The Wroxeter Chronicles: Losing The Legion

Losing The Legion

The regular narrative implies a Roman fortress was maintained in Wroxeter for 30 years.

Viroconium was established about AD 58 as a fortified camp (castra) for the Legio XIV Gemina during their invasion of Wales.

The 14th Legion was later replaced by the Legio XX Valeria Victrix, which was subsequently relocated to Chester.

Around the year 88, the military abandoned the fortress and it was taken over by the Cornovians’ civilian settlement.

The archaeological data indicates Wroxeter was downgraded in “the late 70s” to a depot following a steep decline in military activity that began around 60 AD.

Roman legionary fortress at Wroxeter (Viroconium Cornoviorum) was built on a strategic crossing-point on the River Severn.

Though the site of the Roman town had long been known through the presence of upstanding ruins, the major excavations reported here have shown how the town plan was dominated by the underlying fortress.

This fortress had been established by Legio XIV c. AD 60 and had then been partially rebuilt c. AD 66 when the legion was replaced by Legio XX.

The fortress was downgraded in the late 70s to become a depot for stores before final abandonment c. AD 90.

The Legionary Fortress at Wroxeter: Excavations by Graham Webster, 1955-85
G. Webster and J Chadderton – English Heritage (2002)

Military Pottery

The decline was partly exacerbated by the posting of Legion XIV to France [68 AD] and/or the return to Rome of some units from Legion XX [69 AD].

Legio quarta decima Gemina (“The Twins’ Fourteenth Legion“) was a legion of the Imperial Roman army, levied by Julius Caesar in 57 B.C.

Stationed in Moguntiacum, Germania Superior, since AD 9, XIIII Gemina Martia Victrix was one of four legions used by Aulus Plautius and Claudius in the Roman invasion of Britain in 43, and took part in the defeat of Boudicca in 60 or 61.

At the stand at Watling Street the 14th defeated Boudicca’s force of 230,000, according to Tacitus and Dio, with their meager force of 10,000 Legionaries and Auxiliaries.

This act secured them as Nero’s “most effective”, and kept them garrisoned in Britain during the next few years to keep the uneasy tribes in check.

After which, in 68 it was stationed in Gallia Narbonensis.

Legio vigesima Valeria victrix, in English Twentieth Victorious Valeria Legion was a legion of the Imperial Roman army.

The legion was one of the four with which Claudius invaded Britain in 43.

It was also one of the two legions that defeated Caratacus at the Battle of Caer Caradoc, after which, from the AD 50s, it was encamped at Camulodunum, with a few units at Kingsholm in Gloucester and a garrison at Wroxeter.

In AD 60 or 61 the XX helped put down the revolt of queen Boudica, after having routed the Ordovice by crossing Menai Strait in Wales to destroy the Druids’ sacred groves in 58.

In the year of the four emperors, the legion sided with Vitellius.

Some units went with him to Rome.

The Year of the Four Emperors was a year in the history of the Roman Empire, AD 69, in which four emperors ruled in succession: Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian.

The suicide of emperor Nero, in 68, was followed by a brief period of civil war, the first Roman civil war since Mark Antony’s death in 30 BC.

The decline may also have been caused by efficient lead mining in Wales.


Pentre Halkyn is a small village in Flintshire, Wales.

Lead ore was first mined in Roman times and was then smelted at Flint.

In the year 1783 a Roman pig of lead, with an inscription, was dug up in Hampshire, which is represented in the accompanying cut.

The inscription on the top may be read without difficulty, intimating that it came from the mines in the country of the Kiangi, or Cangi, in the year when Nero was consul for the fourth time.

I have already pointed out that the tribe of the Cangi must have occupied the district bordering on the northern coast of Wales, and this pig very probably came from the vast Roman mines under Castell-Caws behind Abergele, which have left that mountain almost cut into two.

But it is a still more interesting circumstance, that Nero was consul for the fourth time the year before that of the insurrection of Boadicea and of the conquest of Anglesey, so that we are fully assured that the Roman mining operations in the country of the Cangi were in activity at this early period.

