Primary History

Romans: Roman defence of Britain

  • Why did Hadrian build his wall?

    After the Romans invaded southern Britain, they had to defend it. They built roads, so that soldiers could march quickly to deal with trouble. They also built three very large army forts, and lots of smaller camps, for soldiers to live in. At first these forts were built of wood, later they were built of stone.

    Scotland was not part of Roman Britain, although in A.D. 84, the Romans won a big battle against the Picts who lived in Scotland. In A.D. 122 the Emperor Hadrian ordered his soldiers to build a wall between Roman Britain and Scotland. The wall ran from Wallsend in the east to Bowness on the Solway Firth. You can still walk along parts of Hadrian's Wall today. In A.D. 140, the Romans added another wall further north. It's called the Antonine Wall.

    In the third century A.D. there was fighting along Hadrian's Wall. Emperor Septimius Severus had to come to Britain to fight tribes invading from Scotland. Although his soldiers won the battles, he got sick and died at York in A.D. 211.

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  • Why did the Romans build roads?

    Roman soldiers needed to march from one part of the country to another quickly. So the Romans built roads. Roman roads were made from stones, and were better than muddy tracks for travel on foot or in carts. So they made travelling around Britain easier for everyone. You can still see the remains of some Roman roads today.

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  • How did Roman Britain defend itself?

    Britain was on the edge of the Roman Empire. People living outside the empire sometimes tried to attack Roman Britain. Some were pirates in ships. The Romans kept a navy to defend Britain. They also built forts on the coast.

    Soldiers kept watch at the forts, and fought any enemies who tried to land in Britain. The forts are called Saxon Shore forts, because many of the people attacking Britain at this time were Saxons. The Saxons were people living in north Germany.

    The Romans also had to defend Hadrian's Wall, against attacks by Picts and other tribes These people lived in northern Britain, outside the Roman part. Soldiers sent to defend the wall lived in forts and camps.

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Fun Facts
  • The Saxon Shore fort at Portchester was so big that hundreds of years later people built a whole castle in just one corner of it!

  • Roman soldiers would build a camp, with a ditch and a wall of wooden stakes at the end of a long day's march!

  • The walls of the shore fort at Richborough in Kent are 8m high - that's higher than three tall men standing on each other's shoulders!

  • Roman ships had pointed rams at the front end (prow). This was for smashing holes in other ships.

  • Sailors in the Roman navy wore blue, just like sailors today. Most soldiers wore red tunics.

  • Most Roman ships had oars as well as sails. The biggest ships had more than 150 oars, with one or two men working each oar.

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-Z

A to D

Acropolis [a-CROP-olis]
The Acropolis is a large hill in the centre of Athens. On top of it were many temples and other buildings, the remains of which can be seen today.
A place like a stadium, where Romans went to watch animals and people fighting.
A system of pipes and channels used to bring water into towns.
archaeological site
A place such as a ruined fort studied by archaeologists.
People who study the past by looking at old things, often found underground.
Studying the past by looking at old things, often found underground.
Aristophanes [aris-TOF-a-neez]
Lived in Athens in the 5th century BC. He wrote comedies for the theatre in Athens.
Aspasia [as-PAY-zia]
Was a woman to taught public speaking in Athens. She was the partner of the famous general Perikles. Aspasia had much more independence than most women in Athens.
A person who lived outside the Roman Empire, seen by Romans as violent and uncivilized.
A large building where town business was carried out (like a modern Town Hall).
The Assembly was the public meeting of the giovernment of the city. All citizens could take part and vote there.
The patron goddess of Athens. A huge statue of Athena stood outside the Parthenon.
Attica [A-tik-a]
The region around Athens.
aulos [OW-los]
A wind instrument with a reed similar to a modern oboe.
capital city
Main city of a country, the centre of government.
A machine that threw rocks or burning tar at the enemies. In Latin it was called an onager.
Soldiers who fight on horseback.
Cart with two wheels pulled by horses. Romans raced chariots, and Celtic warriors rode into battle on them.
People who lived in Europe, including Britain, and who fought the Romans.
An officer commanding about 80 legionaries.
Person with special rights such as the right to vote and own property in the Roman Empire. Only men could be full Roman citizens.
There were ten cohorts in a legion.
Weapon like a bow and arrow, only the string is pulled back by turning a handle and the bow is fired by releasing a trigger. In Latin it was called a ballista
The priests of the old Celtic religion.

E to G

Process where people vote to choose the people they want to be in charge.
A large area with many people ruled by one strong leader, called an emperor.
An open space in the middle of a town for markets and meeting people (like a market square). It was the centre of Roman town life.
A building with walls to keep out enemies, used by soldiers.
Firm base for a road or building.
leader of an army, the soldier giving the orders to everyone else.
A person trained to fight other gladiators or animals in amphitheatres.
The ruler of Roman Britain, who worked for the Roman Emperor.

H to L

Roman central heating. Hot air from a furnace (fire) flowed through gaps between walls and flooring
The language spoken and written by the Romans
The officer commanding a whole legion.
The main battle unit of the Roman army, its soldiers were called legionaries. There were between 4,000 and 6,000 legionaries in a legion.
A story made up about people in the past

M to O

A pattern made from coloured pieces of stones and pottery.
A made-up story, often about gods and spirits, told to explain things such as why the sun rises and sets every day.

P to Z

Money paid to a retired worker or soldier.
people who lived in Scotland
A country without a king, queen or emperor. The Roman republic was ruled by the elected Senate. Most countries today are republics.
Something that is believed to be holy and to have a special connection with a god or gods.
Roman book, written on a long strip of paper rolled around a stick.
The Roman government, made up of senators.
A person elected to the Roman Senate who helped run the government. Some countries today, like the U.S.A., have senators.
Dirty water and toilet waste which flows into sewers from drains and toilets.
Pipes or tunnels that carry away sewage.
Someone who can be sold to another person to work for nothing. A slave is not free and has no rights.
Weapon for throwing stones, made from a long strip of leather and whirled around by the thrower.
Roman army emblem, a pole with special decorations (such as a metal eagle) carried by a soldier. Each legion had its own standards.
the metal holder for a rider's foot. Attached to a horse's saddle by a leather strap.
A metal object used in Roman baths to scrape sweat, dirt and excess oil off.
A metal pen for scratching words into soft wax on wooden tablets.
Money or items taken by the government from people, to pay for things like the army, wars, emperor's palaces and building roads.
Thatched roofs
Roofs of buildings made from bundles of straw or reeds.
Machine like a big wheel inside which slaves walked round, to turn the machine.
A group of people who live in one part of a country and are ruled by a chief.
A teacher who gives lessons to a student at home.
A gloomy place where Romans believed your soul went after you died.
A large house in the country. Some Roman villas were farmhouses and some were like palaces.
A trained soldier, someone used to fighting in wars.
A ring or crown made of leaves or flowers.