Scotland during the Roman Empire

Scotland during the Roman Empire encompasses a period of time that is both part of genuine history and of protohistory. It is complicated by the fact that although the Roman Empire influenced every part of Scotland during the period from the arrival of the legions in c. AD 71 to their departure in 213 their occupation was neither complete nor continuous and that the idea of both "Scots" and of "Scotland" as a discrete entity did not emerge until many centuries later.

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. 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. [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."]

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 84. Although the Caledonian 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 Britain in the fifth 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.

After preliminary low-scale invasions of the island, [Churchill, "A History of the English Speaking Peoples", p. 1] [Lane Fox, "The Classical World", p. 379] the Romans invaded Britain in force in 43 AD,Churchill, "A History of the English Speaking Peoples", p. 4] forcing their way inland through several battles against British tribes, including the Battle of the Medway, the Battle of the Thames, the Battle of Caer Caradoc and the Battle of Mona. [Churchill, "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples", p. 5] Following a general uprising [Tacitus, "Annals" 14.29–39, Agricola 14–16] [Dio Cassius, "Roman History", 62.1–12] in which the Britons sacked Colchester, [Churchill, "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples", p. 6] St AlbansChurchill, "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples", p. 7] and London, [Welch, "Britannia: The Roman Conquest & Occupation of Britain", 1963, p. 107] the Romans suppressed the rebellion in the Battle of Watling Street [Tacitus, "Annals", 14.37] [Matyszak, "The Enemies of Rome", p. 189] and went on to push as far north as central Scotland in the Battle of Mons Graupius. [Fraser, "The Roman Conquest Of Scotland: The Battle Of Mons Graupius AD 84"] [Churchill, "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples", p. 9] Tribes in modern-day Scotland and Northern England repeatedly rebelled against Roman rule and two military bases were established in Britannia to protect against rebellion and incursions from the north, from which Roman troops built and manned Hadrian's Wall. [Churchill, "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples", p. 10]

The dawn of Scottish history

Scotland had been inhabited for thousands of years before the Romans arrived. However, it is only towards the Roman period that Scotland is recorded in writing.

In the 4th century BC Aristotle knew of "Albinn" and "Ierne" (the islands of Great Britain and Ireland). [ ["The Scottish People: Albinn"] Retrieved 23 July 2008.] The Greek explorer Pytheas visited Britain sometime between 322 and 285 BC and may have circumnavigated the mainland, which he describes as being triangular in shape. In his "On the Ocean" Pytheas refers to the most northerly point as "Orcas", conceivably a reference to Orkney. [Breeze, David J. "The ancient geography of Scotland" in Smith and Banks (2002) pp. 11-13.]

The earliest written record of a formal connection between Rome and Scotland is the attendance of the "King of Orkney" who was one of eleven British kings who submitted to the Emperor Claudius at Colchester in AD 43 following the invasion of southern Britain three months earlier. [Moffat (2005) p. 173-4.] 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. [Moffat (2005) p. 174-6.] Originals of "On the Ocean" do not survive, but copies are known to have existed in the first century AD so at the least a rudimentary knowledge of the geography of north Britain would have been available to Roman military intelligence. [Moffat (2005) p. 230.] [Breeze, David J. "The ancient geography of Scotland" in Smith and Banks (2002) p. 11.] Pomponius Mela, the Roman geographer, recorded in his "De Chorographia", written circa AD 43, that there were thirty Orkney islands and seven "Haemodae" (possibly Shetland).Breeze, David J. "The ancient geography of Scotland" in Smith and Banks (2002) p. 12.] There is certainly evidence of an Orcadian connection with Rome prior to 60 AD from pottery found at the broch of Gurness. [Moffat (2005) pp. 173-4.]

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. [Moffat (2005) pp. 236-37.]

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 the south west, the Selgovae in the centre and the Votadini to the east. [ [ "British Tribes"] From Dot to Domesday. Retrieved 13 July 2008.] 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. [Smith and Banks (2002) p. 219.] 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. [Smith and Banks (2002) p. 218 and p. 220.]

The peoples of early Iron Age Scotland, particularly in the north and west lived in substantial stone buildings called Atlantic roundhouses. There are the remains of hundreds of them all over 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 impressive 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. [Armit (2003) p. 55.] There are at least 100 broch sites in Scotland. [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.] Despite extensive research, their purpose and the nature of the societies that created them are still a matter of debate. [Smith and Banks (2002) p. 218]

One of the more interesting aspects of life at this time, that in some parts of Scotland, quite unlike almost all of recorded history right up to the present day, is that 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, of an elite priestly caste or of peasants with no access to the kind of accommodation enjoyed by the middle classes. [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.]

