The following is from Britannia by William Camden:
Vallum sive Murus Picticus, that is, The Picts Wall
THROUGH the high part of Cumberland shooteth that most famous Wall (in no case to bee passed over in silence), the limite of the Roman province, the Barbarian Rampier, the Fore-fence and Enclosure (for so the ancient writers tearmed it), being called in Dion διατείχισμα, that is a Crosse wall, in Herodian χῶμα, that is, a Trench or Fosse cast up, by Antonine, Cassiodore and others vallum, that is, the Rampier, by Bede murus, that is the Wal, by the Britans Gual-Sever, Gal-Sever, Bal, Val, and Mur-sever, by the Scottish Scottishwaith, by the English and those that dwell thereabouts the Picts Wall or the Pehits Wall, the Keepe wall, and simply, by way of excellencie, The Wall.
2. When the ambitious and valiant Romans, finding, by the guidance of God and assistance of vertue, their successe in all their affaires above their wishes, had enlarged their Empire every way so as that the very unwealdinesse thereof beganne now to be of it selfe fearefully suspected, their Emperors thought it their best and safest policy to limit and conteine the same within certaine bounds. For in wisdome they say that in all greatnesse there ought to be a meane, like as the heaven it selfe reacheth not beyond the limited compasse, and the seas are tossed to and from within their owne precincts. Now those limites or bounds, according to the natures of the places, were either natural, as the sea, greater rivers, mountaines, wasts and desert grounds, or artificiall, as Frontier-fenses, namely trenches or dykes, castles, keeps or fortresses, wards, mounds, and baricadoes by trees cut downe and plashed [stripped], bankes, rampiers and walles. Along which were planted garisons of souldiors against the Barbarous nations confining. Whence it is that we read thus in the Novellae of Theodosius the Emperor: Whatsoever lieth included within the powre and regiment of the Romans is by the appointment and dispose of our ancestors defended from the Incursions of Barbarians with the rampier of a Limit. Along these limits or borders, souldiers lay garisoned in time of peace within Frontier-castles and cities, but when there was any feare of wast and spoile from bordering nations, some of them had their field-stations within the Barbarian ground for defence of the lands; others made out-rodes into the enemies marches to discover how the enemies stirred, yea, and if good occasion were offered, to encounter with them before them came to the Limites.
3. In this Island, the Romans when they perceived that the farther parts of Britaine lying North were so cold a rough barraine soile, and inhabited by the Caledonian Britans and Barbarous nations, in subduing whereof they were so sure to take much paines and reape very small profit, built at sundry times divers fore-fenses, as well to bound as to defend the province. The first of these seemeth to have bin made by Julius Agricola, when hee fortified with holds and garizons that narrow space of ground that lieth betweene Edenborrough Frith and Dunbretten Frith, which afterwards was eftsons strengthened.
4. When Terminus the God of bounds, ‡who would not give place to Jupiter himselfe, was so enforced to yeeld to Hadrian the Emperor that he withdrew the Limite of the Roman Empire in the East to the river Euphrates,‡ whether for envie to Trajans glorie under whom the Empire extended farthest, or for feare, hee likewise withdrew the limits fourescore miles or there about within this Island, to the River Tine, and there made the second Fore-fence. Hee, saith Spartianus, brought a wall on for fourescore miles in length (which should divide the Barbarians and the Romans asunder), raised with great stakes or piles pitched deepe in the ground and fastned togither in manner of a mural or military mound for defense, as may be gathered out of that which followeth in Spartianus. And this is that Fore-fense wherewith we are now in hand. For it goeth out in length LXXX Italian miles. About which were Pons Aelius, Classis Aelia, Cohors Alia, Alia Sabiniania, which tooke their names from Aelius Hadrianus and Sabina his wife. And that Scottish Historiographer who wrote The Wheele of time writeth thus: Hadrian was the first of all that made a rampier or wall of an huge and wonderfull bignesse like unto a mountaine, all of turfes digged out of the ground, with a ditch lying to it afronte, from the mouth of Tine unto the river Eske, that is, from the German sea unto the Irish Ocean. Which Hector Boetius accordingly witnesseth in the same words.
