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Paul Kitching

Member of the Department of Archaeology


Research Topic

Deterrence on Rome’s North West frontier: an analysis of the archaeology of Hadrian’s Wall, testing a deterrence interpretation alongside established hypotheses for its function.


The function of Hadrian’s Wall remains a controversial topic and has fallen from favour in recent research. However, given the Wall’s continuing importance in modern discourse, the question of function remains pertinent and is so highlighted in the Frontiers of Knowledge research framework. As such, this research aims to further the debate on the Wall’s function and identify areas where new information could have a dramatic effect on interpretation.

The research examines existing interpretations of the Wall alongside a new reading centred on deterrence. A deterrence interpretation considers the Wall as a means to inspire awe and enable punitive action and is distinct from a defence interpretation through its focus on the cognitive and perceptual elements of Rome’s power. By examining both the theory and prevalence of deterrence in classical antiquity this research seeks to assess the Wall from a new perspective, but one nevertheless rooted in the Roman experience. Furthermore, examining the Wall’s active capacity to inspire awe and terror, rather than as a static demarcation of the limits of imperial power and influence, can challenge the dichotomy in Roman scholarship between the archaeology of conquest on the one hand, and post-conquest limes studies on the other.

The research will collate and examine the archaeological evidence for the Wall, including how that knowledge has itself been constructed, and how it corresponds with multiple working hypotheses. This approach aims to mitigate bias, ensure multivocality, and encourage reflexive thinking. Above all it aims to stimulate debate on the Wall’s function and prevent it stagnating along binary ‘functional vs symbolic’ or ‘military vs economic’ lines. The inherent subjectivity of archaeological data and theory does not negate a testing approach; rather, examining the relationship between a number of theories and the available evidence can challenge assumptions, prompt new avenues of research and contribute to the continuing broader debate around borders, frontiers and artificial boundaries.