In 122 A.D., Roman Emperor Hadrian built a wall that stretched almost 80 miles from the Irish Sea to the North Sea in northern England to guard the wild north-west frontier of the Roman Empire. Today, it’s one of the United Kingdom’s most famous structures.
The fact that Hadrian’s Wall still stands today is a testament to the builders’ construction skills, but the wall is also famous for one strange feature – it’s covered in at least 57 separate depictions of penises.
In a new episode of the Smithsonian Channel series Mystic Britain, anthropologists and co-host/comedian Clive Anderson examine the wall, the most impressive legacy of the Roman Empire’s 400-year rule in ancient Britain.
It turns out that the phalluses on the wall weren’t a result of ancient vandals, but were actually a symbol used to protect the Romans from the evil eye of enemies. In fact, penis carvings and drawings are found across ancient Roman military sites and were a mystical way to protect the soldiers from intruding barbarians.
The Mystic Britain episode “Hadrian’s Mystic Wall” premieres Monday, August 19 at 9 p.m. In it, Clive and anthropologist Mary-Ann Ochota travel to the ancient Roman fort town of Vindolanda, Hexham Abbey, the Treasure House in Hull, and of course, the mystical Hadrian’s Wall.
Future episodes of Mystic Britain on Smithsonian Channel will also explore Britain’s other strange sites and supernatural beliefs, including its best-preserved medieval village, where a jumble of bones were found 50 years ago; Bronze Age British mummies; and of course, Stonehenge, Britain’s greatest Stone Age monument.