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4. Britain Becomes Roman

The great Roman general Julius Caesar led the first Roman invasions of Britain in 55BC and 54BC, but he did not stay to conquer the whole country.
18th century medallion of Julius Caesar. The wording around the head is CAESAR DICT PERPETVO (Caesar, dictator for ever) Photo: Simon I Hill, Yorkshire Museum, York
The Romans invaded Britain again in 43 in the reign of the Emperor Claudius. This time they came to conquer the country for good. Britain became the Roman province of Britannia and was ruled by a governor appointed by the Roman emperor himself.
Gold coin of the Emperor Claudius (41-54). The emperor wears a laurel wreath around his head. On the reverse is the arch built in Rome in 51 to mark the conquest of Britain. It is inscribed DE BRITTANN(IS) - 'for Britain'. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
In some areas of Britain, including the south-west of England and Wales, the Britons fiercely resisted the Romans. In 60-61 there was a major revolt in East Anglia led by Queen Boudicca.
Bronze statue of Queen Boudicca and her daughters on Victoria Embankment, London by Thomas Thorneycroft (about 1850). Photo Patrick Ottaway
By about the year 84 the Romans had conquered almost the whole of Britain, but then, only a few years later, they withdrew from most of Scotland. In the year 122 the Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a permanent northern frontier. This is known as Hadrian's Wall.
Hadrian's Wall at Walltown Crags (Northumberland). Photo Simon I Hill, Roman Britain
For a few years in the middle of the 2nd century the Emperor Antoninus Pius briefly moved the frontier of Britannia north again into central Scotland. This frontier is known as the Antonine Wall.
The Antonine Wall at Watling Lodge near Falkirk (Central Region), Scotland. The ditch is in the centre and the remains of the turf wall to the left. Photo Patrick Ottaway
In the early 3rd century the Emperor Septimius Severus tried to reconquer Scotland, but he died in York before he could bring his campaign to a successful end.
Silver coin (denarius) of the Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211). The reverse shows the god Jupiter with the words IOVI CONSERVATOR ('Jupiter the preserver'). Photo: Simon I Hill, York Archaeological Trust

Britain Before The Romans

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The native people of Britain who were conquered by the Romans are usually called the Britons. They were descended from people who lived in Britain for many generations, but were also related to the native people of Gaul and Germany. All of these peoples are sometimes known as 'Celts'.
An artist's impression of native British man and woman at about the time of the Roman invasion of 43. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
When the Romans invaded Britain it was not a united country. Britain was divided up into a number of small territories each occupied by a separate tribe. These tribes often fought amongst themselves.
A triumphant British warrior with the head of a Roman soldier. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
The British tribes spoke a Celtic language a bit like the Welsh or Scottish Gaelic you can still hear spoken today. They all liked the same sort of art and worshipped many of the same gods and goddesses.
Relief of the Celtic goddess Epona on a stone block from Maryport Roman fort (Cumbria). Photo Simon I. Hill, Senhouse Museum, Maryport.
The lives of the Britons depended almost entirely on farming. They prayed to their gods and goddesses for good crops and healthy animals. If the crops failed or the animals died, people starved.
Reconstruction illustration of ploughing with oxen on a Roman farm. Drawing by Trevor Stubley, Sussex Archaeological Trust and Lund Humphries
Our knowledge of Britain before the Roman conquest depends almost entirely on archaeological evidence. Excavations have examined farmsteads and hillforts, and places where the native British leaders lived. From these excavations we can reconstruct many aspects of native life.
Replica Iron Age British round house from Butser Ancient Farm (Hampshire). Photo Simon I. Hill, Butser Ancient Farm.
We know the names of the different tribes of Britain because they were recorded by Roman writers and some of them also appear on inscriptions.
Statue of Brigantia the goddess of the Brigantes tribe dedicated by Amandus, an architect and engineer. Found at Birrens Roman fort (Dumfries and Galloway), Scotland. National Museums of Scotland
Did you know? The population of Roman Britain was very small compared to today. There were probably between 2 and 4 million Roman Britons. Today there are nearly 60 million British people.

Geography and People

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Britain is incredibly varied in its landscape, geology, climate, vegetation and agriculture. We can begin to understand this by dividing Britain into two parts:
  1. the south and east of England, where land is usually less than 200m above sea level.
  2. the north and west of England, and Wales and Scotland where land is often more than 200m above sea level.
Map of Britain showing highland and lowland regions and principal rivers. Roman Britain
In the south and east of England the landscape is fairly flat and any hills are low. There are plenty of fertile river valleys which are suitable for agriculture because the soil can be easily ploughed and it drains well.
The River Ouse at Beningborough north-west of York; typical lowland scenery on the east side of England. Photo Patrick Ottaway
In the south and east of England it is possible to travel around easily because there are few high hills and deep valleys. South and east England is also nearer to the rest of Europe than the north and west part of Britain and so, throughout history, invaders, settlers and traders have usually come to south or east England first before moving north and west.
Messengers riding for the Roman official postal system, the cursus publicus. Drawing by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
At the time the Romans invaded Britain in the year 43 the wealthiest tribes lived in south-east England. Their kings lived in luxury at places like Camulodunum near Colchester. They showed off their power and wealth by minting coins of gold and silver in a style copied from the Romans.
Gold coins of King Cunobelin (in Latin Cunobelinus), ruler of the Catuvellauni in south-east England, who died in about 40. Notice that on two of them there is a horse and the letters CVN or CVNO which stands for Cunobelinus, and on the other two there is an ear of corn and the letters CAMV which stands for Camulodunum. Colchester Museum
In the northern and western part of Britain there are high hills, mountains and moors and not much flat, low-lying country. The weather is often very cold or very wet and so it is not easy to grow good crops in many areas. Much of the land is best used for sheep farming.
The Roman fort at Hardknott (Cumbria) surrounded by the Cumbrian fells. Photo Patrick Ottaway
The high hills and deep valleys in northern and western Britain discouraged invaders and settlers - until the Romans came! Before the Roman invasion the people in many parts of northern and western Britain lived in well-defended hill top settlements, usually known as hill forts. This suggests that they often fought amongst themselves.
Twyn Y Gaer Iron Age hill fort (Mid Glamorgan), Wales seen from the air showing the banks and ditches of the defences. Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales

