Hadrian’s Wall and the Wall in the North: Cultural Impacts

Cultural Impact

celtic-warriors

An artist’s depiction of Celtic warriors on the attack.

Hadrian’s Wall and the Wall in the North were both physical and cultural barriers in their respective universes. Hadrian’s Wall reinforced the idea of Roman superiority in Britain, and further perpetuated the animosity which Roman Britons felt towards “barbarians” like the Picts and Celts.[1] Roman snobbery existed all across the Empire, and was embodied by an “us versus them” mentality. This distinction was made even more evident in Britain with the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, which was the first Roman frontier to incorporate a continuous defensive structure into its border. Despite how permeable this barrier was with its numerous gates, it nonetheless represented a cultural barrier which divided the Romans from those they deemed below them. Although the exact impact that this division had on the Celts North of the Wall is hard to ascertain due to a lack of sources, some scholars believe that the Wall reinforced anti-Roman sentiment and increased the perception of the Romans as foreign invaders.[2] Although the Wall did make accommodations to allow for continued contact between North and South, it nonetheless presented a cultural barrier which reinforced the ideas of Celt inferiority and Roman military occupation.

The Wall in the North had a similar impact on the populations that it divided, as the Westerosi adopted an opinion of superiority over their Wildling counterparts. Even the name “wildling” indicates a subhuman appreciation of the people living North of the Wall, and this term is used by almost all people living South of the Wall. Among the tribes of the North, however, the term Free Folk is used to describe themselves, which highlights one of the primary cultural differences between the North and South. Calling the Southerners “kneelers”, the Free Folk pride themselves upon the meritocracy which they live in, where only strong, proven warriors may lead. However the people of the South have a different opinion, and characterize the Free Folk as barbaric and uncivilized.[3] The existence of the Wall has only served to perpetuate and reinforce the ideas that each culture has regarding the other, as it has prevented any mutual understanding from developing. In addition, the mysterious nature of the North has also contributed to these cultural misunderstandings, as the people of Westeros do not know what lies beyond the Wall, and only the Rangers of the Watch have ever been North of it.

RattleshirtWarband

A group of Wildlings from HBO’s television adaptation of Martin’s books, called Game of Thrones.

 

Part of the animosity which exists between the Free Folk and the peoples of Westeros also comes from the threat that the Others pose for both groups. Although the Free Folk live in the North, they are no friends of the Others and fear them just as much as the Westerosi once did.[4] However while the Wall protects Westeros from this looming threat, the Free Folk have no such protection. In A Song of Ice and Fire, Jon Snow’s perspective allows readers to see that the Free Folk and the Westerosi are not so different, and in fact have a common enemy in the Others. Unfortunately, the Wall has created a distinction between the people of Westeros and the Wildlings, despite them being descended from the same ancestors, and not inherently different from one another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Derry Brabbs, Hadrian’s Wall (London: Frances Lincoln Limited, 2008), 12.

[2] H.H. Scullard, Roman Britain: Outpost of the Empire (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1979), 42.

[3] George R.R. Martin, The World of Ice and Fire (New York: Bantam Books Ltd., 2014), 477.

[4] George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons (New York: Bantam Books Ltd., 2011), 722.

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