Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall

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Hadrian’s Wall is the remains of stone fortifications built by the Roman Empire following its conquest of Britain in the second century A.D. The original structure stretched more than 70 miles across the northern English countryside from the River Tyne near the city of Newcastle and the North Sea, west to the Irish Sea. Hadrian’s Wall included a number of forts as well as a ditch designed to protect against invading troops. The remnants of a stone wall are still visible in many places.

Contrary to popular belief, Hadrian’s Wall does not, nor has it ever, served as the border between England and Scotland, two of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom. However, it does hold significance as a UNESCO World Heritage site and a major tourist attraction.

Romans Invade Britain

The Romans first attempted to invade the island now known as Britain in 55 B.C., while under the rule of Emperor Julius Caesar.

Although Caesar’s military maneuver was unsuccessful, the armies of the Roman Empire again made a move to conquer the island, which was populated and governed by various Celtic tribes, at the order of Emperor Claudius, in 43 A.D.

Claudius sent Aulus Plautius and some 24,000 soldiers to Britain, and by 79 A.D. they had gained control of the territory that now makes up Wales and southern England. However, they were still meeting fierce resistance from Celtic warriors in what is now northern England.


Under the rule of Emperor Vespasian, the Romans desperately wanted the region now known as Scotland to be part of their growing empire. However, the Scottish fighters, known as Caledonians, fought steadfastly.

It wasn’t until Roman soldiers, under the leadership of Julius Agricola, defeated the Caledonians, killing some 30,000 in 81 A.D., that the empire could consider at least part of Scotland under its control. Still, the Caledonians who survived Agricola’s onslaught fled into the hills and remained stubborn opponents of the Romans.

Over the ensuing decades the Caledonians continued to be troublesome, mounting numerous attacks on the northern outpost of the empire.

Emperor Hadrian

By the time Emperor Hadrian came to power in 117 A.D., the Romans no longer sought to expand their territory. Instead, they wanted to protect what they had—from the Caledonians and others.

Under Hadrian’s orders, the Roman governors of Britain began building the wall that would later be named for the emperor to defend the part of Britain they controlled from attack. In Hadrian’s words, they wanted to “separate Romans from the barbarians” to the north.

Scholars believe the wall may have also served as a means of restricting immigration and smuggling into and out of Roman territory.

Where Is Hadrian’s Wall?

Hadrian’s Wall is located near the border between modern-day Scotland and England. It runs in an east-west direction, from Wallsend and Newcastle on the River Tyne in the east, traveling about 73 miles west to Bowness-on-Solway on Solway Firth.

The wall took at least six years to complete. Construction started at the east end and moved westward. The work was completed by Roman soldiers.

Historians believe the original plan was to build a wall of stone or turf, fronted by a wide, deep ditch. The wall would feature a guarded gate every mile, with two observation towers in between each gate.

Ultimately, 14 forts were added to the wall, and were augmented by an “earthwork” known as the Vallum to the south. It is essentially a large mound designed to serve as another defensive bulwark.

Of all of these structures, only a portion of the original wall and the Vallum remain.

Although the path of Hadrian’s Wall skirts what is now the border between England and Scotland in some places, the wall is a substantial distance from the modern borderline in others. Thus, it never served a role in the drawing of the present-day border.

Antonine Wall

Despite the significant undertaking in its construction, Hadrian’s successor as Roman head of state, Antoninus Pius, abandoned the wall following the former’s death in 138 A.D.

Under Antoninus’ orders, Roman soldiers began building a new wall some 100 miles to the north, in what is now southern Scotland. This became known as the Antonine Wall. It was made of turf and was roughly half the length of Hadrian’s Wall, although it featured more forts than its predecessor.

Like the emperors before him, Antoninus was never able to truly defeat the northern tribes, and construction of the Antonine Wall was ultimately abandoned as well.

John Clayton

That a portion of Hadrian’s Wall remains standing today has largely been attributed to the work of John Clayton, an official in the city government of Newcastle and an antiquities scholar, in the 19th century.