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 second or third 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. [Miket, Roger "The souterrains of Skye" in Smith and Banks (2002) pp. 77-110.]

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-first millennium AD. In this case a lack of Roman artefacts (common in local souterrain sites) suggests an abandonment before the arrival of the legions. [Alexander, Derek "The oblong fort at Finavon, Angus" in Smith and Banks (2002) pp. 45-54.] 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 to AD 90 - 130. [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"] Retrieved 14 July 2008.] 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. [Moffat (2005) pp. 239-40.]

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 first century, but by AD 71 the Roman governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis had launched an invasion. [Moffat (2005) p. 229.] 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. [Moffat (2005) pp. 230-31.] [Moffat (2005) p. 247.] Early success tempted Cerialis further north and he began constructing a line of Glenblocker forts along the Gask Ridge which marked a frontier between the Venicones to the south and the Caledonii to the north. [Moffat (2005) p. 233.]

In the summer of 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. 20th century excavations produced significant finds including the foundations of several successive structures, a collection of Roman armour, including ornate cavalry parade helmets, horse fittings including bronze saddleplates and studded leather chamfrons, Roman coins and pottery. He is said to have pushed his armies to the estuary of the "River Taus" and established forts there, including another substantial fortress at Inchtuthil. ["Taus" is often interpreted as referring to the Firth of Tay, although others suggest it was the Solway Firth. 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.?]

Mons Graupius

In the summer of 84 Agricola 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 reinforced with British auxiliaries. It is estimated that a total of 20,000 Romans faced 30,000 Caledonian warriors. [Tacitus, "Agricola" . 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.]

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 about 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, [Roy, William (1793) "The Military Antiquities of the Romans in Britain".] 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 maneuvers.Hogan, C. Michael, [ "Elsick Mounth - Ancient Trackway in Scotland in Aberdeenshire"] in "The Megalithic Portal", ed. A. Burnham. Retrieved 24 July 2008.] Other suggestions include the hill of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire, the Gask Ridge not far from Perth [Fraser, James E. (2005) "The Roman Conquest of Scotland: The Battle of Mons Graupius 84 AD (Revealing History)." Tempus. Edinburgh.] and Sutherland.Wolfson, Stan (2002) [ "The Boresti; The Creation of a Myth"] "Tacitus, Thule and Caledonia". Retrieved 24 July 2008.] 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 invented.Henig, Martin (September 1998) [ "Togidubnus and the Roman liberation"] "British Archaeology" 37. Retrieved 27 July 2008.]


The first resident of Scotland to appear in history by name was Calgacus ("the Swordsman"), the 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 wrote a speech for him in advance of the battle in which he describes the Romans as:


Calgacus' fate is unknown, but 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.

Marching camps may have been constructed along the southern shores of the Moray Firth, although their existence is questioned. [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".] 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. [Hanson (2003) p. 203-05.] In addition the material to construct the forts was substantial, estimated at 1 million cubic feet (28,315 m3) of timber during the first century. 10 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 kilometers of wood for the walls alone, which would have used up 100 hectares (247 acres) of forest. [Hanson (2003) p. 206.] [Moffat (2005) p. 267.] [Smout (2007) p. 32.]

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. [Moffat (2005) p. 245.] By 87 the occupation was limited to the Southern Uplands and by the end of the first century the northern limit of Roman expansion was a line drawn between the Tyne and Solway Firth. [Hanson (2003) p. 195.] Elginhaugh camp 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. [Moffat (2005) p. 266.]

"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. [Moffat (2005) pp. 268-70.]

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 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 first 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 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.Armit (2003) pp. 119-32.]

Hadrian's Wall

Quintus Pompeius Falco became governor of Brittania 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 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 "limes" (defensible frontiers) of the empire by its construction. It is a stone and turf fortification built across the width of what is now modern-day northern England. The wall was 80 Roman miles (73.5 statute miles or 117 kilometres) long, [ [ "Hadrian's Wall Gallery"] BBC. Retrieved 25 July 2008.] its width and height dependent on the construction materials which were available nearby. East of 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.

Hadrian's Wall remained the frontier between the Roman and Celtic worlds in Britain until 139.

The Antonine Wall

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 [Freeman, Charles (1999) "Egypt, Greece, and Rome." Oxford University Press. p. 508. ISBN 0198721943.] 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 Lollius 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 Dumnonii of Strathclyde. His total force may have been about 16,500 men. [Hanson (2003) p. 203.]

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 Dumnonii.

Success was swift and the construction of a new lime 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 feet) high, with nineteen forts. It was constructed after AD 139 and extended for 60 km (37 miles). 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 oppression collectively known as the Maeatae.

