Scotland during the Roman Empire
Scotland during the Roman Empire encompasses a period of protohistory from the arrival of Roman legions in c. AD 71 to their departure in 213 in the area that is now Scotland. The history of the period is complex: the Roman empire influenced every part of Scotland during the period, however the occupation was neither complete nor continuous. The military presence of Rome lasted for little more than 40 years for most of Scotland and only as much as 80 years in total anywhere. At no time was even half of Scotland's land mass under Roman control. Analysis and interpretation is complicated by the fact that the idea of both "Scots" and of "Scotland" as a discrete entity did not emerge until centuries later. The period is marked by the appearance of the first historical accounts of the peoples of Scotland, as well as by extensive, if at times inconclusive, archaeological evidence.
Throughout this time the geographical area of Scotland was occupied by several different tribes utilising Iron Age technology with a wide variety of relationships both to one another and to Ancient Rome. The Romans gave the name Caledonia to the land north of their province of Britannia, beyond the frontier of the empire. Although the Roman presence was an important time in Scottish history, not least because it was when written records first emerged, Roman influence on Scottish culture was not enduring.
The Roman invasion under Quintus Petillius Cerialis began in AD 71 and culminated in the battle of Mons Graupius at an unknown location in northern Scotland in AD 84. Although the Caledonia Confederacy suffered a defeat it was not long before the legions abandoned their territorial gains and returned to a line south of the Solway Firth, later consolidated by the construction of Hadrian's Wall.
Roman commanders subsequently made various attempts to conquer territory to the north of this line, including the building of the Antonine Wall and the later Severan campaigns but their success was similarly short-lived. Roman forces ceased to have a significant impact after 211. By the close of the Roman occupation of southern and central Britain in the 5th century the Picts had emerged as the dominant force in northern Scotland, with the various Brythonic tribes the Romans had first encountered there occupying the southern half of the country.
- 1 The dawn of Scottish history
- 2 Iron Age culture in Scotland
- 3 The invasion of Caledonia
- 4 Mons Graupius
- 5 "Towns" and southern brochs
- 6 Hadrian's Wall
- 7 Antonine Wall
- 8 Later Roman campaigns
- 9 The Painted Ones
- 10 Roman legacy
- 11 In fiction
- 12 Recent discoveries
- 13 See also
- 14 Notes
- 15 References
- 16 Further reading
- 17 External links
The dawn of Scottish history
Scotland had been inhabited for thousands of years before the Romans arrived. However, it is only towards the Graeco-Roman period that Scotland is recorded in writing.
The author of De Mundo (Aristotle or Pseudo-Aristotle) knew of the two very large nēsoi Brettanikai (British Islands), which he called Albion and Ierne referring respectively to the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. The Greek explorer and geographer Pytheas visited Britain sometime between 322 and 285 BC and may have circumnavigated the mainland, which he describes as being triangular in shape. In On the Ocean he refers to the most northerly point as Orcas, conceivably a reference to Orkney.
The earliest written record of a formal connection between Rome and Scotland is the attendance of the "King of Orkney" who was one of 11 British kings who submitted to the Emperor Claudius at Colchester in AD 43 following the invasion of southern Britain three months earlier. The long distances and short period of time involved strongly suggest a prior connection between Rome and Orkney, although no evidence of this has been found and the contrast with later Caledonian resistance is striking. Originals of On the Ocean do not survive, but copies are known to have existed in the 1st century AD so at the least a rudimentary knowledge of the geography of north Britain would have been available to Roman military intelligence. Pomponius Mela, the Roman geographer, recorded in his De Chorographia, written circa AD 43, that there were 30 Orkney islands and seven Haemodae (possibly Shetland). There is certainly evidence of an Orcadian connection with Rome prior to 60 AD from pottery found at the broch of Gurness.
By the time of Pliny the Elder, who died in AD 79, Roman knowledge of the geography of Scotland had extended to the Hebudes (The Hebrides), Dumna (probably the Outer Hebrides), the Caledonian Forest and the Caledonii.
Ptolemy, possibly drawing on earlier sources of information as well as more contemporary accounts from the Agricolan invasion, identified 18 tribes in Scotland in his Geography, but many of the names are obscure and the geography becomes less reliable in the north and west, suggesting early Roman knowledge of these area was confined to observations from the sea.
Iron Age culture in Scotland
Ptolemy's tribes located north of the Forth-Clyde isthmus include the Cornovii in Caithness, the Caereni, Smertae, Carnonacae, Decantae, Lugi and Creones also north of the Great Glen, the Taexali in the north-east, the Epidii in Argyll, the Venicones in Fife, the Caledonii in the central Highlands and the Vacomagi centred near Strathmore. It is likely that all of these cultures spoke a form of Celtic language known as Pritennic. The occupants of southern Scotland were the Damnonii in the Clyde valley, the Novantae in Galloway, the Selgovae on the south coast and the Votadini to the east. These peoples may have spoken a form of Brythonic language.
Despite the discovery of many hundreds of Iron Age sites in Scotland there is still a great deal that remains to be explained about the nature of the Celtic life in the early Christian era. Unfortunately radiocarbon dating for this period is problematic and chronological sequences are poorly understood. For a variety of reasons much of the archaeological work to date in Scotland has concentrated on the islands of the west and north and both excavations and analysis of societal structures on the mainland are more limited in scope.
The peoples of early Iron Age Scotland, particularly in the north and west, lived in substantial stone buildings called Atlantic roundhouses. The remains of hundreds of these houses exist throughout the country, some merely piles of rubble, others with impressive towers and outbuildings. They date from about 800 BC to AD 300 with the most imposing structures having been created circa 200–100 BC. The most massive constructions that date from this time are the circular broch towers. On average, the ruins only survive up to a few metres above ground level, although there are five extant examples of towers whose walls still exceed 6.5 m (21 ft) in height. There are at least 100 broch sites in Scotland. Despite extensive research, their purpose and the nature of the societies that created them are still a matter of debate.
