Did The Roman Empire Reach The Brochs Of Orkney?

Did The Roman Empire Reach The Brochs Of Orkney?

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Greatly simplified, one of the primary reasons for the decline of the Roman empire was its rapid expansion, and ultimately its vast size became too expensive to manage effectively and it fell to external, as well as internal forces. From its origins in a small Italian city the empire would come to control all of what is today Europe, encompassing the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa, until it burst at its seams.

Map showing t he Roman Empire (red) and its clients (pink) in 117 AD, during the reign of Emperor Trajan. .

Before the empire inflated, the city of Rome had an estimated population of only a few thousand residences and according to The Ancient Encyclopedia, by the sixth century BC the city had between 20,000 and 30,000 inhabitants. At the beginning of the imperial period the city had close to one million residents and by 14 AD there were 4,937,000 inhabitants. The empire was to become one of the largest of the ancient world, and it was still ruled from Rome at its peak, with an estimated 50 to 90 million subjects.

This can be described as a glorified ‘ Wiki’ or “ encyclopedic” account of the Roman empire and unfortunately this captures the shallow picture most people have of what was arguably the largest empire in history. However, this summary, like most, fails to define the north-western boundaries of the Roman empire, which was 'Caledonia' (modern Scotland) and its people known as the ‘Caledonians’. So, the question remains: how far north into Caledonia did the Roman legions actually invade?

Roman cavalryman trampling conquered Picts. Discovered carved on a tablet found at Bo'ness (c.142 AD) National Museum of Scotland. ( Kim Traynor / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Early Greek References To Cape Orcas

An expert for all things Scotland is Iain MacLean, founder of the ‘Caithness Broch Project’, a northern Scottish charity that actively rebuilds Iron Age brochs through experimental community archaeological projects. In a recent research article on his blog, Obscure Antiquity, MacLean explored the connections between Rome and Orkney, the archipelago situated off the north-east coast of Scotland.

19th-century print depicting Calgacus delivering his speech to the Caledonians.

From Thurso, Caithness Iain MacLean can observe Orkney every day across the Pentland Firth and he describes the islands as “ a windswept backwater of the prehistoric world .”

How far did the Roman Empire ever try to extend its reach (but fail)? [closed]

Want to improve this question? Update the question so it focuses on one problem only by editing this post.

What was the farthest the Roman Empire ever ventured? I have seen maps of the farthest extent of the Roman Empire, but I cannot say I have ever seen a map of the farthest known extent to which the Roman Empire ever “explored” or made attempts to expand the Empire (yet failed).

My searching the Internet and looking at Wikipedia have come up empty. I’m trying to find a source that can give evidence (preferably graphically via a map) that the Roman legions went "as far North as present day Sweden," for example. I have read The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes by Raoul McLaughlin. Since trade occurred between Rome, China, and India, what other forays into the world, both military and commercial, did the Roman Empire make? How far beyond the borders represented in maps did the Romans ever venture?

For example, a map shows the Roman Empire boundary at roughly the Rhine in Germania. Surely the Romans crossed the Rhine since we have historical proof of this. But how far into Germania did the Romans ever venture?

Broch, Crannog and Hillfort

The background
When the Romans came to Scotland in AD 80, they knew little or nothing about the Celtic tribes who lived in the region. Faced with invasion, the tribesmen of the lowlands either submitted to Roman occupation or withdrew to what they thought was the safety of their hilltop forts. This proved a costly mistake, as the two largest forts in the area fell to the might of the Roman army and its siege artillery. The tribes who resisted (known by the Romans as the Selgovae and the Novantae) were brought to their knees by the end of the year, and the Roman Governor Agricola consolidated his northern frontier along the line of the Forth and Clyde rivers. The area was completely pacified by the start of AD 82. So much for the defensive protection of the lowland hillforts. Further north a fresh challenge awaited Agricola, as he planned to lead his armies into eastern and north-eastern Scotland, beyond the Firth of Forth. These Celtic tribesmen had used their fortified bases in what is now Stirlingshire to harry the Romans, and Agricola had had enough. In AD 83 he launched his legions in an expedition of conquest, cornering the local ‘Caledonian’ tribesmen in battle at Mons Graupius (84) and inflicting a decisive defeat on his opponents. During the advance his flanks were secured by a series of Roman auxiliary forts designed to prevent Caledonian movement out of the Highlands. His fleet sailed north as far as Orkney, forcing the submission of the coastal communities they encountered.

Although the Roman tide receded due to commitments elsewhere, the threat of punitive attacks against the Caledonian tribes continued, forcing the local Celts to maintain strong defensive positions and to ensure their near-constant readiness for war.

The Roman defensive line along the Forth–Clyde line was abandoned around AD 100, and the frontier was re-established between the River Tyne and the Solway Firth, a position which was defended during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (AD 117�). The Romans returned north for a time during the reign of the Emperor Antonius Pius (AD 138�), and the Antonine Wall was built along the old Forth–Clyde line, before it too was abandoned after the death of the Emperor. From that point on Hadrian’s Wall marked the northernmost frontier of the Roman empire. Although the tribes immediately to the north of the wall were relatively peaceful, those further north were more hostile. At the start of the 3rd century AD the Emperor Septimus Severus (AD 193�) led punitive expeditions against the Caledonians, as did the Emperor Constantius I Chlorus (AD 305�) a century later. It was during this last expedition that we first hear of the Caledonians being referred to as the ‘Picts’, or painted people. Historians generally take this date as the mark that divides the era of the Picts from that of their Caledonian forebears, and provides a convenient finishing point for our study.

In early Celtic Scotland, there were three main types of fortifications in use during this period: the brochs, the duns and the hillforts.

Towers in the north: the brochs
The Broch of Gurness stands on the shore of a stunningly beautiful bay and sound in Orkney. It was built at some point between 500 and 200 BC, and the broch itself formed part of a defensive site that included a village and a series of encircling ramparts and ditches. The brochs of Iron Age Scotland were a virtually unique solution to the defensive requirements of their builders. Spectacular even in ruin, these structures often combined the functions of a defensive retreat with that of a communal focal point. They protected the local people from petty bandits, raiding war parties and on occasion, from full-scale invasions. As such they often formed the nucleus of small communities, or were located close to existing settlements. This means that any true study of them as fortifications needs to be combined with a look at the communities they served, and the people who built them. From there we can look at the fortifications which succeeded them, and which provided defensive strongpoints for the Picts, who inherited the land from the Iron Age broch-builders.

A broch was an imposing circular fortification built using drystone walling. This meant that no mortar was used, but the irregularly shaped stones were chosen so that they fitted roughly together. They were tall, grim, windowless structures, containing a passage within the walls which eventually led to an upper rampart. The only entrance was a small, easily-defensible doorway at ground level. Two walls were separated by passageways, stairs and galleries, which eventually led up through the walls to the circular upper parapet, where the defenders could rain missiles down on the heads of their attackers. While the Broch of Gurness is considered an early example of the genre, the Broch of Mousa in Shetland is probably the most intact example of a later (and more classical) broch structure. Precursors of the earliest brochs were probably the strong circular houses whose ruins are located in the same geographical area as the brochs.

Almost all brochs are located in the north and west of Scotland in Caithness, Orkney, Shetland and Skye, while a few others were built further south. The majority of them are concentrated in Orkney, Shetland and Caithness. Dating evidence suggests that most were built between the start of the 1st century BC, and the late 1st century AD, although this has been questioned due to the equivocal dating material so far discovered. Further evidence suggests that ‘proto-brochs’ or precursors to the classical broch structure could have been built as early as the 6th century BC, while we know that some remained in use until at least the early 3rd century AD, if not later. Although we know a lot about the structures themselves, and we can analyse their defensive qualities, we know very little about who exactly built them, and why. Obviously numerous theories have been proposed, and it was only recently that archaeologists reached a general consensus on what may have happened.

