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Hi guys,

My main interest is in (late) Roman frontiers, and one question which keeps coming up is how they were named. We're used to Hadrian's Wall being the modern name of the most northerly Roman frontier (apart from the short-lived Antonine version). However, it's interesting that the recently discovered pateras from northern Britain seem to list not only some of the forts along the wall, but imply the name of the frontier itself, e.g. the Staffordshire Moorland's pan has: 'Valli Aeli' (Aelius being Hadrian's family name). So it may actually have been known as 'Hadrian's Wall(um)' in Roman times...

Then of course, there's the question of frontiers being named after the enemy who they were built to defend against. We know about the Saxon Shore forts,
listed in the Notitia Dignitatum, but it's often claimed that's a unique case. However, I did recently hear mention about the Danube river frontier apparently being named: 'The Gothic Bank' (or Ripa Gothica) though I'm having trouble finding any Roman source for that. There was a hint that the original source was quoted in Gibbon's tome on the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire (maybe during the reign of Valerian) but I cannot find it in my version. So does anyone know which ancient source might list the Ripa Gothica? Thanks in advance.
Original or 'true' names are hard to come by. It's far less than certain that vallum Aelii was a generally accepted term or what it actually meant. For example, Beda differentiates between the actual stone wall (murus) and the additional fortification to the South (vallum). In turn, Ammianus Marcellinus might have known the term munimentum Traiani as a common name for the Germanic "Limes" - or not.
Litus Saxonicum and ripa Gothica might as well have been named after people settling there. The latter term appears in the Excerptum Valesianum (namely chapter 35), partly a biography of Emperor Constantine I, which is dated to the mid or late 4th century CE. Later interpolations are still possible, of course.
Thanks, Lupianus, for the source of the term Ripa Gothica. However, your other comments only raise more questions:

Firstly, it's always been a mystery to me why so many people refer to the rearward-facing ditch on Hadrian's Wall as the 'vallum', when that term is surely misapplied, and should describe the actual wall itself. Bede may indeed refer to it as a 'murus', but murus and vallum are interchangeable in Latin as descriptions of a rampart/defensive-wall. And of course, the modern English word 'wall' is directly derived from the Latin word 'vallum' - the letter 'v' in Latin was pronounced as a 'w', so 'vallum' was pronounced as 'wallum, and English has simply dropped the Latin ending. Here's what Webster's dictionary says:

"Wall: Middle English from Old English 'w(e)all', meaning 'rampart', from Western Germanic, borrowed from Latin 'vallum', meaning 'rampart set with palisade stakes'. See also Latin 'vallus', meaning 'palisade-stake'."

Similarly, the English word 'weal' means a 'ridge' (not a ditch). And although the 'rearward-facing ditch' behind Hadrian's Wall was accompanied by a pair of earth mounds, both mounds are thought to have been only about 6 feet high - less than half as high as the stone Wall in front of them. Nor have I heard any suggestion that those earth mounds were topped with palisade stakes (they may have been, but I haven't heard any evidence). 

And here's what the dictionary says for a rampart: "A broad topped and usually stone parapetted defensive mound of earth." Which would make sense as a description for the actual stone wall of Hadrian, itself, but not so much for the rearward-facing ditch with its pair of earthen mounds. After all, the wall west of Birdoswald fort was originally built of earth, and only later completed in stone. Similarly, the 'vallum ditch' does not continue east between Newcastle and Wallsend, so is not a continuous part of the frontier. So if either the wall + frontal ditch or the rearward ditch + mounds deserve to be known as the 'vallum', then surely its the wall; and perhaps all these elements combined together. But not the rearward-ditch on its own.

As to the name used by the Romans, here is what Dr. Nick Hodgson says in his book: 'Hadrian's Wall 1999-2009', p.20:

"Vallum Aelium - the contemporary name of Hadrian's Wall?

"In 2003, metal detectorists found a copper alloy pan near Ilam in Staffordshire... this skillet or trulla is clearly part of a group of related vessels of which the Rudge Cup and the Amiens Skillet are the best known. Like those vessels, the new discovery has an inscription listing forts at the western end of Hadrian's Wall. A preliminary reading and discussion of the text has been published by R.S.O. Tomlin (Britannia 35, p.344-5): 'Rigore val(l)i Aeli Draconis Mais Congabata Uxelodunum Camboglanna'.