In some parts of Iron Age Scotland, quite unlike almost all of recorded history right up to the present day, there does not seem to have been an hierarchical elite. Studies have shown that these stone roundhouses, with massively thick walls must have contained virtually the entire population of islands such as Barra and North Uist. Iron Age settlement patterns in Scotland are not homogenous, but in these places there is no sign of a privileged class living in large castles or forts, or of an elite priestly caste or of peasants with no access to the kind of accommodation enjoyed by the middle classes.
Over 400 souterrains have been discovered in Scotland, many of them in the south-east, and although few have been dated those that have suggest a construction date in the 2nd or 3rd centuries AD. Unfortunately the purpose of these small underground structures is also obscure. They are usually found close to settlements (whose timber frames are much less well-preserved) and may have been for storing perishable agricultural products.
Scotland also has numerous vitrified forts but again an accurate chronology has proven to be evasive. Extensive studies of such a fort at Finavon Hill near Forfar in Angus, using a variety of techniques, suggest dates for the destruction of the site in either the last two centuries BC, or the mid-1st millennium AD. The lack of Roman artefacts (common in local souterrain sites) suggests that many sites were abandoned before the arrival of the legions.
Unlike the earlier Neolithic and Bronze Ages, which have provided massive monuments to the dead, Iron Age burial sites in Scotland are rare, and a recent find at Dunbar may provide further insight into the culture of this period. A similar site of a warrior's grave at Alloa has been provisionally dated to AD 90–130. A traveller called Demetrius of Tarsus related to Plutarch the tale of an expedition to the west coast in or shortly before AD 83. He stated that it was "a gloomy journey amongst uninhabited islands", but that he had visited one which was the retreat of holy men. He mentioned neither the druids nor the name of the island.
The invasion of Caledonia
The apparently cordial beginnings recorded in Colchester did not last. We know nothing of the foreign policies of the senior leaders in mainland Scotland in the 1st century, but by AD 71 the Roman governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis had launched an invasion. The Votadini, who occupied the south-east of Scotland, came under Roman sway at an early stage and Cerialis sent one division north through their territory to the shores of the Firth of Forth. The XXth Legion took a western route through Annandale in an attempt to encircle and isolate the Selgovae who occupied the central Southern Uplands. Early success tempted Cerialis further north and he began constructing a line of Glenblocker forts to the north and west of the Gask Ridge which marked a frontier between the Venicones to the south and the Caledonii to the north.
In the summer of AD 78 Gnaeus Julius Agricola arrived in Britain to take up his appointment as the new governor. Two years later his legions constructed a substantial fort at Trimontium near Melrose. Excavations in the 20th century produced significant finds including the foundations of several successive structures, Roman coins and pottery. Remains from the Roman army were also found, including a collection of Roman armour (with ornate cavalry parade helmets), and horse fittings (with bronze saddleplates and studded leather chamfrons). Agricola is said to have pushed his armies to the estuary of the "River Taus" (usually assumed to be the River Tay) and established forts there, including a legionary fortress at Inchtuthil.
In the summer of AD 84 the Romans faced the massed armies of the Caledonians at the Battle of Mons Graupius. Agricola, whose forces included a fleet, arrived at the site with light infantry bolstered with British auxiliaries. It is estimated that a total of 20,000 Romans faced 30,000 Caledonian warriors.
Agricola put his auxiliaries in the front line, keeping the legions in reserve, and relied on close-quarters fighting to make the Caledonians' unpointed slashing swords useless. Even though the Caledonians were put to rout and therefore lost this battle, two thirds of their army managed to escape and hide in the Scottish Highlands or the "trackless wilds" as Tacitus called them. Battle casualties were estimated by Tacitus to be about 10,000 on the Caledonian side and roughly 360 on the Roman side. A number of authors have reckoned the battle to have occurred in the Grampian Mounth within sight of the North Sea. In particular, Roy, Surenne, Watt, Hogan and others have advanced notions that the site of the battle may have been Kempstone Hill, Megray Hill or other knolls near the Raedykes Roman camp. These points of high ground are proximate to the Elsick Mounth, an ancient trackway used by Romans and Caledonians for military manoeuvres. Other suggestions include the hill of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire, the Gask Ridge not far from Perth and Sutherland. It has also been suggested that in the absence of any archaeological evidence and Tacitus' low estimates of Roman casualties, that the battle was simply fabricated.
The first resident of Scotland to appear in history by name was Calgacus ("the Swordsman"), a leader of the Caledonians at Mons Graupius, who is referred to by Tacitus in the Agricola (30) as "the most distinguished for birth and valour among the chieftains". Tacitus even invented a speech for him in advance of the battle in which he describes the Romans as:
|“||Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude and call it peace.||”|
Calgacus' fate is unknown but, according to Tacitus, after the battle Agricola ordered the prefect of the fleet to sail around the north of Scotland to confirm that Britain was an island and to receive the surrender of the Orcadians. It was proclaimed that Agricola had finally subdued all the tribes of Britain. However, the Roman historian Cassius Dio reports that this circumnavigation resulted in Titus receiving his 15th acclamation as emperor in 79 AD. This is five years before Mons Graupius is believed by most historians to have taken place.
Marching camps may have been constructed along the southern shores of the Moray Firth, although their existence is questioned. The total size of the Roman garrison in Scotland during the Flavian period of occupation is thought to be some 25,000 troops, requiring 16–19,000 tons of grain per annum. In addition, the material to construct the forts was substantial, estimated at 1 million cubic feet (28,315 m3) of timber during the 1st century. Ten tons of buried nails were discovered at the Inchtuthil site, which may have had a garrison of up to 6,000 men and which itself consumed 30 linear kilometres of wood for the walls alone, which would have used up 100 hectares (247 acres) of forest.