Clearly, they were designed for defence. The Broch of Mousa alone stands to a height of some 13 metres (40 feet), and would have been a proof against all but the most determined assault, unless the attacker had Roman-style siege artillery. The low narrow entranceway made it difficult to batter down the door, and the walls of Mousa were too high for ladders. The hollow interior was probably roofed over, and was large enough to house livestock, provisions and people until the threat had passed. We know little about who the threatening attackers might be, but Celtic, Roman or German raiding parties might have come to these areas in search of slaves. Although not impregnable, smaller brochs would have guaranteed that an attack against them would have been costly, and thus they acted as a form of deterrent against any potential aggressor.

Until comparatively recently, brochs were sometimes referred to as ‘Pictish towers’, or even associated with the Norsemen (vikings). While these links have been disproved, the terms indicate a general lack of understanding of the brochs and the broch builders. We know a certain amount about the late prehistoric people who lived in what is now Scotland from their archaeological legacy. They were not Scots, as that political entity post-dated the broch builders by a millennium, but we have no alternative name to identify them by, as no written records survive from this culture and period. The term ‘Celtic’ has been widely used to describe all the iron age people of this period who inhabited most of Europe, including Scotland, but some archaeologists baulk at using such a widely applied appellation. As for the term ‘Pictish’, their time came later, and the Picts have usually been identified with the inhabitants of north-east and east central Scotland from the early 4th century, when the name first appeared in Roman written records. The broch builders had been long gone by then, and while the Picts may well have been the descendants of these broch builders, archaeological information is unable to prove a clear descent from one group to the other. Various theories have been proposed, including ones where the Picts reached Scotland from overseas, and similarly that the broch people were somehow different from the pre-Celtic people who inhabited the rest of Scotland.

It is probably true that the pre-Celtic people of Scotland intermingled with later waves of Celtic migrants, but there is no direct Celtic broch building tradition. It has been suggested that while the rest of Scotland was overrun by the Celts, the broch builders retained their independence, and fortified their settlements. Whoever built them, their appearance coincided with the arrival of the Celts, and their disuse began following the arrival of the Romans in Scotland. Some archaeologists have given the broch builders the clumsy appellation of proto-Picts, but this does the earlier people a disservice. The broch builders displayed certain qualities which were absent elsewhere in the Pictish homeland (which included Orkney and Shetland), so although there are many theories, there are few answers to the mystery of who these enigmatic people were. It is possible that by the time the Pictish era, the local population had effectively become as Celtic as the rest of Scotland. Certainly we know that most brochs were abandoned at some point during the 3rd century AD, which is close enough to the appearance of the Picts as a distinctive people to suggest some link between the two dates.

Blockhouses in the west: the duns
The term ‘dun’ is used to identify a particular type of small fort which was built extensively all across south-western and western Scotland, with the greatest concentration found in Argyll. These circular or oval dry-stone structures were similar to brochs, but were much smaller. While some were built on flat ground, most were constructed on rocky outcrops or natural defensive positions to enhance their defensive properties. Their walls were usually built using two thick dry-stone walls, with a solid core of rubble used as infill between them. Some used timber to lace the structures together (as was the case with the first hillforts), but most had a smooth outer face, devoid of timber reinforcements. In some examples the wall was reinforced at the base to allow the construction of higher or heavier structures. Like the brochs, the entrance was small and protected by chambers to discourage battering attempts. A particularly impressive example (the Dun of Leccamore, on Luig) even boasts an internal stairway, and other design features suggest some form of correlation between the broch builders and the defensive properties of these smaller dun structures.

While some earlier timber-laced duns have been dated to the 6th or 5th century BC, the majority appear to have been built during the period after the Romans came to Scotland, during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Some show evidence of occupation, abandonment and re-occupation, suggesting they were used when the situation warranted it, and in more peaceful times they may have been abandoned for more spacious and convenient settlements nearby. They also show signs of a far longer occupation than the brochs to the north or the hillforts to the south and east. Dun Cuier on Barra was occupied until around AD 500, while Kildalloig in Argyll appears to have remained in use as late as the 8th century. Unlike the brochs or hillforts, most duns appear to have been little more than fortified homesteads or farms, but they remained a feature of the Scottish landscape for over a thousand years, and outlived both other forms of early Celtic fortification.

Strongholds in the south: the hillforts
Nobody knows how or exactly when the Celts reached Scotland. Towards the end of the Bronze Age (around 700 BC), these newcomers began to arrive, bringing the new technology of the Iron Age with them. These Celts also introduced a new feature to the Scottish landscape. Over the next eight centuries, hillforts would appear in various sizes, from small fortified farms to full-scale fortified hilltop townships. They provided refuge for the local Celtic communities who faced attacks and raids from their neighbours. While well-designed to protect the Celtic tribespeople from their own kind, they proved less effective against the Romans.

Although the early Bronze Age defensive ring at Meldon Bridge in Lothian is probably the earliest fortified site in Scotland, the first hilltop fortifications appeared around 600 BC or slightly earlier. These took the form of timber-laced fortified circles. In some cases the ramparts were fire damaged during their period of use, which allowed the sites to be carbon dated. While the dating range is wide most appear to have been actively built or expanded during the 6th century BC or later. These timber-laced structures continued to be built in Scotland until the coming of the Romans in the late 1st century AD, although the style of the fortifications became more elaborate with time. Timber-lacing was a technique used to stabilise both earthen ramparts, stone walls or rubble infill by laying horizontal wooden beams across the structure, binding it together. In other words, the timber provided a massive framework which was filled with stones and rubble, then faced with solid stone. A wooden walkway and palisade were then built on top of this defensive perimeter. Thick wooden gates protected the entrances to these hilltop enclosures.

Surviving examples such as the stone and earthen wall of the fortification at Abernethy in Perthshire (occupied during the 1st century BC) show the surviving slots in the walls where these beams were placed, and had rotted away. In cases where the forts were destroyed by fire (probably during an assault), fire damage caused by the burning timber has left its mark on the surviving stonework, which has sometimes been fused together. In rare instances, the remains of timber-lacing survives, such as at Kaimes Hill in Midlothian. Timber-laced forts were built throughout central and eastern Scotland and around the Moray Firth to the north, and this distribution matches that of early Celtic finds such as axe heads dating from the 7th century BC and later. This proves that the early Celtic people who occupied central and eastern Scotland relied on these types of fortifications for their protection.

The nature of these hillforts changed over time. In some cases, the original timber-laced structures were replaced or rebuilt in later periods. At Kaimes Hill a series of stone-faced ramparts replaced these earlier defences, and a series of ditches were dug around the perimeter to strengthen the position. One additional refinement was the setting of a ring of pointed stones around the outside of the wall, creating a disruptive obstacle which would hinder any attackers. The trouble with timber-lacing was that the timbers were difficult to replace once they rotted, or they could be destroyed by fire with relative ease. Archaeological evidence suggests that while timber-lacing continued to be used in Scotland during the early Celtic period, the weakness of the design was apparent to the builders. Consequently when the local Celtic tribes of lowland Scotland were faced with the prospect of Roman invasion in the late 1st century AD, many forts were strengthened and improved by the addition of all-stone walls and the digging of ditches outside the walls. In addition to their walls or earthen ramparts, most of these defensive positions were topped by wooden palisades.