Uriconium; A Historical Account of the Ancient Roman City – Thomas Wright – 1872

FFOS-Y-BLEIDDIAID (Abergele Urban Ph.) SH/935769

The vein carries galena and some sphalerite in a calcite gangue and has been worked for lead ore upon a fairly substantial scale at various times.

The earliest workingsof Roman age due to the finding of some relics there.

The Non-Ferrous Mines of Denbighshire – J.R. Foster-Smith – 1972
Northern Cavern & Mine Research Society

Click to access op5lookinside.pdf

Abergele is a community and small market town, situated on the north coast of Wales between the holiday resorts of Colwyn Bay and Rhyl, in Conwy County Borough.

Recent genetic studies as part of the Genetic history of Europe on the y-chromosomes of men in Abergele have revealed that there is a significant percentage of E1b1b1a2 haplogroup in Abergele.

Membership in Y chromosome haplogroup E1b1b1a2 (E-V13) was found to average at 38.97% in a small sample of 18 male y-chromosomes in Abergele.

This genetic marker is found at its highest concentrations in the Balkans at over 40% in areas, but at much lower percentages in Northern Europe at less than 5%.

The reason for drastically higher levels of E1b1b in Abergele is most likely due to the heavy Roman Army presence in Abergele as most of the Roman Soldiers that came to Britain did not come from Italy, rather from other parts of the Roman Empire.


Either way, the Wroxeter downgrade in “the late 70s” included the complete demolition of the barrack blocks and centurial quarters.

The depot period, AD 79-90

The second legionary period barrack blocks and their centurial quarters were completely demolished.

This operation cleared the area east of the intervallurn road.

The drainage ditch, on the east side of the intervallurn road, was filled in at the same time, and road 4 itself appears to have lapsed into poor condition, with evidence of repair work in places .

The Legionary Fortress at Wroxeter: Excavations by Graham Webster, 1955-85
G. Webster and J Chadderton – English Heritage (2002)

This meant that by “the late 70s” lead mining in Shropshire and North Wales was no longer under the direct supervision of the Roman Legions.

The Deceangli or Deceangi were one of the Celtic tribes living in Britain, prior to the Roman invasion of the island.

The tribe lived mainly in what is now north-east Wales, though it is uncertain whether their territory covered only the modern counties of Flintshire, Denbighshire and part of Cheshire in what is now present day England or whether it extended further west.

No Roman town is known to have existed in the territory of this tribe, though the auxiliary fort of Canovium (Caerhun) was probably in their lands and may have had a civilian settlement around it.

Roman mine workings of lead and silver are evident in the regions occupied by the Deceangli.

Chester Lead Ingot

A similar military stand-down occurred at Charterhouse [Somerset] and it has been suggested the lead mining operation was “contracted out to civilian companies”.

Charterhouse Roman Town was a town in the Roman province of Britannia.

At first the lead and silver industries were tightly controlled by the Roman military (in the south-west, by the Second Legion) and there was a small ‘fortlet’ adjoining the mines during the 1st century, which may, however, have been little more than a fortified compound for storing lead pigs.

After a short time, the extraction of these metals was contracted out to civilian companies, probably because of low silver content.

However, after 20 years of Roman military decline it’s very likely the management of Britain had largely been “contracted out to civilian companies” by the late 70s AD.

UK Pottery

A comparison of lead ingot inscriptions indicates Britain “contracted out” from being a “consular province” of the Roman Empire by “the late 70s” with Gnaeus Julius Agricola being the last governor i.e. after Agricola the governors can only be “inferred” by the mainstream.

In the year 1783 a Roman pig of lead, with an inscription, was dug up in Hampshire, which is represented in the accompanying cut.
Roman Pig Lead
The inscription on the top may be read without difficulty, intimating that it came from the mines in the country of the Kiangi, or Cangi, in the year when Nero was consul for the fourth time.

Roman pigs of lead have been found not unfrequently in the country to the north of Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire, in the parishes of Snead, More, and Shelve, which appear to have been the produce of the Roman mines on Shelve Hill, in the estates of my valued friend, the Rev. T. F. More, of Linley Hall ; they all bear the name of the emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138), in the simple inscription, IMP. HADRIANI, AVG. – in whose reign these mines appear to have been most actively worked ; or, perhaps, some change took place in the system of working the mines, in consequence of which the imperial mark was no longer impressed on the metal.