Soon after his announcement of victory, Agricola was recalled to Rome by Domitian and his post passed to Sallustius Lucullus. Agricola's successors were seemingly unable or unwilling to further subdue the far north. Despite his apparent successes, Agricola himself fell out of favour and it is possible that Domitian may have been informed of the fraudulence of his claims to have won a significant victory. The fortress at Inchtuthil was dismantled before its completion and the other fortifications of the Gask Ridge (erected to consolidate the Roman presence in Scotland in the aftermath of Mons Graupius) were abandoned within the space of a few years. It is possible that the costs of a drawn-out war outweighed any economic or political benefit and it was deemed more profitable to leave the Caledonians to themselves. By AD 87 the occupation was limited to the Southern Uplands and by the end of the 1st century the northern limit of Roman expansion was a line drawn between the Tyne and Solway Firth. Elginhaugh fort, in Midlothian, dates to about this period as may Castle Greg in West Lothian, which was most likely used as a monitoring base for an east-west road running along the foot of the nearby Pentlands, from the Forth to the Clyde Valley.
Presumably as a consequence of the Roman advance, various hill forts such as Dun Mor in Perthshire, which had been abandoned by the natives long ago, were re-occupied. Some new ones may even have been constructed in the north-east such as Hill O' Christ's Kirk in Aberdeenshire.
"Towns" and southern brochs
Ptolemy's map identifies 19 "towns" from intelligence gathered during the Agricolan campaigns. No archaeological evidence of any truly urban places has been found from this time and the names may have indicated hill forts or temporary market and meeting places. Most of the names are obscure: Devana may be the modern Banchory, and Alauna (meaning "the rock") in the west is probably Dumbarton Rock and the place of the same name in the east of the Lowlands may be the site of Edinburgh Castle. Lindon may be Balloch on Loch Lomond side.
There are the remains of various broch towers in southern Scotland that appear to date from the period immediately prior to or following Agricola's invasion. They are about fifteen in number and are found in four locations: the Forth valley, close to the Firth of Tay, the far south-west and the eastern Borders. Their existence so far from the main centres of broch-building is something of a mystery. The destruction of the Leckie broch may have come at the hands of the Roman invaders, yet like the nearby site of Fairy Knowe at Buchlyvie a substantial amount of both Roman and native artefacts have been recovered there. Both structures were built in the late 1st century AD and were evidently high-status buildings. The inhabitants raised sheep, cattle and pigs, and benefited from a range of wild game including Red Deer and Wild Boar.
Edin's Hall Broch in Berwickshire is the best preserved southern broch and although the ruins are superficially similar to some of the larger Orcadian broch villages it is unlikely that the tower was ever more than a single story high. There is an absence of Roman artefacts at this site. Various theories for the existence of these structures have been proposed, including their construction by northern invaders following the withdrawal of Roman troops after the Agricolan advance, or by allies of Rome encouraged to emulate the impressive northern style in order to suppress native resistance, perhaps even the Orcadian chiefs whose positive relationship with Rome may have continued from the beginnings of Romano-British relations. It is also possible that their construction had little to do with Roman frontier policy and was simply the importation of a new style by southern elites or it may have been a response by such elites to the growing threat of Rome prior to the invasion and an attempt to ally themselves, actually or symbolically, with the free north.
Quintus Pompeius Falco became governor of Britannia between 118 and 122 and is thought to have suppressed an uprising involving the Brigantes of northern Britannia and the Selgovae. In his last year of office he hosted a visit to the province by the Emperor Hadrian that resulted in the construction of Hadrian's Wall (Latin: Rigore Valli Aeli, "the line along Hadrian's frontier").
This line of occupation of Britain was consolidated as one of the limites (defensible frontiers) of the empire by its construction. It is a stone and turf fortification built across the width of what is now northern England. The wall was 80 Roman miles (73.5 statute miles or 117 kilometres) long, its width and height dependent on the construction materials which were available nearby. East of the River Irthing the wall was made from squared stone and measured 3 metres (9.7 ft) wide and 5–6 metres (16–20 ft) high, while west of the river the wall was made from turf and measured 6 metres (20 ft) wide and 3.5 metres (11.5 ft) high. The wall was augmented by various ditches, berms, and forts.
The wall had several purposes. Defence was the most obvious, but it also controlled movement behind the line, enabled the rapid transmission of military intelligence and facilitated the collection of customs dues. Its scale also demonstrated the power of Rome to her enemies, and was surely intended to enhance the prestige of its builder. Hadrian's Wall remained the frontier between the Roman and Celtic worlds in Britain until 139.
Quintus Lollius Urbicus was made governor of Roman Britain in 138, by the new Emperor Antoninus Pius. Urbicus was the son of a Libyan landowner and a native of Numidia (modern Algeria). Prior to coming to Britain he served during the Jewish Rebellion of 132–135, and then governing Germania Inferior.
Antoninus Pius soon reversed the containment policy of his predecessor Hadrian, and Urbicus was ordered to begin the reconquest of Lowland Scotland by moving north. Between 139 and 140 he rebuilt a fort at Corbridge and by 142 or 143, commemorative coins were issued celebrating a victory in Britain. It is therefore likely that Urbicus led the reoccupation of southern Scotland c. 141, probably using Legio II Augusta. He evidently campaigned against several British tribes (possibly including factions of the northern Brigantes), certainly against the lowland tribes of Scotland; the Votadini and Selgovae of the Scottish Borders region, and the Damnonii of Strathclyde. His total force may have been about 16,500 men.
It seems likely that Urbicus planned his campaign of attack from Corbridge, advancing north and leaving garrison forts at High Rochester in Northumberland and possibly also at Trimontium as he struck towards the Firth of Forth. Having secured an overland supply route for military personnel and equipment along Dere Street, Urbicus very likely set up a supply port at Carriden for the supply of grain and other foodstuffs before proceeding against the Damnonii.