These forts were almost exclusively built on hilltops to impove their defensive capabilities, and in many cases the walls enclosed some form of interior settlement. Of some 1,500 fortified sites in Scotland, the majority of these forts were located in lowland Scotland, below the Forth–Clyde line. This surprisingly high figure includes small fortified farmsteads and isolated stone structures from the same early Celtic period. As some of these were built over 700 years before the Romans appeared, it comes as no surprise that many had been abandoned for centuries by the 1st century AD, although a handful remained in continuous use throughout their history. Unlike the sprawling hillforts such as Maiden Castle in England, these Scottish fortifications were small, and probably only served small local communities. The two exceptions were Traprain Law and Eildon Hill, both of which were substantial defensive positions, and the latter containing over 300 roundhouses. This meant that in times of danger, an entire tribe could seek refuge within its walls. One of the problems with Scottish hillforts is the lack of available information about their history. We rarely know how long they were occupied or when, and what function they served apart from a defensive one. It does seem that at least at certain periods, the hillforts which enclosed settlements tended to be under continuous occupation when the Romans appeared.

Another variant of the hillfort was the promontory fort, which was found at various points along the east coast of Scotland, such as St. Abb’s Head, Dunnotar and Urquhart (the last was actually on the shores of Loch Ness, not the North Sea). All but the last were most probably established as fortified sites well before 300 AD, but all three were developed into major fortifications during the Pictish period, and the last two were actual Pictish fortifications. Similarly, the promontory at Burghead on the Moray Firth was developed as a Pictish stronghold. In all three sites, elements of the old hilltop fort designs were used, as the headland was cut off from the mainland by a series of defensive walls and ditches. Again, the Burghead fortification may have predated the start of the historic Pictish period, but the lack of hard dating evidence makes it impossible to say so with any certainty. Certainly the system of three lines of earth and rubble defences and intervening ditches is similar to that found in hilltop forts from 300 BC on, and we know the Picts added an inner citadel to the fortified point at Burghead. The spot was also a good anchorage, and it has been suggested that Burghead was used as a Pictish base from which maritime raids were launched down the coast into Roman Britain. Certainly there seems to be a legacy of construction methods which linked the known Pictish fortifications (Inverness, Dunadd, Dundurn, Dunottar, Dunkeld, Clunie, Scone, Inveralmond and Forteviot) to the earlier hilltop forts in the same area (Tayside, Moray and Grampian).


To sum up, although the Iron Age landscape of Scotland is littered with fortifications, these can be divided into three groups. The brochs of the northern and western isles are virtually unique, and their design displays a high level of architectural and military appreciation. To the south-west the duns were smaller counterparts, and less likely to be situated in coastal locations. These remained in use until well after the arrival of the Scots from Ireland, and outlasted all but a handful of coastal fortifications which were probably used by both the Celts and their Pictish descendants in eastern Scotland. As for the rash of hillforts in southern Scotland, the majority fell from use following the Roman invasion of the late 1st century AD. Despite this, their methods of construction were adapted for use by the Picts as well as the Scottish peoples who inhabited the southern lowlands when the Romans withdrew. Scotland is unique in that so many of its monuments are still extant, and have been saved from centuries of development. Although the region produced methods of early Celtic fortification that were unique, any study of these defensive sites helps us understand both the people who built them, and their Pictish or Scottish descendants.

Further Reading

Armit, Ian, Celtic Scotland, Historic Scotland Publication – Batsford Press, London, 1997
Breeze, David J., Roman Scotland, Historic Scotland Publication – Batsford Press, 1996
Ritchie, Anna, and Breeze, David, Invaders of Scotland, Historic Scotland Publication – HMSO, 1990
Ritchie, Graham and Anna, Scotland: Archaeology and Early History, Edinburgh University Press, 1991
Ritchie. J. N. G., Brochs of Scotland, Shire Publications, 1988
Sutherland, Elizabeth, In Search of the Picts, Constable and Co., 1994
Wagner, Paul, Warrior 50: PictishWarrior AD 297�, Osprey, 2002


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 Caledonians 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 Common Brittonic. 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. [3] These peoples may have spoken a form of Brittonic 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. Radiocarbon dating for this period is problematic and chronological sequences are poorly understood. [4] 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. [5]

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 around the 2nd century 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. [6] There are at least 100 broch sites in Scotland. [7] Despite extensive research, their purpose and the nature of the societies that created them are still a matter of debate. [8]

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 a 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. [9]

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. 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. [10]

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. The lack of Roman artefacts (common in local souterrain sites) suggests that many sites were abandoned before the arrival of the legions. [11]

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. [12] [13] [14]

Ptolemy's Geography identifies 19 "towns" from intelligence gathered during the Agricolan campaigns of the 1st century. 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 Alauna ("the rock") in the west is probably Dumbarton Rock and the place of the same name in the east Lowlands may be the site of Edinburgh Castle. Lindon may be Balloch on Loch Lomond side. [15] [ unreliable source? ]

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 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. [16] 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 north that was largely free of Roman hegemony. [17]

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

The work On the Cosmos by Aristotle or Pseudo-Aristotle mentions two "very large" islands called Albion (Great Britain) and Ierne (Ireland). [19] [20] 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 his work On the Ocean, he refers to the most northerly point as Orcas (Orkney). [3]

Originals of On the Ocean do not survive, but copies are known to have existed in the 1st century so at the least a rudimentary knowledge of the geography of north Britain would have been available to Roman military intelligence. [21] [ unreliable source? ] [22] Pomponius Mela, the Roman geographer, recorded in his De Chorographia, written around AD 43, that there were 30 Orkney islands and seven Haemodae (possibly Shetland). [23] There is certainly evidence of an Orcadian connection with Rome prior to AD 60 from pottery found at the Broch of Gurness. [24] [ unreliable source? ] By the time of Pliny the Elder (d. 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 Caledonians. [23] 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. [25] [ unreliable source? ]

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. His information becomes much less reliable in the north and west, suggesting early Roman knowledge of these area was confined to observations from the sea. [23] [26] [ unreliable source? ] Famously, his coördinates place most of Scotland north of Hadrian's Wall bent at a right angle, stretching due eastward from the rest of Britain.

Ptolemy's catalogue of tribes living north of the Forth-Clyde isthmus include the Caereni, Smertae, Carnonacae, Decantae, Lugi, and Creones all to the north of the Great Glen, the Cornovii in Caithness, the Taexali in the north-east, the Epidii in Argyll, the Venicones in Fife, the Vacomagi centred near Strathmore, the Caledonians in the central Highlands. [3]

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. [27] [ unreliable source? ] [28] 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. [29] [ unreliable source? ] 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. [30] [ unreliable source? ]

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 Legio XX Valeria Victrix took a western route through Annandale in an attempt to encircle and isolate the Selgovae who occupied the central Southern Uplands. [31] [ unreliable source? ] [32] [ unreliable source? ] 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 Caledonians to the north. [33] [ unreliable source? ]

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. [34]

In 2019, GUARD Archaeology team led by Iraia Arabaolaza uncovered a marching camp dating to the 1st century AD, used by Roman legions during the invasion of Roman General Agricola. According to Arabaolaza, the fire pits were split 30 meters apart into two parallel lines. The findings also included clay-domed ovens and 26 fire pits dated to between 77- 86 AD and 90 AD loaded with burn and charcoal contents. Archaeologists suggested that this site had been chosen as a strategic location for the Roman conquest of Ayrshire. [35] [36] [37]

Battle of Mons Graupius Edit

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. [38] [39]

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, [40] 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. [41] Other suggestions include the hill of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire, the Gask Ridge not far from Perth [42] and Sutherland. [43] 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. [44]

Calgacus Edit

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 as "the most distinguished for birth and valour among the chieftains". [45] 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. [45]

Aftermath Edit

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. [46] However, the Roman historian Cassius Dio reports that this circumnavigation resulted in Titus receiving his 15th acclamation as emperor in AD 79. This is five years before Mons Graupius is believed by most historians to have taken place. [47]

Marching camps may have been constructed along the southern shores of the Moray Firth, although their existence is questioned. [43] [48] [49] [ unreliable source? ]

