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On his accession to the throne in 117, Hadrian had been experiencing rebellion in Roman Britain and from the peoples of various conquered lands across the Empire, including Egypt, Judea, Libya and Mauritania.

These troubles may have influenced Hadrian's plan to construct the wall as well as his construction of limites in other areas of the Empire, but to what extent is unknown.

The A69 and B6318 roads follow the course of the wall from Newcastle upon Tyne to Carlisle, then along the northern coast of Cumbria (south shore of the Solway Firth).

Although the curtain wall ends near Bowness-on-Solway, this does not mark the end of the line of defensive structures.

It ran from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea, and was the northern limit of the Roman Empire, immediately north of which were the lands of the northern Ancient Britons, including the Picts. There were milecastles with two turrets in between. From north to south, the wall comprised a ditch, wall, military way and vallum, another ditch with adjoining mounds.

It is thought the milecastles were staffed with static garrisons, whereas the forts had fighting garrisons of infantry and cavalry.

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its width and height varied according to the construction materials available nearby.Once its construction was finished, it is thought to have been covered in plaster and then whitewashed: its shining surface reflected the sunlight and was visible for miles around.Construction started in the east, between milecastles four and seven, and proceeded westwards, with soldiers from all three of the occupying Roman legions participating in the work.The central section measured eight Roman feet wide (7.8 ft or 2.4 m) on a 3 m (10 ft) base.Some parts of this section of the wall survive to a height of 3 m (10 ft).