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The History of Stirlingshire
Chapter II. Roman Military Road

Those high-ways which the Romans made throughout every part of their great empire, may be ranked amongst the chief of their works. If they were not the first who thought on these public conveniences, they gave them more attention than any other nation. When their state was yet in its infancy, and their territories reached no farther than Capua, the censor Appius Claudius rendered himself famous by forming that public road, the Appian way, which is still to be seen in Italy. As their empire enlarged, they never neglected to continue this branch of improvement; and extending their roads with their conquests, they connected the most distant provinces with the metropolis. When we cast our eye on Antonine’s Itinerary, or Peutinger’s table, and take a view of the public ways, and bye-ways striking off to the several towns and stations, in every province, the face of the globe appears as re-cast anew; and we may safely affirm, that more labour was bestowed upon these roads, than would have sufficed to re-build and re-embellish the city of Rome, even in the days of its greatest extent and grandeur. We must also observe, that, besides the conveniences and advantages derived from these roads, another reason contributed not a little to increase their number beyond what was absolutely necessary. By employing their armies in such works, in the time of peace, the Romans prevented, in a great degree, the bad consequences of military inactivity; a stroke of policy to which that people were always attentive, as they dreaded idleness in their own troops more than they did an enemy.

In England, the remains of those works are everywhere to be met with, there being few ancient towns in that country which have not a Roman road in their neighborhood; and, though we cannot expect them so frequently in Scotland, which lay without the bounds of the provinces, yet here also they are occasionally to be seen, and are the grandest monuments of the Roman rule which remain in the northern parts of the island.

A Roman high-way, nothing inferior to any within provincial Britain, runs far into Scotland. It can be traced with certainty north to the Grampians; and even beyond them, as far as Brechin, vestiges of it are to be observed. Leaving England at the Solway, it passed through Annandale and Clydesdale to the neighbourhood of Glasgow, running parallel to the Annan on to its source in the heights of north Moffat; and then falling in with the fountain-head of the Clyde, it seldom departed to any great distance from that river’s banks. From the vicinity of Glasgow, it took a direction eastward, across the isthmus, between the firths of Clyde and Forth, clinging to the same tract where the forts of Agricola and the wall of Antoninus stood.

In Stirlingshire, this great paved road has the name of Camelon causeway. It enters upon that shire at Castlecay, passing close by the southern ramparts of the fort; from thence it runs eastward, in as straight a course as the irregularity of the ground would admit, by Dykehouse, Seabegs, Elf-hill, and Roughcastle; and is in several places used a as road even now. Half-a-mile east of Roughcastle, it crosses the wall of Antoninus, in which an opening had been left for its passage. Near the wall its appearance is but faint. Shortly, however, it rises quite entire, and runs northward through some marshy ground and a ploughed field, till it comes up to the ancient station of Camelon, through the midst of which it passes, holding on to the river Carron. Between the wall and Camelon it is now intersected both by the canal, and the public road from Falkirk to Glasgow. From Camelon to the river, no vestige of it is to be discerned, the fields having been in tillage from time immemorial. Neither was any trace of the bridge where it had crossed the Carron observed till the summer of 1773, when workmen employed to make a reservoir at that very part of the river, dug up several of the foundation-stones; but, whether an arch of stone had been thrown over the Carron, or that the bridge had consisted only of wooden beams, supported by stone pillars, is quite uncertain. After the road had got free of the river, it appeared again upon a rising ground, a little westward of the church of Larbert, and held on in a straight course by Torwood-head, Plean-muir, Upper Bannockburn, Whins of Milton, St. Ninians, and Stirling. When it had reached the latter town, where every vestige of it is lost amidst buildings, enclosures, and cultivated fields, it took a westerly direction to a ford called the Drip, near Craigforth. Whether it had caught a compass round the hill on which Stirling stands; or, passing over it, had descended the sloping path of Ballochgeich, upon the north side of the castle, cannot now be determined. Still there is good reason to believe that the Romans had a station here. Sir Robert Sibbald, as one authority, has preserved an inscription, now obliterated, which he found upon a rock opposite to the old gate of the castle. "In Excv. Agit. Leg. II.;" of which the reading may be, In excubias agitantes legionis secunda – "for the daily and nightly watch of the second legion." Half-a-mile westward of the castle, and not far from a place called Kildean, very plain traces of this Roman road are discernible at a farm-house, which, together with its offices and yards, is situated upon the very summit of the surrounding lands. The peculiar form, and regular dimensions, together with the straight course, easily distinguish it from other causeways. Nearer to the Drip, too, its foundations have been dug up. The ford had a firm and solid bottom, and, during the summer season, carried little over two feet of water. There was thus no occasion here for a bridge to transport those hardy sons of Rome, whom much more stately rivers did not intimidate from their darling project of subduing the world. From the Drip, the road turned northward by Keir to Dunblane, where it again makes its appearance, holding on to Strathearn. Various vestiges of it are noticed by the statists of the parishes through which it seems to have run. In the moss of Kincardine, a Roman way was discovered, 12 feet broad, and formed by trees laid across each other. In Moss-Flanders, another was found running from south-east to north-west. Many years ago a number of logs of wood in the form of a raft, and squared by the axe, were also got in the same place. And again, on the south side of the Forth, west of the spots just alluded to, a road was discovered exactly similar in breadth and character to that noticed at Kincardine.