5. Lollus Urbicus, Lieutenant of Britaine under the Emperor Antoninus Pius, by his fortunate fights did enlarge the bounds againe as farre as to that first Frontier fense that was made by Julius Agricola, and even there raised up a third fense with a wall. He, saith Capitolinus, vanquished the Britains, and, having driven out the Barbarians, made another wall of turfes beyond that of Hadrianus. The honour of which warre happily dispatched and finished in Britaine, Fronto, as the Panegyricall Oratour saith, ascribed unto Antonine the Emperor, and testified that He, although sitting still at home in the very palace of Rome, had given charge and commission to another generall for the warre, yet like unto the Pilot of a Galley sitting at the sterne and guiding the helme, deserved the glorie of the whole voiage and expedition. But that this Wall of Antoninus Pius and of his Lieutenant Lollius Urbicus was in Scotland shalbe proved hereafter.
6. When the Caledonian Britans, whiles Commodus was Emperor, had broken through this wall, Severus, neglecting that farre and huge big country, made a fortification crosse over the Island from Solway Frith to Tinmouith, in that very place (if I have any judgement) where Hadrian made his wall of stakes and piles. And of mine opinion is Hector Boetius. Severus, saith hee, commanded Hadrians wall to bee repaired with bulwarks of stone and Turrets, placed in such convenient distance as that the sound of a trumpet, though against the winde, might be heard from the one unto the other. And in another place: Our Chronicles report that the wall begunn by Hadrian was finished by Severus. Also Hierom Surita, a most learned Spaniard, who writeth that the Fense of Hadrian was extended farther by Septimius Severus with great fortifications, by the name of Vallum. Sembably, Guidus Paucirolus, who affirmeth that Severus did but reedifie and repaire the Wall of Hadrian, beeing fallne downe. Hee, saith Spartianus, fenses Britaine (which is one of the chiefe actes recorded in his time) by erecting up a wall overthwart the Island, to the bound of the Ocean on both sides of the Isle. Whereupon hee got the title of Britannicus. After he had driven out the enemies, as saith Aurelius Victor, he fensed Britaine so far forth as it was commodious unto him &. As also Spartianus. Againe, Eutropius: To the end that he might fortifie with all safety and security the provinces which he had recovered, he made a wall for 35 or rather more truly 80 miles in length, even from sea to sea. That part of the Island which hee had recovered, as Orosius writeth, he thought good to sever from other untamed Nations by a rampier or wal. And therefore he cast a great ditch and raised a most strong wall, fortified with many turrets for the space of an hundred and twenty two miles, from the sea. With whom Bede agreeth, who will not willingly here that Severus made a wall, for that he laboreth to prove that a wall is made of stone and a rampier, named vallum, of stakes or piles that be called vall, and of turffs (whereas in very truth vallum and murus, that is, a wal, be indifferently used one for another). And yet Spartianus calleth it murus, that is, a wall, and should seeme to shew that hee made both a wall and a trench by these words, Post murum apud vallum in Britania missum &. Howbeit wee gather out of Bede that the said vallum or Rampier was nothing else but a wall of turffes, and no man can truly say that the wall of Severus was built of stone. But have heere the very words of Bede himselfe. Severus, having gotten the victorie in civill warres at home, which had fallen out to be very dangerous, was drawn into Britaine upon generall revolt almost of all the allies there. where, after great and sore battailes many times fought, when he had regained part of the Iland, he thought good to have the same divided from other wild and untamed nations, but with a wall, as some thinke, but with a rampier. For a wall is made of stone, but a rampier, whereby Camps are fortified to repell the force of enimies, is made of Turffes cut out of the earth round about, but raised high in maner of a wall above ground, so that there be a ditch or trench affront it, where out of the turffes were gotten. Upon which are pitched piles of very strong timber. And so Severus cast a great ditch, and raised a most strong rampier, strengthened with many turrets thereupon, from sea to sea. Neither is it known by any other name in Antonine or the Notice of Provinces than by vallum, that is, a Rampire, and is in the British tongue tearmed Guall-Sever. Heereto wee may annex the authority of Ethelward our ancientest writer next unto Bede, who as touching Severus hath these words: He did cast a ditch or trench crosse over the Iland from sea to sea; within it also he built a wall with turrets and bulwarkes. which afterwards hee calleth Fossam Severiam, that is, Severs fosse or ditch, like as we read in the most ancient Annales of the English-Saxons, Severus Brytenland mid dic fosgyrd fram sae op sae, that is, Severus foregirdled and fensed Britain with a ditch from sea to sea. And later writers in this wise, Severus on Brytene geworht weal of turfum fram sae to sae, that is, Severus in Britaine made and finished a wall of turffes or a rampart from sea to sea. William of Malmesburie likewise nameth it a famous and most notorious trench. In which very place, two hundred yeeres after or much there about, a wall of stone was set up, whereof I am to speake anone.