The 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 as with the Berlin Wall in modern times it prevented the enslaved communicating with the free. [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.] 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 over-run and abandoned soon after AD 160. [ [ "History"] Retrieved 25 July 2008.] [Breeze (2006) p. 167.]

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. [Hanson (2003) pp. 197-8.]

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 197 AD. [Robertson (1960) p. 37.] The most notable invasion was in 209 when the emperor Septimus Severus, claiming to be provoked by the belligerence of the Maeatae, campaigned against the Caledonian Confederacy. He used the three legions of the British garrison (augmented by the recently formed 2nd Parthica legion), 9,000 imperial guards with cavalry support, and numerous auxiliaries supplied from the sea by the British fleet, the Rhine fleet and two fleets transferred from the Danube for the purpose. 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. [Hanson (2003) p. 203 suggests the total Roman force was 40-50,000.] [These figures are probably a significant exaggeration. 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.]

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 withdraw again to Hadrian's Wall circa 213.Hanson (2003) p. 198.] There is some evidence that these campaigns are co-incident 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. [Miket, Roger "The souterrains of Skye" in Smith and Banks (2002) p. 82.]

Severus repaired and reinforced Hadrian's Wall with a degree of thoroughness that led many authors to attribute the construction of the wall to him. 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 Septimus Severus' wife, Julia Domna, 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". [Cassius Dio [*.html "Roman History: Epitome of Book LXXVII"] University of Chicago. Retrieved 24 July 2008.]

Septimus Severus died at York in 211 while planning to renew hostilities, but these plans were abandoned by his son Caracalla. 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. No further attempts were made to permanently occupy territory in Scotland.

Decline of the Roman Empire

In the later Roman period, the Empire's attentions were drawn away from modern-day Scotland, and towards its disintegrating core, and invasions by Germanic tribes. It concentrated more on maintenance than expansion. The Western Empire also suffered peripheralisation, and the Empire split into two, sometimes more pieces.

The death of Severus was followed by 80 years of relative peace, but the early Picts are associated with piracy and raiding along the coasts of Roman occupied southern Britain. [Trade, see Foster, "Picts, Gaels and Scots", pp. 65–68; seafaring in general, e.g. Haywood, "Dark Age Naval Power", Rodger, "Safeguard of the Sea".] These activities may have included a 296 assault deep into Roman territory at Chester. [Moffat (2005) p. 286.] Conflicts between the Picts and Rome continued into the fourth century, but in effect the Roman threat to the native peoples north of Hadrian's Wall had ended. The Pictish confederacy lasted for another five centuries until it vanished from the twin assaults of Scots influence spreading from the west and the Viking incursions from the north. [Moffat (2005) p. 332.] [ Ralston, Ian B. M. and Armit, Ian "The early Historic Period: An Archaeological Perspective" in Edwards and Ralston (2003) p. 217. refer to the "shadowy Pictish wars" with Rome.]

The Crisis of the Third Century was caused by three simultaneous crises: external invasion, internal civil war, and economic collapse. By 258, the attacks came from within, when the Empire broke up into three separate competing states. The Roman provinces of Gaul, Britain and Hispania broke off to form the Gallic Empire - thus in this period, Hadrian's Wall was not under central control.

Constantine I also diverted Rome's attention to the Eastern Empire, and made Constantinople the capital.

The Gaels regularly raided Roman Britain in collusion with their allies the Attacotti and Picts, as well as some Saxon mercenaries. The Gaelic raiders were known to the Romans as the Scoti. Gaels from the kingdom of Dal Riata, in the most northeastern part of Ulster, migrated to the Inner Hebrides, the Islands of the Clyde and Argyll. There they expanded Dal Riata. Eventually this nation came to be known as Scotland, after the Gaelic Scoti who settled there.

By the early 5th Century, the Empire was under heavy German attack, and the Crossing of the Rhine, and in the mid 6th century Gothic War helped finish the remains of the Roman Empire.

The Painted Ones

The Picts were 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. 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". 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. [For art in general see Foster, "Picts, Gaels and Scots", pp. 26–28, Laing & Laing, p. 89ff., Ritchie, "Picto-Celtic Culture".] The Gaels of Dalriada called the Picts "Cruithne", [The "Cruithni" are discussed by Byrne, "Irish Kings and High-Kings", pp. 106–109, Ó Cróinín, "Early Medieval Ireland", pp. 48–50.] and the Britons in the south knew them as "Prydyn". [Old Irish "cruth" and Welsh "pryd" are the Q- and P-Celtic forms respectively of a word meaning "form" or "shape": taken to be a reference to the Picts' practice of tattooing their bodies. See [ The Scottish Place-Name Society] and [ MacBain's Dictionary] .] Irish poets portrayed their Pictish counterparts as very much like themselves. [Forsyth, "Evidence of a lost Pictish Source", pp. 27–28.]

