Scotland before the Romans

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What was life like in Scotland before the Romans invaded?

In Roman times, the area now known as Scotland was called ‘Caledonia’. But who lived there? What did they wear? Where did they live and how did they survive?

Let's find out!

What was Scotland like?

The area of Britain now known as Scotland was called ‘Caledonia’, and the people were known as the ‘Caledonians’.

Back then, Caledonia was made up of groups of people organised into tribes.

They didn’t leave any written records behind so we don’t really know too much about them - and much of what we do know comes from the Romans.

Scottish tribes

Some of the main tribes the Romans described were:

  • the Caledones - who lived in the north of Scotland
  • the Venicones - who lived in the area near Aberdeen
  • the Votadini - who lived in the south east of Scotland
  • the Damnoni - who lived in the south west of Scotland

What did the Scottish tribes look like?

The Romans called the Scottish tribes the ‘Picti’ which means “the painted ones”. This is because, in their written accounts, the Romans said that the Scottish tribes decorated their bodies with dyes and paints.

The Roman historian Tacitus also wrote that the Scottish warriors had ‘red hair and large limbs’ and were fierce.

A silver Pictish brooch used to fasten clothing such as cloaks and capes.

What did people wear?

The clothes the Scottish tribes wore would have been made from natural fabrics such as wool and flax. They also would have made clothes from leather and animal skins, as well as fur from foxes, bears and seals.

Modern archaeologists have found Pictish brooch pins so we know that they would have worn long cloaks to keep them warm. From other finds, we can also tell that they liked wearing jewellery such as necklaces and metal bands worn on the arms called torcs.

Life in a tribe

When they weren’t fighting the Romans – or each other – the Scottish tribes spent most of their time farming and fishing.

They would have lived in small villages and kept animals such as sheep and pigs. They also would have grown crops such as wheat and barley and a range of vegetables such as kale, peas and turnips.

They hunted animals such as deer. Carvings on stones left behind by the Picts show scenes of hunting with dogs and falcons.

When needed, the men of the tribes would also be expected to fight. They would have fought against the Romans but also the tribes would, at times, have fought against other tribes.

Hunting animal scene on carved Celtic Pictish stone, Shandwick, Easter Ross.

  • Caledonia - The Roman word for what we now call Scotland.
  • Picts - ;'Picts' or 'Picti' was the name given by the Romans to the tribes of people living in Scotland. It means 'the painted ones' because the Picti decorated themselves with dye and paint.
  • Tacitus - A famous Roman historian. He was born in 56 AD and died in around 120 AD. Tacitus wrote about the Roman Empire including Roman rule in Britain.
  • Caledones - A tribe who lived in the north of Scotland.
  • Damnoni - A tribe who lived in the south west of Scotland.
  • Venicones - A tribe who lived in the area near what is now Aberdeen.
  • Votadini - A tribe who lived in the south east of Scotland.

There's more to learn...