7. Whereas Eutropius hath set downe the length of it to be 35 miles, Victor 32, and other Authors 132, I suppose some faults have crept into the numbers. For the Iland is not so broad in that place, although a man should take the measure of the wall as it stood winding in and out, rising also and falling heere and there. Nay, if one should reduce it into Italian miles he should find little above foureskore, as Spartianus hath truly reckoned them. Some fewe yeeres after, this Munition, as it seemes, was forlet [abandoned]. Howbeit, when Alexander Severus the Emperour, as we read in Lampridius, had once given unto the Captaines and souldiours of the marches those grounds and lands which were wonne from the enimies, so that they should be there propertie, if their heires served as soldiers, and that they should never returne to any private men, supposing they would goe to the warres more willingly and take the better care if they should defend their owne peculiar possessions. ‡Note these words well, I pray you. For hence may be deduced either a kind of feudum, or the beginning of feuds.‡ After this the Romans, marching beyond the wall and building themselves Stations within the out-land and Barbarian soile, fortifying also and furnishing them accordingly, enlarged the limits of the Romane Empire againe as far as to Edenborough Frith. Neverthelesse the savage and barbarous people, never ceasing to assaile them upon advantages, drave them backe now and then as far as to Severus Trench. Diocletian the Emperour had a provident eie to these limits, under whom, whenas the whole commaund in Britaine was committed unto Carausius for that he was reputed the fitter man to warre against these warlike nations. He did set up againe the Fore-fense betweene Dumbritton Frith and Edenborrow-Frith, as I will shew in place convenient. The first that ever had blame for neglecting these limites was Constantine the Great. For thus writeth Zosimus: Whereas the Roman Empire by the providence of Diocletian was in the utmost marches thereof every where surely fensed with townes, Castles and Burghs, and all their military companies made their abode in them, it was impossible for the barbarous nations to passe in, but they were so met with all at every turne by forces there set to repell them backe. Constantine, abolishing this munition of Garrisons, placed the greater part of the souldiers, whom hee had removed from out of the marches, in townes that had no neede of garisons and defense. So hee left the marches open to the inrodes of Barbarous nations, without garisons, and pestered the Cities that were at peace and quiet with a sort of souldiers, whereby most of them are now already become desolate, and the souldiers themselves, addicted to Theatricall sports and pleasures, grew by his meanes deboshed [debased]. To conclude and simply to speake in one word, he it was that gave the first cause and beginning that the state of the Empire runneth to wrecke and ruin.
