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Kirkintilloch Town and Parish
The Roman Wall, or Graham’s Dyke


This ancient work of labour on a large scale, passes right through the parish of Kirkintilloch, from east to west, a distance of five miles, and has formed a prominent feature in the country, besides giving the name to Kirkintilloch.

When it was made or built with its forts, about the year 140, the country, as is known from the accounts given by the Romans, presented an appearance totally different from its present aspect. There were of course no roads; and what met the eye were dense forests, broken only where some lake or green clad morass met the view; or where the higher hills lifted their heads above the line of vegetation. The wall was constructed by the Roman army, during the reign of the Emperor Antoninus Pius; acting under the command of his lieutenant, Lollius Urbicus, who lived in Britain about twenty years. There is no record shewing how long it occupied the troops in forming it, but 6,000 to 7,000 men must have been engaged in the work. Notwithstanding that the course of time, and the march of agriculture, have nearly obliterated every vestige of that great enterprise; antiquarians are agreed, that it is the best known of all the Roman remains in Great Britain. Its destruction—although sad to think of in some respects— has, by means of the numerous sculptured stones, altars, statues, coins, etc., found buried along its route—revealed its origin and uses; and although for ages it was only the subject of dim, uncertain tradition, its history is now better ascertained than that of many recent erections.

At a place near where the canal crosses the Luggie, in the town of Kirkintilloch, an interesting discovery was made, on 28th August, 1893, of about 60 Roman coins, which were found in a sand-bank near the track of the old Roman wall. They were only fifteen inches from the surface, and are silver coins of about the size of our sixpence, although not quite circular. They are from 1,700 to 2,000 years old, and the busts of the different Emperors are remarkably prominent and clearly cut. The oldest of them belong to the reign of Qesar Augustus, to whom reference is made in Luke ii. 1, as decreeing that all the world should be taxed. Others belong to the period of Vespasian, about 70 A.D., while a number bear the superscription of the Emperor Hadrian, who reigned about 138 A.D. An iron spear point, with part of the shaft attached, was also turned up, and was found to be so hard that a file made little impression on it.

The wall extended from the Forth on the east to the Clyde on the west, a distance of about 27 miles; and formed a rampart across the island, to resist the incursions of the wild Caledonians of the north; who appear to have then had the same turbulent and warlike spirit which has possessed their descendants, down till Prince Charlie’s time in 1745, when their last gallant but unsuccessful effort was made. It is interesting to find from Roman historians that the Caledonians were then armed with broadsword and target, identically similar to those borne by the Highlanders at Prestonpans and Culloden. It is also stated that in personal stature they excelled the Romans, and that they tattooed their skins with the figures of animals, and went almost naked into battle.

Antiquarians state that this great barrier consisted of:—

First—A ditch, generally about twenty feet deep, and forty feet wide, next the north.

Second—A rampart within the ditch; which was upwards of twenty feet high and twenty-four feet thick; built of earth, generally on a stone foundation, but always so when drainage was required.

Third—A military road, which ran within the rampart the whole distance from end to end of the wall; and which was about twenty feet wide and laid with stones.

Lest any of our readers may think that these statements are exaggerated or hypothetical; we may mention that Gordon in 1726 measured with a Gunter’s chain not only the whole length of the wall, but also in many places the width and depth of the ditch, and the height and thickness of the rampart. A few of his measurements are:—Width of ditch 35, 40, 43, 50, and 66 feet—depth of ditch 15, 20, 23, and 25 feet—height of rampart 5 and 6 feet—thickness of rampart, 17, 20, 24, 33 and 37 feet. It may be taken as certain that the earth and loose stones intermingled with it, as taken out of the ditch, would be thrown up to form the rampart, and although originally made 20 feet high, it is reasonable to suppose that a structure composed of such materials, and left exposed to the weather for at least 1,500 years, would sink into a puny rampart of five or six feet high. On the whole, therefore, we cannot think that the estimates given are exaggerated. A fine specimen of the military road may be seen laid bare at Barhill, on the Gartshore estate, near the site of the old fort. The road is 15 feet wide, laid with stones, the largest being laid on the sides of the road, evidently with a plumb line, as the edges are perfectly straight. The smaller stones are in the centre, and a drain is formed across the road to carry oft the surface water.