Flavian occupation Edit

The total size of the Roman garrison in Scotland during the Flavian period of occupation is thought to have been some 25,000 troops, requiring 16–19,000 tons of grain per annum. [50] In addition, the material to construct the forts was substantial, estimated at 1 million cubic feet (28,315 m 3 ) 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. [51] [52] [ unreliable source? ] [53]

Soon after his announcement of victory, Agricola was recalled to Rome by Domitian and his post passed to an unknown successor, possibly Sallustius Lucullus. Agricola's successors were seemingly unable or unwilling to further subdue the far north. This inability to continue to hold the far north may be in part due to the limited military resources available to the Roman Proconsul after the recall of the Legio II Adiutrix from Britain, to support Domitian's war in Dacia. 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. [44] 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. [54] 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. [55] [ unreliable source? ]

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 northeast, such as Hill O'Christ's Kirk in Aberdeenshire. [56] [ unreliable source? ]

Hadrian's Wall Edit

The construction of 118 kilometres (73 mi) long Hadrian's Wall in the early 120s on the orders of the Emperor Hadrian consolidated the Roman line of defence (called limes) on the Tyne-Solway line, where it remained until c. AD 139. [57] [58]

It was a stone and turf fortification built across the width of what is now northern England and was roughly 4 metres (13 ft) or more high along its length. [59] The vallum Aelii, as the Romans called it, may have taken six years to construct. Small guard posts called milecastles were built at mile intervals with an additional two fortified observation points between them. The wall was wide enough to allow for a walkway along the top. [60]

The purpose of the wall appears to have been in part at least to control contact between the subject Brigantes to its south and the client Selgovae to the north. [61]

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 [62] and a native of Numidia (modern Algeria). Prior to coming to Britain he served during the Jewish Rebellion (132–35), 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 the 2nd Augustan Legion. 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. [63]

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.

It was possibly after the defences of the Antonine Wall 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. [64] [65] 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. [66] [67]

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. [16]

In 1984, a candidate for a Roman fort was identified by aerial photography at Easter Galcantray, south west of Cawdor. [68] The site was excavated between 1984 and 1988 and several features were identified which are supportive of this classification. If confirmed, it would be one of the most northerly known Roman forts in the British Isles. [69]

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 confirmed. [70] [71] 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." [72]

Antonine Wall Edit

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).

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. [75] 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. [76] 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. [77]

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. [78]

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. [41] 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. [79] 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. [80]

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. [79] [81] From the time of Caracalla onwards, no further attempts were made to permanently occupy territory in Scotland. [79]

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, wife of Septimius Severus, criticised the sexual morals of the Caledonian women, the wife (whose name is unknown) of the Caledonian chief Argentocoxos allegedly replied: "We fulfil 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." [82]

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. [83] The name itself is a Roman one, as used by Tacitus, Ptolemy, Pliny the Elder and Lucan, [84] [ unreliable source? ] but the name by which the Caledonians referred to themselves is unknown. It is likely that 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. [85]

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 Caledonians though the evidence for this connection is circumstantial and the name by which the Picts called themselves is unknown. [86] [87] [ unreliable source? ] 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. [88] The Gaels of Dalriada called the Picts Cruithne, [89] [90] and Irish poets portrayed their Pictish counterparts as very much like themselves. [91]

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. [92] Although constructed in earlier times, brochs, roundhouses and crannogs remained in use into and beyond the Pictish period. [93] [94] [95] [96]

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. [97]

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 Lochmaben Stone near modern 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. [98] [ unreliable source? ]

The Pictish relationship with Rome appears to have been less overtly hostile than their Caledonian 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. [99] [ unreliable source? ] 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. [85]

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 with the Attacotti in the Great Conspiracy of 367. Rome fought back, mounting a campaign under Count Theodosius in 369 which reëstablished a province which was renamed Valentia in honour of the emperor. Its location is unclear, but it is sometimes placed on or beyond Hadrian's Wall. Another campaign was mounted in 384, but both were short-lived successes. [100] [ unreliable source? ] Stilicho, the magister militum, may have fought a war against the Picts in Britain in around 398. Rome had fully withdrawn from Britain by 410, never to return. [100]

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 [101] 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, [102] [103] but either way Roman influence on early Christianity in Scotland does not seem to have been significant.

Historical Edit

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. It's now generally considered that at no time was even half of Scotland's land mass under Roman control. [79]

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.

Although little more than a series of relatively brief interludes of military occupation, [104] Imperial Rome was ruthless and brutal in pursuit of its ends. [105] [ unreliable source? ] 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. [1]

All the more surprising given that the Vindolanda tablets [106] show that the Roman nickname for the north British locals was Brittunculi meaning "nasty little Britons". [1] [ unreliable source? ]

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." [107]

The Romans' part in the clearances of the once extensive Caledonian forest remains a matter of debate. [108] 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". [109] Later historians such as Patrick Fraser Tytler and William Forbes 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. [110] 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 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. [111] The situation outside 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. [112] [113] [ unreliable source? ] Overall, it is hard to detect any direct connections between native architecture and settlement patterns and Roman influence. [114] 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 Cumbric speaking Brythonic kingdoms of Yr Hen Ogledd (English: "The Old North") flourished during the 5th–7th centuries, later supplanted by Anglo-Saxon settlement and the formation of Northumbria in the land between the Humber and the River Forth.

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. [115]

In fiction Edit

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 Eboracum. Although some authors have claimed that the 9th Legion disappeared in 117, [116] there are extant records for it later than that year, and it was probably annihilated in the east of the Roman Empire. [117] 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.

Did The Roman Empire Reach The Brochs Of Orkney?

Greatly simplified, one of the primary reasons for the decline of the Roman empire was its rapid expansion, and ultimately its vast size became too expensive to manage effectively and it fell to external, as well as internal forces. From its origins in a small Italian city the empire would come to control all of what is today Europe, encompassing the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa, until it burst at its seams.

Map showing the Roman Empire (red) and its clients (pink) in 117 AD, during the reign of Emperor Trajan. (Public Domain).

Before the empire inflated, the city of Rome had an estimated population of only a few thousand residences and according to The Ancient Encyclopedia, by the sixth century BC the city had between 20,000 and 30,000 inhabitants. At the beginning of the imperial period the city had close to one million residents and by 14 AD there were 4,937,000 inhabitants. The empire was to become one of the largest of the ancient world, and it was still ruled from Rome at its peak, with an estimated 50 to 90 million subjects.

Month: April 2020

Assyria may have been the rod of God’s anger. I say this lightly, for the Bible explains that only God knows the heart of humanity as mentioned in Psalms. 17:3 44:21 139:1-4. The book is not about spirituality, rather an investigative history, concerning the deportation of the ten northern tribes of Israel. However, it would be wrong not to look into the spiritual issues concerning the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

The beginning of Israel’s troubles starts in the mid 8th century BCE when the Assyrian armies poured down from the north into Israel. From here, we will look into the political and spiritual issues that are associated with Assyria and Israel, as well as the social aspect concerning the deportation of the Ten Tribes of Israel. From there will shift focus on Assyria’s policy towards captives, look into the place of exile.

Understand that there are many facts in this book and just as many speculations. Not everything in this book is concrete. Remember, we are dealing with a history that at times appears to be silent. Therefore, I will do my best in providing information available in areas that appear to be dim on the matter.

Did The Roman Empire Reach The Brochs Of Orkney? - History

Highland Brochs

Brochs are among Scotland's most impressive prehistoric buildings, the large majority of them dating from around 100 BC to 100 AD, the time of the Roman invasion of Britain. There are over 500 known sites of these iron age structures in Scotland, but it is only in the Highlands and Islands that brochs are to be found in any numbers. Huge windowless towers, ingeniously engineered, they represent the pinnacle of dry-stone wall building, and remain one of the finest construction achievements of Iron Age Europe. Brochs were almost certainly originally roofed and would have had several timber floors known as galleries.

