Tradition affirms that the Caledonians held a great
council on the Law of Dundee. Here they decided that all able bodied men
from all the tribes should be called out to oppose the armies of Agricola.
The Roman legions had swept all before them in their drive northwards and
in AD 84 they had advanced as far north as to establish a camp at
Fortingall. Ten more miles and they would have been in Rannoch. At the
meeting it was decided that all the neighbouring tribes (the forerunners
of the clans) should stop fighting one another and join together under a
chieftain call Calgacus. His one of the first personal names recorded in
Scottish history and its owner succeeded in uniting the tribes. (The
tribe of which Rannoch was a part was called by the Romans the Venicones).
According to Tacitus, the Roman historian, he had enlisted 30,000 men.
Tacitus writes about these events and includes the patriotic speech which
Calgacus gave to his troops on the slopes of the great hill, Mons Grampius,
before the battle, although he could not have possibly heard it nor
understood it if he had. However, he was familiar with the eloquence of
the Celts and their love of battle. We can appreciate his words as his
troops are urged to defend their liberties, their hearths, their homes and
their stock against the invaders who ‘where they make a wilderness they
call it peace’. Strange words from someone to whom constant warfare and
cattle raiding was his bread and butter.
As it happened, one division reached the ground
earlier than the others attacked the Romans unexpectedly at night and cut
them to pieces. Meanwhile, Agricola arrived on the scene with his main
force and drove the Caledonians westwards. All would have gone Agricola’s
way if further reinforcements had not poured in over the Drumalban Hills
(Were these tribes from Rannoch arriving late?) to drive the Romans back
once and for all. Drumalban is the old name given to the hills west of
Loch Rannoch and Loch Tay and it is not rash to presume that this force
would contain some of the early inhabitants of Rannoch.
No one knows for certain where Mons Grampius is. One
historian places it near Comrie at Monadh na Crampich. Take away the ch
termination and subitute the Latin termination us, and interchange the c
an g at the beginning and you have Grampius. Another historian would
place the battle of Mons Grampius at Mormond Hill in the northeast corner
of Aberdeen. Certainly the Romans mad their way to the far north but
their presence made no further impact upon the country.
It is doubtful if the tribes of Rannoch were greatly
influenced by the nearby presence of the Romans. They were too busy
fighting with one another. The battle of Mons Grampius might have been on
a bigger scale than usual to them but it was just another battle in their
busy timetable. However, one of the strangest remains left by the Romans
after they withdrew from Perthshire was a hoard of seven tons of iron
nails, hand made and numbering 750,000, ranging from 5 centimeters in size
to 40 centimeters. Before they retreated they buried these at their
frontier station at Inchtuthil on the Tay near Dunkeld. These would have
been a wonderful find for the tribes of Rannoch. The primitive forges on
Slios Minh and Slios Garbh would have been working overtime to make these
into weapons. However, the Romans no doubt fearing such a situation
buried them ten feet under the ground.