Success was swift and the construction of a new limes between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde commenced. Contingents from at least one British legion are known to have assisted in the erection of the new turf barrier, as evidenced by an inscription from the fort at Old Kilpatrick, the Antonine Wall's western terminus. Today, the sward-covered wall is the remains of a defensive line made of turf circa 7 metres (20 ft) high, with nineteen forts. It was constructed after AD 139 and extended for 60 km (37 mi). It was possibly after the defences were finished that Urbicus turned his attention upon the fourth lowland Scottish tribe, the Novantae who inhabited the Dumfries and Galloway peninsula. The main lowland tribes, sandwiched as they were between Hadrian's Wall of stone to the south and the new turf wall to the north, later formed a confederation against Roman rule, collectively known as the Maeatae.
The Antonine Wall had a variety of purposes. It provided a defensive line against the Caledonians. It cut off the Maeatae from their Caledonian allies and created a buffer zone north of Hadrian's Wall. It also facilitated troop movements between east and west, but its main purpose may not have been primarily military. It enabled Rome to control and tax trade and may have prevented potentially disloyal new subjects of Roman rule from communicating with their independent brethren to the north and coordinating revolts. Urbicus achieved an impressive series of military successes, but like Agricola's they were short-lived. Having taken twelve years to build, the wall was overrun and abandoned soon after AD 160.
The destruction of some of the southern brochs may date to the Antonine advance, the hypothesis being that whether or not they had previously been symbols of Roman patronage they had now outlived their usefulness from a Roman point of view.
Later Roman campaigns
The Roman frontier became Hadrian's Wall again, although Roman incursions into Scotland continued. Initially outpost forts were occupied in the south-west and Trimontium remained in use but they too were abandoned after the mid-180s.
Roman troops, however, penetrated far into the north of modern Scotland several more times. Indeed, there is a greater density of Roman marching camps in Scotland than anywhere else in Europe as a result of at least four major attempts to subdue the area. The Antonine Wall was occupied again for a brief period after AD 197. The most notable invasion was in 209 when the emperor Septimius Severus, claiming to be provoked by the belligerence of the Maeatae, campaigned against the Caledonian Confederacy. Severus invaded Caledonia with an army perhaps over 40,000 strong.
According to Dio Cassius, he inflicted genocidal depredations on the natives and incurred the loss of 50,000 of his own men to the attrition of guerrilla tactics, although it is likely that these figures are a significant exaggeration.
A string of forts was constructed in the north-east (some of which may date from the earlier Antonine campaign). These include camps associated with the Elsick Mounth, such as Normandykes, Ythan Wells, Deers Den and Glenmailen. However, only two forts in Scotland, at Cramond and Carpow (in the Tay valley) are definitely known to have been permanently occupied during this incursion before the troops were withdrawn again to Hadrian's Wall circa 213. There is some evidence that these campaigns are coincident with the wholesale destruction and abandonment of souterrains in southern Scotland. This may have been due either to Roman military aggression or the collapse of local grain markets in the wake of Roman withdrawal.
By 210, Severus' campaigning had made significant gains, but his campaign was cut short when he fell fatally ill, dying at Eboracum in 211. Although his son Caracalla continued campaigning the following year, he soon settled for peace. The Romans never campaigned deep into Caledonia again: they soon withdrew south permanently to Hadrian's Wall.
It was during the negotiations to purchase the truce necessary to secure the Roman retreat to the wall that the first recorded utterance, attributable with any reasonable degree of confidence, to a native of Scotland was made. When Julia Domna, the wife of Septimius Severus, criticised the sexual morals of the Caledonian women, the wife of Caledonian chief Argentocoxos replied: "We fulfill the demands of nature in a much better way than do you Roman women; for we consort openly with the best men, whereas you let yourselves be debauched in secret by the vilest".
Little is known about this alliance of Iron Age tribes, which may have been augmented by fugitives from Roman rule further south. The exact location of "Caledonia" is unknown, and the boundaries are unlikely to have been fixed. The name itself is a Roman one, as used by Tacitus, Ptolemy, Pliny the Elder and Lucan, but the name by which the Caledonians referred to themselves is unknown. It is likely that the prior to the Roman invasions, political control in the region was highly decentralised and no evidence has emerged of any specific Caledonian military or political leadership.
Later excursions by the Romans were generally limited to the scouting expeditions in the buffer zone that developed between the walls, trading contacts, bribes to purchase truces from the natives, and eventually the spread of Christianity. The Ravenna Cosmography utilises a 3rd- or 4th-century Roman map and identifies four loci (meeting places, possibly markets) in southern Scotland. Locus Maponi is possibly the modern Lochmabenstane near Gretna which continued to be used as a muster point well into the historic period. Two of the others indicate meeting places of the Damnonii and Selgovae, and the fourth, Manavi may be Clackmannan. From the time of Caracalla onwards, no further attempts were made to permanently occupy territory in Scotland.
The Painted Ones
The intermittent Roman presence in Scotland coincided with the emergence of the Picts, a confederation of tribes who lived to the north of the Forth and Clyde from Roman times until the 10th century. They are often assumed to have been the descendants of the Caledonii though the evidence for this connection is circumstantial and the name by which the Picts called themselves is unknown. They are often said to have tattooed themselves, but evidence for this is limited. Naturalistic depictions of Pictish nobles, hunters and warriors, male and female, without obvious tattoos, are found on their monumental stones. The Gaels of Dalriada called the Picts Cruithne, and Irish poets portrayed their Pictish counterparts as very much like themselves.
