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Friday, 6 July 2007

Roman Scotland Inchtuthill

Not far from the tiny village of Spittalfield, in Perthshire, Scotland, stands a silent reminder of dramatic events that might have changed the course of Scotland's history. For here, just over nine hundred years ago, the Romans were building a great legionary fortress overlooking a majestic sweep of the River Tay.

In AD 78 Gnaeus Julius Agricola was appointed governor of Britain. Having stamped out resistance to the Roman occupation in southern Britain, Agricola's armies turned their attention to the north, reaching the Forth-Clyde valley by AD81. In AD83 and AD 84 they pressed still further north in a campaign that took them to the shores of the Moray Firth and brought them into conflict with the native people there.

The Scottish Highland tribes, referred to collectively by the Romans as the Caledonii, joined forces in the autumn of AD 84 to confront the might of the Roman armies at the Battle of Mons Graupius. Although the site of this great battle has yet to be discovered, we do know that Agricola's well-drilled troops, though well outnumbered, secured a crushing victory over the native tribes, leaving as many as 10,000 of them dead on the field of battle. The battle marked the end of that year's campaign, after which Agricola returned to Rome in triumph, leaving his successor to consolidate and extend the Roman occupation. In AD85 and AD86 the Romans were constructing a string of forts along the Highland edge, as plans were laid for a further northward advance along the glens.

Inchtuthill, the largest of the new forts, lay at the focus of the system and was evidently the springboard from which the Romans would have continued their conquest of the northern peoples. By AD86 construction was well advanced, as archaeologists have demonstrated with the discovery of traces of barracks, granaries and several other buildings on the site. If completed, the fortress might have housed up to five thousand men. However, the Romans were meeting stiff opposition from tribes along the Rhine and the Danube at this time. Troops were recalled from Britain and the new frontier established by Agricola was pulled back. The still unfinished fortress at Inchtuthill was dismantled and any material that might have been of use to the enemy was carefully buried, perhaps In the hope that troops might one day return. Iron tyres for cart wheels and about 10 tons of iron nails have been discovered by archaeologists.

The Romans never did return. Though their occupation of southern Scotland was to continue fitfully for another two centuries, their great empire was on the wane. By the start of the 5th century AD, the last vestiges of their influence had all but disappeared from Scottish soil.

Now at Inchtuthill there is little to be seen. Centuries of cultivation have reduced the Roman earthworks to a fraction of their former size. However, the painstaking work of archaeologists who excavated the site in the 1950s and 1960s, when taken together with evidence from aerial photography and other sources, has revealed much about the Roman invaders. It is interesting to speculate as to what might have happened had circumstances been otherwise. Tour Roman Scotland on The Best Scottish Tours.

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