The Roman Army in York

Over a period of about 300 years York was home to thousands of Roman soldiers.  The fortress was built to house a legion, or about 5,000 men.  Two different legions were based here:    

The Ninth Legion Hispana

The founders of the fortress were the Ninth Legion - originally created by Julius Ceasar and called 'Hispana' after their campaigns in what is now northern Spain.

The Ninth took part in the invasion of Britain in 43 AD under the command of Emperor Claudius.  About eighteen years later they fought to suppress the uprising of native Britains led by Queen Boudica.  Then, in 71 AD, the legion marched north and built the first fortress on the site that was to become known as Eboracum, Roman York.

The Ninth stayed in York for around fifty years, until the time that Emperor Hadrian came to Britain and ordered the defences in the north to be radically reinforced by building the famous wall that now bears his name.   The wall was begun in 122 and a new legion, the Sixth, based in York, played a large part in its construction.

When exactly the Ninth Legion were replaced by the Sixth is not known and what happened to them after they left is a mystery.  There is evidence that they spent some time in the camp at Nijmegen, in what is now the Netherlands.  After that they disappear from the records; one likely theory is that they suffered a devastating defeat or humiliation in the wars in the east of the empire. 

The Sixth Legion Victrix

The Sixth Legion Victrix ('victorious') came to Britain with a great fighting history behind them, which included surviving the seige of Alexandria under the command of Julius Caesar, so protecting Cleopatra. 

But the Roman Army weren't just great warriors, they were great engineers too and in second century Britain the Sixth made its mark on the landscape.  As well as building the eastern portion of Hadrian's Wall, the Sixth also built the first Tyne Bridge at Pons Aelius (Newcastle).  In the middle of the century they worked on the Antonine Wall, which was further north than Hadrian's wall but soon abandoned.  In York too the Sixth made huge structural changes, building much of the city in stone, including the basilica and the city walls.

The Sixth Legion stayed until the end of Roman York; so that was the legion that fought with and witnessed the death of the emperor Severus in 211 and it was soldiers of the Sixth who changed the course of history by proclaiming Constantine emperor in 306.