The Roman Invasion of Britain

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In the year AD43, 97 years after the invasions of Julius Caesar, the Romans returned to Britain on the orders of the Emperor Claudius. This time they came to conquer the country for good.
Bronze head from a statue of the Emperor Claudius, found in the River Alde in Suffolk. Licensed by the Trustees of the British Museum, The British Museum
The Roman invasion fleet set out from northern Gaul, and crossed the English Channel. The Roman army had about 40,000 men commanded by a man named Aulus Plautius. One part of the army landed near Richborough on the coast of Kent and another part may have landed near Chichester in Sussex.
Roman walls at the fort at Richborough (Kent). In the foreground walls of fort buildings and in the background the defensive wall of the late 3rd century. Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
From Richborough the invading army headed for the River Medway in the middle of Kent where they found a great army of Britons waiting for them. The Romans waded through the river braving the cold water and spears of their enemy. Once they reached the other side they won a glorious victory.
Map of south-east England at the time of the Roman invasion in the year 43. Roman Britain
The Romans crossed the River Thames where London is now, although London itself did not exist at this time. The Romans then fought another great battle against the Britons and made for Colchester, the most important place in south-east England. Colchester was known as Camulodunum meaning 'fortress of the war god Camulos'.
By the year 47, just four years after the invasion, the Romans had conquered most of south and east England as far as a Roman road we now call the Fosse Way. It runs from the north-east to the south-west joining towns of Roman origin at Lincoln, Leicester, Cirencester and Bath.
Map of southern England in about the year 47. Roman Britain
We know a little bit about the Roman invasion of Britain from descriptions by the Romans authors Cassius Dio and Suetonius, although Suetonius tells us that it was a campaign of little importance to the Romans! A lot more is known about the invasion from archaeology at places like Richborough and Colchester.
The defensive ditches of the first Roman fort at Richborough (Kent) which date to the time of the invasion of 43. Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
Did you know? After capturing Camulodunum the Emperor Claudius came to Britain in person so that he could claim the army's victory for himself. Claudius even brought elephants with him to impress the local people.

Why Did The Romans Invade Britain?

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Historians and archaeologists have put forward a number of reasons to explain why the Romans wanted to conquer Britain. We should also remember that the Romans believed their gods and goddesses had given them the right to conquer and rule the whole world for ever.
Statue of the Mars, the Roman god of war from York. Yorkshire Museum, York
An important reason for the invasion is that Claudius had only just been made emperor and desperately needed to show the Romans he could be a successful army commander.
Gold coin of the Emperor Claudius (41-54). The emperor wears a laurel wreath around his head. On the reverse is the arch built in Rome in 51 to mark the conquest of Britain. It is inscribed DE BRITTANN(IS) - 'for Britain'. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
The Romans thought that Britain was a country that could be conquered easily as the Britons did not have a strong army - its soldiers were brave, but disorganised.
British warriors riding in a chariot. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
A great British king named Cunobelinus who ruled the south-east of England had just died. His sons Caratacus and Togodumnus hated the Romans. The Romans may have feared they would unite Britain against them. In addition, Verica, King of the Atrebates, a tribe which lived in the south of England, urged the Emperor Claudius to invade Britain. Verica had been forced to flee from Britain and wanted help in fighting his enemies.
Gold coins of King Cunobelin (in Latin Cunobelinus), ruler of the Catuvellauni in south-east England, who died in about 40. Notice that on two of them there is a horse and the letters CVN or CVNO which stands for Cunobelinus, and on the other two there is an ear of corn and the letters CAMV which stands for Camulodunum. Colchester Museum
Finally, Britain was rich in resources which the Romans needed. The Greek geographer Strabo, writing in the 1st century BC, tells us that Britain was a source of grain, cattle, hides, gold, silver, iron, dogs bred for hunting and slaves.
An Irish deerhound. Encyclopaedia Britannica

Richborough and The Roman Landing

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A large part of the invading Roman army landed near Richborough (in Latin Rutupiae) on the coast of Kent where Aulus Plautius, the Roman commander, built a fort to protect his landing site. All that remains of it today are two ditches which formed part of the fort's defences.
The defensive ditches of the first Roman fort at Richborough (Kent) which date to the time of the invasion of 43. Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
For about forty years after the Roman invasion Richborough was a supply depot for the army. In about the year 85, after the battle of Mons Graupius in the Highlands of Scotland, it is thought that the Romans built a huge triumphal arch about 25 metres high at Richborough to commemorate the conquest of Britannia.
Richborough Roman fort (Kent) in the late 1st century showing the great triumphal arch erected to commemorate the conquest of Britain. Illustration by Ivan Lapper, English Heritage
Richborough is a good example of a place which was occupied by the Romans for the whole of the 360 or so years in which Britain was part of the empire. In the 3rd century the Romans built a new fort with massive stone walls.
The late 3rd century defensive wall of Richborough Roman fort (Kent). Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
Did you know? The soldiers invading Britain in 43 had an anxious journey. They were frightened of falling in the water because it would have been difficult to swim if they were wearing armour. They also thought the ocean marked the end of the world and believed that if they went too far they would fall off the edge!
Altar with an anchor in relief dedicated to Oceanus (OCEANO) at Newcastle upon Tyne. Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle upon Tyne

Colchester: Fortress and Colonia

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Colchester is a very important place for learning about the Roman conquest of Britain. It was the site of Camulodunum, the great British capital of King Cunobelinus and his sons. After the Roman conquest it was the site of a legionary fortress and then a town. Click on the map to visit Roman Colchester.
Plan of pre-Roman (late Iron Age) and Roman sites in the Colchester area. Patrick Ottaway and Roman Britain.
The British king ruled his subjects from a special part of Camulodunum (now known as Gosbecks) reserved for the houses of his family and chosen warriors. The king also controlled the temples of the gods, the craftsmen's workshops and a port on the River Colne.
Gold coins of King Cunobelin (in Latin Cunobelinus), ruler of the Catuvellauni in south-east England, who died in about 40. Notice that on two of them there is a horse and the letters CVN or CVNO which stands for Cunobelinus, and on the other two there is an ear of corn and the letters CAMV which stands for Camulodunum. Colchester Museum
Camulodunum was protected by what we call today 'the dykes,' huge ditches with banks of earth behind them. There are still about 20km of dykes to be seen today.
The Lexden Dyke, one of the pre-Roman (Iron Age) dykes at Colchester. Colchester Archaeological Trust
After capturing Camulodunum the Romans built a fortress nearby for the men of the Twentieth Legion. The fortress was on high ground which allowed the Romans to keep an eye on any rebellious Britons.
Tombstone of the Roman centurion Marcus Favonius Facilis from Colchester. Colchester Museum
The fortress at Colchester had a short life as the Twentieth Legion soon moved out to help with the conquest of the rest of Britain. The empty fortress was then turned into a town to house retired soldiers and their families.
An important building in the town at Colchester was the 'Temple of Claudius'. In this temple the Romans and the Britons were supposed to worship the Emperor Claudius as a god after his death in 54.
Bronze head from a statue of the Emperor Claudius, found in the River Alde in Suffolk. Licensed by the Trustees of the British Museum, The British Museum

The Romans in the West Country

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The Second Legion Augusta conquered the west of England under the command of a general named Vespasian who would later become an emperor. Click on the map to learn about Vespasian's campaign.
Map of the west of England in the Roman conquest period in the years 43 - 55. Roman Britain
Vespasian's first conquest on his campaign was the Isle of Wight, known to the Romans as Vectis.
Carved stone head in native British style from Newport Roman villa (Isle of Wight). Newport Roman Villa
Vespasian met strong resistance from the people of Dorset, known as the Durotriges, who did not wish to be conquered by the Romans. The Durotriges lived in hill forts like Maiden Castle near Dorchester. Maiden Castle was surrounded by massive banks and ditches and the entrances were strongly fortified. After a siege the Romans broke down the gates and slaughtered the people inside.
The Iron Age hill fort of Maiden Castle (Dorset) from the air. Royal Commission on Historical Monuments for England
In about 55, 12 years after the invasion, the Romans built a fortress at Exeter which they called Isca. The fortress was on the east bank of the River Exe overlooking an important crossing point.
Reconstruction illustration of the Roman legionary fortress at Exeter. Exeter City Museums and Art Gallery
From Exeter the Romans could control the local British tribe known as the Dumnonii who lived in the south-west of England. One of their villages has been found at Chysauster in Cornwall.
Reconstruction of part of the Roman native settlement at Chysauster (Cornwall). Illustration by Judith Dobie, English Heritage
Did you know? The Romans captured the British hill fort of Maiden Castle in a bloody battle. Archaeologists found the skeleton of a man who had been buried with an iron arrowhead still lodged in his spine!
Roman arrowhead lodged in the spine of a British warrior, found in a cemetery at Maiden Castle hill fort. Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society

The Britons Resist the Romans!

