Most students of Roman history are familiar with Hadrian's Wall in northern Britain, but Roman border walls can be found throughout what was once the Roman Empire. Andrew Curry of National Geographic Magazine has the feature story.
Recent scholarship points to border walls as less structures for defense and more fences to control populations. "Outposts on rivers like the Rhine and Danube or in the deserts on Rome’s eastern and southern flanks often resemble police or border patrol stations. They would have been useless against an invading army but highly effective for soldiers nabbing smugglers, chasing small groups of bandits, or perhaps collecting customs fees. The thinly manned walls in England and Germany were similar. 'The lines were there for practical purposes,” says Benjamin Isaac, a historian at Tel Aviv University. “They were the equivalent of modern barbed wire—to keep individuals or small groups out.'”