The Roman armies had invaded Britannia in AD 43 on the instruction of Emperor Claudius who had sought a military triumph to secure his political position. By the late Summer Colchester (Camulodunum), the capital of the powerful Catuvellauni tribe, had been taken where the Emperor personally received the submission of eleven British Kings including one from Orkney. Just a matter of weeks since the first Legionaries had waded ashore, Claudius declared victory and returned to Rome. But in actual fact the conquest of Britannia would take much longer. Sustained insurgency and open resistance, particularly in Wales and Northern England, tied down military resources whilst the Boudica rebellion (circa-
The Roman invasion force is believed to have landed at Richborough, Kent
In AD 77, General Gnaeus Julius Agricola was appointed as Governor of Britannia. He was an experienced military commander with extensive knowledge of the province having served there during the Boudica revolt and later as Legate of the Twentieth Legion (Legio XX Valeria Victrix). His first years were spent in campaigns against the Welsh and the Brigantes tribe (Northern England) but in AD 79 he invaded deep into Scotland proceeding along the East coast as far as the River Tay. He spent the subsequent two years (AD 80 to AD 81) campaigning in southern Scotland whilst consolidating his advance along the Clyde/Forth isthmus. His biographer and son-
Agricola advanced north from the Clyde/Forth isthmus in AD 82 and AD 83 campaigning against the Caledonian tribes who had formed themselves into a confederation headed by Calgacus. The Romans engaged and defeated this force at the (unlocated) Battle of Mons Graupius late AD 83. As was standard military practice, construction started on a network of forts aimed to encircle and isolate the Highland massif -
Roman Withdrawal From Scotland
Despite Agricola's successes, trouble elsewhere in the empire saw a change in Roman policy in Britannia. The Second Adiutrix Legion (Legio II Adiutrix Pia Fidelis) was redeployed to Dacia (modern day Moldova) around AD 86/7 permanently reducing the British garrison to three, rather than four, Legions. The withdrawal of this 5,000+ man force would have been matched by a drawdown of associated auxiliary regiments leaving the Governor of the province, Sallustius Lucullus, the unenviable job of scaling back the military operations. Inchtuthil was abandoned with the Twentieth Legion (Legio XX Valeria Victrix) relocated to Chester (Deva). This left the Ninth Legion as the northernmost force at York (Eburacum) making continued military control of Scotland untenable. Accordingly the Romans commenced a staged withdrawal towards the Solway-
Corbridge Roman town and fort on the Stanegate Road
Publius Aelius Hadrianus (Hadrian) became emperor in AD 117 and, recognising that continued expansion of the Empire was no longer sustainable, set upon a new policy of entrenchment. Frontiers were formalised: in Germany he ordered construction of a timber palisade barrier, in North Africa a mud and brick wall known as the Fossatum Africae and in the Carpathian Mountains, Romania he built earthwork barriers. Hadrian visited northern Britain in AD 122 surveyed the Stanegate frontier and ordered the construction of his Wall on the Whin Sill. Extending 73 miles (80 Roman miles) from Wallsend to Bowness-
Hadrian’s Wall running along the crags of the Whin Sill
Hadrian's Wall remained Rome's northern frontier throughout the rest of his reign. Historians remain divided on its function; was it built for military or economic reasons? Undoubtedly there was a military nature to the Wall. The large garrison (similar in size to the British force in Helmand during the height of the 2003-
Back Into Scotland
Emperor Hadrian died in AD 138 and was succeeded by Antoninus Pius who, almost immediately, instructed his Legions to advance once more into Scotland. His motivation for this remains unknown but it is certain that Hadrian's policy of retrenchment had been deeply unpopular and abandonment of the ultimate symbol of this -
Click for larger map. Each part of Section 3 has a map showing more detail.
The term ‘Legion’ derives from the Latin for levy implying conscription which historically was how Rome recruited its military manpower. However by the first century BC, the army had been restructured into a full time professional force rather than relying on conscripts. Each Legion was a deployable army adept at fighting but also including all the skills needed to conduct construction activity. By the time Antoninus Pius became Emperor of Rome in AD 138, three separate Legions were serving in Britannia.
Second Augustan Legion
(Legio II Augusta)
This legion was founded by Pompey the Great sometime before 49 BC but was reformed by Octivian (Augustus Caesar) from which it got its name. It was one of the four Legions that invaded Britain in AD 43 at which time it was under the Command of Titus Vespasianus (the future emperor Vespasian). By the Antonine era it was based in Caerleon having been assigned there in AD 75 to suppress the Silures tribe. The majority of the Legion was sent north to work on the Antonine Wall suggesting South Wales was relatively peaceful in the mid-
(Legio VI Victrix)
Formed by Pompey the Great in the mid-
(Legio XX Valeria Victrix)
One of the four Legions involved in the invasion of Britannia in AD 43, the Twentieth Legion had been founded by Julius Caesar in 49 BC. In the AD 50s it was based in Colchester (Camulodunum) but moved onto Gloucester and then Wroxeter. By AD 84, after the successful campaigns of Gnaeus Julius Agricola in Scotland, it built a new Legionary fortress at Inchtuthil. But this was soon abandoned and the Legion relocated to Chester (Deva) and it was still there in the Antonine period. As with the Sixth, the Legion dispatched a detachment (vexellation) to support construction of the Wall.
Site of Inchtuthil, the Legionary fortress on the River Tay
High Rochester Roman Fort -
After decades spent quelling insurgencies in Wales and Northern England, the Romans advanced into Scotland in the AD 80s but, when a Legion was withdrawn from the province, sustained occupation became untenable. The Romans withdrew to Hadrian’s Wall yet in the mid-