Roman Legionary at camp
It has been estimated that the Wall was constructed by approximately 10,000 men and took some 15 or so years to complete (six to just about finish it off but further improvements and repairs extended this) and considering that the work involved included cutting through rock, shaping stone, cutting and shaping turf and timber, digging ditches, building cippi defences, lots of planning, transportation of materials and several other objectives this was a major engineering feat for its day. Just try and imagine... you’re out there in the wilds of Northumberland and Cumbria (obviously our own modern names) with no protection from the elements except your tent (Roman of course) and you’ve been asked to build a wall 15 or so feet high, ten feet thick with hand-crafted stone using the tools of the day, the local unpredictable weather and many other elements then you begin to get the scale of the task. There is also the fact that you must be prepared to fight any local enemy when the time comes means you are always close to your weapons and armour which was usually worn anyway while working. Oh, and your commanding officer breathing down your neck in case you decided to have 5 minutes unscheduled rest!!! What was it a recent prime minister of Britain said, "You’ve never had it so good!"?
Hadrian’s Wall was built by three legions... the II Legion based at Caerleon, the XX Legion based at Chester and the VI Legion based at York. It is quite possible that local labour may have been used though certainly not as slave labour but in what capacity is not certain. The legions themselves would have contained all the skilled craftsmen needed for the job and included surveyors, architects, masons, engineers, carpenters and more besides so it would have been a waste of their skills to use things like slave labour.
The cost of building the Wall was minimal as the stone and other materials were already there and the soldiers etc were already under employment by the state. The cost today? This is, of course, extremely difficult to calculate for many reasons but in 1974 an estimate by Laings for the build of the wall in reinforced concrete was £55 million for a narrower wall. A better estimate for a wall built to the width the Romans would use was given at £80 million but with no dressed stone. These figures have laid in costs for materials and labour etc but the Romans ‘owned’ the materials and labour was afforded by the soldiers and possibly local people were drafted in too. So the cost would have been minimal.
Hover over the legion’s names below to view information on that legion.