Scotlands History

Romans in Scotland

The Roman Empire stretched from North Africa, Syria and the Mediterranean Sea to Germania and Britannia in the north. It ended at Scotland.

The Romans were highly organised and well supplied, with great armies made up of legions of as many as ten thousand men at a time.

They imposed strict laws and, though they took many slaves, they allowed the people they conquered to become citizens of the Roman Empire. The Romans were great engineers and built massive cities with great public amphitheatres. They held games - watching gladiators fight each other or wild animals, often to the death. They also built viaducts to carry water and developed great fields to grow the crops they needed to feed their armies and citizens.

Across Europe the Romans had brutally defeated the Gauls and the Germanic tribes. A Roman fleet sailed around the coast of Scotland. The Romans marched north to conquer the native Caledonians and are said to have won a bloody victory at the Battle of Mons Graupius c AD 84.

The invading Romans built a series of fortresses known as the Gask frontier. The Gask frontier was a line of wooden and turf forts, watch towers and fortlets that ran along the Gask Ridge through Perthshire. Further north, lay the Inchtuthil legionary fortress. It is thought these were abandoned around AD 87 as Roman soldiers were withdrawn to fight on the Danube.

The Romans traded with southern tribes of Britons, including the Votadini, to set up a buffer zone between Roman Britain and the Caledonians and Picts. The Roman Emperor Hadrian had a massive wall built to fortify the northern edge of the Roman Empire. Hadrian’s Wall was begun in AD 122. It was a huge undertaking – a series of legionary fortresses and towers were built along the wall’s 80 Roman miles (73.5 miles or 117 km).

In AD 142 the Romans began to build the Antonine Wall. Its earthworks, turf and stone foundations stretched from the Forth in the east to the Clyde in the west. The wall was abandoned after only 20 years. The Roman legions withdrew to Hadrian’s Wall. In AD 360 the northern tribes overran Hadrian’s Wall and raided Roman Britain.

The Romans conquered vast areas of the known world but failed to defeat the guerrilla tactics of the Caledonians and Picts. Around AD 410 the Romans left Britain for good. Roman Britain had lasted less than 500 years.

  • Romans in Scotland
  • Illustration of a large and complex fort with a wall round it and roads leading away from each side

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Listen to Julius Caesar discussing the Gallic War.

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Investigate a Roman Dig

Meet Dr Digger and explore a Roman fort at Newstead near Melrose with this interactive resource.