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An analysis of Antoninus Pius' frontier policy in Northern Britain and its representation of his Principate

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 19:56 authored by Adams, GW

The accession of Antoninus Pius saw a distinct change in imperial frontier policy in Britain. Upon taking power, Antoninus' representative in Britain, Q. Lollius Urbicus undertook the systematic re-occupation of lowland Scotland and a new north-western imperial border was established on the Forth-Clyde isthmus. In order to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of this new frontier, the motivations behind the re-occupation of Scotland, the structure of the wall itself and, most importantly, an analysis of the frontier's effectiveness, needs to be undertaken. However, it is also necessary to establish and clarify the goals of the Antonine frontier, despite the numerous and varied possible motivations behind the re-occupation of Scotland and the establishment of a new frontier. However, Antoninus' principal aims for this new frontier are clear: to establish and fortify the new north-west border of the empire, as well as to control and Romanise the people within the border. The actual structure and location of the frontier itself supports this notion.

With this in mind the frontier can be seen as generally successful during its initial occupation. That the wall was abandoned shortly before Antoninus' death could suggest tt was the ineffective and the frontier had failed, but it appears that this resulted from a policy shift due to external imperial factors; a sound, strategic retreat to the Hadrianic frontier. This change in frontier policy can then in turn be used to analyze Antoninus' principate in general terms. It is particularly useful to illuminate his considered and yet determined approach as Roman princeps, which has been consistently emphasized in his presentation within the ancient literary sources. These portrayals have consistently shown Antoninus Pius as a pious and diligent ruler. But, judging from the methods undertaken in the pursuit of this northern frontier, it is possible to view him from a much clearer perspective: as a determined and calculating princeps who exhibited a resolute and unwavering strategy during his administration.


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Journal of Ancient Civilizations








School of Humanities


Institute for the History of Ancient Civilizations

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Copyright 2008 Institute for the History of Ancient Civilizations, Northeast Normal University

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