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Making Sense of Hadrian's Wall

Introduction

Planning a site visit is a very detailed business and it can be possible to lose sight of the contexts, both chronological and geographical, in the midst of the sorting out the detail of tasks to be undertaken on each part of a site.

This simple activity focuses on the geographical context i.e. helping children studying or visiting an individual site on Hadrian’s Wall to understand where that site fitted into the whole – and how the sequence of forts, milecastles and turrets inter-relate. And it will still help students understand something of the Wall even if you don’t undertake a site visit.

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Support

A formatted version of this activity should print from your browser (omitting this support section).

Or, a WORD version of this activity can be downloaded, click here.

Useful resources are shown at the bottom of the page, click here.

This activity is based on the ’Physical Map’ style of model; for more examples of this model, click here.

Objectives

This brief physical activity is designed to help pupils understand:

  1. that Hadrian’s Wall consists of a series of forts, milecastles and turrets and why they are organized as they are
  2. where individual forts e.g. Housesteads and Vindolanda fit in the context of Hadrian’s Wall
  3. that other forts and Roman settlements were in the area before the Wall was built

Setting Up

1. You need a large empty space so you can use your pupils as forts, milecastles and turrets to simulate the plan of the wall

2. You need tabards labelled with the names of any forts you want to pick out (e.g. Housesteads and Vindolanda) in relation to a field trip or particular investigation. If pupils are likely to know the names of any other sites on Hadrian’s Wall (e.g. Segedunum), add those as well.

The Activity

Stage 1 – Building the Wall

Your task is to plan and build the wall using your pupils as building materials.

Your script can go something like this:

Today we’re going to plan a 3-mile section of Hadrian’s Wall. The Emperor Hadrian has ordered that we build a small castle every mile which will house about 12 soldiers.

[Note – most milecastles had barracks for at least 8 soldiers but at least two seem to have housed 32 soldiers]

Ask - Why do you think we need a small castle like this every mile?

Bring out 4 pupils to be milecastles. Space them out carefully as there needs to be space to fit turrets.

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Tell milecastle-pupils to sit down.

Your script continues:

Now can anyone see a problem? The milecastles are a mile apart …. Do we need any more buildings? [Add further prompting if necessary – can the soldiers in the milecastles see everything between them? What happens if there’s a problem between the milecastles?]

So we need to add some more buildings – would these be larger or smaller than the milecastles? Smaller – we need some turrets.

Identify 6 more pupils and space them equally between the milecastles as turrets –

Note - turrets were guarded by at least two men. They had cooking facilities

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Get the turret-pupils to sit down and the milecastle-pupils to kneel up, to distinguish between the two.

Your script continues:

Are there enough soldiers here to guard the whole frontier? If not, where do most of the soldiers go?

Answer – they lived in much larger forts so we need a large fort at either end of our section.

Add 2 pupils as forts – with them standing up as they’re the largest.

[Note Housesteads, for example, was garrisoned by 800-1000 men]

So now you’ve created a section of Hadrian’s Wall and the pupils can see forts, milecastles and turrets in order of size – the forts are standing, the milecastles kneeling up and the turrets sitting down. Many pupils will find this physical representation much more memorable than looking at a diagram.

Stage 2 – Where do Housesteads and Vindolanda fit in?

Now start again with an empty space but then fill it by lining up 16 pupils – spaced out along the room. Your script could go like this, varying it according to your site-visit or need:

You are the forts on Hadrian’s Wall – 16 of you for 16 forts. This is the west-end (west of Carlisle) – and this is the east-end (east of Newcastle).

On our visit we are going to see the forts of Housesteads and Vindolanda. How far along the wall do you think is the fort of Housesteads?

They probably won’t know – but they can guess. In fact it’s the 8th fort from the east – so put the Housesteads tabard on the 8th pupil from the right.

The script continues:

Now – which fort do you think is Vindolanda?

Gather a few guesses from pupils – then reveal that Vindolanda isn’t one of these forts at all – it’s placed a little behind the wall – and in fact it was built c. 40 years BEFORE Hadrian’s Wall. This is important for understanding the Wall and Vindolanda as it’s very easy for visitors of all ages to think that the Wall and its forts were the first Roman buildings in the area.

Bring out another pupil to be Vindolanda and stand him/her away from the wall. Give her/him the Vindolanda tabard to wear.

Continue to identify as many or as few places on the wall as you wish.

Debriefing

Some alternatives:

1. Once pupils are sitting down again ask them to draw a plan of a section of Hadrian’s Wall showing forts, milecastles and turrets.

2. Look at uncaptioned pictures of forts, milecastles and turrets and ask pupils which kind of building they think each is.

3. After a field visit, ask pupils to repeat the physical activities of their own accord without your guidance or with as little guidance as possible.

Notes & Variations

Chronological context

You may also find that students’ understanding is helped by creating a creating a simple physical timeline of Roman Britain. Mark out a timeline in the hall or outside the school – 40AD-400AD – then ask students to suggest where on the line go e.g. the Roman conquest, Boudica’s revolt, the Roman settlement of the north and building of Vindolanda, building Hadrian’s Wall, departure of Roman legions. This will show how many years of Roman occupation followed the building of the Wall compared to the period before. Having done this sequencing activity students’ sense of duration can be enhanced by relating the Roman timeline to their own lifetimes and those of their parents and grandparents – how far along the line from the Roman invasion does lifetime go? Your parents? Your grandparents? This will help students slowly develop some sense of the great length of the Roman occupation.

Reflections

  1. How effective was your use of space? Would you do anything differently in terms of organization next time? (And don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back!)
  2. Did students enjoy the nature of the activity and what impact did this have on their learning?
  3. How else could this technique of physical representation be used within your course?

Resources

Useful websites on Hadrian’s Wall are:

1. The Reticulum Project developed at the University of Newcastle with the help of local primary schools

http://museums.ncl.ac.uk/reticulum/Intro.htm

2. The World Heritage Site education materials

http://museums.ncl.ac.uk/wallnet/wall/index.htm

3. Vindolanda’s own website. New KS2 and KS3 packs by Ian Dawson were published in 2006, built around enquiry questions and providing activities to prepare pupils for visits and follow-up activities to complete the investigations.

http://www.vindolanda.com/

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Feedback

Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

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This Page

Introduction

Support

Objectives

Setting Up

The Activity

Debriefing

Notes & Variations

Reflections

Resources

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