From the Telegraph:
The Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the building of the wall in AD 122, and until the 1960s it was generally assumed that it was a defensive structure from which legionaries would fight off invaders from the north. Hadrian’s biographer wrote that it was built to separate the barbarians from the Romans.
Dobson and Breeze argued that this was not the wall’s purpose. Conquered provinces were a source of taxation in cash and kind. The wall, they maintained, signified the concept of a frontier and served to control and tax the movement of people across the border. While it probably deterred raiders, it would not have been very effective against large-scale attack. The wall was designed to exert control not only over people to the north of the wall but also tribes to the south, as evidenced by the Vallum, a ditch-and-mound system built parallel to the wall on the south side.
Dobson regarded the wall as an indication of weakness rather than strength — a sign that an army designed for conquest was dissipating its energy in building and manning elaborate obstacles. Until AD122 the empire had been constantly expanding. The building of the wall (one of a series of barrier structures commissioned in various parts of the empire at around the same time) suggests that Rome was beginning to reach its limits.
Other historians have suggested that the end of Rome’s expansion led eventually to its decline as it meant that the supply of slaves, captured during the process of conquest, dried up. As a consequence Roman rulers began to squeeze conquered populations — to the point where many sided with the barbarians who challenged the empire from the 3rd century onwards and eventually brought it to its knees.
Brian Dobson was born at Hartlepool on September 13 1931 and educated at Stockton Grammar School and Durham University, where he read Modern History. After National Service he returned to Durham to take a PhD under Eric Birley on the primipilares — a cadre of former chief centurions who, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, replaced the Roman hereditary aristocracy in the senior echelons of the Roman army. Among many publications that arose from this work, he produced a revision in 1967 of Die Rangordnung des römische Heeres, Alfred von Domaszewski’s classic work on the officer rank-structure of the Roman army, and Die Primipilares (1978), a book published in German and based on his PhD thesis.
After a period studying epigraphy in Freiburg, in 1957 Dobson was awarded a research fellowship at Birmingham. In 1960 he was appointed staff tutor at Durham University’s Department of Extra-Mural Studies. There, in 1968, he launched a study tour entitled “Hadrian’s Wall and Hadrian’s Army”, which was so popular that the two elements were split and turned into separate courses. In 1972 he founded the Hadrianic Society, to promote the study of Hadrian’s Wall and the Roman army. Several of his students went on to become notable Wall scholars in their own right.
A quietly devout man, who served as a lay reader at his local church, Dobson remained in Durham until his retirement in 1990.
At various times he served as president of the Archaeological and Architectural Society of Durham and Northumberland and of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne (1993-95). He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1972.
He married, in 1958, Anne Priestley, who survives him with their two sons and three daughters.
- via: Brian Dobson (Telegraph)