The means by which the Pictish confederation formed is also unknown, although there is speculation that reaction to the growth of the Roman Empire was a factor. The early history of Pictland is unclear. In later periods multiple kings existed, ruling over separate kingdoms, with one king, sometimes two, more or less dominating their lesser neighbours. De Situ Albanie, the Pictish Chronicle, and the Duan Albanach, along with Irish legends, have been used to argue the existence of seven Pictish kingdoms although more may have existed and some evidence suggests that a Pictish kingdom also existed in Orkney.
The Pictish relationship with Rome appears to have been less overtly hostile than their Caledonii predecessors, at least in the beginning. There were no more pitched battles and conflict was generally limited to raiding parties from both sides of the frontier until immediately prior to and after the Roman retreat from Britannia. Their apparent success in holding back Roman forces cannot be explained solely with reference to the remoteness of Caledonia or the difficulties of the terrain. In part it may have been due to the difficulties encountered in subjugating a population that did not conform to the strictures of local governance that Roman power usually depended on to operate through.
The technology of everyday life is not well recorded, but archaeological evidence shows it to have been similar to that in Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England. Recently evidence has been found of watermills in Pictland and kilns were used for drying kernels of wheat or barley, not otherwise easy in the changeable, temperate climate. Although constructed in earlier times, brochs, roundhouses and crannogs remained in use into and beyond the Pictish period.
Elsewhere in Scotland wheelhouses were constructed, probably for ritualistic purposes, in the west and north. Their geographical locations are highly restricted, which suggests that they may have been contained within a political or cultural frontier of some kind and the co-incidence of their arrival and departure being associated with the period of Roman influence in Scotland is a matter of ongoing debate. It is not known whether the culture that constructed them was "Pictish" as such although they would certainly have been known to the Picts.
As Rome's power waned, the Picts were emboldened. War bands raided south of Hadrian's Wall in earnest in 342, 360 and 365 and they participated in the conspiratio barbarica of 367. Rome fought back, mounting campaigns in 369 and 384, but these were short-lived successes. The legions finally deserted Britannia in 410, never to return.
The military presence of Rome lasted for little more than 40 years for most of Scotland and only as much as 80 years in total anywhere. At no time was even half of Scotland's land mass under Roman control.
Scotland has inherited two main features from the Roman period, although mostly indirectly: the use of the Latin script for its languages, and the emergence of Christianity as the predominant religion. Through Christianity, the Latin language would become used by the natives of Scotland for the purposes of church and government for centuries more.
Roman influence assisted the spread of Christianity throughout Europe, but there is little evidence of a direct link between the Roman Empire and Christian missions north of Hadrian's Wall. Traditionally, Ninian is credited as the first bishop active in Scotland. He is briefly mentioned by Bede who states that around 397 he set up his base at Whithorn in the south-west of Scotland, building a stone church there, known as Candida Casa. More recently it has been suggested that Ninian was the 6th-century missionary Finnian of Moville, but either way Roman influence on early Christianity in Scotland does not seem to have been significant.
Although little more than a series of relatively brief interludes of military occupation, Imperial Rome was ruthless and brutal in pursuit of its ends. Genocide was a familiar part of its foreign policy and it is clear that the invasions and occupations cost thousands of lives. Alistair Moffat writes:
|“||The reality is that the Romans came to what is now Scotland, they saw, they burned, killed, stole and occasionally conquered, and then they left a tremendous mess behind them, clearing away native settlements and covering good farmland with the remains of ditches, banks, roads, and other sorts of ancient military debris. Like most imperialists they arrived to make money, to gain political advantage and to exploit the resources of their colonies at virtually any price to the conquered. And remarkably, in Britain, in Scotland, we continue to admire them for it.||”|
Similarly, William Hanson concludes that:
|“||For many years it has been almost axiomatic in studies of the period that the Roman conquest must have had some major medium or long-term impact on Scotland. On present evidence that cannot be substantiated either in terms of environment, economy, or, indeed, society. The impact appears to have been very limited. The general picture remains one of broad continuity, not of disruption.... The Roman presence in Scotland was little more than a series of brief interludes within a longer continuum of indigenous development."||”|
The Romans' part in the clearances of the once extensive Caledonian forest remains a matter of debate. That these forests were once considerably more extensive than they are now is not in dispute, but the timing and causes of the reduction are. The 16th-century writer Hector Boece believed that the woods in Roman times stretched north from Stirling into Atholl and Lochaber and was inhabited by white bulls with "crisp and curland mane, like feirs lionis". Later historians such as P. F. Tytler and W. F. Skene followed suit as did the 20th-century naturalist Frank Fraser Darling. Modern techniques, including palynology and dendrochronology suggest a more complex picture. Changing post-glacial climates may have allowed for a maximum forest cover between 4000 and 3000 BC and deforestation of the Southern uplands, caused both climatically and anthropogenically, was well underway by the time the legions arrived. Extensive analyses of Black Loch in Fife suggest that arable land spread at the expense of forest from about 2000 BC until the 1st-century AD Roman advance. Thereafter, there was re-growth of birch, oak and hazel for a period of five centuries, suggesting the invasions had a very negative impact on the native population. The situation outwith the Roman-held areas is harder to assess, but the long-term influence of Rome may not have been substantial.
The archaeological legacy of Rome in Scotland is of interest, but sparse, especially in the north. Almost all the sites are essentially military in nature and include about 650 km (400 mi) of roads. Overall, it is hard to detect any direct connections between native architecture and settlement patterns and Roman influence. Elsewhere in Europe, new kingdoms and languages emerged from the remnants of the once-mighty Roman world. In Scotland, the Celtic Iron Age way of life, often troubled, but never extinguished by Rome, simply re-asserted itself. In the north the Picts continued to be the main power prior to the arrival and subsequent domination of the Scots of Dalriada. The Damnonii eventually formed the Kingdom of Strathclyde based at Dumbarton Rock. South of the Forth, the Welsh speaking Brythonic kingdoms of Yr Hen Ogledd (English: "The Old North") flourished during the 5th–7th centuries.