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What did the Britons think of the Romans? We know that some British leaders like Caratacus hated the Romans because they knew that the Romans would disarm them and leave them powerless. Other British leaders supported the Romans because they hoped the Romans would destroy their rivals and then leave them alone.
Artist's impression of the British prince Caratacus. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
Most people only hated the Romans if they had their land taken away or if they were made into slaves. As long as they could stay in their villages and keep their farms, the Roman conquest probably meant very little to the Britons, although they soon began to use things like pottery and coins made in Roman style.
Three Samian cups (late 1st century). York Archaeological Trust
Although there was a Roman governor in London, most Britons were still ruled by their local chiefs and kings who had ruled them before the conquest. What was new was that these British rulers started to behave, dress and speak like Romans.
Illustration of a Roman wearing a toga by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
We only have evidence from Roman writers about what the Britons thought of the conquest. The Romans thought of British leaders like Boudicca and Caratacus who resisted them as rebels, although the Britons might have called them heroes.
British warriors riding in a chariot. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain

The Romans versus Caratacus

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One British leader who really hated the Romans was Caratacus - Caradog in Welsh. He was one of the sons of King Cunobelinus. Caratacus fled from Camulodunum to join a tribe known as the Silures who occupied part of south Wales.
Artist's impression of the British prince Caratacus. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
The Roman army attacked Wales in about 47 under their general Ostorius Scapula, but soon found that Wales was not as easy to conquer as south-east England. Much of Wales is mountainous and the valleys were not easy for a large army to reach. The Silures lived in well-defended hill forts and were also skilled at attacking their enemies when they were least expecting it.
Twyn Y Gaer Iron Age hill fort (Mid Glamorgan), Wales seen from the air showing the banks and ditches of the defences. Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales
The Romans eventually defeated the Silures and Caratacus moved to mid Wales where he took command of another Welsh tribe known as the Ordovices. The Romans defeated them at a great battle. The Roman writer Tacitus wrote: 'The Britons, unprotected by either breastplates or helmets, were thrown into disorder. If they stood their ground against the auxiliary troops, they were laid low by the swords and javelins of the legionaries, while if they turned to face the legionaries, they were cut down by the swords and spears of the auxiliaries'.
Map of Roman Wales. Roman Britain
After the battle Caratacus's wife and daughter were captured and his brother surrendered. Caratacus himself fled to Cartimandua, Queen of Brigantes, the tribe which lived in the north of England. Unfortunately for Caratacus, Queen Cartimandua wanted good relations with the Romans and handed Caratacus over to them.
Artist's impression of the Brigantian Queen Cartimandua. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain.

The Revolt of Boudicca

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In the year 60 the Romans under their general Suetonius Paulinus were attacking north Wales and captured the island of Anglesey off the north-west coast, but in their moment of triumph disaster struck!
Map of Roman Wales. Roman Britain
Prasutagus was the king of the Iceni tribe who lived in what is now Norfolk. When he died the Romans seized his kingdom. The Roman soldiers treated the tribal leaders as slaves and behaved brutally to the king's wife Boudicca and her daughters.
Map of south-east England at the time of the revolt of Boudicca in the years 60-61. Roman Britain
Boudicca hated the Romans and she also knew how much the Britons living near the new Roman town at Colchester hated losing their land and paying taxes to the Romans. Boudicca was prepared to lead her troops in her own chariot. She took them straight to Colchester and burnt it down.
Bronze statue of Queen Boudicca and her daughters on Victoria Embankment, London by Thomas Thorneycroft (about 1850). Photo Patrick Ottaway
Colchester was full of retired Roman soldiers and their families. They did not believe that the Britons would attack them and left their town undefended. When Boudicca's army arrived the Romans had to take refuge in the Temple of Claudius, but the queen's army burst in and killed them all.
Boudicca's army went on and burnt London and St Albans. Few buildings were spared and many people were killed. The Emperor Nero sent his general Suetonius Paulinus to destroy Boudicca's army. After her defeat the queen poisoned herself. Her grave has never been found!
Gold coin of the Emperor Nero (54-68), pierced for use as a pendant, from Exeter. Exeter City Museums and Art Gallery

The Romans conquer Wales and march North

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In the year 69 Vespasian became Emperor of Rome. Earlier in his career he had been the Roman general who conquered the west of England at the time of the invasion of Britain in the year 43.
Gold coin (aureus) of the Emperor Vespasian (69-79).On the reverse is a chariot drawn by four horses. Berlin
Vespasian ordered his army under its commander Petilius Cerialis to advance into the north of England which was mostly the territory of a tribe known as the Brigantes who were ruled by Queen Cartimandua. The Roman conquest of the north was organised from a great legionary fortress at York, the base of the Ninth Legion.
Map of the Roman conquest of northern England in about the years 69-71. Roman Britain
At about the same time the Romans built two great legionary fortresses to control the Welsh tribes, one at Caerleon in the south and the other at Chester in the north.
Map of Roman Wales. Roman Britain
Did you know? When the Romans first invaded the north of England the native tribe, the Brigantes, was ruled by a great queen named Cartimandua - her name meant 'sleek pony' in the British language!
Small bronze model of a horse from Silchester (Hampshire). Reading Museum Service

Cartimandua and The Brigantes

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The Brigantes tribe lived in northern England and part of southern Scotland. They were ruled by Queen Cartimandua who was a cunning and ruthless leader.
Artist's impression of the Brigantian Queen Cartimandua. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain.
Cartimandua hoped to keep the Brigantes independent by being friendly with the Romans. For this reason she had handed over Caratacus when he fled to her after his defeat in Wales in 51. At the same time she fell out with her husband Venutius who hated the Romans.
Artist's impression of the Brigantian nobleman Venutius. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain.
Eighteen years later Cartimandua was still quarrelling with Venutius. He wanted to fight the Romans and was dissatisfied with being ruled by his wife. Trouble started when Cartimandua preferred a younger man named Vellocatus who was Venutius's own armour-bearer.
A native British horned god carved on a stone block from the Roman fort at Maryport (Cumbria). Photo Simon I. Hill, Senhouse Museum, Maryport.
Venutius's men began to fight Queen Cartimandua's supporters. When Venutius looked like winning the Romans had to come in and save the queen. The Romans were not prepared to leave the Brigantes under the control of Venutius who hated them and decided to conquer the whole of the territory of the Brigantes and their neighbours the Parisi.
Stone head, probably of a native British god from Ilkley. Photo Simon I. Hill, Olicana Museum.
Some archaeologists believe that Cartimandua lived with her followers at Stanwick near Richmond in North Yorkshire. At Stanwick there is a huge enclosure covering 300 hectares and surrounded by a great bank and ditch. This was probably where the local tribespeople could defend their families and animals in times of danger.
The defences of the pre-Roman (Iron Age) enclosure at Stanwick (North Yorkshire), where Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes probably had her royal residence. Photo Patrick Ottaway

