Anna Smyth: What The Romans Did For Scotland

Roundup: Talking About History


Despite the bloodthirsty, war-mongering nature of their invasion, we can be thankful that the Romans invaded Scotland. Had they never penetrated so far north, we might know a lot less about our ancestors. Calgacus - the Scots swordsman who led the Caledonian empire at the Mons Graupius battle of AD84 - is, after all, the first Scot recorded in history. His identity, and virtually all that we know about our early forebears, was recorded for us by Tacitus - celebrated historian of the Roman campaign in Britain.


In AD 121, construction began on Hadrian's Wall, the major defensive barrier across northern Britain. But 20 years later, the subsequent general, Antonius, decreed it redundant and began a new defence 75 miles to the north, the Antonine Wall. It stretched from the Forth to the Clyde, and at 36 miles was less than half the length of Hadrian's and built from turf rather than stone. As its builders began and finished their allotted sections, they carved and installed intricate commemorative stones, examples of which survive in the Hunterian Museum of Glasgow University.


The Romans' stay in Scotland was relatively brief - 50 years compared with the English occupation of 400 - but they left plenty of physical remnants behind. The fort at Cramond, Edinburgh, was used during the middle of the second century AD and would have housed up to 1,000 men. New artefacts are still being uncovered in and around the site, including the Cramond Lioness, found in the River Almond in 1997. A child's shoe, a woman's ring, and craftsmen's tools have also been found. Excavations revealed the annex to the east was much bigger than originally thought, pointing to a civilian settlement.


It has been suggested that the Romans may have precipitated our political development because, when they withdrew, the indigenous clans were faced with one powerful enemy to the south. We then see the emergence of larger units, which eventually led to the Pictish kingdom, and Scotland. Glasgow University academics have proposed that without the Romans, that would not have happened so quickly.

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