- The BuildersConstructum

Roman Legionary
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, meaning 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!"?

Commanding Officer checking wares
Commanding Officer
checking wares

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, as stated, the cost would have been minimal to say the least.


Hover over the legion’s names below to view information on that legion.

  • Legio II Augusta
    • Octavian, in 27 BC, was afforded the title of Augustus by the Senate and almost immediately he began to reform the army which had been left in a bad state of affairs since Rome’s Civil Wars. Those armies that were not wholly loyal to him were disbanded and this led to the creation of new troops who were loyal. Three legions were formed and to show they were Imperial legions they were given the title Augusta and were often called Augustan. The legions were the Legio II Augusta, Legio III Augusta and the Legio VIII Augusta.

      One of these legions was one of three to take part in the building of Hadrian’s Wall, the Legio II Augusta. It had many campaigns throughout its lifespan either side of the task in Northern England. In 43 AD the Emperor Claudius ordered the invasion of Britain with Legio II Augusta, IX Hispana, XIV Gemina and XX Valeria Victrix (the second of three to build the Wall). Note: the Legate of the Legio II Augusta was the future emperor Flavius Vespasianus.

      The Legio II Augusta was to play a significant part in the crushing of the revolt of Boudicca and the Iceni tribe and ensured lasting control in Britannia for the next 350 years. It was also one of the last to leave Britannia when Roman rule ended and it is not known what happened to the Legion after this.

  • Legio VI Victrix
    • This legion was raised in 52 BC and in 58 BC fought with Julius Caesar throughout his life as a Consul and later as Dictator and its name means Victorious. It was disbanded in 45 BC and one year later reformed to fight under Marcus Antonius. However, Octavian also had a legion called the VI as well as others whose numbers were duplicates of those of Antonius. Octavian, in the Battle of Actium in 31 BC defeated Antonius and his VI Legion and the victorious forces included Octavian’s VI Legion. The legion went on to serve under Nero in Hispania and moved latterly to Gaul where it may have had the Victrix added to the legion’s name some time during these years.

      After many other campaigns the Legio VI Victrix was transferred from Germania to Britannia to fortify the Tyne to Solway frontier line. Platorius Nepos headed these forces as Hadrian began his stabilisation of Rome and its borders. It was the VI Legion that built the Temple to Neptune at Pons Aelius and indeed built the eastern stretch of the Wall. The western stretch was built by the Legio II Victrix and the XX Legio Valeria Victrix.

      The end of Roman rule in Britannia saw the Legio VI Victrix stationed at Eburacum although it was only a fragment of its original size. It was this legion that asked Rome for help in defending the land of Britannia and upon Rome failure or inability to offer that help the legion was either killed off or broke up and mingled with the new rulers in what became known as the Dark Ages in Britain.

  • Legio XX Valeria Victrix
    • Possibly formed before the Battle of Actium by Augustus in 31 BC the name means Valiant and Victorious. The legion was transferred from its base in Germania to be included as part of the invasion force led by Claudius in 43 AD and remained in Britannia on a permanent basis.

      At least part of the legion was to play a major role in the crushing of the revolt by Boudicca and her fellow tribes and was moved several times to different postings in the country during the years it remained here. It was under Agricola that the legion was moved to Luguvalium (Carlisle) during the years of 78 AD and 84 AD before establishing a legionary fortress in Perthshire (Pinnata Castra - Inchtuthill). The fort remained unfinished when the legion was ordered to demolish it and it returned to Britannia in 88 AD and was stationed in Deva (Chester).

      The later titles Valeria Victrix were coined following the exploits of the legion during the revolt of Boudicca in 61 AD. The boar was the battle emblem of Legio XX Valeria Victrix and was displayed on the standard of the legion.