The most enduring Roman legacy may be that created by Hadrian's Wall. Its line approximates the border between modern Scotland and England and it created a distinction between the northern third and southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain that plays a part in modern political debate. This is probably coincidental however, as there is little to suggest its influence played an important role in the early Medieval period after the fall of Rome.
The 9th Spanish Legion participated in the Roman invasion of Britain, suffering losses under Quintus Petillius Cerialis in the rebellion of Boudica of 61, and setting up a fortress in 71 that later became part of Eburacum. Although some authors have claimed that the 9th Legion disappeared in 117, there are extant records for it later than that year, and it was probably annihilated in the east of the Roman Empire. For a time it was believed, at least by some British historians, that the legion vanished during its conflicts in present-day Scotland. This idea was used in the novels The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, Legion From the Shadows by Karl Edward Wagner, Red Shift by Alan Garner, Engine City by Ken MacLeod, Warriors of Alavna by N. M. Browne, and in the feature films The Last Legion, Centurion and The Eagle.
In 1984, a candidate for a Roman fort was identified by aerial photography at Easter Galcantray, south west of Cawdor. The site was excavated between 1984 and 1988 and several features were identified which are supportive of this classification. Roman pottery similar to that found at Inchtuthill Roman fort has been discovered. If confirmed, it would be one of the most northerly known Roman forts in the British Isles.
The possibility that the legions reached further north in Scotland is suggested by discoveries in Easter Ross. The sites of temporary camps have been proposed at Portmahomack in 1949, although this has not been fully confirmed, In 1991 an investigation of Tarradale on the Black Isle near the Beauly Firth concluded that "the site appears to conform to the morphology of a Roman camp or fort."
- Timeline of prehistoric Scotland
- Roman client kingdoms in Britain
- Celtic tribes in Britain and Ireland
- Great Conspiracy – a year-long war that occurred towards the end of the Roman occupation of Britain in 367.
- Attacotti – participants in the Great Conspiracy
- Valentia (Roman Britain) – Possible independent British (Votadini, Selgovae, Novantae, Damnonii) province in the Borders acting as free agents of Rome.
- Prehistoric Orkney
- Hanson (2003) p. 198.
- Moffat (2005) p. 226. "The Romans left us nothing of any enduring cultural value. Their presence in Scotland was brief, intermittent and not influential on the course of our history."
- Greek "... ἐν τούτῳ γε μὴν νῆσοι μέγιστοι τυγχάνουσιν οὖσαι δύο, Βρεττανικαὶ λεγόμεναι, Ἀλβίων καὶ Ἰέρνη, ...", translation "... There are two very large islands in it, called the British Isles, Albion and Ierne; ..."; Aristotle or Pseudo-Aristotle; E. S. Forster (translator), D. J. Furley (translator). "On the Cosmos, 393b12". On Sophistical Refutations. On Coming-to-be and Passing Away. On the Cosmos. William Heinemann LTD, Harvard University Press. pp. 360–361. at the Open Library Project.DjVu
- Βρεττανική. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
- Breeze, David J. "The ancient geography of Scotland" in Smith and Banks (2002) pp. 11–13.
- Moffat (2005) p. 173-4.
- Thomson (2008) pp. 4–5 suggests that there may have been an element of Roman "boasting" involved, given that it was known to them that the Orcades lay at the northern extremity of the British Isles.
- Moffat (2005) p. 174-6.
- Moffat (2005) p. 230.
- Breeze, David J. "The ancient geography of Scotland" in Smith and Banks (2002) p. 11.
- Breeze, David J. "The ancient geography of Scotland" in Smith and Banks (2002) p. 12.
- Moffat (2005) pp. 173–4.
- Moffat (2005) pp. 236–37.
- Smith and Banks (2002) p. 219.
- Smith and Banks (2002) p. 218 and p. 220.
- Armit (2003) p. 55.
- Armit (2003) p. 16. Euan MacKie has proposed a total of 104, although The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland identify a total of 571 candidate sites.
- Smith and Banks (2002) p. 218
- Armit, Ian "Land and freedom: Implications of Atlantic Scottish settlement patterns for Iron Age land-holding and social organisation." in Smith and Banks (2002) pp. 15–26.
- Miket, Roger "The souterrains of Skye" in Smith and Banks (2002) pp. 77–110.
- Alexander, Derek "The oblong fort at Finavon, Angus" in Smith and Banks (2002) pp. 45–54.
- Smith and Banks (2002) p. 220.
- "The Dunbar Iron Age Warrior Grave" AOC. Retrieved 14 July 2008.
- "A Brief History of Alloa: Iron Age Warrior" Alloa.org.uk. Retrieved 14 July 2008.
- Moffat (2005) pp. 239–40.
- Moffat (2005) p. 229.
- Moffat (2005) pp. 230–31.
- Moffat (2005) p. 247.
- Moffat (2005) p. 233.
- Although "Taus" is usually interpreted as referring to the Rivert Tay/Firth of Tay, it has been suggested it was the Solway Firth. It cannot be the latter if Agricola was already campaigning much further north and Cerialis had previously reached the Gask Ridge. Schmitz, Leonhard "Agraulos" in Smith, William Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. (1867) Boston. Little, Brown and Company. 1 pp. 75–76. Retrieved 26 July 2008.
- Tacitus, Agricola 29. Wikisource.
- Other estimates for the size of the Roman force based on Tacitus' account range from 17,000 to 30,000. See Hanson (2003) p. 203.
- Roy, William (1793) The Military Antiquities of the Romans in Britain.
- Hogan, C. Michael, "Elsick Mounth – Ancient Trackway in Scotland in Aberdeenshire" in The Megalithic Portal, ed. A. Burnham. Retrieved 24 July 2008.
- Fraser, James E. (2005) "The Roman Conquest of Scotland: The Battle of Mons Graupius 84 AD (Revealing History)." Tempus. Edinburgh.
