The Romans in Scotland
The First Invasion 79-84 AD
In 79 AD, the same year in which the Roman city of Pompeii was destroyed
by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Julius Agricola the most famous Roman
Governor of Britannia, invaded what is now Scotland from two staging posts
on the Stanegate Frontier; Carlisle and Corbridge. He had four legions
and auxiliaries at his command, up to 40,000 men, although many would
have been left to control the already conquered province to the south.
With this army, he quickly overran the lowlands as far as the Forth-Clyde
During the next two campaigning seasons, he established a series of forts
at the entrances to the Highland glens, including the Gask Ridge Frontier,
as well as a new Legionary Fortress at Inchtuthill for the 20th Legion.
The Caledonians, realising that they could not hope to challenge the Romans
in open battle, adopted guerrilla tactics. Their most successful action
was a night attack on the 9th legion, which was badly mauled, but was
not, as is popularly believed, destroyed in Scotland.
The native Caledonians were finally brought to bay and were forced to
fight a pitched battle against the technologically superior but smaller
Roman army at Mons Graupius, which they lost. The Romans did not have
much time to celebrate their success, as reports of the loss of another
legion on the Danube frontier meant Agricola had to send one of his own
legions away to replace it. Agricola himself was recalled to Rome as his
governorship ended. The 20th Legion dismantled its new but incomplete
fortress at Inchtuthill, and retreated to Chester, where it remained based
for the rest of the period of Roman rule in Britain. The Romans gradually
withdrew back to their starting position, although they did maintain some
forts in southern Scotland until around 103 AD.
The Emperor Hadrian visited Britannia and ordered the construction of
his famous wall just north of the Stanegate frontier. Work started in
122 AD and was completed in 128 AD, although modification were made continuously
until Hadrians death in 138 AD. The fact that there were earthworks
on both sides of the boundary suggests that the Romanisation of the northern
population was far less successful than was the case further south.
The Second Invasion 139-165 AD
Hadrians successor, Antoninus Pius needed to establish some military
prestige, so he ordered a re-conquest of Scotland, probably as far as
the River Tay. He ordered the abandonment of Hadrians Wall and construction
of the Antonine Wall across the Forth-Clyde Isthmus. Towards the end of
Antoninus reign, around 150 AD, the decision was taken to withdraw
back to Hadrians Wall. The precise reasons for this are unclear,
but native unrest seems a likely explanation.
The Final Invasion 208-212 AD
The Emperor Septimus Severus invaded Caledonia in person, but died in
York in 211 AD before he was able to consolidate his gains. His son, Caracalla
had other things on his mind, and quickly abandoned his father's conquests.