When the Romans arrived in force in AD 43 they found a Britain inhabited by local tribal groups and no sense of a national identity. Over nearly 400 years the Romans brought unity to much of Ancient Britain, and a lot more besides.
They influenced our language and culture, they built cities such as London and introduced new agricultural practices. Being extraordinary engineers they constructed well paved roads, bridges and viaducts, as well as sanitation and plumbing. Above all they brought order and organisation, and created, albeit harshly at times, a sense of a British identity - Britannia.
Meanwhile, Scotland remained free of Roman rule and the tribes of Picts and Scots living there became renowned for their periodic attacks on the Romans.
Despite popular stories, Hadrian’s Wall was not built to keep out the Scots. It was designed more for border control to assist the legionnaires in managing the flow of people, north and south, and in keeping order. The regularly spaced gateways (milecastles) along the wall also acted as custom posts.
Under the order of Emperor Hadrian, the wall was begun in AD 122. Spanning 117km, it was built in just 6 years by 3 legions of men. What we see today is mostly a remnant of the original wall that was nearly 5m high and over 3m thick in places. 16 large forts were built alongside the wall, including Vindolanda and Housesteads which remain as impressive ruins.
The wall was home to several thousand Roman legionnaires who, like all soldiers over the centuries, corresponded with their families back home. Some of these exchanges, and other facts about life at the time, are recorded in ink on the 2,000 Vindolanda wooden writing tablets excavated in the past 40 years.
One letter from a Roman mother to her son stationed at Hadrian’s Wall reveals “I’ve sent you pairs of socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants”.