To prevent area farmers from removing the stones in the original wall to build homes and/or roads, Clayton began buying up the surrounding land. He started farms on the land and used proceeds from these farms to fund restoration work on Hadrian’s Wall.

Although much of the land was lost after Clayton’s death in 1890, the National Trust of the United Kingdom, a conservation organization, began re-acquiring it piecemeal in the 20th century.

Hadrian’s Wall Walk

Hadrian’s Wall was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. It remains unguarded, meaning tourists visiting the site have unfettered access, despite concerns over damage.

More recently, when London hosted the Summer Olympics in 2012, Hadrian’s Wall was part of an art installation called “Connecting Light.”

A Hadrian’s Wall walk remains a popular tourist activity, and the wall was included in The Guardian’s “Where to Go in 2017” list. A visitor’s center explaining the historic significance of the site is reportedly in the works.


History of Hadrian’s Wall. English Heritage.

Hadrian’s Wall.

Hadrian’s Wall borders connected through light. BBC.

Where to go on holiday in 2017: the hot list. The Guardian.

Hadrian's Wall: The Complete Guide

Hadrian's Wall once marked the northern boundary of the Roman Empire. It stretched for nearly 80 miles, across the narrow neck of the Roman province of Britannia, from the North Sea on the east to the Solway Firth ports of the Irish Sea on the West. It crossed some of the wildest, most beautiful landscapes in England.

Today, nearly 2,000 years after it was built, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most popular tourist attraction in Northern England. A remarkable amount of it remains — in fortresses and settlements, in "mile castles" and bath houses, barracks, ramparts and in long, uninterrupted stretches of the wall itself. Visitors can walk the route, cycle or drive to many of its landmarks, visit fascinating museums and archaeological digs, or even take a dedicated bus — the AD122, Hadrian's Wall Country Bus — along it. Roman history buffs may recognize that bus route number as the year that Hadrian's Wall was built.

Africans at Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall, named after Roman Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD), was built between 122 and 128 AD as the frontier fortification for the northernmost region of the Roman Empire, near what is the current border of England and Scotland. During their time on the island of Britain the Romans garrisoned the fortification with troops from various reaches of their empire including soldiers from North Africa.

Although North Africans may have been at the Wall earlier, archaeologists now agree that there is compelling evidence that a 500-strong unit of Moors manned one of the forts along the Wall near the town of Carlisle in the 3rd century AD. Writing in the journal British Archaeology, Richard Benjamin describes a fourth century inscription discovered in Beaumont, two miles from the remains of the Aballava Fort along the western end of the Wall in Cumbria. The inscription refers to the “numerus of Aurelian Moors,” a unit of North Africans, probably named after the Emperor Aurelius, who had earlier garrisoned the fort. This unit is also mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum which is a Roman document that lists officials and dignitaries who visited the region.

This unit of Moors as well as others were mustered in Roman provinces in North Africa and in adjacent lands such as Mauretania south of modern day Morocco, by the Emperor Septimus Severus (193-211 AD) who was himself a native of Libya. The Moors who arrived at the Wall in the 3rd century were battle tested since they had already fought for the Romans in present-day Germany and along the Danube, where there are other descriptions of the unit.

Although the reasons for the construction of the Wall remain unclear, we do know that the men of the Second, Sixth, and Twentieth Legions constructed the Wall. Few men of these legions were Italian. Most were Spanish, Gallic, and German soldiers. Those who garrisoned the Wall for nearly three centuries were auxiliary units composed of non-citizens from throughout the Empire including the North African Moors.

During the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus, other African-born Romans were active in Britain. Eight African men had positions of command in the northern Roman legions. Other Africans held high rank as equestrian officers. Most Africans, however, were ordinary soldiers or slaves in the Army or to wealthy Roman officials. Moreover, the racially mixed Roman military force did not treat all troops equally. Auxiliary troops were often positioned in the front during battles and thus most likely to suffer injury or death. Nonetheless of the approximately 18,000 Roman soldiers stationed in Britain during the four centuries between 122 and 410 AD, when the Empire evacuated Britain, a small number of them were Africans by birth including those who stood guard and rebuilt sections of Hadrian’s Wall at the northwest edge of the vast Roman Empire.