Although brochs have been around since the bronze age, most surviving Highland brochs were built between 100 BC and 100 AD, a period of just 200 years that coincided with the arrival of the Romans, who first landed in England in 55 BC. By 47 AD, the Romans had conquered the whole of the south of England and declared Britain part of the Roman Empire. It was during this time that the Picts were hurriedly constructing brochs all over the Highlands, so there can be no doubt that they were built with military defensive purpose.

The densest concentrations of brochs are in Sutherland, Caithness, the Orkney islands, and the Shetland islands, with a great number in the Hebrides, from the west coast of Lewis to Skye. There are also a few scattered around the borders, in Dumfries and Galloway, and near Stirling.

Most likely, brochs combined a number of possible uses, such as defensive fortifications and farm buildings, and served differing purposes in different ages. However, that most brochs on the Scottish mainland sprang up during a very short period of time coinciding with the Roman invasion of Britain is surely not chance. When you consider that the best weapons at the time were swords, bows, and spears, they were more than adequate as defensive forts. Were they successful? Some may claim they had poor defensive qualities, but remember, Scotland was never conquered by the Romans despite four military campaigns.

By 79 AD, the whole of England had been conquered and Agricola attempted to conquer Scotland. After a number of failed military campaigns, which included the annihilation of the 9th Legion around 117 AD, the Romans retreated south and built Hadrian's wall for their own protection.

In 208 AD, the Romans marched again to conquer Scotland. In 212 AD, they again left defeated. In 367 AD, the Picts with the help of the Irish invaded England and together they pushed the Romans back from their last defensive positions at Hadrian's wall. Not long after that, the Romans left Britain. It is plausible that the defeats suffered by the Romans at the hands of the Picts were instrumental in laying the groundwork for the collapse of the Roman empire.

As practically all Highland brochs were built during the time of the Roman invasion of Britain, surely they must have been built with military purpose. The failed Roman military campaigns must be directly attributable to the defensive qualities of brochs against swords, bows, and spears. Roman legions, after all, would hardly have been hauling siege engines up remote Scottish glens.

The battle of Mons Graupius in 83 AD is in all probability a Roman myth, fabricated to placate the Senate in Rome, who would have found it difficult to believe their legions could not take Scotland. If the Romans had indeed conquered the Scots and routed them at Mons Graupius, why then did they not take the country, but instead retreated south not many years later and cowered behind their wall? And what of the 9th Legion, which simply disappeared while on operations in Scotland? That a 9th Legion officer later showed up in another part of the world isn't proof the 9th wasn't destroyed, it is merely proof that one of their officers ran away and escaped.

According to Tacitus, the Roman Historian, the battle of Mons Graupius was a decisive Roman victory in which the Caledonii army was destroyed and scattered. According to Tacitus, over 10,000 Caledonii were killed in battle for the loss of only 360 Romans. That's what Tacitus claims. Let's look at the facts. While Agricola was advancing north into Scotland he consolidated his gains with massive fortresses. After the battle of Mons Graupius, Agricola built no fortresses but instead retreated to his established forts further south. That same year, Agricola was recalled to Rome and was later murdered by the Emperor. Two to six years later, the Romans retreated even further south to their fortresses along the Clyde/ Forth isthmus. Not long after that the Romans were pushed out of Scotland and built Hadrian's wall for their own protection. The facts speak for themselves. Warren MacLeod has written a brilliant analysis of The Agricola by Tacitus, and has some compelling evidence pointing to Forres as the site of the battle of Mons Graupius. You can download his analysis of the Agricola in pdf format here (35Mb).

Calach (Calgacus), the Pictish leader who united the tribes of Scotland, is said to have described 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 desolation and call it peace.

Unfortunately, as so little is known about brochs and the Picts, much of what is known today is merely guesswork and conjecture. However, we can dispel a few of the myths surrounding brochs by simply narrowing our field of view to the period 100 BC to 100 AD and the Roman invasion of Britain.

One such myth is that they were built purely as prestigious homes for a Pictish aristocracy. Ask yourself a question - do people build elaborate and expensive private houses during a savage time of war? No, they don't. The Picts were fighting for their lives and their future was uncertain, so they would hardly have been building brochs as homes for one or two wealthy individuals. Had brochs been built purely as status symbols surely there would have been a steady stream of them being built over many hundreds of years, but this just isn't the case as most of them sprang up over a 200 year period that coincides with the arrival of the Romans. Additionally, private dwellings tend to be built to personal preference, each one unique and individual. They are certainly not all built to one basic standard blueprint, as nearly all brochs are. As many brochs were also built as extensions onto existing stone round houses, which would indeed have been prestigious private dwellings, there can be absolutely no doubt as to the military defensive intent behind their construction.

Were they effective military defences? Some say they had poor military defence capabilities. This might be true against cruise missiles, but against swords, spears, and arrows I'm sure they were more than adequate as defensive forts. Oh, but you could just set fire to them and smoke everyone out, couldn't you? Set fire to what? 10 ft thick double skinned stone walls? Have you ever tried to set fire to 10ft thick stone walls? That's absurd. As to smoking out the Picts, didn't the Romans set fire to Caledonia and burn down all her trees to do just that? It didn't work, did it?

Another theory as to their use was as places of worship, and that the entrances were low to force people to bow as they were entering. I have difficulty with this. Would the Picts have been preoccupied with suddenly building hundreds and hundreds of broch towers all over the highlands so folks could go to church just as the Romans were invading? If indeed they were simply places of worship, would their walls have required 10ft thick double skinned stone and would they have required two or more brochs in some locations?

I read once that someone thought most brochs were low level round houses owing to the fact that there was so little stone lying around, that if such a huge tower collapsed there would be more stone. For a start, most brochs did not collapse and would still be standing in their entirety to this day had their stone not been robbed to build stone dykes, farm buildings, and even modern roads. It is only in the last couple of hundred years that many brochs have been reduced to rubble for their stone.

A remarkable fact regarding brochs is that most of them are in direct line of sight of other brochs. The only possible reason for deliberately building brochs with direct lines of sight has to be communications. You can track the brochs up the Strath of Kildonan for example, from Kilphedir to the Suisgill broch, with Eldrable, Gailiable, Balvalaich, Kilearnan Hill, Kilearnan, Learable, Ach An Fionnfhuraidh, and Carn Nam Buth. The only possible broken link in this chain appears to be around Kildonan, where there could have been a tower at some time linking Learable with Kilearnan, which although are in line of sight are separated by great distance. Also bear in mind that Caledonia was a huge natural forest at that time before the Romans burned it all down, so the tops of brochs would have had to poke above the forest canopy.

If this theory is correct, this chain would have without doubt continued down the Strath to Helmsdale and linked up with a chain of brochs heading north and south along the coast. The brochs at Brora would have linked up with the brochs at Loch Brora, while the brochs at Golspie would have linked with brochs in Dunrobin Glen. There would also have been a chain of brochs heading inland up Strath Fleet, linking the Rogart brochs with the Lairg brochs. As a case in point, the Skelbo Wood broch is sited so as to be in view of both the Dun Robin and East Kinnauld brochs, which would have linked along the coast via Carn Liath and others to Brora and Helmsdale. Cairns and Duns would also have played their part. For example, the Loch Brora broch (Killin), although in view of the brochs on the south shores of Loch Brora, isn't in direct line of sight with Caistel na Coille on the banks of the Black Water or Coich Burn further up Strath Brora. However, there is a chambered cairn near the summit of Balnacoil Hill which is in direct line of sight of all three brochs, making it an integral link in the communications chain. If there are broken links in any broch chains today, this should make finding missing broch, cairn or dun sites a little easier.

