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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > December 2015 > Hadrian’S Wall

Hadrian’S Wall

In the second century AD, the Emperor of Rome ordered the construction of a wall to secure the northernmost border of his empire. It was to be the greatest single building project ever seen in Europe, as Miles Russell reveals…
OVER THE WALL This historic wall stretches 73 miles across the country, over some of the wildest and most dramatic scenery in England
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LIFE ON THE EDGE OF THE EMPIRE

SCOTS V ITALIANS Barbarian and Roman reenactors clash at Birdoswald Roman Fort in Northumberland
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5,000

The number of men in the Ninth Legion, most of whom disappeared in the early second century AD

General Gnaeus Julius Agricola stood before the blood-soaked heathers of Mons Graupius in the Highlands. He looked down on the mutilated bodies of 10,000 tribal Britons and over 300 Roman soldiers, and surveyed the scene. “An awful silence reigned on every hand,” his son-in-law, the historian Tacitus, was later to record. “The hills were deserted, houses smoking in the distance, and our scouts did not meet a soul.” It was the summer of AD 84, and the general had just countered the final act of native resistance in a war that had begun in AD 43 on the beaches of southern England. Agricola’s fleet, facing no further opposition, now circumnavigated Britain, demonstrating that the whole of the island was conquered.

“ROME’S SOLDIERY HAD NO REAL EXPERIENCE OF GUERRILLA WARFARE OR OF MOUNTAINOUS TERRAIN”

The northern highlands of Scotland had caused Rome some major problems. Here, they found no great native centres to conquer or powerful kings to negotiate with. Instead, the society was decentralised and scattered. Rome’s soldiery had no real experience of guerrilla warfare – fighting an enemy that refused to come out in the open – or of operations in mountainous terrain where they could not deploy in well-ordered discipline. For the first time since it had arrived in Britain, the Roman army started to suffer significant losses. Worse, things did not look good from an economic perspective. The land in the north was better suited to pasture than intensive crop production and, as far as Rome was concerned, there were no known valuable mineral reserves. It was apparent that maintaining a large garrison here would reap no significant financial rewards.

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About History Revealed

The Roman occupation of Britain changed the course of our history – building cities, roads and great walls, pacifying tribes and creating a unified economy. But how and why did they come to invade, and why did their mission ultimately fail? PLUS The Black Death: The terror of medieval Europe Stalin: the brutal regime of Britain’s WWII ally Prohibition: when America was dying for a drink Coco Chanel: the ultimate rags to riches story The 10 wealthiest people ever The King and Mrs Simpson: Edward VIII’s abdication The Wright Brothers Boston Tea Party The Cold War Death on the Lusitania And much, much more!
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