Forts were built at intervals of about two miles along the whole course, with watch-towers between them; the forts and watch-towers being placed in such positions as to be visible to those adjacent on either side. Three of these forts were in Kirkintilloch parish, viz., The Peel, Auchendavie, and Barhill.

The fort at Kirkintilloch, the faint vestiges of which still remain at the Peel; is supposed to have been one of the strongest of the whole, as far as artificial means could make it Antiquarians state that it is also singular in having been built to the north of the wall, all the others along the whole route having been placed on the south side of that barrier. They tell us also that it was built of a square form and measured about three hundred feet upon each side; with a great earthen rampart from forty to fifty feet in thickness surrounding this enclosure, having in front a capacious ditch or moat not less than thirty feet wide, and of proportionate depth.

Horsley, who saw it in 1732, says—

“It had a double rampart of hewn stone, strongly cemented with lime. They were, just at the time of the survey, working stones out of it, and it was surprising to see how fresh both they and the lime seemed to be, and some of them chequered. On the north side is a considerable descent, and the prospect from it is pretty good. According to the common opinion and tradition, the wall has passed to the south side of this fort; which, if true, might account for the extraordinary strength of it.”

We take leave to express the opinion that antiquarians are completely astray in stating that the fort was built to the north of the wall. No conceivable reason can be adduced for making an exception of Kirkintilloch in this respect, and the probabilities are all against it.

The truth is that in forming this theory they were not aware that Kirkintilloch castle was built by the Comyns on the same site, most probably in the thirteenth century, and no doubt the mason work which Horsley saw in 1732, and admired for its freshness, was the work not of the Romans, but of the Comyns.

When the Comyns resolved to build a castle, the site was ready to their hand. The Romans had selected it as the best for their purposes; and the same conditions that induced them to choose it existed in full force at the time of the Comyns. Whether the Romans had constructed their fort wholly or partly of stone and lime is now, of course, a matter of conjecture, but there can hardly be a doubt that any materials remaining would be utilised by the Comyns in their new structure, and stones found afterwards on the site, and bearing the well-known marks of the Roman artisans, are really those which were used in building Comyn’s castle, although originally these were the work of the Romans.

The track of the old wall and ditch was a matter which the Comyns would not take into consideration. Very likely the best site existing at the time might be north of the wall, and that they would choose, which, of course, gives rise to the erronepus conjectures made since. We state our opinion, however, with diffidence, and we invite the Archaeological Society of Glasgow to take the matter up, and either confirm or destroy our theory.

The feud between Robert the Bruce and the Comyns was a very bitter one, and when he came into power and confiscated the barony of Kirkintilloch with its castle, he would demolish the fortress of his hated foe in the most complete manner, according to the custom of the times.

The fort at Auchendavie measured about 370 feet by 330 feet, and was defended by a triple line of ramparts and ditches, the military road passing through its centre. As the situation of the site is low, there is no doubt that the ditches would be kept full of water—they were so in 1732.

Barhill Fort had the most commanding view of any along the route. The hill itself is about 500 feet high, and on a clear day both the Forth and the Clyde can be seen from its summit; and the line of the wall on both sides must have been discernible from it. Lollius Urbicus would doubtless see its facilities for surveying the country for a great distance around, and of communicating by signal with many of the other garrisons on the line of the great rampart.

The fort on Barhill was of large size, measuring within the enclosure 340 feet square, and defended by a ditch and rampart on all sides but the north, where the ground falls very suddenly and steep.

This station stood detached from the wall a few yards to the south of it. Gordon measured the ditch or fosse carefully—it was cut through the solid rock, and he records it as 40 feet broad andv3S feet deep.

It is not within the scope of this work to give any detailed account of the records of the wall left by the Romans along its route, and since discovered,2 and which are published in antiquarian works. We shall simply refer to a few of those found in the parish, with the meaning of the inscriptions, which, of course, are in Latin.