"There are two possible translations of the Latin: 'On the line of the Wall, [the product or property] of Aelius Draco...' or 'On the line of the Aelian Wall, [the product or property] of Draco...'. Tomlin concludes that 'The absence of a praenomen [to go with 'Aelius Draco'] is far from decisive, but it lends support to the idea of taking Aeli with val(l)i. It would then follow that Hadrian's Wall was literally so-called: Vallum Aelium.' There is a real possibility, then, that this object reveals the contemporary name of Hadrian's Wall. There are good parallels: most obviously there are two instances of 'pons Aelius'. The bridge in Rome and the name of the fort, plus its associated bridge, on Hadrian's Wall at Newcastle. And Jerusalem was refounded by Hadrian as Aelia Capitolina. The Draco of the inscription must have been the manufacturer or the owner (a retired soldier?) for whom it was made."
First off, ancient terminology is anything but fixed. Much to our regret, of course. Wink

However, at least Bede is quite specific:

Quote:Historia Ecclesiastica 1.5
Murus etenim de lapidibus, uallum uero, quo ad repellendam uim hostium castra muniuntur, fit de cespitibus, quibus circumcisis, e terra uelut murus exstruitur altus supra terram, ita ut in ante sit fossa, de qua leuati sunt cespites, supra quam sudes de lignis fortissimis praefiguntur.
For a stone wall (murus) is made of stones, a rampart (vallum), with which camps are fortified to repel the assaults of enemies, is made of sods, cut out of the earth, and raised high above the ground all round like a wall,  so that there is in front the ditch whence the sods were taken and very strong wooden stakes fixed before it.

Said "vallum" Bede ascribes to Septimius Severus. Consequently there is mention of a second 'rampart' built somewhen during the early 5th century:

Quote:Historia Ecclesiastica 1.12
At insulani murum, quem iussi fuerant, non tam lapidibus quam cespitibus construentes, utpote nullum tanti operis artificem habentes, ad nihil utilem statuunt.
But the islanders raising the wall, as they had been directed, not of stone, as having no artist capable of such work, but of sods, it was of no use.

This is, by its following course, quite possibly the 'Antonine Wall'. Then, at the very end of the period, the actual stone wall is erected, before the Romans leave Britain for good:

Quote:ibid.
Quin etiam, quia et hoc sociis, quos derelinquere cogebantur, aliquid commodi adlaturum putabant, murum a mari ad mare recto tramite inter urbes, quae ibidem ob metum hostium factae fuerant, ubi et Seuerus quondam uallum fecerat, firmo de lapide conlocarunt…
Thinking, too, that it might be some help to their allies [the Britons], whom they [the Romans] were forced to abandon, from sea to sea, in a straight line between the towns that had been there built for fear of the enemy, they built from strong stone a wall where Severus had erected a rampart…

So, in the 8th century there's a clear distinction between three lines of "walls". Calling the southernmost rampart "vallum" is a recent convention derived from that erroneous classificiation, just because there's no better alternative. We must not assume that Bede, whose chronology is clearly mixed up as well, had access to actual Roman terminology. But at the same time he doesn't attribute 'the Wall' to Hadrian. This is a relatively modern consensus, based on the antiquarian reading of inscriptions and the Historia Augusta (namely vita Hadriani 11.2). I'm referring here to Richard Hingley's 'Hadrian's Wall. A Life' (Oxford 2012).

Anyway, my point is: "vallum Aelium/Aeli" most likely was a Roman name for Hadrian's Wall, but we've no clue if it was the name.
The old Roman walls in former province of Dacia were known as the Limes Transalutanus, don't know if that is of any use to you?
[quote pid='337613' dateline='1467879018']
Anyway, my point is: "vallum Aelium/Aeli" most likely was a Roman name for Hadrian's Wall, but we've no clue if it was the name.
[/quote]

RIB 2034 from Kirksteads talks of successful events 'trans vallum' so there is every reason to think that it was at least an informal name for the Wall.

Also interesting to note that whilst contemporary Germans used to seem to prefer Hadriansmauer, it is now much more common to find Hadrianswall - who knows what linguistic nuances lie behind that subtle shift?!

Mike Bishop
Quote:Similarly, the 'vallum ditch' does not continue east between Newcastle and Wallsend, so is not a continuous part of the frontier

From Newcastle to Wallsend the ditch isn't needed, the wall runs close along the river.
From the bridge at Newcastle to Wallsend would slready be a closed military zone.
(07-07-2016, 08:50 AM)ValentinianVictrix Wrote: [ -> ]The old Roman walls in former province of Dacia were known as the Limes Transalutanus

I was under the impression that limes referred to the entire frontier zone or military district, rather than the physical wall or palisade - although modern historians often tend to use the word in that way. But are there any examples of the barrier itself being called the limes in Roman times?
(07-07-2016, 09:53 AM)Nathan Ross Wrote: [ -> ]
(07-07-2016, 08:50 AM)ValentinianVictrix Wrote: [ -> ]The old Roman walls in former province of Dacia were known as the Limes Transalutanus

I was under the impression that limes referred to the entire frontier zone or military district, rather than the physical wall or palisade - although modern historians often tend to use the word in that way. But are there any examples of the barrier itself being called the limes in Roman times?

