The Roman army was a multi-national force. Each unit kept the name of the people who had first belonged to it: for example, the ‘cohors prima Hispanorum’, ‘first cohort of Spaniards’. Of the units stationed in Britain in the AD120s, half originated in France, a fifth in Spain, and the remainder in places as distant as Syria or Africa.
Later these regiments drew most of their recruits from the local British population where they were based. But they often kept some ties with their places of origin.
Units of Britons began to be formed soon after the invasion and certainly by the AD70s. Many of the soldiers were probably conscripts. The high proportion of cavalry, 12 ‘alae’ to seven cohorts, no doubt reflects the native Britons’ skill as horsemen. Many of these ‘auxiliaries’ were sent to fight the emperor Trajan’s war in Romania in the early 2nd century, one of the bloodiest campaigns ever waged by the Roman army.
Through the 400 years of Roman occupation in Britain, events played out elsewhere in the empire often had a major cause and effect on Britain and there were also times that London was at risk from internal rebellions, civil wars and later barbarian incursions.
Military events led to the creation of London and affected its initial growth. The actions of the army were also partly the cause of its subsequent destruction by Boudica. With its central position confirmed as the hub of the communications network, it demanded a military presence but one that was purely administrative, rather than defensive, with soldiers based in London working for the governor’s headquarters staff.
The evidence from London shows the mixed nature of these soldiers with military equipment indicating the presence of both legionary and auxiliary troops, as well as cavalry (see the Military catalogue). This shows the special nature of London, as usually evidence for the army would only be found at military sites on the frontier.