2 | If you don’t NEED to carry all your stuff (i.e if you’re not camping) then don’t!

We fully intended to carry all of our stuff for the duration of the hike. We’d even bought new Osprey packs specifically for this purpose. We figured that we could pack pretty light, and that it wouldn’t matter what we looked like, as long as we were comfortable, clean and dry. We even tested our fully-laden packs on the final day-hike we completed prior to walking Hadrian’s Wall. It certainly made walking up hills that bit harder, but again, our packs had been comfortable to wear and we’d suffered no aches and pains.

Of course, when it came down to actually packing for real, we ended up with more in our packs than we’d carried on our day hike. Not by much, but a few kilograms makes a lot of difference.

It’s a bit difficult to weigh your pack on a pair of bathroom scales (as you have to hold it to prevent it from falling over), but I reckon mine weighed around 10 kilograms. Considering they (the experts) reckon that you shouldn’t carry any more than a fifth of your body weight (preferably less), my pack was already the maximum weight I should be carrying. And, I didn’t have anything that I didn’t need in there – except, possibly, an extra pair of leggings.

Bearing in mind that we didn’t need to carry all of our stuff for the first section of the trail from Bowness-on-Solway to Carlisle (we could leave a large chunk of it at our hotel in Carlisle, where we’d stopped the night before), the first day of experiencing what it’s like to do a long distance walk with a fifth of my body weight on my back was the second day – from Carlisle to Walton. This was our shortest day of walking, at just under 12 miles. Yet it felt like at least 10 miles more by the end!

Hiking with a fully laden 36-litre pack on your back is a very different experience to hiking with a 20-litre day pack! I’ve never had any issues with my hip flexors in the past (and I do a lotof running!), but I did towards the end of the second section of the Hadrian’s Wall trail. And this was almost definitely a result of the weight I was carrying for such an extended amount of time.

So, when we arrived at Walton, Jayne and I decided that – with the longest and hilliest stretch of the trail only a day ahead of us – it would probably not be a sensible idea to continue the hike while carrying such a significant amount of weight on our backs. At the very least, it would take all the fun out of the experience of walking Hadrian’s Wall. But, of course, the worst case scenario was that we’d sustain injuries that would leave us unable to complete the trail. And we’d be absolutely gutted if it came to that.

Consequently, we immediately started Googling the names of some local baggage transfer companies. For a small fee, these companies will collect your bags from point A and deliver them to point B in time for your arrival. Hadrian’s Haul offered this service for the cheapest price AND had great reviews, so that’s who we ended up using.

Of course, because we’d not planned to get our baggage transferred, neither of us had brought a day pack with us. Fortunately, though, we had brought a ultralight dry sack each (to use as a backpack liner in case of wet weather), so we transferred everything we didn’t need for the following day’s walk into our dry sacks – which meant that our actual packs were so much lighter! And as a result, walking Hadrian’s Wall was so much more enjoyable.

4. We know the names of men who built Hadrian’s Wall

The Clayton Collection contains 53 centurial stones. Centurial stones give us the names of centurions who, with their men, built Hadrian’s Wall. Each group would have been given a set length of wall to build, and they often inscribed a stone when they had finished.

Centurial stone in the Clayton Collection

Remaining Artifacts

Mementos of Hadrian's reign—in the form of coins and the many building projects he undertook—survive. Most famous is the wall across Britain that was named Hadrian's Wall after him. Hadrian's Wall was built, beginning in 122, to keep Roman Britain safe from hostile attacks from the Picts. It was the northernmost boundary of the Roman empire until early in the fifth century.