Uriconium; A Historical Account of the Ancient Roman City – Thomas Wright – 1872
Roman Pig Lead - Hadrian
Shropshire Mines Trust – 4D Lead Mining up to Roman Times

Click to access preroman.pdf

As the unified province “Britannia”, Roman Britain was a consular province, meaning that its governors had to first serve as a consul in Rome before they could govern it.

Not all the governors are recorded by Roman historians and many listed here are derived from epigraphic evidence or from sources such as the Vindolanda letters.

Beyond the recall of Gnaeus Julius Agricola in 85 the dates of service of those who can be named can only be inferred.

Others are still entirely anonymous and by the time of the division of Britain into separate provinces, the record is very patchy.

Therefore, Agricola’s campaign [starting in 78 AD] was a failed reconquest attempt [from the North with fleet support and naval supply] followed by a fall-back into Scotland and final evacuation.

In AD 78–84, the legion was part of Gnaeus Julius Agricola’s campaigns in northern Britania and Caledonia, and built the base at Inchtuthil.

Agricola was recalled from Britain in 85, after an unusually long tenure as governor.

Tacitus claims Domitian ordered his recall because Agricola’s successes outshone the Emperor’s own modest victories in Germany.

He re-entered Rome unobtrusively, reporting as ordered to the palace at night.

The relationship between Agricola and the Emperor is unclear; on the one hand, Agricola was awarded triumphal decorations and a statue (the highest military honours apart from an actual triumph); on the other, Agricola never again held a civil or military post, in spite of his experience and renown.

Agricola's Campaigns 78-84

Inchtuthil (known to the Romans as Pinnata Castra (meaning “Fortress on the wing”) and Victoria) is the site of a Roman legionary fortress situated on a natural platform overlooking the north bank of the River Tay southwest of Blairgowrie, Perth and Kinross, Scotland (Roman Caledonia).

It was built in AD 82 or 83 as the advance headquarters for the forces of governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola in his campaign against the Caledonian tribes.

Positioned at the head of one of the main routes in and out of the Scottish Highlands, it was occupied by Legion XX Valeria Victrix and covered a total area of 21.5 hectares (53 acres).

When it was excavated in the 1950s by Richmond a large pit was found containing more than 750,000 iron nails and other iron objects weighing a total of ten tonnes.

The pit was elaborately concealed, and the nails and ironwork were almost certainly buried by the troops to deny them to the local tribes when they dismantled the fortress before they finally left.

This raises the interesting possibility that Hadrian’s Wall was a “defensive fortification” aimed at preventing a Roman re-conquest attempt via Scotland.

Hadrian’s Wall (Latin: Vallum Aelium), also called the Roman Wall, Picts’ Wall, or Vallum Hadriani in Latin, was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, begun in 122 AD in the reign of the emperor Hadrian.

It ran from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea, and was the northern limit of the Roman Empire.’s_Wall

However, the travels of Hadrian to “nearly every province” implies Rome [eventually] realised it was advantageous to establish cordial trading relations with the “contracted out” provinces.

Hadrian was Roman emperor from 117 to 138.

During his reign, Hadrian travelled to nearly every province of the Empire.

Prior to Hadrian’s arrival in Britain, there had been a major rebellion in Britannia from 119 to 121.

Although operations in Britannia at the time got no mention worthy of note in the literary sources, inscriptions tell of an expeditio Britannica involving major troop movements, including sending a vexillatio (i.e., a detachment) of some 3,000 men taken from legions stationed on the Rhine and in Spain; Fronto writes about military losses in Britannia at the time.

The Historia Augusta notes that the Britons could not be kept under Roman control; Pompeius Falco was sent to Britain to restore order, and coins of 119–120 refer to this.

Hadrian’s economic achievements in the 1st millennium were echoed in the 2nd millennium when the [aptly named] Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957.

The Treaty of Rome, officially the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community (TEEC), is an international agreement that led to the founding of the European Economic Community (EEC) on 1 January 1958.

It was signed on 25 March 1957 by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany.

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