Primary History

Romans: Romans in Scotland

  • How do we know about Romans in Scotland?

    Mostly from finds made by archaeologists. For example, in 1905 archaeologists found a Roman fort at Newstead, near Melrose in the Borders. The Romans called this fort Trimontium ('three mountains'). The topmost remains of the fort date from the AD 140s when the Antonine Wall was built. Underneath were the remains of an older fort, probably built around AD 80. Forts protected Roman military roads.

    Recent finds show that the Romans went as far north as Inverness. However, they did not stay and build towns like they did in Roman Britain (England and Wales).

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  • First outposts

    Early evidence for the Romans in Scotland is the Gask Ridge. This earth-bank defence in Perthshire dates from around AD 70. It was made before Hadrian's Wall or the Antonine Wall and is further north.

    The Gask Ridge is about 20 miles (32 km) long. The Romans set up forts and watch towers along it.

    In AD 79 the Roman general Agricola sent ships to explore the Scottish coast. He was preparing to invade Scotland. To protect their army, the Romans built forts like Trimontium near Melrose.

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  • Scotland's biggest Roman fort

    Inchtuthil (its Roman name was Victoria) is the biggest Roman fortress in Scotland. On the banks of the River Tay near Blairgowrie, it was built around AD 83 by soldiers of the 20th Legion. More than 5,000 legionaries were based here, to guard the way to the Highlands.

    The fortress was huge! Its outer wall stretched 7 miles (10 km). Inside were 64 barrack rooms for soldiers, a hospital, and a headquarters building with a shrine to the gods.

    Inchtuthil fortress was abandoned after only four years. The 20th Legion marched back south.

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  • Battle in the north

    Roman soldiers fought the Caledonian tribes in Scotland. These tribes included the Picti or 'painted people' as the Romans called them. The biggest battle was in AD 84. The Roman historian Tacitus says it was at Mons Graupius. No one knows exactly where this was, but it was possibly in the Grampian Mountains in the north of Scotland.

    Led by a chief named Calgacus, the Caledonians had about 30,000 warriors. The Roman army led by Agricola was probably smaller, but the Romans won.

    Soon after, Agricola went back to Rome.

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  • Why didn't the Romans conquer Scotland?

    Some experts think the Romans marched as far north as Cawdor, near Inverness. There are remains of a Roman fort here. But the Romans did not stay in the north. In the AD 160s, they abandoned the Antonine Wall, making Hadrian's Wall the northern frontier of Roman Britain. The last big Roman army campaign in Scotland was in 208-210.

    There are Roman remains (such as bath-houses, roads and forts) in southern and central Scotland. But the Romans never settled the north. Their main concern was to protect Roman Britain from attacks by northern tribes. Such attacks increased in the AD 300s. The Roman army left Britain in AD 410.

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Fun Facts
  • Scotland takes its name from a tribe from Ireland whom the Romans called 'Scoti'.

  • The Antonine Wall took between 8 and 12 years to build.

  • At Inchtuthil people found 750,000 iron nails, buried by the Romans to stop the Caledonians getting them.

  • Picti is Latin for 'painted people'. The Picts liked tattoos and body-painting.

  • The Roman general Agricola was actually born in France.

  • Not all Tacitus wrote may be true; he was married to Agricola's daughter. So he wrote only nice things about the Roman general.

  • The 20th Legion built Hadrian's Wall and the Antonine Wall.

  • Emperor Antoninus never saw the Antonine Wall. He never left Rome.

  • The Caledonians threw short spears, and held long spears to jab at the enemy.

  • Caledonians had small shields and long swords (says Tacitus).

  • One nasty Roman weapon was a weighted dart, tossed high in the air to fall on an enemy's head!

  • One nasty Roman weapon was a weighted dart, tossed high in the air to fall on an enemy's head!

  • The Roman fort at Mumrills is as big as 3 soccer pitches.

  • Bones dug up at Mumrills Fort include ox, sheep, pig, deer and wolf.

  • Near Falkirk, builders making a supermarket dug up bones, jewels and Roman coins from Camelon Fort.

  • The name Calgacus probably means 'swordsman'.

  • Roman soldiers in Scotland included people from as far away as Bulgaria.

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