Could you survive as a Roman soldier on Hadrian's Wall?
Join Luke Tomes and Louee Dessent as they discover what life was like for Roman legionaries and auxiliary troops on the northern frontier of the Roman Empire. Joined by top Roman historian Dr Simon Elliott, the team march along a section of Hadrian's Wall in full Roman armour, but will they make it to the safety of Birdoswald Roman fort?
In the 2nd century AD, the Roman army in Britain embarked on one of the most ambitious building projects in history. On the orders of the emperor Hadrian, a 73-mile-long wall was constructed, crossing northern Britain from the Irish Sea in the west, to the North Sea in the east, marking the northern limit of the Roman empire.
Construction of the wall is now thought to have begun shortly after Hadrian became emperor in 117 AD, with the man himself arriving in Britain in 122 AD to check in on its progress. As for why it was built, that’s still the subject of fierce debate among historians. Was it purely a military fortification, a kind of customs barrier or simply a vanity project?
What we do know is that soldiers from three different legions were drafted in to build it, helped no doubt by forced labour from the local population. But for most of its history, the wall wasn’t guarded by highly trained legionaries, it was manned by a garrison of perhaps 9,000 auxiliary troops. This number was mostly made up of recruits sourced from the north-western provinces of the empire, but the records show that Romanian, Syrian and even North Africans were stationed there.
But the key question is, could you survive as a soldier on Hadrian’s wall?
In this video, History Hit presenters Luke Tomes and Louee Dessent set out on a 2-mile march along Hadrian's Wall, to discover why the northern frontier was one of the toughest postings in the Roman empire, and how your experience here might look very different, depending on your role and rank. Whipping both into shape and leading the march is Roman historian and author Dr Simon Elliott.