8. The country that lay betweene these Enclosures or fore-fenses Theodosius, father unto Theodosius the Emperour, recovered. He reedified and repaired the cities, strengthned the garison castles and the limits with much watch and ward and fortifications, yea and when he had recovered the province, restored it to the ancient estate, in such wise as that it had a lawfull Governour by it selfe, and as afterward in honour of Valentinian the Emperour called Valentinia. Theodosius also his sonne, having now by his owne vertue atained unto the imperiall majestie, had a provident care of these limits, and gave commandements that the Maister of the Offices should yeere by yeere give advise and advertisement unto the Emperour how all things went with the souldiers, and in what sort the charge of Castles, holds, and fore-fenses was performed. But when the Roman Empire beganne once to decay apparently, and the Picts together with the Scots, breaking through the wall of Turffes by Edenborrow-frith, cruelly wasted and overranne these parts, the Roman legion sent to aide the Britans under the leading of Gallio of Ravenna, after they had driven away and quite removed the Barbarians, being now called backe again for the defense of France, exhorted the Britans (these be the very words of Gildas and Bede) to make a wall overthwart the Iland betweene the two seas, which might serve for a defence to keepe of the enemies, and so returned home with great triumph. But the Ilanders fall to building of a wall as they were willed, not so much with stone as with turffes, considering they had no workman to bring up so great a peece of worke, and so they did set up one good for nothing. Which, as Gildas saith, being made by the rude and unskilfull common multitude, without any one to give direction, not so much of stone as of turffe, served them in no steed. As touching the place where this wall was made, Bede proceedeth to write in this manner: They raised it betweene the two Friths or Armes of the sea, for the space of many miles, that where the fense of water failed, there by the helpe of a rampier they might defend the borders from the invasion of enemies. And such a forefense, reaching a great length, secured Assyria from the inrodes of foraine nations, as Ammianus Marcellinus writeth. And the Seres [Chinese] at his day, as we read in Osorius, fortifie their vales and plaine champion [flatland] with walles, that they might thereby shelter and defend themselves from the violent incursions of the Scithians. Of which worke there made (saith Bede), that is to say, of a most broad and high rampier, a man may see the expresse and certaine remaines to this day. Which beginneth almost two miles from a Monasterie called Abercurving Eastward, at a place named in the Picts language Penuahel, in the English tongue Penuelton, and reaching Westward, endeth neere the Citie Alcluid. But the former enimies no sooner perceived that the Roman souldiers were returned, but presently sailing thither by water, breake through the bounds into the marches, kill and slay all before them, and whatever stood in their way, they went downe with it under foote they over-trample it, as if it had bin standing corn ready for harvest. Whereupon Embassadors were dispatched againe to Rome, making piteous moane, and with teares craving aide that their miserable country might not utterly be destroyed, nor the name of a Roman province, which had so long time flourished among them, wax contemptible, being now overwhelmed with the outrage of strange nations. Heereupon a Legion was sent over, which being arrived unlooked for toward Winter, made great slaughter of the enimies. As for the rest that were able to shift away and escape, they drave [them] beyond the seas, who before time made it a practise every yeere while no souldiers made head against them, to passe over the said seas and raise booties. Now by this time the Romaines were retyred backe unto the wall or Rampier of Severus and per lineam valli (as the Booke of Notices tearmeth it, which was written toward the latter end of Theodosius the Younger his reigne) that is on both sides as well within as without the wall, they kept a standing watch and ward in severall Stations appointed, namely five wings of Horsemen with their Captaines; 15 Cohorts of foote men with their Colonesl; one band, and likewise one squadron, which I have mentioned and will againe in due place. As touching the time immediately ensuing, Bede goeth forward to relate in these words: Then the Romans denounced [announced] unto the Britans that they could endure no longer to be out toyled and wearied with such painfull voiages and expeditions for defense of them, advising them to take weapon in hand themselves and endeavour to fight with the enimie, who could not by any meanes be stronger than they, unlesse themselves would give way to idlenesse and become feeble therewith. Moreover the Romans, because