The wall, stretching from the North Sea to the Irish Sea (from the Tyne to the Solway), was 80 Roman miles (about 73 modern miles) long, 8-10 feet wide, and 15 feet high. In addition to the wall, the Romans built a system of small forts called milecastles (housing garrisons of up to 60 men) every Roman mile along its entire length, with towers every 1/3 mile. Sixteen larger forts holding from 500 to 1000 troops were built into the wall, with large gates on the north face. To the south of the wall, the Romans dug a wide ditch, (vallum), with six-foot-high earth banks.

Today many of the stones have been carted away and recycled into other buildings, but the wall is still there for people to explore and walk along, although the latter is discouraged.

The Fears That Fueled an Ancient Border Wall

President Donald Trump has promised to build a “great, great wall” between the United States and Mexico, ostensibly to prevent illegal immigration. But this isn’t the first time a world leader constructed a wall between himself and those he deemed imminent threats. In 122 A.D., Roman Emperor Hadrian did just that.

Stretching 80 miles from the Irish Sea in the west to the North Sea in the east, Hadrian’s Wall in northern England is one of the United Kingdom’s most famous structures. But the fortification was designed to protect the Roman province of Britannia from a threat few people remember today—the Picts, Britannia’s “barbarian” neighbors from Caledonia, now known as Scotland.

By the end of the first century, the Romans had successfully brought most of modern England into the imperial fold. The Empire still faced challenges in the north, though, and one provincial governor, Agricola, had already made some military headway in that area. According to his son-in-law and primary chronicler, Tacitus, the highlight of his northern campaign was a victory in 83 or 84 A.D. at the Battle of Mons Graupius, which probably took place in southern Scotland. Agricola established several northern forts, where he posted garrisons to secure the lands he’d conquered. But this attempt to subdue the northerners eventually failed, and Emperor Domitian recalled him a few years later.

It wasn’t until the 120s that northern England got another taste of Rome’s iron-fisted rule. Emperor Hadrian “devoted his attention to maintaining peace throughout the world,” according to the Life of Hadrian in the Historia Augusta. Hadrian reformed his armies and earned their respect by living like an ordinary soldier and walking 20 miles a day in full military kit. Backed by the military he had reformed, he quelled armed resistance from rebellious tribes all over Europe.

But though Hadrian had the love of his own troops, he had political enemies—and was afraid of being assassinated in Rome. Driven from home by his fear, he visited nearly every province in his empire in person. The hands-on emperor settled disputes, spread Roman goodwill, and put a face to the imperial name. His destinations included northern Britain, where he decided to build a wall and a permanent militarized zone between “enemy” and Roman territory.

Primary sources on Hadrian’s Wall are widespread. They include everything from preserved letters to Roman historians to inscriptions on the wall itself. Historians have also used archaeological evidence like discarded pots and clothing to date the construction of different portions of the wall and reconstruct what daily life must have been like. But the documents that survive focus more on the Romans than the foes the wall was designed to conquer.

Before this period, the Romans had already fought enemies in northern England and southern Scotland for several decades, Rob Collins, author of Hadrian's Wall and the End of Empire, says via email. One problem? They didn’t have enough men to maintain permanent control over the area. Hadrian’s Wall served as a line of defense, helping a small number of Roman soldiers shore up their forces against foes with much larger numbers.

Hadrian viewed the inhabitants of southern Scotland—the “Picti,” or Picts—as a menace. Meaning “the painted ones” in Latin, the moniker referred to the group’s culturally significant body tattoos. The Romans used the name to refer collectively to a confederation of diverse tribes, says Hudson.

To Hadrian and his men, the Picts were legitimate threats. They frequently raided Roman territories, engaging in what Collins calls “guerilla warfare” that included stealing cattle and capturing slaves. Starting in the fourth century, constant raids began to take their toll on one of Rome’s westernmost provinces.

Hadrian’s Wall wasn’t just built to keep the Picts out. It likely served another important function—generating revenue for the empire. Historians think it established a customs barrier where Romans could tax anyone who entered. Similar barriers were discovered at other Roman frontier walls, like that at Porolissum in Dacia.