A stone found near the Peel bears:—“To the Emperor Caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus the Good; of the fatherland. The standard of the victorious sixth legion built (the wall) to the extent of one mile.”

At Eastermains a stone was discovered bearing that:— “The twentieth legion had executed a section of the wall measuring 3,304 paces.”

In making the Forth and Clyde Canal at Auchendavie, four altars were found in a circular pit, which it is conjectured the Roman soldiers hastily sunk, and so buried the altars when they were obliged to leave the country. Inscriptions on these bear:—“To Jove the best and greatest; to Victory the vanquisher—for the welfare of the Emperor Antoninus, and of his (family) M. Cocceius Firmus Centurion in the second legion, Augusta (dedicates this).”

An inscriptive stone was found at Shirva, evidently a tombstone, bearing: — “To the shade of Flavius Lucianus, a soldier of the second legion Augusta.”

Also another, evidently a tribute of affection from a father to a son. “To the shade of Salmanes who died at the age of fifteen, Salmanes has dedicated this.”

Another stone bears simply that it was “erected by the Second Legion Augusta.”

At Barhill was found a stone with an inscription: “To the Emperor Caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus: the Good, the father of his country, the standard of Votunus completed the work.”

It will be observed that on these few stones found in the parish are mentioned the second, the sixth, and the twentieth legions. And from numerous other inscriptive stones and altars, found along the whole line of the wall, it is found that these three legions did the whole work, or rather that the whole second legion was employed, and vexillations of the sixth and twentieth. A legion numbered about 6,000 men, and a vexillation about 600. And just as we call our 42nd Highlanders the Black Watch, so the Romans called their second legion, with the symbol of a sea-goat, Augusta; the sixth legion, with eagles’ heads, Vitrix; and the twentieth legion, with emblem of a wild boar, Valens Vitrix.

A sculptured stone, which is possibly the best preserved of all yet discovered, was found in 1868 at Bridgeness, near the eastern end of the wall. It is of freestone, beautifully carved with figures at each end, and having an inscription in the middle. The stone is 9 feet long. 11 inches broad, and about 9 inches thick, and is checked for fastening into the wall. The inscription reads: “To the Emperor Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Pius, the Father of his country; the Second Legion (surnamed) Augusta, has made 4,652 paces.” A Roman pace of two steps was fifty-eight inches.

Joseph Train, excise officer, friend and correspondent of Sir Walter Scott, and referred to in his works; was removed for temporary duty to Kirkintilloch, where he got possession of several valuable Roman relics; a sword, a tripod, and a brass plate. These he transmitted to Abbotsford with an interesting account of the image of St. Flannan, which, prior to the Reformation, had adorned a chapel dedicated to that saint, the ruins of which stood a few miles from Kirkintilloch.

A friend of ours informs us that the best alloy yet known for resisting the action of water which is strongly impregnated by mineral elements; was discovered by the analysis of an ancient implement left by the Romans in their mineral workings in Spain.

Many of our readers will remember the siege of Sebastopol in the Crimean War, when the Russian General Todleben defended it heroically and skilfully for a whole year, against the attacks of the British and French armies; and that by means of earth-works; which were accounted at that time a novel means of defence. Yet here was General Lollius Urbicus, who lived 1700 years before the Crimean War, and who constructed earth-works in comparison with which the fortifications of Sebastopol are dwarfed into insignificance. How true are the words of the wisest man—“Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.”

In more modern times, when easy communication, rather than efficient military defence came to be needed, the track of the wall marked the leading highway between the Forth and Clyde. It was next the best route that engineering skill could devise for a canal to connect between the two seas; and when this in its turn came to be superseded by the railway; the shortest path and the easiest gradients were still marked by the wall of Antoninus. Thus in traversing the district, the traveller of to-day has under his eye all the means of communication existing in the island, and also an opportunity of contrasting the triumphs of modern science with a work characteristic of the power and forethought of Imperial Rome.


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