The Roman Fortress at York

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In the year 71 a Roman fortress was founded at York by the Ninth Legion Hispana under its commander Petilius Cerialis. York was given the Roman name Eburacum. The fortress lies between two rivers which gave it some protection from attack. Ships could travel to York from the North Sea via the main river, the Ouse and bring in supplies and reinforcements.
Plan of Roman York showing the fortress, civilian town (colonia), cemeteries and main roads. Roman Britain
Archaeologists have found that when Petilius Cerialis was commander the defences of the fortress at York consisted of a ditch and rampart of earth. On top of the rampart was a wooden fence, known as a palisade, and there were also gates and watch towers made of wood.
Reconstruction drawing of the late 1st century Roman fortress defences at York. Drawing by Terry Finnemore, York Archaeological Trust
The fortress bath house would have been a very grand stone building. Underneath it was a great stone sewer which took away the used water and the product of the latrines.
The Roman sewer in the fortress baths at York. York Archaeological Trust.
Lucius Duccius Rufinus was a standard bearer of the Ninth Legion who died aged only 28 years old. He has a splendid tombstone on which he is shown in his best uniform holding his standard in his right hand.
Tombstone of Lucius Duccius Rufinus, a standard bearer of the Ninth Legion, found in York. Yorkshire Museum, York.
In Roman times soldiers sometimes dropped pieces of equipment like this decorative plate from a belt. It was found by archaeologists in York about 1800 years after it was lost!
Small bronze belt-plate with enamel inlay of 2nd century date, found in the Roman legionary fortress at York. York Archaeological Trust

Roman Wales

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When they were led by Caratacus the Welsh tribes resisted the Romans with great determination and were most unwilling to be conquered. The Welsh were not finally defeated until about the year 79. Click on the map to learn about Roman conquest of Wales.
Map of Roman Wales. Roman Britain
The conquest of Wales was almost complete when the Roman general Julius Frontinus founded a fortress at Caerleon, known to the Romans as Isca, in about the year 75. From here the Roman army could control the Silures, the native tribe which lived in south-east Wales. The garrison was the Second Legion Augusta.
An artist's reconstruction of the Roman fortress baths at Caerleon (Gwent), Wales in about 80 with the exercise hall shown under construction (upper left). In the centre is the open air swimming pool with its fountain house (left). Illustration by Paul Jenkins, National Museums & Galleries of Wales
In Wales the Romans built a network of roads and there were forts like Brecon (Cicucium) at each important junction. In this way the Welsh tribes were broken up into small groups which could be easily watched over by the Roman soldiers.
Remains of the south gate of Brecon Gaer (Cicucium) Roman fort (Powys), Wales. Photo Patrick Ottaway
After the Roman conquest some of the people of Wales adopted the Roman way of life and lived in small towns like Caerwent (Venta Silurum) and Carmarthen (Moridunum).
The walls of the Roman town at Caerwent (Gwent) showing a projecting tower or bastion added in the 4th century. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Most people in Wales continued to live as they had before the Roman conquest and some stayed in their hill forts.
Twyn Y Gaer Iron Age hill fort (Mid Glamorgan), Wales seen from the air showing the banks and ditches of the defences. Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales

Agricola: Governor of Britain

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Agricola was Roman Governor of Britain between the years 78 and 84. He was a Gaul by birth and came from the Roman town of Fréjus on the Mediterranean coast.
The Roman amphitheatre at Fréjus, France. Photo Patrick Ottaway
In the years 60 to 61, early in his army career, Agricola had been posted to Britain and he must have seen the rebellion of Boudicca. It is probably because Agricola knew Britain well that he was sent here as governor.
Modern statue of Gnaeus Julius Agricola, Governor of Britain (c.78-84), in his home town of Fréjus, France. Photo Patrick Ottaway
As governor Agricola completed the conquest of Wales and conquered the whole of northern England and most of Scotland.
The defensive ditches at Ardoch Roman fort (Tayside), Scotland. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Agricola retired to Rome in about the year 84. In the year 87 the Emperor Domitian ordered the Roman army to withdraw from most of Scotland. The Roman historian Tacitus commented angrily that 'Britain was completely conquered and immediately abandoned'. Tacitus hated Domitian because he thought the emperor had ignored his father-in-law's successes.
Silver coin (denarius) of the Emperor Domitian (81-96). Reverse shows the goddess Minerva. Photo: Simon I Hill, York Archaeological Trust

Agricola in the North of England

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In the north of England Agricola used the usual Roman method of conquering new territories. He built a network of roads which allowed soldiers to be moved rapidly to where they were needed. At important road junctions and river crossings Agricola built forts. Click on the map to learn about Roman sites in the north.
Map of northern England at the time of Agricola, Governor of Britain, in about 78-84. Roman Britain
Agricola probably founded the great legionary fortress at Chester (Deva) in about the year 79. Chester was intended to control the British tribes in north Wales and north-west England. Even the water pipes have Agricola's name on them!
Lead water pipes from Chester. The upper pipe is stamped with the name of the Emperor Vespasian and the lower with the name of the Governor Agricola. © Grosvenor Museum, Chester.
There are lots of Roman forts in the north of England and most of them were founded by Agricola. Archaeologists have been able to get a very vivid picture of what they were like from excavations. Castleshaw shown here is high up in the Pennines on the Roman road from Manchester to York.
The Roman fort at Castleshaw (Greater Manchester). Illustration by David Lowther, Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit
Cawthorn in North Yorkshire is one of the best places you can go today to get an idea of the sort of fort built by Agricola. The defensive ditches and ramparts of two forts and a camp are very well preserved here.
Aerial view of the Roman forts at Cawthorn (North Yorkshire) from the west. Royal Commission on Historical Monuments for England
At Maryport (Alauna) a fort was built to guard the coast of Cumbria. Some fascinating Roman stone sculpture has been found here including this really strange serpent.
Stone monument with a serpent from Maryport Roman fort (Cumbria). Photo Simon I. Hill, Senhouse Museum, Maryport.