Communications of this kind can only point to military strategy. How were communications passed along? Well, the only warnings needed were that of Roman landings, so any prearranged signal would have sufficed. Banners raised on poles from the tops of brochs would have further extended the range of such communications. Good intelligence would have been invaluable in passing word around that Romans had landed so the Picts could organise themselves quickly. I would suggest that perhaps even the entire Highlands of Scotland was interconnected through an elaborate network of brochs, cairns and duns. If brochs were isolated and cut off, without lines of communications to other Pictish settlements, the Romans could have picked them off one by one quite easily. If lines of communications were open and all brochs were interconnected through line of sight, there is no way the Romans could have taken Scotland quietly. If my theory is correct, then within an hour of landing, word could have passed throughout the entire Highlands and the Picts could have mobilized and marched as a united army while those near any Roman landings would have taken refuge in their brochs until help arrived.

As all brochs share basically the same architectural design, were built to specific blueprints and exacting standards, and most of them sprang up over a 200 year period it is most likely that they were built by national construction teams that went around the Highlands fortifying Scotland. There is organisation and feverish industry at a national level here, with architectural and military genius working together.

There is little doubt that the Picts pulled together as a country to defend themselves from the Romans, suggesting effective and efficient national networks of communications, while teams of architects, stonemasons, and labourers built the brochs with military defensive purpose. The Picts were not savages, they were intelligent, they were organised, they were industrious, they were warriors, and they defeated Rome.

Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it resembling the set-up at Mine Howe. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.

The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres 11.8 ft high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres 13.5 ft thick.

The roof probably was conical or mildly hyperbolic.

The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.

The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the brochs use.

The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlements initial conception. A "main street" connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.

Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a "King of Orkney" submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.

At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.

In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.

Black Lives Mattered: Ancient Rome, Africa, Scotland, and Orkney.

The Cairns Excavation Site Director & University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute Lecturer Martin Carruthers talks about the multi cultural experience of Iron Age society in Orkney as the exploitative Roman Empire appeared in Britain.

In the Mid-First Century AD, historical circumstances conspired to bring together, for the first time, peoples and creatures from continental Africa, Asia, and Europe with Islanders from the Atlantic Islands of Northern Scotland at a single event.

Assembled by the cosmopolitan, but highly exploitative, Roman empire, the meeting of this diverse bunch signals the beginning of the British experience of Africa, and, intriguingly, caught up at the centre of it were Iron Age people from Orkney.

It is late Summer AD43 and the world superpower Rome has invaded Iron Age Britain. After several weeks of hard campaigning by four legions, and thousands of ‘auxiliary’ troops drawn from far corners of the empire, the resistance of the Southern tribes has been worn down, its leadership subdued.

Now the Emperor himself, Claudius, steps ashore on British soil. As he triumphally enters Camulodunum (Colchester) the biggest and most important population centre in southern Britain, he does so with a theatrical flourish designed to intimidate and entirely overawe local Iron Age peoples. He enters the major settlement with creatures from the African continent – he has elephants in tow.

Along with the fabulous beasts, there are African and Asian men present amongst the Roman troops. Indeed, it is a hallmark of the Roman state that it heeds no ethnic and racial boundaries when it comes to those who may be considered useful to the Imperial project. This highly manipulative form of multi-culturalism led to Iron Age Scots appearing in amphitheatres in Morocco and African Emperors leading armies of conquest in Scotland! In this blog we can look at a few details of these ancient African, Caledonian, and Roman lives and why they matter.

Today, one can only imagine what sort of impression the strange and exotic sights of Claudius’ army and his elephants made upon the locals of Iron Age Colchester! But amongst the local Britons watching, there were also some far-travelled visitors. A surprise deputation was present and shortly thereafter met with the emperor himself. These were Orcadians, inhabitants of the far Northern Isles. Orkney at this time was only very dimly known to Rome and seems to have been a by-word in poetry, and prose for the ends of the earth! The Orcadians, described by Eutropius, were led by no less than a Regulus, a King of Orkney, and they were on a diplomatic mission.

That mission and the journey that facilitated it must have been undertaken with a remarkable acuity and forward planning, to synchronise with the mere 16 days spent in Britain by the Emperor! We know little of the detail of the discussions between the Emperor and the Orcadians, but for generations afterwards, Roman authors and monumental inscriptions referred to the submission of eleven British kings to Rome, including that of Orkney. Certainly, it seems treaties were initiated, which, apparently, set up Orkney, for a time, as an unlikely client kingdom to the Empire. In the Roman era, such a status often conferred massive privilege and advantage for some within the client state, but it was also an delicately balanced relationship on a knife edge. Eventually, such client treaties could be summarily revoked by Rome on a whim and clients could be suddenly subsumed as direct possessions of the Emperor, as happened to other British Iron Age client kingdoms.

From the outset of the Roman period in Britain, Africans and Asians were present amongst the soldiery, the merchants, and the administrators of the new power in the land. It may have been in the later 1st century AD that the first ‘persons of colour’ appeared in Orkney itself, and this would have been with the Roman navy and elements of the army who circumnavigated Orkney in AD 83 after the battle of Mons Graupius, which had just taken place on the Scottish Mainland. Their aim, we are told by the Roman historian Tacitus, was to renew the now-lapsed treaties between the leadership in Orkney and the Empire, which had been made with Claudius two generations before. The real purpose of the naval crossing to Orkney was probably to cow the powerful Northern Isles Iron Age powerbase, who had probably contributed to the resistance to Rome on the Scottish Mainland, and to achieve a renowned propaganda coup back home in Rome.

Orkney, in those days, was exotic and remarkable for its remoteness amongst Roman writers! The fleet’s Orcadian journey has left no known archaeological traces. We know, however, that The Cairns broch (the subject of ongoing excavations by UHI Archaeology Institute) was the centre of a thriving Iron Age community at that very time. Whichever route the fleet took across the Pentland Firth, whether through Scapa Flow or along the North Sea east coast of Orkney, the elevated position of The Cairns overlooking the Pentland Firth, means the community must have seen the fleet coming. What must the ordinary folk of the community have thought of this strange and sinister swarm of sails.

The Romans didn’t stay long in Orkney, just long enough to ‘renew the treaties’, but it was the first direct appearance of the diverse but exploitative world power on the actual shores of Orkney. One of the things that such treaties with Rome often involved was some measure of taxation in goods, produce and quite often levies of men to serve in the Roman army, and indeed slaves, so it is possible that young Orcadian men may have found themselves departing with the fleet to begin 25 years’ service in the auxiliary regiments of Rome, and young men and women in much more unfortunate roles! Another feature of Roman treaties with foreign powers was the ‘fosterage’ of the sons of powerful elites, essentially sons of important local leaders taken off to be ‘educated’, often in Rome itself, and returned at a much later date, having been useful hostages effectively kerbing the likelihood of resistance on the part of ‘barbarian’ elites, and also often securing that the next generation of leadership held a pro-Roman outlook. One can imagine the remarkable multi-cultural experiences and sights witnessed by any such young fostered boys, and probably some horrific ones too! It may, indeed, partly explain the major changes that began to occur in the architecture, and material culture of Iron Age Atlantic Scotland from the later 2nd Century AD onwards.

For several Centuries, from the 1st century AD onwards, a steady but small stream of high-status Roman materials made their way into Iron Age Orcadian communities, including The Cairns, where Roman beads, and recycled Roman glass and metalwork have been found. Other finds from Orcadian sites such as high status Samian pottery, further indicate that the relationship between Orkney and Rome was carried out in the domain of the higher echelons of Iron Age society.