As to the form of construction of this military road, great pains must have been taken to render it firm and durable. It consisted of several layers of stone and earth, which, however, seem to have been thrown together just as they came to hand; for the stones are of all dimensions. It is generally about twelve feet in breadth, and its foundations are so deep, that, in the formation of it the Roman labourers seem first to have dug a ditch, which they filled up again with stones and earth, in a careless manner, till they had raised it at least a foot above the natural surface. It always rises in the middle, and slopes towards the edges; and, on each side, especially where the ground is wet, there has been a small ditch or drain, to keep the work dry. The stones of the uppermost layer were generally of so large a size, that, unless always well covered with gravel, it must have prevented the legions from marching either with ease or expedition. Its direction is as straight as the nature of the ground through which it passes would admit; and the track of it is a much shorter road from Falkirk to Stirling, than the present winding high-way.

As the itinerary of Antoninus reaches no farther northward than the firths of Tweed and Solway, we cannot from thence derive any assistance to enable us to determine, whether the different stages and distances were marked out upon the military road in Scotland, with the same precision as in provincial Britain, and other parts of the empire. It is, however, certain that the Romans had measured, with much exactness, the breadth of the isthmus between the firths of Forth and Clyde. This is evident from the situation of the forts at regular distances, and also from inscriptions upon stones found in sundry parts of "Graham’s Dyke," which expressly mention the number of miles executed by the different divisions of the army employed in that work. We may well suppose that a people, whose attention and care descended to the minutest circumstances, did not neglect an exact mensuration of their roads, even to their farthest extremities.

It is a disputed point in the circle of our antiquaries, as to who was the maker of the work under review – Agricola, or Antoninus. Both probably had a connection practically with the scheme. Tacitus mentions no other enterprise in which the army of Agricola were employed during their fourth campaign, except the erection of the praesidia across the isthmus; and as they consisted of three legions, besides the auxiliaries, it could be no laborious task to finish both these and the military road in the course of one summer.

In those times, and even much later, the greater part of Stirlingshire was covered with woods, many vestiges of which remain to this day. The Roman historians often speak of forests which the armies of that people had to cut down, and marches which they had to drain, or make roads through, in their marches towards Caledonia; and, if the speech which Tacitus puts into the mouth of Galgacus, before the battle at mount Grampian, be genuine, it appears that they employed not only their own soldiers in this work, but compelled, with much rigour, such of the natives as fell into their hands to labour with them; "Corpora ipsa ac manus, silvis ac paludibus emuniendis, verbera inter ac contumelias conterunt."

It must, however, be added that after the wall of Antoninus was built, the military road was carried on eastward to the firth of Forth, where the former terminated. Vestiges of it, in fact, are still discernible in sundry places.

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