Lives Remembered: Brian Dobson, Archaeologist and noted authority on Hadrian’s Wall


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The Independent Online

Hadrian's Wall is not an easy monument to interpret. Its very size suggests that its sole purpose was defence, but study of the archaeological remains leads to a more subtle view in which frontier control and the mobility of the Roman army in the whole of the frontier zone played a part.

In the 1960s, many older interpretations of Hadrian's Wall were discarded and Brian Dobson not only took part in those discussions but helped shape a new view in the book Hadrian's Wall, of which he was co-author with myself, first published in 1976 and still in print in its fourth edition.

Dobson was a product of the North-east of England, educated at Stockton Grammar School and Durham University, where he fell under the spell of that great teacher, Eric Birley. In 1960 he took up the post of adult education lecturer in Archaeology in the Department of Extra Mural Studies covering County Durham, a post in which he remained until retirement in 1990.

In 1968, Dobson launched a week-long study tour entitled "Hadrian's Wall and Hadrian's Army", and this proved so successful that the two elements were split and extended, with the "Roman Army" course continuing to this day. In acknowledgement of the interest he had generated, Dobson founded the Hadrianic Society in 1972, dedicated to the study of Hadrian's Wall and the Roman army. On the occasion of his first 25 years as an adult education lecturer and again on his 70th birthday, his students – amateur and professional alike – presented him with a volume of essays on aspects of Hadrian's Wall and the Roman army.

These two subjects were the primary focus of Dobson's own research. Among his many publications was the second edition of Alfred von Domaszewski's monumental Die Rangordnung des römische Heeres, the basic account of the structure of the officer class of the Roman army (1968). His scholarship was recognised by the University of Durham with the award of a Personal Readership in Archaeology in 1980. Dobson remained loyal to his roots, serving as President of the Archaeological and Architectural Society of Durham and Northumberland (1983-87) and the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne (1993-95). He was also a trustee of several local museums including the Vindolanda Trust from 1996 to 2011.

Brian Dobson, archaeologist and lecturer: born Hartlepool 13 September 1931; married 1958 Anne Priestley; died Durham 19 July 2012.