The wall may also have helped control the flow of people between north and south, making it easier for a few Romans to fight off a lot of Picts. “A handful of men could hold off a much larger force by using Hadrian’s Wall as a shield,” Benjamin Hudson, a professor of history at Pennsylvania State University and author of The Picts, says via email. “Delaying an attack for even a day or two would enable other troops to come to that area.” Because the Wall had limited checkpoints and gates, Collins notes, it would be difficult for mounted raiders to get too close. And because would-be invaders couldn’t take their horses over the Wall with them, a successful getaway would be that much harder.

The Romans had already controlled the area around their new wall for a generation, so its construction didn’t precipitate much cultural change. However, they would have had to confiscate massive tracts of land.

Most building materials, like stone and turf, were probably obtained locally. Special materials, like lead, were likely privately purchased, but paid for by the provincial governor. And no one had to worry about hiring extra men—either they would be Roman soldiers, who received regular wages, or conscripted, unpaid local men.

“Building the Wall would not have been ‘cheap,’ but the Romans probably did it as inexpensively as could be expected,” says Hudson. “Most of the funds would have come from tax revenues in Britain, although the indirect costs (such as the salaries for the garrisons) would have been part of operating expenses,” he adds.

There is no archaeological or written record of any local resistance to the wall’s construction. Since written Roman records focus on large-scale conflicts, rather than localized kerfuffles, they may have overlooked local hostility toward the wall. “Over the decades and centuries, hostility may still have been present, but it was probably not quite as local to the Wall itself,” says Collins. And future generations couldn’t even remember a time before its existence.

But for centuries, the Picts continued to raid. Shortly after the wall was built, they successfully raided the area around it, and as the rebellion wore on, Hadrian’s successors headed west to fight. In the 180s, the Picts even overtook the wall briefly. Throughout the centuries, Britain and other provinces rebelled against the Romans several times and occasionally seceded, the troops choosing different emperors before being brought back under the imperial thumb again.

Locals gained materially, thanks to military intervention and increased trade, but native Britons would have lost land and men. But it’s hard to tell just how hard they were hit by these skirmishes due to scattered, untranslatable Pict records.

The Picts persisted. In the late third century, they invaded Roman lands beyond York, but Emperor Constantine Chlorus eventually quelled the rebellion. In 367-8, the Scotti—the Picts’ Irish allies—formed an alliance with the Picts, the Saxons, the Franks, and the Attacotti. In “The Barbarian Conspiracy,” they pillaged Roman outposts and murdered two high-ranking Roman military officials. Tensions continued to simmer and occasionally erupt over the next several decades.

Only in the fifth century did Roman influence in Britain gradually dwindle. Rome’s already tenuous control on northern England slipped due to turmoil within the politically fragmented empire and threats from other foes like the Visigoths and Vandals. Between 409 and 411 A.D., Britain officially left the empire.

The Romans may be long gone, but Hadrian’s Wall remains. Like modern walls, its most important effect might not have been tangible. As Costica Bradatan wrote in a 2011 New York Times op-ed about the proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, walls “are built not for security, but for a sense of security.”

Hadrian’s Wall was ostensibly built to defend Romans. But its true purpose was to assuage the fears of those it supposedly guarded, England’s Roman conquerors and the Britons they subdued. Even if the Picts had never invaded, the wall would have been a symbol of Roman might—and the fact that they did only feeds into the legend of a barrier that’s long since become obsolete.

The Marvelous Wall of Hadrian

Built by Emperor Hadrian of the Roman Empire, Hadrian's Wall stretches across the width of England south of its modern border with Scotland. As Ivan Petricevic reported for Ancient Origins in 2014 , this remarkable monument covers over seventy miles (120 km) going from Wallsend on the east coast of England in North Tyneside to the salt marshes of the Solway Estuary in Cumbria on the west coast. It was built in two phases under the direction of Roman Emperor Hadrian, who was among the ‘Five Good Emperors’ of Rome. Hadrian was an extremely prominent Roman Emperor, who reigned from 117 to 138 AD.

