Hadrian's Wall: Too few Gates, too little Defence

I saw a lot of Roman forts last week, strung out along Hadrian’s Wall, Chesters and Housteads being the most famous. They contained around 800 men and were guardians of the empire’s northern frontier. One thing strikes the visitor: why do they have so many gates? There is a double gate for each direction of the compass, and sometimes others beside. Gates are always the weakest parts of any wall and it struck me as odd that the Romans would enfeeble their own defences. Contrast this with your typical English castle, which has one large entrance, heavily guarded. Yet the Roman were no fools. Their forts were not designed to withhold sieges while their soldiers looked on. When their enemies approached, out the Romans ran to confront them. They were better equipped, better paid and better trained: they knew they could win.

In fact they had initially made a mistake when they first built the wall. When enemies came, their troops were unable to get out to fight. There was therefore a re-think and a few years after its construction, they added forts to the wall that had multiple exit points on the ‘barbarian’ side. Chesters Fort has three of its four gates leading out into enemy territory.

We know that the apostle Paul likens the believer to the Roman soldier that guarded him while under house arrest. Here is another parallel between the church and the legions: neither must look out at the enemy while he struts about, uttering threats and climbing our walls. Run out to meet him and take him on.

Submit yourselves therefore to God; resist the devil and he will flee from you.

James 4:7