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Mimitary building stone found at Benwell, Newcastle upon Tyne. © The Trustees of The British Museum.
Stone building block; marked LEG II AVG both on and below a military standard, flanked by Pegasus and a goat. Found at Benwell.

The army that (almost) conquered Britain

Contrary to what many people believe, Julius Caesar neither conquered Britain nor transformed it into a Roman province. Rather he led two short military expeditions here, in 55 and 54 BC respectively. It was not until AD 43 (during the reign of the Emperor Claudius) that a true army of conquest arrived in Britain to stay.

This army, a fully professional force, owed much of its character and organisation to Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, the man who transformed the Roman state during his rule (from 27 BC to AD 14). It contained four legions, made up of citizen soldiers: the Legio II Augusta (whose standards appear on the building stone RIB 1341 from Hadrian’s Wall above), Legio IX Hispana, Legio XIV Gemina and Legio XX Valeria Victrix. Two of these legions had left Britain by the time Hadrian’s Wall was built and another, Legio VI Victrix, had arrived. The army of conquest also consisted of auxiliary units of infantry and cavalry, composed overwhelmingly of the Empire’s non-citizen subjects and comprising over 20,000 men. It was a huge force – and it was to transform Britain as it took over the south and, within a few decades of arriving launched itself as far up as the Scottish Highlands. But what did it look like?

In our first activity this week, we explore the organisation and equipment of the invading army. We will consider the evidence for the equipment they carried and read the monuments they left behind.

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This article is from the free online course:

Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier

Newcastle University

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