Hadrian’s wall crosses the north of England, south of the border with Scotland, from Newcastle upon Tyne in the east to Carlisle in the west (Image: Left, CC BY SA 3.0 Right, CC BY-SA 3.0 )

According to historical records, Hadrian was a very generous man, giving large amounts of money to communities and individuals, and is said to have been one of the few emperors that wanted to live unassumingly, like a private citizen. Hadrian was also well known for his extensive traveling throughout his empire, and it was Hadrian who laid the foundations of the Byzantine Empire.

Hadrian's building projects are without a doubt his most enduring legacy. He founded cities throughout the entire Balkan Peninsula, Greece, Egypt and even Asia. The Arch of Hadrian constructed by the citizens of Athens in 132 AD honor Hadrian as the founder of the city. He also re-built the Pantheon and constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma. But his most important monument is the wall constructed in the north of England.

The view along Hadrian's Wall towards Housesteads Roman Fort. ( CC BY-NC 2.0 )

Known in the past as Vallum Hadriani, the construction process of the wall began around 122 AD, corresponding to the visit of the Roman emperor to the province. Originally 3 m wide (10 ft) and up to 6 m (20 ft) in height east of the river Irthing, and 6 m (10 ft) wide and 3.5 m (11.5 ft) meters high west of the river, the wall stretches over a vast distance across uneven terrain. It is believed that the wall was originally covered in plaster and was white-washed, giving the wall a shining surface that would have reflected the sunlight and making it visible from many miles away.

The construction project took six years to complete and was first thought to have been built by slaves, but this was later disproven. It is now known that the builders of Hadrian's Wall were Roman legionaries who were stationed in Britain in over a dozen fortifications located along the wall. Hadrian's Wall underwent a series of mayor repairs standing strong as the northwestern frontier until the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. The first excavations of Hadrian's wall are believed to have been undertaken by William Camden in the 1600's but the first actual drawings of the wall were made in the 18th century with formal archaeological studies beginning in the 19th century and continuing until today.

Hadrian’s gay lover Antinous became a god

In 123 AD, during one of his tours across the empire, Hadrian arrived in Claudiopolis, Turkey. There he met a beautiful boy named Antinous (111 AD–130 AD).

Hadrian sent Antinous to Italy to get a proper education. The forty-nine year old emperor and the fourteen years old student became lovers in 125 AD. From then on, the couple was inseparable.

Hadrian and Antinous traveled together to North Africa, Greece, Asia Minor, and Egypt. They attended a religious festival in Athens, Greece. They hunted down a dangerous lion in Libya. In Alexandria, Egypt, they visited the tomb of Alexander the Great.

On October 130 AD, Hadrian, Antinous, and their entourage sailed down the River Nile in Egypt. In the mysterious circumstances, eighteen years old Antinous drowned.

Antinous’s death deeply saddened Hadrian. Near the place of Antinous’s death, Hadrian founded the city of Antinopolis. He took Antinous’s mummified body with him back to Italy.

Antinous was deified and worshipped across the empire as a god. Hadrian commissioned many statues of his deceased lover to keep his memory alive. The Cult of Antinous remained popular among the Romans long after Hadrian’s death.

One theory suggests that Antinous committed voluntary suicide to protect Emperor Hadrian. At that time Hadrian suffered from poor health.

The Romans believed that the death of one person could save another person’s life. If this is true, then it explains why Hadrian never mentioned the cause of Antinous’s death.

The Roman Ninth Legion's mysterious loss

The disappearance of Rome's Ninth Legion has long baffled historians, but could a brutal ambush have been the event that forged the England-Scotland border, asks archaeologist Dr Miles Russell, of Bournemouth University.

One of the most enduring legends of Roman Britain concerns the disappearance of the Ninth Legion.

The theory that 5,000 of Rome's finest soldiers were lost in the swirling mists of Caledonia, as they marched north to put down a rebellion, forms the basis of a new film, The Eagle, but how much of it is true?