Agricola in Scotland

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When Agricola was Governor of Britain there seemed to be no limit to the Roman empire. Agricola planned to conquer all of Scotland and would have taken Ireland as well if he had been given enough men. Click on the map to learn about Agricola's campaigns in Scotland.
Map of Roman sites in Scotland at the time of the Governor Agricola in about AD 78-84. Roman Britain
Agricola conquered Scotland by defeating the tribes known as the Caledonians (in Latin Caledonii) under their great leader Calgacus, at a place somewhere in the north-east of Scotland called Mons Graupius.
Artist's impression of the Caledonian chieftain Calgacus. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain.
Agricola planned to control Scotland from a legionary fortress at Inchtuthil on the River Tay. Building work began in about the year 83 in the reign of Emperor Domitian.
Silver coin (denarius) of the Emperor Domitian (81-96). Reverse shows the goddess Minerva. Photo: Simon I Hill, York Archaeological Trust
Agricola built forts in Scotland including Ardoch near Perth which has the best-preserved Roman fort ditches of any site in Britain.
Ardoch Roman fort (Tayside), Scotland, seen from the air in snow with ditches of the late 1st century and mid 2nd century forts visible. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments for Scotland
Along a Roman road west of what is now the town of Perth archaeologists have found the remains of watch towers. Soldiers based in these towers could give an early warning of attacks by the Caledonian tribes.
Reconstruction drawing of a Roman watch tower on Gask Ridge (Tayside), Scotland. Drawing by Michael J. Moore, Michael J. Moore and David J. Breeze
Did you know? A mistake by a medieval printer changed Graupius to Grampius in Tacitus's biography of Agricola. As a result, we now call the mountains in north-east Scotland the Grampians when they should be the Graupians!
A boar's head made of bronze which was part of a trumpet, possibly used by a native Caledonian army. From Deskford (Grampian), Scotland. National Museums of Scotland

Hadrian's Wall and the Northern Frontier

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Hadrian's Wall formed the northern frontier of Roman Britain. It was built on the orders of the Emperor Hadrian when he visited Britain in the year 122.
Bronze coin (sestertius) of the Emperor Hadrian (117-138). On the reverse is a Roman warship.
When it was complete the Wall ran for about 124km (77 miles) from Wallsend, near the mouth of the River Tyne on the east side of Britain, to Bowness-on-Solway, near the mouth of the River Solway, on the west.
Map of Hadrian's Wall. Roman Britain
Hadrian's Wall replaced an earlier frontier marked by a road which we now call the Stanegate.
The Roman road now known as the Stanegate looking east at Corbridge (Northumberland). Photo Simon I. Hill, with the kind permission of English Heritage
Hadrian's Wall was built by Roman legionaries from the fortresses of Caerleon, Chester and York, although the soldiers who manned the wall in forts like Birdoswald or Housesteads were auxiliaries.
A Roman auxiliary cavalryman and his horse. Illustration by Simon Chew, York Archaeological Trust.
Hadrian's biographer tells us that the Wall was built to 'separate barbarians and Romans', but there is no Roman description of the Wall and most of what we know about it comes from archaeological research. This has involved recording what can still be seen of the Wall above ground and excavating sites along its line.
The north gateway of the Housesteads milecastle seen from the north during recording and restoration in 1990. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Did you know? The Romans called just about everyone who lived beyond the frontiers of their empire a barbarian. Barbarians were thought to be ignorant, wild, and undisciplined. Even worse in Roman eyes, the men had shaggy beards and wore trousers!
Detail of a cavalryman's tombstone at Ribchester (Lancashire) showing a dying barbarian. Photo Simon I. Hill, Ribchester Museum Trust

The First Northern Frontier

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By about the year 105, in the reign of the Emperor Trajan, the northern frontier of Roman Britain was marked by a road between two forts: Corbridge (Coria) in the east and Carlisle (Luguvalium) in the west. This road is known today as the Stanegate. Click on the map to learn about sites on the first northern frontier.
Map of the first northern frontier of Roman Britain showing forts on the Stanegate. Roman Britain
At the east end of the first northern frontier lay Corbridge (Coria) which was at an important road junction. It lies where the Stanegate met a north-south road, known to us today as Dere Street, at a point where it crossed over the River Tyne.
Remains of a Roman granary at Corbridge (Northumberland) with a solid stone floor and buttresses supporting the walls. Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
At the west end of the first northern frontier lay Carlisle (Luguvalium) which, like Corbridge, was an important road junction where the Stanegate joined a main north-south road. The Roman fort guarded a crossing over the River Eden.
The headquarters building in the Roman fort at Carlisle under excavation.
Vindolanda was one of the forts on the Stanegate between Corbridge and Carlisle. Excavations at Vindolanda have produced lots of exciting finds including the world-famous wooden writing tablets which give a vivid picture of life in the Roman army.
The Roman fort at Vindolanda (Northumberland) seen from the west. Photo Patrick Ottaway with kind permission Vindolanda Trust
Did you know? In the Museum at Carlisle you can see a famous tombstone of a woman with a fan. She has her little son with her who is reaching out to a pet bird in her lap. On top of the stone there is a mythical beast called a sphinx crushing a skull and two lions which represent the destructive powers of death.
Tombstone of the Roman 'lady with the fan' from Carlisle. She has the fan in her right hand and on her left is her little boy who is reaching into her lap for his ball. Photo Simon I. Hill, Tullie House Museum, Carlisle

What is Hadrian's Wall?

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Hadrian's Wall is not just a wall! It includes a lot of other structures, some of which were part of the original Roman design, while others were built after the Romans had changed their minds about what they wanted. Click on the map to learn more about the Wall.
Map of Hadrian's Wall. Roman Britain
Peel Crag. Much of Hadrian's Wall runs to the north of the Stanegate road, across ridges of high ground from which the Romans could get a great view over the countryside to the north.
Hadrian's Wall looking east from Peel Gap towards Peel Crag. Photo Patrick Ottaway
The Turf Wall. At first only the eastern part of the Wall from Newcastle to the River Irthing (just east of Birdoswald fort) was built in stone while the western part from the Irthing to Bowness-on-Solway was a rampart made largely of turf with a timber palisade on top. This is known as the 'Turf Wall'. It was eventually rebuilt in stone.
A replica rampart and timber palisade at the reconstructed Roman fort at the Lunt near Coventry. This probably resembles the Turf Wall section of Hadrian's Wall to the west of the River Irthing. Photo: Simon I Hill, Coventry Museums and Art Galleries.
The Wall ditch. In front of the Wall there was a ditch usually about 8.2m (27 feet) wide and 2.7 - 3m (9-10 feet) deep.
The ditch which was dug along the front of (i.e. the north side of) Hadrian's Wall at Blackcarts near Chesters fort. The Wall itself can be seen in the background in this view. Photo Simon I. Hill © Roman Britain
Sewingshields milecastle. There were fortified crossing points at roughly one mile intervals along the Wall which are known as milecastles.
Reconstruction of the Roman milecastle at Sewingshields on Hadrian's Wall. Illustration by Frank Gardiner, English Heritage
Brunton turret. Between each pair of milecastles there were two observation towers known as turrets.
The remains of Brunton turret on Hadrian's Wall. Photo Patrick Ottaway
The fort at Birdoswald (Banna). At first the Romans planned to keep the soldiers defending the Wall in the forts which already existed on the Stanegate road a short distance to the south. However, the Romans soon saw that if the Wall was attacked the soldiers were too far away to react quickly and so they built new forts at regular intervals along the line of the Wall.
Aerial view of Birdoswald Roman fort seen from the south. Photo Cumbria County Council
The Vallum was a flat-bottomed ditch 6.2m (20 feet) wide and 3.1m (10 feet) deep with an earthen mound on either side. It was dug behind the line of the Wall a few years after it had been built. The Vallum marked out an area south of the Wall, up to about 1.5km (1 mile) wide, which was controlled by the army.
A reconstructed view along the line of Hadrian's Wall east of Birdoswald fort. The Wall and a milecastle can be seen on the left, and the Vallum ditch on the right. The Vallum ditch runs between the line of two mounds of the earth which was dug out of it.
The fort at South Shields (Arbeia) stands on the south side of the mouth of the River Tyne opposite the east end of the Wall at Wallsend. South Shields acted as a supply base for the forts on the Wall.
The Roman fort at South Shields (Tyne and Wear) looking north-west across the remains of granary buildings in the centre of the fort towards the reconstructed Roman west gate. Photo Patrick Ottaway by kind permission of Tyne and Wear Museums
Although the west end of the Wall lay at the mouth of the Solway, Roman frontier defences ran all the way down the coast of Cumbria and there was an important fort at Maryport (Alauna).
Dedication to Jupiter by Postumius Acilianus, Prefect of the 1st cohort of Dalmatians in the reign of Antoninus Pius (138 - 161) at Maryport (Cumbria). Photo Simon I Hill, Senhouse Museum, Maryport