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. [See the discussion of the creation of the Frankish Confederacy in Geary, "Before France", chapter 2.] 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. [Broun, "Kingship", for Ireland see, e.g. Byrne, "Irish Kings and High-Kings", and more generally Ó Cróinín, "Early Medieval Ireland".] "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. [Adomnán, "Life of Columba", 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.] [Broun, "Seven Kingdoms".]

For most of Pictish recorded history the kingdom of Fortriu appears dominant, so much so that "king of Fortriu" and "king of the Picts" may mean one and the same thing in the annals. This was previously thought to lie in the area around Perth and southern Strathearn, whereas recent work has convinced those working in the field that Moray (a name referring to a very much larger area in the High Middle Ages than the county of Moray), was the core of Fortriu. [Woolf, "Dun Nechtain".]

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. [Foster, "Picts, Gaels and Scots", pp. 52–53.] Although constructed in earlier times, brochs, roundhouses and crannogs remained in use into and beyond the Pictish period. [Armit (2003) pp 135-7.] [Crone, "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.]

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. [Crawford, Iain "The wheelhouse" in Smith and Banks (2002) p. 128.]

The Ravenna Cosmography utilises a 3rd or 4th century Roman map and identifies four "loci" 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. [Moffat (2005) p. 284.]

Roman Legacy

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 Roman alphabet for its languages, and the emergence of Christianity as the predominant religion for centuries. 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 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 [cite book |last= Fletcher|first= Richard|title= Who's Who in Roman Britain and Anglo-Saxon England|pages=19|year= 1989|publisher= Shepheard-Walwyn|isbn=0-85683-089-5] who states that around 397 he set up his base at Whithorn in the south-west Scotland, building a stone church there, known as "Candida Casa". More recently is has been suggested that Ninian was the 6th century missionary Finnian of Moville, [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] 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, [Hanson (2003) 195.] Imperial Rome was ruthless and brutal in pursuit of its ends. [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.] 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:

All the more surprising given that the Vindolanda tablets [Hogan, C. Michael, (2007) [ "Vindolanda Roman Fort"] in "The Megalithic Portal", ed. A. Burnham. Retrieved 24 July 2008.] show that the Roman nickname for the north British locals was "Brittunculi" meaning "nasty little Britons". [Moffat (2005) p. 226.???]

Similarly, William Hanson concludes that:

The Romans' part in the clearances of the once extensive Caledonian forest remain a matter of debate. [ Hanson (2003) pp. 208-10.] 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". [Smout (2007) p.20.] 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 dendrochronolgy 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. [Smout (2007) pp.20-32.] Extensive analyses of Black Loch in Fife suggest that arable land spread at the expense of forest from about 2000 BC until the first century AD Roman advance. Thereafter, there was re-growth of birch, oak and hazel for a period of five centuries, suggesting a very negative impact on the native population. [Smout (2007) p. 34.] 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 miles) of roads. [Hanson (2003) p. 202.] [Moffat (2005) p. 249.] Overall, it is hard to detect any direct connections between native architecture and settlement patterns and Roman influence. [ Ralston, Ian B. M. and Armit, Ian "The early Historic Period: An Archaeological Perspective" in Edwards and Ralston (2003) p. 218.] 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 Hen Ogledd 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 co-incidental however, as there is little to suggest its influence played an important role in the early Medieval period after the fall of Rome. However, the location of the Antonine Wall and Hadrian's Wall were determined by geographical factors, such as hills and rivers.

In fiction

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 in 71 they set up a fortress that later became part of Eburacum. Although some authors have claimed that the 9th Legion disappeared in 117, [For example, Churchill, Winston (1956) "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples" vol.1.] there are extant records for it later than that year, and it was probably annihilated in the east of the Roman Empire. [ [ "Legio VIIII Hispana"] Retrieved 26 July 2008.] 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 film The Last Legion.

ee also

* Timeline of prehistoric Scotland
* Roman client kingdoms in Britain
* Celtic tribes in Britain and Ireland
* Scoti
* Hibernia
* 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, Dumnonii) province in the Borders acting as free agents of Rome.
* Prehistoric Orkney


* 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 0859766551.
* 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.
* Moffat, Alistair (2005) "Before Scotland: The Story of Scotland Before History". London. Thames & Hudson.
* 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 075242517X.
* Smout, T.C. MacDonald, R. and Watson, Fiona (2007) "A History of the Native Woodlands of Scotland 1500-1920". Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 9780748632947.


External links

* [ 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]

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