When standing today at Hadrian's Wall in northern
It was not nearly as calm some 1,900 years ago. In the year 122, the exasperated Roman emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of an 80-mile, 20-foot-high wall to protect Roman civilization in Britain from the Scottish tribes to the north.
We moderns often laugh at walls and fortified boundaries, dismissing them as hopelessly retrograde, ineffective or unnecessary. Yet they still seem to fulfill their mission on the Israeli border, the 38th parallel in Korea and the Saudi-Iraqi boundary, separating disparate states.
On the Roman side of Hadrian's Wall there were codes of law, habeas corpus, aqueducts and the literature of Cicero, Virgil and Tacitus -- and on the opposite side a violent, less sophisticated tribalism.
Hadrian assumed that there was a paradox about walls innate to the human condition. Scottish tribes hated Roman colonial interlopers and wanted them off the island of Britain. But for some reason the Scots did not welcome the wall that also stopped the Romans from entering
The exasperated Romans had built the barrier to stop the Scots from entering
Many Middle Easterners want to relocate to
Apparently, like their ancient counterparts, modern migrants on the poorer or less stable side of a border are ambiguous about what they want. They seek out the security and bounty of mostly Western systems -- whether European or American -- but not necessarily to surrender their own cultural identities and values.
In the case of Hadrian, by the year 122 he apparently felt that
The same paradoxes characterize recent, sometimes-violent demonstrations at Trump rallies, the controversy over the potential construction of a fence on the Mexican border 25 times longer than Hadrian's Wall, and the general furor over immigration policies.
What are the answers to these human contradictions?
There were no walls between provinces of the Roman Empire -- just as there are no walls between the individual states of America -- because common language, values and laws made them all similar. But fortifications gradually arose all over the outer ring of the Roman world, once
Or if immigrants from
Historically, as Hadrian knew, walls are needed only when neighboring societies are opposites -- and when large numbers of migrants cross borders without necessarily wishing to become part of what they are fleeing to.
These are harsh and ancient lessons about human nature, but they are largely true and timeless.