Building Hadrian's Wall

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Hadrian's Wall was one of the great engineering achievements of the Roman world. If you wanted to build it today it would cost hundreds of millions of pounds!
The south side of Hadrian's Wall near Peel Gap (Northumberland). Photo Patrick Ottaway
Hadrian's Wall, the milecastles, the turrets and the forts, were built by legionaries brought in from Caerleon, Chester and York. Only legionaries had the skill to build a stone wall which would last for hundreds of years. British slaves and prisoners were probably used for fetching and carrying the materials.
Stone commemorating construction work on Hadrian's Wall by the century of Paulius Aper of the ninth (legionary) cohort. From Brunton Turret near Chesters fort.
Hadrian's Wall was built of stone, mainly sandstone, quarried locally. The stones were held together with stiff clay or good quality mortar.
Detail of Hadrian's Wall. Photo Patrick Ottaway
The Wall was about 2.45 - 3.05m (8 - 10 feet) thick. It is thought to have stood about 4.6m (15 feet) high.
Reconstructed stretch of Hadrian's Wall at Vindolanda Roman fort (Northumberland). Photo Patrick Ottaway with kind permission of the Vindolanda Trust.
At the top of the Wall there was probably a walkway for the soldiers on patrol, although it does not survive. There were steps up to the walkway at the forts, turrets and milecastles.
Poltross Burn milecastle (Cumbria). Steps which probably led to a walkway at the top of Hadrian's Wall. Photo Patrick Ottaway
The ditch in front of the Wall was dug by hand using picks and shovels! The soldiers must have found digging the ditch even harder work than building the Wall because they often had to cut through very hard rock.
Hadrian's Wall ditch at a site known as 'Limestone Corner'. The stone was too hard for the soldiers to dig through here and the ditch was left unfinished. There are still blocks of stone lying around where they were abandoned by the Romans. Photo Simon I Hill Roman Britain
Much of the Wall was complete after about six years, but from the time work began to the completion of all the forts and the Vallum took about sixteen years.
View from Hadrian's Wall south-east towards the Vallum (upper right) near Housesteads Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Did you know? The soldiers recorded the building work their unit had done on stone blocks built into the Wall. In this way the officers knew who to praise for good work and who to blame if the job was not done properly!
Inscription on a stone block commemorating the work of the century commanded by Valerius Maximus from Chesters Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall. Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.

Why was Hadrian's Wall built?

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Hadrian's own biographer tells us that the Wall was built to 'separate barbarians and Romans', but archaeologists believe that the emperor gave the order to build the Wall for several other reasons.
Bronze coin of Emperor Hadrian. On the reverse letters SC stand for Senatus Consulto meaning 'on behalf of the Senate'. Photo: Simon I. Hill, York Archaeological Trust
Hadrian probably realised that the Romans simply could not afford to conquer the whole of Britain. Supplying a large army in Scotland with men and equipment would have been extremely costly.
Detail of the distance slab from Bridgeness on the Antonine Wall showing Roman cavalry attacking native tribesmen. National Museums of Scotland
Hadrian wanted to keep the hostile tribes in Caledonia out of the peaceful Roman province of Britannia and prevent them stealing cattle or looting the towns and villages.
Artist's impression of the Caledonian chieftain Calgacus. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain.
Hadrian wanted a frontier which people could only cross at certain points where enemies and criminals could be arrested, and tolls collected from traders.
The Roman milecastle at Castle Nick on Hadrian's Wall looking north-west. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Hadrian wanted to build a splendid monument which would serve as a lasting reminder of Roman power and his own glorious achievements. As we know, he was brilliantly successful in doing this!
Visitors admiring the view north at Castle Nick milecastle on Hadrian's Wall. Photo Patrick Ottaway

Soldiers on Hadrian's Wall

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When the forts on Hadrian's Wall were first built there would have been over 10,000 men stationed in them. In later Roman times the garrison was probably much smaller.
Tombstone of an army standard bearer shown with his shield and sword. His standard has a bull's head and a three-pronged base for holding it in the ground. Found at Carrawburgh Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall, now in Chesters museum. Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
The soldiers who manned the forts on Hadrian's Wall were auxiliaries who had been recruited in countries conquered by the Romans. As time went on the troops were usually recruited locally.
A Roman auxiliary with his arms and equipment. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
As far as we know, there was not usually much fighting for the soldiers on Hadrian's Wall, but they had to do guard duty and make regular patrols. They watched the people passing through the Wall at the milecastles and forts, and arrested criminals and enemies.
Reconstruction of the Roman milecastle at Sewingshields on Hadrian's Wall. Illustration by Frank Gardiner, English Heritage
When they were not on duty the soldiers went hunting in the countryside around the Wall which would have been full of wild animals including deer and wild boar.
A wild boar. Photo Lesley Collett
The soldiers enjoyed relaxing in the bath house. It was a sort of leisure centre where they not only washed themselves, but met their friends and played board games. In winter the bath house was probably the warmest place around. You can see a well- preserved bath house at Chesters fort.
The bath house at Chesters Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall. Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
Did you know? The Romans did not wash with soap. They worked up a sweat to open the skin's pores and then scraped the dirt and sweat off with a tool known as a strigil. This was followed by a cold plunge and a massage!
Roman women in a Roman town bath house. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain

Civilians on Hadrian's Wall

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Local people living around Hadrian's Wall probably welcomed the soldiers as they provided a ready market for the produce of their farms or workshops. As a result of trade, little groups of houses and shops grew up outside the fort gates. This sort of settlement is usually called a vicus.
Remains of buildings in the vicus outside the south gate of Housesteads Roman fort. Photo Patrick Ottaway
At Vindolanda you can see the excavated remains of a vicus. All along the main street there are long, narrow buildings which had workshops and shops at the front and living quarters at the back.
The remains of stone buildings in the vicus at Vindolanda Roman fort (Northumberland). Photo Patrick Ottaway with kind permission of the Vindolanda Trust.
At the time when Hadrian's Wall was built soldiers were not allowed to get married, but they would probably have kept unofficial wives and families in the vicus.
Tombstone of a Roman girl named Vacia from Carlisle. The inscription records her age as three years although the relief is of an older child. Notice that she holds a bunch of grapes in her right hand. Photo Simon I. Hill, Tullie House Museum, Carlisle
Did you know? In all the civilian settlements along the Wall there were temples for gods and goddesses some of which were Roman and others British, but they were worshipped by soldiers and local people alike.
Temple of the god Mithras at the fort at Carrawburgh on Hadrian's Wall. Photo Patrick Ottaway

Birdoswald: a Fort on Hadrian's Wall

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One of the best preserved forts on Hadrian's Wall is Birdoswald, known to the Romans as Banna. By about the year 200 it was the base for an army unit called the First Cohort of Dacians (Cohors I Aelia Dacorum) which came from what is now Romania.
Plan of Birdoswald Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall
The fort at Birdoswald stands on a spur of high ground overlooking the River Irthing to the south and east. The valley was an important routeway for local people. To the north the soldiers had a good view towards the hills of lowland Scotland.
The River Irthing near Birdoswald Roman fort looking east. Photo Cumbria County Council
The walls forming the defences at Birdoswald still stand 4m (14 feet) high in places and you can see all but one of the original fort gates.
The east wall of Birdoswald fort on Hadrian's Wall. Photo Simon I. Hill, with the kind permission of Cumbria County Council
The east gate is very well preserved. You can see the two gate passages with the guard rooms on either side. You can also see stone blocks with holes in them where the iron hinges of the gate pivoted.
The east gate at the Roman fort at Birdoswald on Hadrian's Wall. Photo Patrick Ottaway with the kind permission of Cumbria County Council
The remains of the west gate were revealed in recent excavations. Originally there were two gate passages, but the southern passage was blocked up in the late Roman period. This may have been done to make the fort safer in times of trouble.
Reconstruction illustration of the west gate at the Roman fort at Birdoswald on Hadrian's Wall. Illustration by John Vallender, © Cumbria County Council
Important buildings in the fort included the headquarters (principia) and commanding officer's house (praetorium). The commanding officer had his own bath house in which there stood a statue of the goddess Fortuna.
Statue of the goddess Fortuna from Birdoswald Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall. Photo Simon I. Hill, Tullie House Museum, Carlisle
The fort had two granaries for the storage of food, including the grain used to make bread. An inscription tells us that the granaries were built in the years 205-8 when Septimius Severus was emperor.
Reconstruction illustration of the granaries at the Roman fort at Birdoswald on Hadrian's Wall. Illustration by Kate Wilson, © Cumbria County Council.
Near the west gate, just inside the fort, part of a large building has recently been excavated which is thought to have been a drill hall where the soldiers could practice fighting in bad weather. Nothing like this has been found at any other fort on Hadrian's Wall.
Reconstruction illustration of the drill hall at the Roman fort at Birdoswald on Hadrian's Wall. Illustration by Kate Wilson, © Cumbria County Council
Hadrian's Wall itself runs up to the north-east and north-west corners of the fort and the ditch known as the Vallum ran just beyond the south gate. You can follow a fine stretch of the Wall for over 1 km to the east of the fort and in front of it the Wall ditch can be clearly seen.
An artist's impression of Hadrian's Wall to the east of Birdoswald fort. The Wall is on the left and the Vallum ditch is on the right. © Cumbria County Council
Did you know? The excavations at the west gate of Birdoswald fort showed that it had remained standing for almost 1000 years after the Romans left and in medieval times was still used for defence by the people living in a tower house nearby.
Reconstruction of a medieval tower house in Birdoswald Roman fort. Illustration by Kate Wilson, © Cumbria County Council

The Antonine Wall

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After the Emperor Hadrian died in the year 138 the next emperor was Antoninus Pius. He had not been a successful army commander and badly needed a conquest to prove that he was a great leader.
Bronze coin of the Emperor Antoninus Pius (138-61). On the reverse stands the goddess Minerva. York Archaeological Trust
Antoninus Pius ordered the Governor of Britain, Lollius Urbicus, to abandon Hadrian's Wall, invade southern Scotland and create a new northern frontier. This is now known as the Antonine Wall.
The Antonine Wall at Watling Lodge near Falkirk (Central Region), Scotland. The ditch is in the centre and the remains of the turf wall to the left. Photo Patrick Ottaway
The Antonine Wall ran for about 60km (37 miles) from Bridgeness on the River Forth in the east to Old Kilpatrick, on the River Clyde, in the west. The Wall was really a massive rampart built of earth and turf, and it had a ditch in front of it. There were forts and fortlets at intervals along the Wall line.
Map of Roman sites in Scotland in the mid 2nd century showing the Antonine Wall. Roman Britain
In spite of the great effort made to build it, the Antonine Wall was the northern frontier of Britain for only a short time. In about the year 160 the Romans changed their minds again and withdrew to Hadrian's Wall.
Hadrian's Wall looking east from Peel Gap towards Peel Crag. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Roman historians tell us hardly anything about the Antonine Wall, but fortunately it has been possible for archaeologists to survey and excavate parts of the Wall itself and many of the forts along its line.
The bath house at the Roman fort at Bearsden on the Antonine Wall. Historic Scotland.

Building the Antonine Wall

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Click on the map to visit some of the sites on the Antonine Wall to see how it was built, who built it and what it looked like.
Map of Roman sites in Scotland in the mid 2nd century showing the Antonine Wall. Roman Britain
The soldiers who built the Antonine Wall were legionaries and they put up elaborately carved 'distance slabs' like this one to show how much of the work they had done. This slab was found near the fort at Bearsden. It records the construction of 3000 feet of the Antonine Wall (look for PP III, bottom right). In the centre you can see a female figure wearing a cloak who may represent the goddess Britannia.
The distance slab from Hutcheson Hill (Bearsden, Glasgow) on the Antonine Wall commemorating the construction of 3000 feet of the Wall by the Twentieth Legion. In the centre a standard bearer is crowned by the goddess Victory and on either side are tied-up native prisoners. Hunterian Museum, Glasgow
The legionaries who built the Antonine Wall are shown on this sculpture from Croy Hill fort. It took the soldiers about four years to build the Wall itself and the forts and fortlets along it.
Roman legionaries shown on a stone monument from the fort at Croy Hill (Strathclyde) on the Antonine Wall, Scotland. National Museums of Scotland
The troops manning the Antonine Wall were auxiliaries and they were based in forts placed at regular intervals of about 3.5km along the Wall. This is a reconstruction of the fort at Rough Castle near Falkirk. The buildings were mostly wooden and their defences were ramparts of earth.
Artist's reconstruction of the Roman fort at Rough Castle (Central Region) on the Antonine Wall. Drawing by Michael J. Moore, Michael J. Moore and David J.Breeze
The Antonine Wall itself was built of earth and turf on a base of sandstone. It was about 4.3m wide and it stood about 3.6m high. There would probably have been a wooden palisade along the top of the wall. In front of it there was a deep, wide ditch.
The Antonine Wall at Watling Lodge near Falkirk (Central Region), Scotland. The ditch is in the centre and the remains of the turf wall to the left. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Between the forts there were fortlets which were fortified crossing points rather like the milecastles on Hadrian's Wall. There were also a few platforms specially built for beacons, fires used for signalling between units of soldiers.
Artist's reconstruction of a fortlet and beacon platform on the Antonine Wall. Drawing by Michael J. Moore, Michael J. Moore and David J. Breeze