After the end of the First Century AD, the Roman army retired from Scotland for more than a generation to the Tyne-Solway frontier and what became Hadrian’s Wall in AD 122. With the accession of a new Emperor, Antoninus Pius, in AD 139 preparations were immediately made for a renewed burst of intervention in Scotland. The Emperor sent a new governor to Britannia, Quintus Lollius Urbicus, who was a North African of Berber descent! Over 3 or 4 years the African governor campaigned in Southern Scotland and then up the northeast Scottish mainland, replicating the Roman line of advance in the preceding 1st Century AD. By AD 142, the army had laid down a monumental marker of the frontier across the central belt of Scotland in the form of the Antonine Wall and for around twenty years it was garrisoned by the densest concentration of troops ever deployed in Roman Britain.

The occupation of the Northern Wall was short in archaeological terms and in the history of Roman Britain but, importantly, it was substantial and intense enough to have left remarkably vivid archaeological traces of the everyday lives of the garrison including aspects of their identities and ethnicities. We know that ordinary Africans and Asians served in the Roman army on the Antonine wall during the 2nd Century AD.

Special ceramics found at several of the Antonine wall forts were made in the style of African pottery effectively these crocks relate to a form of cuisine very similar to modern North African tagine cooking. It has been suggested that the African pottery may represent the actual presence of African units serving in the garrison of the Northern frontier of Scotland, or that certain regiments had gained a taste for such spiced cuisine from having been earlier stationed in the African provinces. It is a scenario reminiscent of the way that, via the British army, Indian curries have been injected into the post-colonial bloodstream of the UK. Certainly, many different ethnic groups are represented by regiments such as the Syrian Archers from the ancient city of Palmyra, attested at Bar Hill fort on the edge of modern Glasgow.

Later still, at the very beginning of the 3rd Century AD the so-called African Emperor, Septimius Severus renewed Roman attempts to bring to heel the Northern Iron Age peoples, Caledonians and others. Severus had been born in North African at Leptis Magna in present day Libya. Possessing Punic descent on his mother’s side, he was, therefore, descended from the North African state that had once seriously threatened the existence of Rome itself under Hannibal, and he has been called ‘the black emperor’. Severus was not ‘born into the purple’ but had fought a bitter civil war, in part, against the pretender Clodius Albinus, governor of Britannia, to ascend the imperial throne in AD 193. In AD 209, taking personal charge of the Scottish campaign, he assembled an army of over 40,000 troops and overran southern Scotland and, again, campaigned up the northeast mainland of Scotland. He established a legionary base at Carpow on the Tay estuary, an intended springboard for further Scottish conquest. That was curtailed by his death of a sudden illness in AD 210. Here was a man who had been born and grew up in Africa, spent the last years of his life on campaign in Scotland, and died at York in Northern England. A remarkable story of pluralism, power, social and actual mobility in the ancient world.

The presence of the Emperor and his family in Scotland gives us interesting opportunities to consider the interaction between this Afro-Roman family and the local Caledonians! The Roman historian Cassius Dio tells us that the Imperial family actually met socially, with Caledonian aristocracy. On one such occasion Severus’ wife, Julia Domna, apparently made inquisitive small talk with the unnamed wife of a Caledonian noble called Argentocoxos (‘Silver Arm’!). Beginning to challenge the apparently loose sexual morals of Caledonian women, Julia Domna was met with a short critical rebuttal from the woman: “We fulfil the demands of nature in a far better way than you Roman women, for we consort openly with the best of men, whereas you let yourselves be degraded in secret by the most vile”. It is, perhaps, a very knowing and sharp critical commentary on the plight of the majority of ‘free’ women in Roman patriarchal society as chattels of their husbands, or fathers, and as bargaining collateral in the great game of Roman politics and alliances.

The actual physical mobility brought about by the exploitative networks of the Roman empire also meant that there were Iron Age Scots present at corners of the Empire very distant from their Caledonian homeland. Shortly after Septimius Severus’s campaigns in Scotland, a massive bronze statue was erected in the city of Rabat, Morocco, as part of a triumphal arch in honour of Severus’ son Caracalla, who took part in the Caledonian campaigns, and who himself took the throne after his father. Only fragments survive of the bronze statue but just a few years ago one of the pieces was recognised as depicting a defeated Caledonian warrior, arms bound. He is bare-chested but wears a cloak and plaid or tartan trews! Now, one wonders what impact these strangely clad ‘barbarians’ would have made on the locals.

It is clear, however, that more than mere depictions of Iron Age Caledonians appeared in Roman Africa. For another piece of Roman art, a mosaic from Tunisia shows another Caledonian being killed by wild animals in the local amphitheatre, an exotic entertainment for the Roman African locals.

What all of this strongly suggests is that the lives of Romans, Caledonians, Africans, Asians, and even Orcadians, were strangely entangled in many various ways much earlier than people tend to think possible, via the networks of opportunity and exploitation that connected the far-flung Roman Empire and the Roman Iron Age world. Sometimes, as with the Claudian invasion, Africa was deployed very deliberately in a form of intimidatory exoticism (a trope familiar from our own imperial past), impressing Iron Age Britons, and Orcadians.

At other moments, the exoticism lay in the other direction with exotic noble captive Caledonians executed in the amphitheatres of Roman Africa and depicted in Roman African art. Between these dramatic polarities we know many Africans and Asians were present in Roman Iron Age Britain and Scotland, ordinary soldiers, merchants, husbands, wives and, yes, probably also slaves, were present at times. And more elevated Africans: governors, generals and even a black emperor spent major parts of their military and political careers engaging with Caledonia. Black lives were lived in Britain and Scotland almost two thousand years ago. Remarkably, it is possible to reach out and touch those lives through archaeology and ancient history. In the ancient world those black lives mattered, in the present day those past Black Lives Matter.


Recently some researches argue that the Romans created a province in the extreme north of actual Scotland: the "Orcades provincia". Indeed in 2010 A. Montesanti wrote the following essay about this possibility:

Orkney: the 6th province of Britannia? New evidences from Mine Howe

I want to add -at least partially- this essay to my personal researches on the Roman presence in the British isles.

But first of all I want to pinpoint that nearly all of the British authors write that the Romans in their conquest & occupations were practically limited to the areas to the south of actual Scotland. The "Hadrian Wall" was the "real" northernmost limit of Roman Britannia, according to these historians: north of this famous wall the Roman presence was historically limited -for nearly a century- to approximately half of "Caledonia" (as was called Scotland by the Romans), while to the north of the "Antonine Wall" (between Glasgow and Edinburgh) the Roman presence was reduced to a few decades only.

But in my opinion that is not true, and I am not alone with this point of view. Let me explain better:

It is difficult to understand why Polemius Silvius "created" this "Orcades provincia", if it is a fake (or a mistake) as some historians like J. Hind ( ) argue. And we have to remember that in all his other works P. Silvius showed no mistakes. Anyway also about the existence of the "Valentiniana" province (called often "Valentia") there are some scholar's doubts, but it seems that archeological evidence is demonstrating in recent years that Valentiniana existed really (even if for a very small period of time).

Map of Roman Britannia in 410 AD showing the province of "Valentia" in southern Scotland

And this "Valentia province" existence means that Roman presence in actual southern Scotland lasted more than one century - and may be nearly two centuries, or more! In the locality called Bremenium (actual High Rochester see and Habitancium (actual Risingham, see above map) there are evidences of Roman occupation for all the second, third and fourth century (and beyond, possibly in Sub-roman years): see

Of course this is a clear demonstration that the opinion of some modern British historians about the Roman presence in Scotland lasting just 80 years is a complete mistake!


