reputation of the Romans and their Empire must have been well known
to the Caledonian tribes of Scotland long before the Romans invaded.
Since AD 43 they had conquered southern England and suppressed Boudiccas
rising. The Caledonians had decided they were not to be subject
to Rome, a decision many paid for with their lives.
Agricolas Invasion AD 79 - 84
In AD 79 Agricola, the Roman governor of Britannia, sent a fleet
to survey Scotlands coast. As Agricola advanced, conquering
southern Scotland by AD 83, the Caledonian tribes faced imminent
According to the Roman historian Tacitus, the Caledonians then "turned
to armed resistance on a large scale", attacking Roman forts
and skirmishing with their legions. In a surprise night-attack,
the Caledonians very nearly wiped out the whole 9th legion until
it was saved by Agricolas cavalry.
In the summer of AD 84 Agricola advanced into the Caledonians' stronghold
in the north-east, hoping to force battle. Somewhere on this march,
at a place called Mons Graupius (the Grampian mountain, perhaps
at Bennachie near Inverurie), the Caledonians confronted them.
site for the Battle of Mons Graupius at Bennachie. The Romans
approached the Caledonians, who awaited the attack on the slope
of the hill.
The Battle of
Mons Graupius, AD 84
Everything depended on this encounter. 30,000 Caledonians faced a
Roman army about half that size, they also held the higher ground,
but they lacked the organisation and military tactics of a Roman legion.
The Romans were
tightly disciplined and relied on a short stabbing sword in combat.
Their front line was made up of Germanic auxiliary troops from Holland
and Belgium, with the Roman legionaries in the rear. Brutal hand
to hand fighting must have followed. At one point the Caledonians,
using their greater numbers, outflanked the Romans only to meet
hidden Roman cavalry suddenly closing on them.
Any hopes of a
Caledonian victory vanished. In a merciless bloodbath 10,000 were
slaughtered. Many fought valiantly to the end, more fled into the
surrounding woods and hills, burning their houses, or, in fear of
Roman reprisals, even killing their own wives and children.
The following day Tacitus tells us, "...an awful
silence reigned on every hand; the hills were deserted,
houses smoking in the distance, and our scouts did not
meet a soul."
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