WHEN the Scots first came to Albion, they
found it already peopled by the Britons, and by another race called the
Picts. It is not certain from where these Picts came, but they were a very
wild and fierce people. It is supposed that they were called Picts, from the
Latin word pictus, which means painted, because they painted their bodies
instead of wearing clothes.
were three races living in Scotland, and these were divided into many tribes
who often fought with each other. There were kings of Scots, kings of Picts,
and kings of Britons, all ruling in Albion. Sometimes the kings and their
peoples all fought against each other; sometimes the Picts and the Scots
joined together against the Britons. Those were fierce and wild times, and
they were all fierce and wild peoples. They lived in caves, or in holes dug
in the ground and covered over with turf and with branches of trees. They
wore few clothes except those made from the skins of animals, although the
Scots knew how to weave and make cloth in bright coloured checks and
A great part of the country
was covered with forests. In these forests wild beasts prowled about. Bears,
wolves, wild boars, bisons, and a kind of tiger, were the fiercest, but
there were also several kinds of deer, beavers, and many other animals which
are no longer to be found in Scotland.
The people hunted these animals and killed them for food, and also for their
skins, of which they made clothes. In hunting they used bows and arrows.
Bows and arrows were used too in war, as well as a long, blunt, heavy spear.
And in hunting and fighting the men spent nearly all their time.
Years went on. Many kings, good and bad, lived,
and ruled, and died, and at last a great and clever people called the Romans
heard of the island of Britain, and came sailing over the sea to conquer it.
They landed first in the south of the island and tried to conquer the people
there, and it was not until the year 80 A.D., more than a hundred years
after the Romans first came to Britain, that a general called Agricola
marched into Scotland against the Caledonians, as the Romans called all the
tribes who lived in the north part of the island.
Agricola took some of his soldiers into Scotland
by land. Others sailed there in great galleys, as the Roman ships were
called. The Caledonians did not fear the Roman soldiers. They had already
fought against them many times, for they had often marched into the south of
the island to help the Britons against the Romans. 'They were willing,' says
an old writer, 'to help towards the delivery of the land from the bondage of
the Romans, whose nestling so near their noses they were loth to see or hear
But if the Caledonians did not
fear the soldiers, the great galleys of the Romans filled them with awe and
dread. Never before had they seen so many nor such great ships. 'The very
ocean is given over to our enemies,' they said. 'How shall we save ourselves
from these mighty conquerors who thus surround us on every side?'
But although the Caledonians were filled with
dread, they fought bravely. As Agricola marched northward by the coast, his
galleys followed him on the sea. Sometimes the galleys would come close to
the shore, and the sailors would land and join the soldiers in the camp.
There they would tell stories to each other of the battles and dangers, of
the storms and adventures, through which they had passed, each trying to
make the others believe that their adventures had been the most exciting,
their dangers the greatest.
Caledonians fought fiercely, but Agricola's soldiers were far better
trained, and gradually he drove the islanders before him into the mountains
beyond the rivers Forth and Clyde. There he built a line of forts. He knew
that he had neither conquered nor subdued the fierce Caledonians. So he
built this line of forts in order to cut them off from the south, and shut
them, as it were, into another island.
Having built this line of forts, Agricola marched still farther north. But
the Caledonians fought so fiercely that some of the Roman leaders begged
Agricola to turn back. Agricola would not go back, but as the winter was
near, and the roads were so bad as to be almost impassable, he encamped and
waited for the spring before fighting any more.
The Caledonians spent the winter in making
preparations for battle. All the various tribes forgot their quarrels and
joined together under a leader called Galgacus. Sending their wives and
children to a safe place, the men, young and old, from far and near, flocked
to Galgacus eager to fight for their country.
When spring came and the roads were once more
passable, the Romans left their camp and marched northward, seeking the
Caledonians. They met, it is thought, somewhere upon the slopes of the
Grampian hills, but no one is sure of the exact spot.
The Caledonians were little more than savages,
yet they were ready to fight to the last for their country. They were almost
naked. They wore no armour and carried only small shields. For weapons they
had bows and arrows, blunt iron swords and heavy spears. Those in the centre
of the army were mounted upon rough little horses, and there too were
gathered the war chariots with swords upon the wheels ready to dash among
the enemy and cut them down.
these savage warriors came the splendid soldiers of the Roman Empire, clad
in glittering coats of mail, armed with swords and spears of sharpened
steel, every man among them trained to obey, to fight, and to die.
As the Caledonians stood ready for battle,
Galgacus made a speech to them. 'Fight to-day,' he said, 'for the liberty of
Albion. We have never been slaves, and if we would not now become the slaves
of these proud Romans there is nothing left to us but to fight and die. We
are at the farthest limits of ]and and liberty. There is no land behind us
to which we may flee. There is nothing but the waves and rocks and the
Romans in their ships. These plunderers of the world having taken all the
land, now claim the seas, so that even if we fly to the sea there is no
safety from them. They kill and slay, and take what is not theirs, and call
it Empire. They make a desert and call it Peace. Our children, our wives,
and all who are dear to us, are torn from us, our lands and goods are
destroyed. Let this day decide if such things we are to suffer for ever or
revenge instantly. March then to battle. Think of your children and of the
freedom which was your fathers', and win it again, or die.'
When Galgacus had finished speaking, the
Caledonians answered with great shouts and songs, then with their chariots
and horsemen they rushed upon the Romans. Fiercely the battle began,
fiercely it raged. The Caledonians fought with splendid courage, but what
could half-naked savages do against the steel-clad warriors of Rome? When
night fell, ten thousand Caledonians lay dead upon the field. The Romans had
won the victory.
All through the night
could be heard the desolate cries of sorrow and despair, as women moved over
the battlefield seeking their dead, and helping the wounded. All through the
night the sky was red with the light of fires. But in the morning the
country far and near was empty and silent, and the villages were smoking
ruins. Not a Caledonian was to be seen. They had burned their homes and fled
away to hide among the mountains.
Agricola, knowing that it would be useless to try to follow them through the
dark forest and hills, turned and marched southward again beyond his line of
forts. A few months later he was called back to Rome.
Agricola had been four years in Scotland, and
when he left it the people were still unconquered.