontier in the Roman Empire, its people and their lives.

Hadrian’s Wall stretches over 73 miles (117 km), from coast to coast in what is now Northern England. The Wall, complemented by a sophisticated system of outposts and coastal watch stations, offers a remarkable glimpse of ancient society. In addition to housing one of the largest concentrations of Roman soldiers anywhere in the Empire’s provinces, Hadrian’s frontier system was home to an incredibly cosmopolitan array of civilians.

This six week course offers a comprehensive introduction to Hadrian’s Wall and its people and raises fascinating issues concerning colonisation, cultural transformation, immigration, integration and imperialism. We will explore life in the region before the construction of the Wall, the arrival of the Roman army and its impact on the local population. Detailed case studies will consider the different features of the Wall and its surroundings, considering the way in which the frontier system evolved throughout the Roman period. The changing face of both the Roman army and indigenous populations is richly illuminated through archaeological finds and reconstructions. To appreciate the range and character of native people, soldiers’ families, slaves, merchants and migrants, we will examine their homes, dress, diet, rituals and religious beliefs.

Drawing on the very latest research, we will investigate how archaeologists interpret evidence, considering:

  • the factors that determine the survival of evidence
  • the different methods of archaeological prospection used to detect settlement locations and better understand their organisation
  • the planning of archaeological projects
  • excavation techniques
  • and the detailed study of structures and artefacts.

As part of the course you can test your understanding of these methods with real case studies and participate in a series of archaeological experiments designed to help you appreciate the complexities of daily life on Rome’s most famous frontier.

Find out more about new discoveries and how learners are helping to shape the content of these course runs on the FutureLearn blog.

This course is intended for anyone with an interest in the archaeology or history of the Roman Empire. It focuses on the most heavily fortified Roman frontier, located in what is now northern England. It does not require any reading before you start, or previous experience of studying these subjects.


  • Welcome to the Wall
    • Introduction
    • Wall essentials
    • Life before the Wall
    • The Stanegate
    • Clues to the plan: what were the builders thinking?
    • Summary of the first week
  • The Roman Army in Britain
    • The Roman Army's evolving role in the story of Hadrian's Wall
    • Invasion force
    • Garrisoning the Wall
    • The late Roman Army
    • What have you learnt so far?
    • Cold case: the head in the ditch
  • Frontier communities: Life in the northern frontier late 1st-early 3rd century
    • Welcome to week 3
    • Frontier landscapes
    • Populations
    • Identity on Roman frontiers
    • We're halfway through the course.
  • Ritual, religion and the Roman Wall
    • Introduction
    • Naming and seeing the gods
    • Syncretism
    • Digging ritual
    • Honouring the gods
    • Christianity along the Wall
    • What have we learnt?
  • Conflict, consolidation and renaissance: life on the Wall in the 3rd and 4th centuries
    • Introduction to week 5
    • The Severan period
    • The 3rd century crisis?
    • The 4th century
    • A 4th century banquet
    • The value of visualisation
  • The ending of the Wall
    • Introduction to the final week
    • The end of the Wall
    • The antiquaries
    • The modern landscape
    • Conclusions

Taught by

Ian Haynes


4.1 rating, based on 7 Class Central reviews

4.9 rating at FutureLearn based on 176 ratings

Start your review of Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier

  • One of the first MOOCs I took (2015), and still one of the best. I'd visited various sites along the Wall (Vindolanda, Housesteads, Birdoswald...) before taking the course, but having taken the course I was able to appreciate them far more. I'm planning to take the course a second time to see what new discoveries have turned up, and what new thinking has emerged about the case studies.
  • Peri Ost
    The information in this course is very much of the broad sweeping strokes-variety, but the educators place emphasis on considering available evidence and how to draw conclusions from it. It is also worth taking a look at just for the interesting use of futurelearn's quizzes.
  • Eric Gehlhaar
    I do not like the futurelearn platform ; and many of the courses I have sampled are unsatisfactory samplers for degree modules. This is in contrast a lovely course well presented, thorough and varied.
  • Millie B.
  • Prateek Kaushik
  • Cécile

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