they thought this also might serve their allies in some steed, whom they were forced to leave, placed a wal of strong stone from sea to sea directly betweene the cities, which had beene built there for feare of the enimies (where Severus also in times past had made a rampier). Heere will I also put downe the words of Gildas, from whom Bede borrowed all this. The Romans directly levell a wall after their usuall maner of building, not like unto the other, at the common and private charges, adjoining unto them the poore and miserable naturall home borne inhabitants from sea to sea betwixt the Cities, which chaunced to have beene place there for feare of the enimies. And now heare what Bede saith againe. Which wall, that hath beene hetherto famous and conspicuous, they with publicke and private cost, having with them the Britans helping hand also, built eight foote broad and twelve foote high, in a direct line from East forward to West, as is evident even at this day to the beholders. Out of which words of Bede you may see that a great learned man, whiles he thinketh to hit the birde in the eie, hath missed the marke, streining and striving mightily to prove against Boetius and other Scottish writers that Severus his wall of Turffe was in Scotland. Doth not Bede write in plaine tearmes, after he had spoken of the Earth-wall at Abercurving in Scotland, that a wall was reared of strong stone where Severus had made his of turfe? And where I pray is that wall of stone but in this place, betweene Tine-mouth and Solwey Frith? Where was then that wall of Severus? As for the wall, there are yet such expresse tokens of it in this place that you may tracke it as it were all the way it went, and in the Wasts, as they tearme them, I my selfe have beheld with my owne eies on either side huge peeces thereof standing for a great way together, onely wanting their battlements.
9. Verily I have seene the tract of it over the high pitches and steepe descents of hilles, wonderfully rising and falling. And where the fields like more plaine and open, a broad and deepe ditch without, just before it, which now in many places is grounded up, and within a banke or militarie highway, but in most places interrupted. It had many towres or fortresses about a mile distant from another, which they call Castle steeds, and more with in little fensed townes tearmed in these daies Chesters, the plots or ground workes whereof are to be seene in some places foure square; also turrets standing betweene these, wherein souldiers being placed might discover the enimies and be ready to set upon them, wherein also the Areani might have their Stations, whom the foresaid Theodosius, after they were convicted of falshood, displaced and removed from their Stations. These Areani (as Marcellinus saith) were a kind of men ordained in old time, whose office it was to runne a great way to and fro from place to place to intimate or give intelligence unto our Leaders what sturre and noise there was abroad among the neighbour nations. So that the first founders of this wall may seeme to have beene directed by his counsell, who wrote unto Theodosius as his sonnes as touching Military affaires in this maner; Among the commodities of State and Weale publicke, right behovefull is the care concerning the Limits, which in all places doe gard and enclose the sides of the Empire. The defense whereof may be best assured by certaine castles built neare together, so that they be erected with a steedy wall and strong towres a mile asunder one from another. Which munitions verily the Land-lords ought to arreare without the publicke charge by a distribution of that care among themselves, for to keepe watch and ward in them and in the field forefenses, that the peace and quiet of the Provinces being garded round about therewith, as with a girdle of defense, may rest safe and secure from hurt and harme. The dwellers heereabout talk much of a brasen trunke (whereof they found peeces now and then) that, set and fitted in the wall artificially, ranne betweene every Fortresse and Towre to as that if any one in what towre soever conveied the watchword into it, the sound would have beene carried streightwaies without any stay to the next, then to the third, and so to them all one after another, and all to signifie at what place the assault of the enimie was feared. The like miraculous devise of the towres in Bizantium Xiphiline relateth out of Dion in the life of Severus. But since the wall now lies along, and no pipe remaineth there, many tenants hold farmes and lands of our Kings heere round about in Cornage, as our Lawyers speake, that is, by winding of an horne, which some thinke had the first originall from an ancient custome of the Romanes, who also were bound to goe by the Kings Praecept in the army and service for Scotland (these be the words of the Records) as they marched forth in the Vantward, as they returned home in the Rereward.