- Wolfson, Stan (2002) "The Boresti; The Creation of a Myth" Tacitus, Thule and Caledonia. Tiscali.co.uk. Retrieved 24 July 2008.
- Henig, Martin (September 1998) "Togidubnus and the Roman liberation" British Archaeology 37. Retrieved 27 July 2008.
- Tacitus. Agricola Chapter 30. Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb. Wikisource. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
- Tacitus claims that Orkney was "discovered and subdued", but Thomson (2008) pp. 4–5 is as sceptical about Tacitus's claims on behalf of Agricola as he is about Claudius's earlier subjugation of Orkney (see above).
- Hoffmann, Birgitta (15 December 2001) "Archaeology versus Tacitus' Agricola: a 1st Century Worst Case Scenario" The Roman Gask Project. Retrieved 8 July 2010.
- Moffat (2005) p. 232.
- Hanson (2003) p. 198 – "none of the postulated sites discovered by aerial survey in Moray and Nairn over recent years has the distinctive morphological characteristics of a Roman fort".
- Hanson (2003) p. 203-05.
- Hanson (2003) p. 206.
- Moffat (2005) p. 267.
- Smout (2007) p. 32.
- Moffat (2005) p. 245.
- Hanson (2003) p. 195.
- Moffat (2005) p. 266.
- Moffat (2005) pp. 268–70.
- Armit (2003) pp. 119–32.
- "Hadrian's Wall Gallery" BBC. Retrieved 25 July 2008.
- Moffat (2005) p. 275.
- Freeman, Charles (1999) Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Oxford University Press. p. 508. ISBN 0-19-872194-3.
- Hanson (2003) p. 203.
- Breeze pp. 144–159.
- According to Robertson (1960) p. 39 many of the Antonine forts had strong defences to the south and other Roman forts in southern Scotland actually faced south.
- "History" antoninewall.org. Retrieved 25 July 2008.
- Breeze (2006) p. 167.
- Hanson (2003) pp. 197–8.
- Robertson (1960) p. 37.
- W.S. Hanson (2002) "Roman campaigns north of the Forth-Clyde isthmus: the evidence of the temporary camps" (pdf) ads.ahds.ac.uk. Retrieved 14 Mar 2011.
- Hanson (2003) p. 203 suggests the total Roman force was 40–50,000 and according to Breeze (2006) p. 42 the total Roman garrison of Britain at the time of the construction of the Antonine Wall included three legions and numbered about 48,700 troops.
- Miket, Roger "The souterrains of Skye" in Smith and Banks (2002) p. 82.
- Cassius Dio, Roman History. Book 77. Sections 11–15.
- Cassius Dio "Roman History: Epitome of Book LXXVII". University of Chicago. Retrieved 24 July 2008
- Encyclopædia Britannica (1911) states that "a tribe of Caledones" are "named by the geographer Ptolemy as living within boundaries which are now unascertainable".
- Moffat (2005) pp. 21–22.
- Wooliscroft, D. W. "More Thoughts On Why the Romans Failed To Conquer Scotland" The Roman Gask Project. Retrieved 7 February 2009. Wooliscroft notes that Calgacus "is never referred to by any term, such as king or general".
- Moffat (2005) p. 284. Loci implied supervised meeting places rather than potentially hostile ones, but it is scarcely credible that military interventions of this nature were a regular occurrence at this time.
- The Greek word Πικτοί (Latin Picti) first appears in a panegyric written by Eumenius in 297 and is taken to mean "painted or tattooed people".
- The nature of the relationship between the Picts and the Caledonians is obscure. There are 3rd- and 4th-century Roman references to "Picti and Caledonii" and Ammianus Marcellinus states that the Picts consisted of the tribes of the Dicalydonae and the Verturiones. The idea that the Picts were heirs to the Caledonians would appear to be a convenient simplification of a complex flux of relationships. See for example Moffat (2005) p. 297 or "The Picts" (Siliconglen.com. Retrieved 8 February 2009) for a more informal overview.
- For art in general see for example Foster (2004) pp. 26–28.
- The Cruithni are discussed by Byrne (1973) pp. 106–109.
- The Britons in the south knew the Picts as Prydyn. Old Irish cruth and Welsh pryd are the Q- and P-Celtic forms respectively of a word meaning "form" or "shape". See MacBain's Dictionary. Retrieved 26 December 2008.
- Forsyth, Katherine (2000) pp. 27–28.
- See the discussion of the creation of the Frankish Confederacy in Geary (1988) chapter 2.
- Broun (2005).
- Adomnán (tr. & ed. Richard Sharpe) (1995) Life of St Columba. London. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044462-9. Editor's notes on pp. 342–343.
- De Situ Albanie is not the most reliable of sources, and the number of kingdoms, one for each of the seven sons of Cruithne, the eponymous founder of the Picts, may well be grounds enough for disbelief.
- Moffat (2005) pp. 284, 299.
- Foster, Picts, Gaels and Scots, pp. 52–53.
- Armit (2003) pp 135–7.
- Crone, B.A. (1993) "Crannogs and Chronologies". PSAS 123 pp. 245–254.
- Foster, Picts, Gaels and Scots, pp. 52–61.
- Ralston, Ian B. M. and Armit, Ian "The early Historic Period: An Archaeological Perspective" in Edwards and Ralston (2003) p. 226.
- Crawford, Iain "The wheelhouse" in Smith and Banks (2002) pp. 127–28.
- Moffat (2005) pp. 297–301.
- Fletcher, Richard (1989). Who's Who in Roman Britain and Anglo-Saxon England. Shepheard-Walwyn. p. 19. ISBN 0-85683-089-5.
- Clancy, Thomas O. (2001) "The real St Ninian." The Innes Review 52 pp. 1–28.
- Fraser, James E. "Northumbrian Whithorn and the Making of St Ninian." (2002) The Innes Review, 53 pp. 40–59
- Hanson (2003) 195.
