Roman occupation of Cumbria England Britain Centurions history Legate Legions Auxiliaries description of Roman forts army Hadrians wall defences Roman Emperor Roman Imperial Army Stanegate Augusta Victrix Valeria Victrix wings milliary quingenary Britannia

The Roman occupation of Cumbria
& the Lake District

Hardknott Roman fort - in a truly
spectacular situation.

Although Britain is first mentioned in written history about BC 350 it was not until AD 43 that Claudius (Roman Emperor AD 41-54) decided to conquer the island. Roman administration then lasted until AD 406, a span of about 350 years. For all but two short periods their rule extended only as far north as Hadrians Wall, along a line from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth.

After Claudius' invasion it took 30 years to conquer the south and west of England, and Wales. But in AD 78 Julius Agricola was sent as governor of Britain. From then until his recall in AD 85 he led his legions in subduing the north of England and Scotland as far as the Moray Firth.

He protected his conquests by building roads and forts to subdue the hostile tribes to his rear. Many of these roads can still be traced on the ground in Northumberland and Cumbria together with the forts associated with them including Vindolanda, Nether Denton and Brampton Old Church. Other Roman roads in Cumbria ran from Brough down the Eden Valley to Carlisle, from Carlisle to Workington, from Brough through Ambleside to Ravenglass, and from Brough to the Stanegate through Alston (the Maiden Way).

The Emperor Hadrian decided during his visit in AD 122 to withdraw from Scotland and to build a wall along the whole length of the Tyne-Solway line, following the crests of the hills and crags of the north of England at its narrowest east-west point. He left the actual construction to his Legate in Britannia, Aulus Platorius Nepos, who brought it to near completion before he left in about AD 126. Although the Wall was substantially rebuilt on at least two later occasions, it is essentially the Wall built by him which you can see today.


The Roman Imperial Army was made up of two kinds of unit: Legions and Auxiliaries.

Legions were manned only by Roman citizens, and consisted of just over 5,000 highly trained and heavily armed infantry with a small cavalry detachment. Each Legion was commanded by a Legate commissioned directly by the Emperor. The Legion's NCOs were 60 Centurions, long-serving professional soldiers who each commanded a century of 80 men. The centuries included a wide range of specialist skills which made the Legion a wholly self-sufficient unit.

In Britain there were three Legions for hundreds of years after Hadrian: the Second (Augusta) at Caerleon-on-Usk, the Sixth (Victrix) at York, and the Twentieth (Valeria Victrix) at Chester. The Legion's base would be a permanent fort well behind the frontier.

The Legion was the main fighting force of the Roman Army, brought into use to contain invasions or to mount major campaigns.

Auxiliaries were recruited from non-Roman tribes or local provincials. They were usually lightly armed. They were grouped as cohorts of infantry or alae (wings) of cavalry, nominally either 1,000 strong (milliary) or 500 strong (quingenary).

Cohorts and alae spent most of their time on frontier posts, in forts like small legionary fortresses of up to 5 acres in extent. This is the type of fort found in Cumbria and along the line of Hadrian's Wall.

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