It is easy to understand the appeal of stories surrounding the loss of the Roman Ninth Legion - a disadvantaged band of British warriors inflicting a humiliating defeat upon a well-trained, heavily-armoured professional army.

It's the ultimate triumph of the underdog - an unlikely tale of victory against the odds. Recently, however, the story has seeped further into the national consciousness of both England and Scotland.

For the English, the massacre of the Ninth is an inspiring tale of home-grown "Davids" successfully taking on a relentless European "Goliath". For the Scots, given the debate on devolved government and national identity, not to say the cultural impact of Braveheart, the tale has gained extra currency - freedom-loving highlanders resisting monolithic, London-based imperialists.

The legend of the Ninth gained form thanks to acclaimed novelist Rosemary Sutcliff, whose masterpiece, The Eagle of the Ninth, became an instant bestseller when published in 1954.

Since then, generations of children and adults have been entranced by the story of a young Roman officer, Marcus Aquila, travelling north of Hadrian's Wall in order to uncover the truth about his father, lost with the Ninth, and the whereabouts of the Legion's battle standard, the bronze eagle.

The historians have dissented, theorising that the Ninth did not disappear in Britain at all, arguing both book and film are wrong. Their theory has been far more mundane - the legion was, in fact, a victim of strategic transfer, swapping the cold expanse of northern England, for arid wastes in the Middle East. Here, sometime before AD 160, they were wiped out in a war against the Persians.

But, contrary to this view, there is not one shred of evidence that the Ninth were ever taken out of Britain. It's just a guess which, over time, has taken on a sheen of cast iron certainty. Three stamped tiles bearing the unit number of the Ninth found at Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, have been used to support the idea of transfer from Britain.

But these all seem to date to the 80s AD, when detachments of the Ninth were indeed on the Rhine fighting Germanic tribes. They do not prove that the Ninth left Britain for good.

In fact, the last certain piece of evidence relating to the existence of the Legion from anywhere in the Roman Empire comes from York where an inscription, dating to AD 108, credits the Ninth with rebuilding the fortress in stone. Some time between then and the mid-2nd Century, when a record of all Legions was compiled, the unit had ceased to exist.

But what happened to the Ninth?

The early years of the 2nd Century were deeply traumatic for Britannia. The Roman writer Fronto observed that, in the reign of the emperor Hadrian (AD 117 - 138), large numbers of Roman soldiers were killed by the British.

The number and full extent of these losses remain unknown, but they were evidently significant. The anonymously authored Augustan History, compiled in the 3rd Century, provides further detail, noting that when Hadrian became emperor, "the Britons could not be kept under Roman control".

The British problem was of deep concern to Roman central government. Thanks to a tombstone recovered from Ferentinum in Italy, we know that emergency reinforcements of over 3,000 men were rushed to the island on "the British Expedition", early in Hadrian's reign. The emperor himself visited the island in AD 122, in order to "correct many faults", bringing with him a new legion, the Sixth.

The fact that they took up residence in the legionary fortress of York suggests that the "great losses" of personnel, alluded to by Fronto, had occurred within the ranks of the Ninth.

It would seem that Sutcliff was right after all.

It was the Ninth, the most exposed and northerly of all legions in Britain, that had borne the brunt of the uprising, ending their days fighting insurgents in the turmoil of early 2nd Century Britain.

The loss of such an elite military unit had an unexpected twist which reverberates to the present day. When the emperor Hadrian visited Britain at the head of a major troop surge, he realised that there was only one way to ensure stability in the island - he needed to build a wall.

Hadrian's Wall was designed to keep invaders out of Roman territory as well as ensuring that potential insurgents within the province had no hope of receiving support from their allies to the north. From this point, cultures on either side of the great divide developed at different rates and in very different ways.

The ultimate legacy of the Ninth was the creation of a permanent border, forever dividing Britain. The origins of what were to become the independent kingdoms of England and Scotland may be traced to the loss of this unluckiest of Roman legions.

Dr Miles Russell is a senior lecturer in Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology at Bournemouth University.