Hadrian’s Wall and the Wall in the North


A note about this essay: This is intended to be a self-guided digital essay. Just like many other historical topics, the discussion of Hadrian’s Wall and its relation to The Wall in the North found below has many different components to it, and can be approached in various ways. So after reading the introduction and acquainting yourself with the scope of this paper, choose from the list of questions where you would like to begin, and make your way through the paper however you would like. Anything that is underlined and appears in a different colour will lead to external resources or another section of this paper.




George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels draws on many elements of real history to inform its settings, characters and events. While this historical sampling is often very subtle and rarely straightforward, some elements of his fantasy universe do bear a striking resemblance to real elements of history from the Classical Period through to the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern era. One of the most interesting comparisons which can be drawn between elements of the real world and Martin’s fictional universe exists between Hadrian’s Wall and the Wall in the North. In fact, Martin even cited a visit to the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall as partial inspiration for his own wall, though he added that his was much larger and incorporated more elements of fantasy.[1] Although structurally very different, the relative geographic locations, purposes for construction and the impact which these structures had on their respective populations – both real and fictional – are remarkably similar. These similarities – as well as the differences – which exist between the two can be analyzed by examining various aspects of the two walls with a few questions in mind. To begin this analysis of the two walls, however, a brief overview of both Hadrian’s Wall and the Night’s Watch is needed.

With the following questions in mind, the ways in which these walls are both related and removed from one another can become clearer:

What are the historical origins of Hadrian’s Wall and the Wall in the North?

What was the purpose of these walls?

Where were these walls built, and why?

How were these walls designed?

Who garrisoned these walls?

What was the cultural impact of these walls?

Each of these questions reveals numerous ways in which these walls are related, and the ways in which they differ. This is typical of many aspects of Martin’s work, as he does draw on historical elements, however his universe is never a one-to-one adaption of real history. Instead, Martin’s work blends numerous aspects of history into one complex world, resulting in pieces of it being at one moment related to true history, and at another completely fantastic in nature. The Wall in the North is a perfect example of this, as its cultural relevance to the population of Westeros and its geographic location are very similar to that of Hadrian’s Wall, however other aspects of the Wall like its garrison, purpose and construction are wholly different than the wall that separated Britain during the final centuries of the Roman Empire.








[1] MacLaurin, Wayne. “A Conversation With George R.R. Martin“(2000) (accessed 6 April 2015).




Works Cited



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Breeze, David J. and Brian Dobson. Hadrian’s Wall. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1977.


Brabbs, Derry. Hadrian’s Wall. London: Frances Lincoln Limited, 2008.


Grant, R.G. Warrior: A Visual History of the Fighting Man. New York: DK Publishing, 2010.


Johnson, Stephen. Hadrian’s Wall. London: The Bath Press, 1989.


Martin, George R.R. The World of Ice and Fire. New York: Bantam Books Ltd., 2014.


Martin, George R.R. Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Books Ltd., 1996.


Martin, George R.R. A Clash of Kings. New York: Bantam Books Ltd., 1999.


Martin, George R.R. A Storm of Swords. New York: Bantam Books Ltd., 2000.


Martin, George R.R. A Feast for Crows. New York: Bantam Books Ltd., 2005.


Martin, George R.R. A Dance With Dragons. New York: Bantam Books Ltd., 2011.


Scullard, H.H. Roman Britain: Outpost of the Empire. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1979.


Southern, Patricia. Roman Britain: A New History 55 BC-AD 450. Gloucestershire: Amberly Publishing, 2011.


Whittaker, C.R. Rome and its Frontiers: The Dynamics of Empire. New York: Routledge, 2004.


Jon Snow – http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120316190051/gameofthrones/images/a/a2/JonSnowEW.png

Diagram of Hadrian’s Wall – http://www.hadrianswallcamera.co.uk/images/HOME/First-plan-Wall-Devine–001.jpg

Map of England with Hadrian’s Wall – http://media.web.britannica.com/eb-media/95/19695-004-3FEBCE5D.gif

Map of Westeros with The Wall – http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120719200112/gameofthrones/images/f/f3/The_North.png

Hadrian’s Wall Ruins – http://travelblog.viator.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/hadrian-wall.jpg

Hadrian’s Wall reconstructed gate – https://www.dur.ac.uk/images/roman.centre/RHBook/Figure5.jpg

Castle Black – http://images4.alphacoders.com/225/225308.jpg

Roman Empire in 117 C.E. – http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e1/Roman_Empire_in_96_AD.png

Rattleshirt and his Wildling Raiders – http://images6.fanpop.com/image/photos/36900000/Rattleshirt-s-men-wildlings-36936755-960-638.png

Celtic Warriors – https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/93/92/b6/9392b6157e25efe5d277e1230b5e0d48.jpg

Roman Legionary – http://siberia-miniatures.ru/siberia-minisimages/004._Rimskiy_legioner,_I_vek__n.e..jpg

Roman Gate – http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/24/Arbeia_Roman_Fort_reconstructed_gateway.jpg

The Wall, view from the North – http://img1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110305193555/gameofthrones/images/archive/f/f5/20150323200738!The_Wall.jpg

Map of the Wall and its castles – http://img3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120627180853/gameofthrones/images/e/ec/NineteenCastlesOnTheWall.jpg


Hadrian’s Wall – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeosZImCrMY

The Night’s Watch – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya4VMyzwgGQ