Septimius Severus in Britain

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In the year 193 Septimius Severus became emperor. He is sometimes known as the 'African emperor' because he was born in Lepcis Magna, now in Libya in north Africa.
Silver coin (denarius) of the Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211). The reverse shows the god Jupiter with the words IOVI CONSERVATOR ('Jupiter the preserver'). Photo: Simon I Hill, York Archaeological Trust
Septimius Severus was married to a priestess from Syria named Julia Domna. They had two sons, one called Geta and the other Antoninus who was nicknamed Caracalla because of a long cloak he used to wear.
Pot in the form of a woman's head thought to be a portrait of the Empress Julia Domna (early 3rd century). Found at York. Yorkshire Museum, York
In the year 208 Septimius Severus came to Britain to lead campaigns against the Caledonians in Scotland and he used York as the main base for his army. It was said that the emperor brought his sons to Britain to get them away from an easy life in Rome. He wanted to toughen up the boys with experience of real fighting.
Reconstruction of part of the Roman fortress at York in the early 3rd century seen from the north-west. Illustration by Simon Chew York Archaeological Trust.
Severus made the fort at South Shields, at the mouth of the River Tyne, into an important supply base for his troops and built a large number of granaries to store food.
View to the north-west across the fort at South Shields (Tyne and Wear) with remains of granaries under excavation in the foreground and the reconstructed west gate in the background. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Severus died in York in the year 211. He was quite old and not in good health when he came to Britain. He knew he was going to die because of bad omens. One of these came in a dream in which he was dragged up into the sky by four eagles.
Relief carving of an eagle on a building stone from South Shields fort (Tyne and Wear). Photo Simon I. Hill, Tyne and Wear Museums
We can find out about the life of Septimius Severus from the Roman historian Cassius Dio. He wrote 'Severus was short but powerful though he eventually grew weak from gout. Mentally he was very keen and vigorous'. Archaeological excavations at places in the north, like South Shields, give us important evidence for Severus's campaigns in Britain.
South Shields Roman fort (Tyne and Wear) a view to the south-east from the reconstructed Roman gateway with the remains of granary buildings in the foreground and the reconstructed barrack building and commanding officer's house beyond. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Did you know? Caracalla, the son of Septimius Severus, was very ambitious and it was said that he once tried to murder his father. After Septimius Severus died Caracalla became emperor and murdered his brother Geta to prevent him being a rival.
Cameo in the semi-precious stone sardonyx of the Emperor Caracalla (211-217) dressed as Hercules with a lion's skin around his neck. From South Shields Roman fort (Tyne and Wear). Tyne and Wear Museums.

The Fort at South Shields

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The Roman fort at South Shields, called Arbeia in Latin, is near the mouth of the River Tyne and stands on its south bank. At South Shields today you can see how the fort was laid out and the remains of many buildings.
View to the north-west across the fort at South Shields (Tyne and Wear) with remains of granaries under excavation in the foreground and the reconstructed west gate in the background. Photo Patrick Ottaway
The most exciting building to be seen at South Shields is a full-scale reconstruction of the west gate. South Shields is the only place in Britain where you can see what a Roman stone gateway really looked like.
The reconstructed west gate of the Roman fort at South Shields (Tyne and Wear). Photo Patrick Ottaway by kind permission of Tyne and Wear Museums
South Shields became very important for the Romans when the Emperor Septimius Severus came to Britain. The fort was enlarged and filled up with granaries which were used to store food for the emperor's troops.
The Roman fort at South Shields (Tyne and Wear) looking north-west across the remains of granary buildings in the centre of the fort towards the reconstructed Roman west gate. Photo Patrick Ottaway by kind permission of Tyne and Wear Museums
In the picture you can see the remains of one of the long narrow barrack blocks used by the soldiers of the Fifth Cohort of Gauls who were here in the 3rd century. On the right of the picture you can see a wall with doorways in it which led to the barrack rooms. The floors are blackened because of a fire which burnt the barracks down in about the year 300, possibly during an enemy attack!
Remains of 3rd century barracks under excavation at South Shields Roman fort (Tyne and Wear). In the foreground notice the stone paved floor and doorway. On the right is a street. The black material is the result of the burning down of the barracks in about the year 300. Tyne and Wear Museums.
The headquarters building (principia) of the 3rd century fort had a strong room for storing valuables such as the soldiers' pay and savings.
The underground strong room found in the 3rd century headquarters building at South Shields Roman fort (Tyne and Wear). Photo Patrick Ottaway with kind permission Tyne and Wear Museums

York at the time of Septimius Severus

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Roman York at the time of the visit of the Emperor Septimius Severus was a splendid place with a fortress and thriving town. It may have been on the northern fringe of the empire, but it had fine buildings and a population drawn from many different parts of the world.
Reconstruction of Roman York in the late 2nd / early 3rd century. The town (colonia) is in the foreground and the fortress is at the top beyond the River Ouse. Illustration by Tracy Croft, English Heritage
The emperor, his family and closest retainers probably stayed in the commanding officer's house in the middle of the great legionary fortress. Here they would have been surrounded by the men of the mighty Sixth Legion (who had replaced the Ninth in York in about the year 120).
A Roman auxiliary cavalryman and his horse. Illustration by Simon Chew, York Archaeological Trust.
What is now called the Multangular Tower is a Roman tower at the west corner of the fortress which may have been built on Septimius Severus's orders. It is known that there were other splendid towers at intervals all along the line of the fortress wall facing the River Ouse.
Reconstruction of an interval tower on the south-west side of the Roman fortress defences at York. Illustration by Tracy Croft, English Heritage
In the reign of the Emperor Caracalla, the son of Septimius Severus, the Roman town at York was given the title of colonia as a special mark of imperial favour. The forum would have stood in the centre of the town and in other places there were bath houses, temples and large private houses.
Stone wall of a large building in the Roman town at York. Note the arched opening made of tiles (blocked in late Roman times). York Archaeological Trust
Burial grounds for the dead were laid out along the main roads outside the Roman town and fortress at York. This is the family tombstone of a lady called Flavia Augustina.
Roman tombstone of Flavia Augustina and her family from York. Yorkshire Museum, York
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