Gask Ridge

The Gask Ridge is the modern name given to an early series of fortifications, built by the Romans in Scotland, close to the Highland Line.

It was constructed sometime between 70 and 80 CE. Construction on Hadrian's Wall was started 42 years after completion of the Gask Ridge (from 122 to 130 CE), and the Antonine Wall was started just 12 years after completion of Hadrian's Wall (from 142 to 144 CE). Although the Gask Ridge was not a continuous wall, it may be Rome's earliest fortified land frontier.(Woolliscroft & Hoffmann 2007).

The fortifications approximately follow the boundary between Scotland's fertile Lowlands and mountainous Highlands, in Perth and Kinross and Angus. The later Hadrian's Wall and Antonine Wall were further south, and, by taking advantage of the heavily indented coastline of Great Britain, were considerably shorter.

The Gask Ridge consisted of a series of forts and fortlets with signalling towers. To the north lie the Strathmore forts of Stracathro, Inverquharity, Cardean , Cargill I and II, as well as the legionary fortress of Inchtuthil, while the forts of Drumquhassle, Menteith/Malling, Bochastle, Doune, Dalginross and Fendoch further south are collectively referred to as the Glenblocker forts in the older literature. This is due to their location at the exit of some of the glens or directly opposite them. The relationship between the Glenblocker forts and the Gask Ridge has in the past been seen to represent a staged withdrawal (Breeze 1982). More recent research suggests that the three elements are actually part of the same frontier system, stretching roughly from Loch Lomond to Montrose. The Glenblocker forts in this scenario control access to major valleys in the frontier area, which actually loop back into the frontier area, rather than link to the Iron Age settlement concentration further north). Their role as an effective block to invasion is doubtful, as their situation would have allowed supervision, but their manpower is not strong enough to deter anything but small scale cattle raids. Only the legionary fortress at Inchtuthil, conveniently situated for access into Braemar and the areas beyond, is large enough to function as a major deterrent or springboard for future invasions. The Gask Road and the towers alongside it in this scenario guard the strategically important link to the harbours at the Firths of Tay and Forth and the Southern part of the province. (Woolliscroft & Hoffmann 2007)

Tacitus writes in De vita Iulii Agricolae that Agricola was fighting in the area in around 80 CE. The latest coinage dates from 86 CE. This would suggest that the forts were occupied for at most 6 years. However, recent archaeology has shown that many of the forts comprising the Gask Ridge were rebuilt over time, sometimes twice, without any evidence of destruction through warfare. Further digs may cast some light on this apparent contradiction.

The forts of Ardoch, Strageath and Bertha on the Gask Road, as well as the forts of Cargill in Strathmore and the Glenblocker fort of Dalginross have also produced Antonine material attesting to a reuse of the sites contemporary with the Antonine Wall (Woolliscroft & Hoffmann 2007, updating Hanson& Maxwell 1986).

In the Severan period the area was also under Roman occupation, which focused on the Legionary fortress of Carpow downstream from Perth (Breeze 2007)

The permanent sites discussed above are complemented by a series of large marching camps stretching from the Scottish Lowlands into Aberdeenshire. Several reconstruction of their chronological role exist at present.

References

D.Breeze, Northern Frontiers of Roman Britain (1982)

D.Breeze, Roman Scotland (2007)

W.S.Hanson, G.Maxwell, Rome's North-west Frontier: The Antonine Wall (1986)

D.J.Woolliscroft, B.Hoffmann, The First Frontier. Rome in the North of Scotland (Stroud: Tempus 2006)

External links

* [http://www.theromangaskproject.org.uk/ The Roman Gask Project]
* [http://www.roman-britain.org/military/northern_campaigns.htm romanbritain.org]
* [http://www.castra.org.uk/ Britannia-The Roman army and navy in Britain 55BC -410AD]


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