From family life on the fort to the brutality of the battlefield, experience Rome's war machine through the people who knew it best – the soldiers who served in it.
Few men are born brave; many become so from care and force of discipline.
Vegetius, Fourth-century Roman writer
The Roman empire spanned more than a million square miles and owed its existence to its military might. By promising citizenship to those without it, the Roman army – the West's first modern, professional fighting force – also became an engine for creating citizens, offering a better life for soldiers who survived their service.
Expansive yet deeply personal, this exhibition transports you across the empire, as well as through the life and service of a real Roman soldier, Claudius Terentianus, from enlistment and campaigns to enforcing occupation then finally, in Terentianus' case, retirement. Objects include letters written on papyri by soldiers from Roman Egypt and the Vindolanda tablets – some of the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain. The tablets, from the fort near Hadrian's wall, reveal first-hand what daily life was like for soldiers and the women, children and enslaved people who accompanied them.
Roman military history perhaps stretches as far back at the sixth century BC but it wasn't until the first emperor, Augustus (63 BC – AD 14), that soldiering became a career choice. While the rewards of army life were enticing – those in the legions could earn a substantial pension and those entering the auxiliary troops could attain citizenship for themselves and their families – the perils were real. Soldiers were viewed with fear and hostility by civilians – not helped by their casual abuses and extra roles as executioners and enforcers of occupation – and they could meet grim ends off, as well as on, the battlefield. Finds in Britain include the remains of two soldiers probably murdered and clandestinely buried in Canterbury, suggesting local resistance.
What did life in the Roman army look like from a soldier's perspective? What did their families make of life in the fort? How did the newly-conquered react? Legion explores life in settled military communities from Scotland to the Red Sea through the people who lived it.