Rome Builds a Wall
First edition cover




Short story



Historical era



Charles Keeping


Stories From Scottish History, BBC Scotland


The Capricorn Bracelet

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"Rome Builds a Wall" is the second story in the 1973 collection The Capricorn Bracelet, originally written as episodes of the BBC Scotland radio programme Stories from Scottish History.


Young Centurion Lucius Calpurnius of the Sixth Legion, grandson of Lucius Calpurnius of "Death of a City", arrives in Cilurnum with his century for building detail on Hadrian's Wall, where he befriends Felix, a cavalry officer. A week later, the Chief Engineer Marius Frontinus arrives for inspection and orders Lucius to demolish part of his mortar before approving it and walking off. Felix tells the indignant Lucius that Frontinus cares more for building than he does for people.

Lucius believes it until near the end of the construction season he escorts Frontinus to the lumber camp, where he sees Frontinus deal tactfully with a bold small child and his dirty but dignified mother. On the ride back Frontinus tells Lucius that he will retire in two seasons when the Wall is finished, and that his wife and child died in childbirth.

The next season, Lucius and Felix happen to discuss the effects of the Wall on the native horse trade with a trader acquaintance and erstwhile rustler named Conn, the day before Frontinus arrives for an inspection visit. The next night, Lucius and the night shift catch Conn trying to take a raiding party through the Wall at the incomplete river blockhouse. Lucius kills Conn and the horses are captured, but Frontinus is mortally wounded, having entered the fray without his armour in indignation at the attempt to breach his Wall. Frontinus says it's better to die now than slowly in retirement.

The Wall is completed under another Chief Engineer. Felix goes on to command an Egyptian legion, while Lucius remains in Britain as a Senior Centurion.


  • 61 CE: Boudicca sacked Londinium and left the LC I homeless
  • 79-83 CE: LC I and the Second Augustan fought in the Northern Campaigns
  • 117 CE: the Ninth Legion was lost in an uprising
  • 123 CE: LC's century arrives for the 3rd working season on the Wall
    • 9 days later: Frontinus arrives for inspection
    • Autumn: Frontinus tells LC about his family
  • 124 CE: Cilurnum fort completed
    • Lucius and Felix converse with Conn about horse-raiding
    • Next evening: Frontinus arrives to inspect.


  • Lucius Calpurnius [II], Senior Centurion of the Sixth Legion. Grandson of Lucius Calpurnius [I]. Rose to Senior Centurion and married a British wife.
  • Calpurnius 0, a Londinium wine merchant
  • Boudicca, rebel leader
  • Agricola, conqueror of Caledonia
  • Felix, commander of Asturian Horse, LC's first friend at Cilurnum, now praefect of an Egyptian Legion
  • Marius Frontinus, Centurion and Engineer-in-charge of the Wall, "a leathery little man with an eye like an east wind"
  • A small native boy, inclined to stray
  • His mother, unwashed but most dignified
  • Conn, a horse-trader, "a little, bow-legged, red-haired devil" well-known to LC and Felix
  • The Brigantes, tribe immdiately south of the Wall, mutually raided by Conn's
  • Sextus, a Senior Centurion at Cilurnum
  • Ulpins, duty Optio at the blockhouse



  • Londinium, sacked by Boudicca, home of the first Calpurnius
  • Caledonia
    • Highland Caledonia, conquered by Agricola but subsequently abandoned
    • Lowland Caledonia
      • Hadrian's Wall
        • Luguvallium, westernmost fort of Hadrian's Wall
        • Segedunum, easternmost fort of Hadrian's Wall
        • Cilurnum, LC's construction site, where a river crosses the Wall from the north
          • The lumber camp, a valley south of the site
        • Corstopitum, depot town south of the Wall, Frontinus's HQ
  • Eburacum, HQ of the Sixth
  • Aquae Sulis, where old Engineers go to die


  • Castra Regina, LC II's previous service, where they have baths

Egypt, Felix's current command