Kirkintilloch Town and Parish The Roman Wall, or Grahams 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
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 destructionalthough sad to think of in
some respects has, by means of the numerous sculptured stones, altars,
statues, coins, etc., found buried along its routerevealed 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 Charlies 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:
FirstA ditch, generally
about twenty feet deep, and forty feet wide, next the north.
SecondA 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.
ThirdA 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 Gunters 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 feetdepth of
ditch 15, 20, 23, and 25 feetheight of rampart 5 and 6 feetthickness
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
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
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 Comyns 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 waterthey 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 carefullyit 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
vanquisherfor the welfare of the Emperor Antoninus, and of his (family)
M. Cocceius Firmus Centurion in the second legion, Augusta (dedicates
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 manIs 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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