A short biography by David Breeze of the founder and first patron of the Hadrianic Society and originator of the Roman Army School, Dr Brian Dobson FSA


Brian Dobson died on 19th July 2012 aged 80. A native of the North East of England he remained true to his roots. He was born in Hartlepool, educated at Stockton Grammar School, and went up to Hatfield College, Durham University, in 1949 to read Modern History, where he undertook the Roman Britain special subject under Eric Birley, subsequently gaining his PhD on the primipilares of the Roman army from the same university and under the same supervisor. His National Service began with basic training at Carlisle Castle. From Carlisle he was sent on the Russian Language course. He subsequently spent 2 years in Birmingham as a Research Fellow, there meeting  -  and being influenced by - the inspirational adult education tutor Graham Webster. 

 In 1959 Brian returned to Durham to the University's Department of Extra Mural Studies as adult education lecturer in Archaeology covering County Durham. He spent the whole of his working life in that post.  In this capacity, he ran the adult education training excavation at Corbridge until 1972.

In 1968, Brian launched a new venture, a week-long study tour of Hadrian's Wall and Hadrian's Army, with myself as junior partner, later to be joined by Val Maxfield. This tour proved an instant success.  Brian subsequently split the two elements. The Hadrian's Wall courses continued with expeditions to other frontiers, notably in Europe, where the whole of the line from the North Sea to the south of Hungary was explored. The Roman Army school continues to this day. Several of his adult students, inspired by Brian, became notable Wall scholars in their own right. Brian's students acknowledged their debt to him by the publication of two Festschriften, the first to celebrate his 25 years as an adult education lecturer, the second on the occasion of his 70th birthday. In 1972 in reaction to the considerable interest shown in his courses, Brian founded the Hadrianic Society to further the study of Hadrian's Wall and the Roman army. Although ill, he was able to attend the 40th anniversary celebrations in Durham at Easter 2012 and deliver the main speech of the event.

Brian's early publications were on the Roman army. Amongst these was his revision of Domaszeski's classic work on the officers of the Roman army, De Rangordnung des Roemische Heeres. Brian's first  publication on Hadrian's Wall was in 1969. In 1976, we collaborated on the production of Hadrian's Wall, still in print in its fourth edition. Brian's 1986 Horsley Memorial Lecture,  "The function of Hadrian's Wall", remains fundamental reading for anyone seeking to understand the purpose of that frontier. In 1980, the University of Durham acknowledged Brian's contribution to scholarship through the award of a personal Readership in Archaeology.

Brian served as President of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle and of the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland. He was also a member of several local trusts, including those of Chesters, Corbridge and Maryport museums. What gave him particular pleasure was his membership of the Vindolanda Trust from 1996 to 2011. Here, as elsewhere, his loyalty was  to the local archaeological community, and his local compatriots.