The archaeological site of Mine Howe Mine Howe (HY 5105 0603, OR 63) is a glacial-looking hillock (c.95m in diameter) lying within the parish of Tankerness on Mainland, Orkney. Excavation campaigns undertaken between 2000 and 2004 revealed a unique middle-late Iron Age ‘ritual’ complex based on three different main features: one underground structure, a massive ditch surrounding the mound and a sub-circular structure identified as a workshop. The underground laddered structure was built into the core of the sub- circular glacial with fine drystone masonry. The body of the construction is formed by two flights of stairs at the base of those a well-shaped main chamber is located and roofed by a corbelled stone roof capped. A very substantial ditch surrounding the mound interrupted by a single entrance to the W was also investigated)

All the context from the ditch and the workshop contained large amounts of artefacts, but few of them are specifically Romano-British (MacSwean 2001): on 10433 small finds, collected in 5 excavation campaigns, just 220 of them have been considered Romano-British artefacts, which represent 2.1% ca. of the total. Of those 220 objects, 68 may be considered as Roman or Romano-British, 46 may be deemed as an interaction between Natives and Romans, while 59 might be considered purely Native. The remaining 47 artefacts, which it was not possible to assess, have been considered as ‘dubious’. The Romano-British materials of Mine Howe have been analysed through comparisons to understand their depositional function, use and chronology.

More fragments might be recognised as medical or surgery tools are already recognised as a nail and might be a surgical one. Three perfectly polished bone fragments of spatulas tools (s. Hedges 1987, 88 110-1), which may be hypothesised as Romano-British, might have been assumed, together with the metal instruments, by function as part of a medical kit. Different copper alloys were used for instruments, medicament-boxes (Scrib. Larg., Comp., 27) and chiefly for spatula-probes (Marcel. Emp. 14.44 Paul. Aegin. 6.77). The dating of Roman instruments is extremely difficult because their standard typology seems to remain unaltered over the centuries. Collections of similar medical instruments from Pompeii, from the ‘Surger’s House’ at Rimini (Jackson 2002) and from the ‘camp doctor’ at Bingen upon Rhine on the frontier (Keunzl 1982) provide some criteria of comparisons with a chronology between 79 A.D. and end of 3rd century [Fig. 12.08.2]. In Britain, surgical instruments have been found at Richborough, by the site of a Roman camp as well as the most important comparison with the ‘druid’s tomb’ of Stanway, Colchester, Essex, which presents various connections with Mine Howe.

At the outset of the invasion, Rome had been interested in British minerals and their exploration followed everywhere rapidly upon the advance of the armies (Tac. Agr. 12). The presence of the Romano-British world on Orkney might be considered now as the strongest evidence in a non-occupied area as well as some striking comparison. In Hampshire, for instance, between the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D., we notice some changes such as the introduction of the potter’s wheel, cremation burial and the use of shrines/temples and coinage. The Chichester complex became the centre of an important Roman client kingdom after the conquest in 43 A.D. (Hill 1995:9 Cunliffe 1993). Again, in Derbyshire, the Matlock mines were an industrial settlement (Gowland 1901:381-4 Cox 1905:227-232 Richmond 1958:42-43). At Poole's Cavern, metalworking is part of a much wider set of casting activities on Romano-British sites. At Bolsover, the construction of extensions to the local authority headquarters identifies a Romano-British ‘oval’ enclosure, within which a defined area appeared to be dedicated to various industrial activities including iron smith (Sumpter 1992 Jones & Thompson 1965 Myers 2000:6). At Bardown, Wadhurst (near Pevensey) a series of five furnaces were built on an industrial scale and were linked with the process of iron working (Cleere 1970:1-23). In Scotland, three different types of relationships carried out by the Romans in a doubtful and still debated 4th century province of Valentia (Mann 1961 Foord 1925).

In comparison with other Romano-Celtic (British) settlement develops around a sacred place unusually rich in votive evidences: at Buxton, the fulcrum is represented by a natural hot and cold springs cult, during the AD 3rd and 4th centuries (Myers 2000:4 Hart 1981:94) at Thirst House Cave, high qualitative brooches and earrings have been deposited within the cave between the late A.D. 1st and mid-2nd century (Branigan and Bayley 1989:49 Myers 2000:5). In both instances, there is a significant representation of Roman metalwork including brooches, chatelaine, nail, tweezers and ear scoops (Hart 1981:105). However, Mine Howe shares, with the rest of Orkney brochs, typology, quality and quantity of some common Romano-British artefact with the difference that those from Mine Howe seem to belong to one status and function at an upper level. The main differences between them consist in the fact that the finds in the brochs conclude their chronological horizon at the first two centuries A.D. and are limited to decorative elements (MacGregor 1976:177-8). The objects found at Mine Howe have some similarity with the ones brought to light at Traprain Law (Cree 1923) and Fairy Knowe (Robertson 1970:200 Burley 1956:219-221).

The above map shows the hypothetical area ot the Roman "Orcades Provincia" created -possibly- by Count Theodosius around 370 AD and that could be the reason of why Polemius Silvius a few decades later wrote that there were six Roman provinces in Roman Britannia. Note that the limits are closely related to the presence of the "Brochs", that could mark the area under rule of the King of Orkney (who submitted to emperor Claudius in 43 AD).

Roman materials of Mine Howe are limited for quantity and dimensions, even though not in quality. The most representative phases by artefacts are those which represent an unusual peak and might belong to the phase following the invasion of Agricola. Some glass fragments, fibulae might be linked with the amphora shards from the Broch of Gurness (Hedges 1987), related to a hypothetical Claudian invasion (Fitzpatrick 1989), even if ‘Haltern 70’ amphorae are well known in Britain just after the Flavian Period (Tyers 1999:97). The hypothesis is obviously based on the solid fact that the centre of resistance lay in the extreme North (Tac. Agr. 10) and the Orkney were considered to complete the conquest of the whole of Britain (Tac. Hist. 1.2 Richmond 1958:52). The Roman finds at Mine Howe seem to bear a chronological identification from the Flavian until the Hadrian period. Then and after a symptomatic lack/absence of further evidence, the relationships seem to start over from the Severan reorganisation. The occurrence both of high status and magical/healing and warlike artefacts is also taken as a direct indicator of characteristic activities at or around Mine Howe, enlightening the symbolic and ritual significance of the site also involved in the process of metal artefacts production (Sharples 1998:205 Card & Downes 2003a:17). The Romans might have chosen Mine Howe, one of Orkney’s key point, for the evident sacred role of the ditched underground structure and the related workshop. The outpouring of Romano-British materials is argued to be the direct response to the social thread posed by Rome to create and reinforce their own identity in the face of external threats. In this sense, Native key points or places would have been played an important role in craft production or trading exchange: the existence and the peculiar location at Mine Howe of a smithy/workshop would enhance the status of the site (Hodder 1982:1986-7 Jones 1997:113-5, 123-4 Hunter 2006:105 Hill 1995:9).

By contrast with Traprain Law, the lack of a massive presence of Roman pottery confirms the absence of Roman settlers as first indicator of any Roman activity. However, it would be plausible that Orkney might have been one of those areas that suggest direct administration by Imperial procurators, at least for a very short span of time. And this might have occurred twice in Orkney’s history. These archaeological hints might relate to an ‘unexpected’ Roman presence in 4th century in the symbolic site of Mine Howe and linked with the elusive notice of the intangible sixth province of Britannia, Orcades, pointed out on the Count Theodosius’ campaigns (Nomina Omnium Provinciarum of Polemius Silvius, Laterculus II Eutropius, 7, 13, 2-3 Hind 1975:101 Steven 1976: 211-224 Birley 2005:399, n.2). These re-discovered objects might represent a brief but intense link for the actual issue of negotiated relationships between Natives and Romans. Yet, they may provide an innovative interpretation and a new meaning for individual deposits towards an understanding of their effect between people and material forms, artefacts and material actions.

Video, Sitemap-Video, Sitemap-Videos