10. But that I may follow the tract of this wall more directly in particular, it beginneth at the Irish sea hard by Blatum Bulgium or Bulnesse, and goeth on along the side of Solwey Frith, and so by Burgh upon Sands unto Lugu-vallum or Carlile, where it passeth over Eden. From thence it runneth forth and hath the river Irthing beneath it, crossing over Camberke a little brooke running crooked with many turnings in and out, where are great tokens to be seene of a fortification. After this, having cut over the rivers Irthing and Poltrosse, it entreth into Northumberland, and among the mountaines hudled together goeth along by the side of the river which they call South-Tine without any interruption (save only that it is divided by North-Tine, where in ancient times there was a bridge over it) as farre as to the German Ocean, as I will shew in due place when I am come into Northumberland.
11. Yet this admirable worke could not avert and keepe out the tempestuous stormes of forraine enimies. But when the Roman armies were retired out of Britaine, the Picts and Scots, assaulting the wall upon the sudden with their engins and hooked weapons, pluckt and pulled downe the garison souldiers, brake through the fense, and overranne Britaine farre and neere, being then disarmed and shaken with civill broiles, and most miserably afflicted with extreame famin. But the most wofull and lamentable miserie of these heavie times, Gildas, a Britan who lived not long after, pensilleth out lively in these words: As the Romans were returning homeward, there appere striving who could come first out of their Caroches [small boats] in which they had passed over the vale Stitica, like unto duskish swarmes of wormes comming forth of their little caves with most narrow holes at noone day in summer, and when the heat of the sunne is at the highest, a rabble of Scots and Picts, in maners partly different, but in one and the same greedy designe of bloudshed. And, having knowledge once that our friends and associates were retired home, and had denied ever to returne againe, they, with greater confidence and boldnesse than before time, attempt to possesse themselves of all the North side, and the utmost part of the land from out of the Inlanders hands as farre as to the very wall. Against these invasions there stands placed on high in a Keepe a lasie crew unable to fight, unfit (God he knowes) for service, trembling and quaking at the heart, which night and day sat still as benummed, and sturred not abroad. Mean while the hooked engines of their naked and bareshanked enimies cease not, wherewith the most miserable inhabitants were plucked downe from the walles and dashed against the hard ground. This good yet did such an untimely death unto those that thus lost their lives, that by so quicke a dispatch and end they were freed from the view of most piteous paines and imminent afflictions of their bretheren and children. What should I say more? When they had left the cities and high wall, they were againe driven to flie and hide themselves, and being thus dispersed, in more desperate case they were than they had bin before. The enimies likewise presse stil sorer upon them, and sembably hasten bloudy carnage and slaughters one in the necke of another. And even as lambs are torne in peeces by butchers, so are these lamentable inhabitants by the enimies, insomuch as their aboad and continuance together might be well compared to wild beasts. For both they preyed one upon another, and by robbing also forbare not the short pittance of food that the poorer sort of the inhabitants had for their owne small sustentation. And also these outward calamities were encreased with domesticall commotions, so that by reason of so great robbing, pilling and spoiling, the whole country wanted the stay of all kind of food, save onely that which they gat by hunting to comfort their poore pining bodies.
12. But this is worth the observation, that as by the wisdome of the Romans this wall was so built, that it had two very great rivers neere to it on the inner side (as it were) for another defense, namely Tine and Irthing, that are divided one from the other with a very narrow parcell of ground. So on the other side the Barbarous people were so cunning that in the same place especially they made their first entrance betwixt these rivers where they might have free passage farther into the heart of the province without hinderance of an river, according as we will shew by and by in Northumberland. The fabulous tales of the common people concerning this wall I doe wittingly and willingly overpasse. Yet this one thing which I was enformed of by men of good credite I will not conceale from the reader. There continueth a settled perswasion among a great part of the people there about, and the same received by tradition, that the Roman souldiers of the marches did plant heere every where in old time for their use certaine medicinable herbes for to cure wounds, whence it is that some Empiricke practitioners of Chirurgery in Scotland flocke hither every yeere in the beginning of summer to gather such Simples and wound herbes, the vertue whereof they highly commend as found by long experience, and to be of singular efficacie.