- For example, it is clear that an Iron Age village at Cardean in Angus was simply removed wholesale in order to construct a Roman Camp. See Moffat (2005) p. 254.
- Moffat (2005) p. 226.
- Hogan, C. Michael, (2007) "Vindolanda Roman Fort" in The Megalithic Portal, ed. A. Burnham. Retrieved 24 July 2008.
- Hanson (2003) p. 216.
- Hanson (2003) pp. 208–10.
- Smout (2007) p.20.
- Smout (2007) pp.20–32.
- Smout (2007) p. 34.
- Hanson (2003) p. 202.
- Moffat (2005) p. 249.
- Ralston, Ian B. M. and Armit, Ian "The early Historic Period: An Archaeological Perspective" in Edwards and Ralston (2003) p. 218.
- Koch (2006) p. 903 notes that yr Hen Ogledd refers to the Welsh-speaking parts of northern Britain north and south of Hadrian's Wall and that these areas were "as integral to the Welsh tradition as Wales itself".
- For example, Churchill, Winston (1956) A History of the English-Speaking Peoples vol.1.
- "Legio VIIII Hispana" Livius.org. Retrieved 26 July 2008.
- Hanson, W. S. (1988) Roman campaigns north of the Forth-Clyde isthmus: the evidence of the temporary camps. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. 109: pp. 140–50
- Jones, G.B.D.; Keillar, I.; and Maude, K.; (2002) "Excavations at Cawdor 1986" (pdf) Archaeology Data Service. Retrieved 6 July 2010. pp. 204–205.
- "Suspected Roman Fort Cawdor, Easter Galcantray, Highland Region" roman-britain.org. Retrieved 6 July 2010.
- "Port A' Chaistell" RCAHMS. Retrieved 6 July 2010. The tentative identification was by Crawford, O.G.S. (1949) Topography of Roman Scotland north of the Antonine Wall. Cambridge. p. 148, although he never actually visited the site.
- Carver (2008) p. 176. Retrieved 5 Feb 2011.
- Jones, G. D. B (1991) "Tarradale: Investigation of a cropmark site near Muir of Ord, Ross and Cromarty". (pdf) Manchester Archaeological Bulletin. Vol. 6. Retrieved 9 October 2013.
- Armit, I. (2003) Towers in the North: The Brochs of Scotland, Stroud: Tempus, ISBN 0-7524-1932-3
- Breeze, David J. (2006) The Antonine Wall. Edinburgh. John Donald. ISBN 0-85976-655-1
- Broun, Dauvit, "The Seven Kingdoms in De situ Albanie: A Record of Pictish political geography or imaginary map of ancient Alba" in E.J. Cowan & R. Andrew McDonald (eds.), (2005) Alba: Celtic Scotland in the Medieval Era. Edinburgh. John Donald. ISBN 0-85976-608-X
- Byrne, Francis John (1973) Irish Kings and High-Kings. London. Batsford. ISBN 0-7134-5882-8
- Carver, Martin (2008) Portmahomack: Monastery of the Picts. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-2441-6
- Forsyth, Katherine (2000) "Evidence of a lost Pictish Source in the Historia Regum Anglorum of Symeon of Durham", with an appendix by John T. Koch. pp. 27–28 in Simon Taylor (ed.) (2000). Kings, clerics and chronicles in Scotland, 500–1297: essays in honour of Marjorie Ogilvie Anderson on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday. Dublin. Four Courts Press. ISBN 1-85182-516-9
- Foster, Sally M., (2004) Picts, Gaels, and Scots: Early Historic Scotland. London. Batsford. ISBN 0-7134-8874-3
- Geary, Patrick J., (1988) Before France and Germany: The creation and transformation of the Merovingian World. Oxford. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-504457-6
- Hanson, William S. "The Roman Presence: Brief Interludes", in Edwards, Kevin J. & Ralston, Ian B.M. (Eds) (2003) Scotland After the Ice Age: Environment, Archaeology and History, 8000 BC – AD 1000. Edinburgh. Edinburgh University Press.
- Keay, J. & Keay, J. (1994) Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland. London. HarperCollins.
- Kirk, William "Prehistoric Scotland: The Regional Dimension" in Clapperton, Chalmers M. (ed.) (1983) Scotland: A New Study. Newton Abbott. David & Charles.
- Koch, John T. (2006) Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Oxford. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-85109-440-7
- Moffat, Alistair (2005) Before Scotland: The Story of Scotland Before History. London. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05133-X
- Robertson, Anne S. (1960) The Antonine Wall. Glasgow Archaeological Society.
- Smith, Beverley Ballin and Banks, Iain (2002) In the Shadow of the Brochs. Stroud. Tempus. ISBN 0-7524-2517-X
- Smout, T.C. MacDonald, R. and Watson, Fiona (2007) A History of the Native Woodlands of Scotland 1500–1920. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-3294-7
- Thomson, William P. L. (2008) The New History of Orkney Edinburgh. Birlinn. ISBN 978-1-84158-696-0
- Woolf, Alex (2006) "Dun Nechtain, Fortriu and the Geography of the Picts" in The Scottish Historical Review, Volume 85, Number 2. Edinburgh. Edinburgh University Press. ISSN 0036-9241
- Kamm, Anthony (2009) The Last Frontier: The Roman Invasions of Scotland. Glasgow. Neil Wilson Publishing. ISBN 978-1-906476-06-9
- Jones, Rebecca H. (2011) Roman Camps in Scotland. Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. ISBN 978-0-903903-50-9.
- Comparison of the geography of Scotland recorded in the Ravenna Cosmography with Ptolemy's
- The Antonine Wall: The North-west Frontier of the Roman Empire
- Roman Scotland, which provides a full analysis of the contending sites for Mons Graupius
- Scotland: the Roman presence (map p.3)