Some would mention CIL 6, 2086: "III Id(us) Aug(ustas) in Capitolio ante cella(m) Iunonis Reg(inae) fratres Arvales co<n=M>venerunt quod dominus n(oster) Imp(erator) sanctissim(us) / Pius M(arcus) Aurel{l}ius Antoninus Aug(ustus) pont(ifex) max(imus) per limitem Raetiae ad hostes extirpandos barbarorum (terram) introi/turus est…" – On the third day before the Ides of August the Arval brothers met on the Capitol in front of the temple of Juno the Queen, because our lord, the most holy emperor Pius Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, pontifex maximus, was entering [the land] of the barbarians via(?) the limes of Raetia in order to erase the enemies…
Yet again it's debatable what "per limitem" actually means, hence my question mark. Quite often it's read as "crossing the limes". But as far as I know the term "limes" didn't mean a 'border line' as such but rather paths or aisles leading into an area. (Cf. Tacitus, Agricola 41.2: "nec iam de limite imperii et ripa, sed de hibernis legionum et possessione dubitatum" – when it was no longer aisle and river bank [=paths of advance] of the empire which were imperilled, but the winter-quarters of the legions and [our] possession [=the rear].)

So, short answer: I'm not aware of any contemporary source for limes=barrier, but gladly accepting advice. Smile

PS: No question there were Roman terms, some widely used, some not. But there are no definitive answers, and surely no 'submerged' knowledge of these things handed down to us.
(07-07-2016, 10:44 AM)Lupianus Wrote: [ -> ]But as far as I know the term "limes" didn't mean a 'border line' as such but rather paths or aisles leading into an area. (Cf. Tacitus, Agricola 41.2: "nec iam de limite imperii et ripa, sed de hibernis legionum et possessione dubitatum" – when it was no longer aisle and river bank [=paths of advance] of the empire which were imperilled, but the winter-quarters of the legions and [our] possession [=the rear].)

I don't think that I would read Tacitus in that way. What he seems to be saying is that not only the frontier zones (constituting the land and river boundaries) but the areas in the rear were under threat.
(07-07-2016, 10:44 AM)Lupianus Wrote: [ -> ]Quite often it's read as "crossing the limes". But as far as I know the term "limes" didn't mean a 'border line' as such but rather paths or aisles leading into an area.

Yes, I would think so too - it would mean the network of roads, fortifications and military posts, and the surrounding district under military control. So Caracalla 'passed through' the frontier (area) of Raetia to 'erase' the Alamanni.

Regarding the naming of parts, and despite Bede's attempts to distinguish them, I like Collingwood's idea that from an 'architectural point of view' the wall would be the murus and the ditch a fossa, but from a 'tactical point of view' the whole thing might be called the vallum.
Nathan, sounds perfectly possible.

Michael, true, it's an interpretation. But Tacitus uses the term "limes" on very few and quite specific occasions, where the common "barrier" or "frontier" translations don't really work (he would use "terminus" for the latter). Here's what others have found, namely Wolfgang Moschek (Der Römische Limes. Eine Kultur- und Mentalitätsgeschichte. Speyer 2011), no exhaustive list:
Quote:Annales 1.50
at Romanus agmine propero silvam Caesiam limitemque a Tiberio coeptum scindit, castra in limite locat, frontem ac tergum vallo, latera concaedibus munitus
But the Roman [general] in a forced march, cut through the Caesian forest and the aisle which had been begun by Tiberius [=to reopen an existing road], and he pitched his camp on that aisle, front and rear being defended by a rampart, flanks by timber barricades.

Annales 2.7
et cuncta inter castellum Alisonem ac Rhenum novis limitibus aggeribusque permunita
And all the land between Aliso and the Rhine was thorougly secured by new aisles and dykes [=pioneers building roads].

Histories 3.21
dextro octava per apertum limitem, mox tertia densis arbustis intersaepta
From the right [came] the Eighth [legion] through an opened aisle, and then the Third, separated by some thick brushwood [=they are in a forest area].
I'm not saying that Tacitus used a fixed, universally accepted terminology here, rather that his usage appears to be quite consistent.
(07-07-2016, 01:56 PM)Lupianus Wrote: [ -> ]Tacitus uses the term "limes" on very few and quite specific occasions, where the common "barrier" or "frontier" translations don't really work

Hmm, possibly - although 'aisle' also sounds very peculiar and not very exact in English!

The Loeb translation uses 'line of delimitation' for the first Annals quote, and 'barriers' for the second. The quote from Histories is very odd - Loeb has a 'cross road', which doesn't seem much like a line of anything... Unless the idea is that the road was at the margin of the wood or the battle area, and thus 'limited' it in some way?
English isn't my first language, perhaps there's a more exact term for "a path cut through forested area"?
I know that there are other translations for "limes" in Tactitus' works, but they're different for no obvious reasons. "cross road" sounds particularly weird, to be honest. Big Grin
Limes is a word that has a variety of meanings. It can mean a boundary or barrier, fortified or not, or a path or way. It is possible that Tacitus uses it in different senses at different times. It is also possible that the idea of a limes as a frontier in the sense that we would understand it had not fully developed in Tacitus' day. In any event, a frontier line would require some means of communication between the installations on it and a road, such as the Stanegate in north Britain, would provide such a means of communication. It would be a relatively small step for the limes as a frontier road to come to mean the frontier itself.
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