Joshua J. Mark
published on 02 September 2009
The English word 'wall' is derived from the Latin, 'vallus' meaning 'a stake' or 'post' and designated the wood-stake and earth palisade which formed the outer edge of a fortification. The palisades were in use early on and are mentioned by Homer in the 8th century BCE and later by the historian Polybius.
The oldest walls found in existence so far are those of the temple of Gobekli Tepe in Urfa, southeast Turkey which date to 11,500 years ago. City walls, which became common for purposes of defense, are first seen around the city of Jericho (now in the West Bank) around the 8th century BCE and the Sumerian city of Uruk, constructed shortly after. It is thought the very first wall (in the West) not built around a city was erected by the Sumerian King Shu-Sin, son of Shulgi, around 2038 BCE. Shu-Sin’s wall was 170 miles long and was built between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to keep the invading Amorites out of Sumerian lands. This wall was unusual in that it did not surround a city but, rather, marked a territorial, national (rather than private) boundary and, as such, was a first of its kind.
City walls were constructed to include gates and watchtowers and usually a ditch running around the outer perimeter of the wall which could be filled with water. King Hammurabi surrounded his city of Babylon with more impressive walls than usually seen shortly after he assumed the throne in 1792 BCE, but the credit for transforming the city of Babylon into an awe-inspiring wonder belongs to King Nebuchadnezzar II. Nebuchadnezzar built three walls around Babylon at heights of forty feet and so broad at the top that chariots could race around them. The Ishtar Gate in the wall of Nebuchadnezzar II’s Babylon was claimed by some to be greater than any of the listed Wonders of the Ancient World.
In ancient Egypt most private homes had walled courtyards to help deter robbers or simply unwanted and uninvited neighbors (papyrus scrolls and tomb inscriptions relate that human beings could be as insufferably annoying to each other in ancient times as they are now). Every city in ancient Egypt was walled and each of the great palaces had elaborate painted walls for the purpose of defense, but also for ornamentation. This same building pattern held true in ancient Greece where citizens of Athens built small decorative walls around their courtyards and patios. The Athenians also surrounded their city with thick walls which lasted until the end of the Peloponnesian Wars with Sparta when the victorious Spartans had them torn down. Also of note in Athens were the Long Walls which were two parallel stone structures which ran from the Acropolis down to the port of Piraeus and protected the center of the city.
In Europe the custom of the walled city continued as evidenced by sites such as the Oppidum of Manching (located near modern-day Ingolstadt, Germany) which was a 3rd century BCE Celtic community of the Vindelici tribe. The Roman city of Lugo in Galicia, Spain was surrounded by enormously thick walls considered utterly impregnable. The most famous wall of antiquity in Europe, however, is Hadrian's Wall in Britain. The Roman Emperor Hadrian (76-138 CE) grew tired of incursions into the Roman provinces in Britain and so, in the year 122 CE, began building a wall across the northern border of Roman Britain to separate it from the invading Pict tribes (much in the same way that Shu-Sin built his wall almost two thousand years earlier to keep out the Amorites). It took six years to build, stretched for 80 miles across the border between what is now England and Scotland and was, at points, over nine feet wide and twenty feet high. It was fortified at towers along the way and served as a symbol of Roman military might and power.
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- Don Nardo. Exploring Cultural History - Living in Ancient Egypt. Greenhaven Press, 2003.
- Don Nardo. Exploring Cultural History - Living in Ancient Greece. Greenhaven Press, 2003.
- Don Nardo. Exploring Cultural History - Living in Ancient Rome. Greenhaven Press, 2003.
- Will Durant. Caesar and Christ. Simon & Schuster, 1980.
- Will Durant. Our oriental heritage. Simon & Schuster, 1954.
- Will Durant. The Life of Greece. Simon & Schuster, 1936.
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