Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

General History of the Highlands
B.C. 55 - A.D. 446

Highlands defined
As it is generally acknowledged that the physical character of a country influences in a great degree the moral and physical character of its inhabitants, and thus to a certain extent determines their history, it may not be deemed out of place to define here the application of the term Highlands, so far as Scotland is concerned, and briefly to describe the general physical aspect of that part of our native land. If it hold good at all that there subsists a relation between a people and the country which they have inhabited for centuries, the following history will show that this is peculiarly the case with the Scottish Highlanders.

Most of those who have thought of the matter at all, have doubtless formed to themselves a general notion of the northern half of Scotland as a

"Land of brown heath and shaggy wood,
Land of the mountains and the flood,"

and of its inhabitants as a brawny, rugged indomitable, impulsive race, steadfast in their friendship and loyalty, but relentless and fierce in their enmity. Although the popular and poetic notion of the country is on the whole correct, and although the above epithets may express the main features of the character of the people, still it requires a close acquaintance with this interesting race, both historically and by personal intercourse, to form an adequate notion of their character in all its aspects.

To speak roughly, nearly the whole of the country north of a line connecting the heads of the estuaries of the Clyde, Forth, and Tay, may be included under the designation of the Highlands, and, in fact, popularly is so. Indeed, at the time at which the northern half of Scotland - the ancient and proper Caledonia - emerges from its pristine gloom, and for the first time glimmers in the light of history, the line indicated by the forts of Agricola, and afterwards by the wall of Antonine, marked the southern boundary of the region which was then, and for centuries afterwards, regarded by the Romans, and also, probably, by the southern Britons, as occupying the same position in relation to the rest of the country as the highlands proper did at a subsequent period. In course of time the events which fall to be recorded in the following pages gradually altered this easily perceived boundary, so that for centuries before the present day, a much more intricate but still distinct line has marked the limits of what is now strictly and correctly regarded as the Highlands of Scotland.

The definition of this territory which best suits the purposes of history, and in all respects most nearly accords with those of political and social geography, is one which makes it commensurate with the country or locations of the ancient Highland clans. This definition assigns to the Highlands all the continental territory north of the Moray firth, and all the territory, both insular and continental, westward of an easily traceable line from that firth to the firth of Clyde.

The line commences at the mouth of the river Nairn: thence, with the exception of a slight north -eastward or outward curve, the central point of which is on the river Spey, it runs due south-east till it strikes the river Dee at Tullach, nearly on the third degree of longitude west of Greenwich; it then runs generally south till it falls upon Westwater, or the southern large head- water of the North Esk; thence, over a long stretch, it runs almost due south-west, and with scarcely a deviation, till it falls upon the Clyde at Ardmore in the parish of Cardross; and now onward to the Atlantic ocean, it moves along the firth of Clyde, keeping near to the continent, and excluding none of the Clyde islands except the comparatively unimportant Cumbrae. All the Scottish territory west and north - west of this line is properly the Highlands. Yet both for the convenience of topographical description, and because, altogether down to the middle of the 13th. century, and partially down to the middle of the 16th, the Highlands and the Western Islands were politically and historically distinct regions, the latter are usually viewed apart from the name of the Hebrides.

The mainland Highlands, or the Highlands after the Hebrides are deducted, extend in extreme length from Duncansby Head, or John o' Groats on the north, to the Mull of Kintyre on the south, about 250 miles.; but over a distance of 90 miles at the northern end, they have an average breadth of only about 45 miles, - over a distance of 50 or 55 miles at the southern end, they consist mainly of the Clyde islands, and the very narrow peninsula of Kintyre,- and even at their broadest part, from the eastern base of the Grampians to Ardnamurchan Point on the west, they do not extend to more than 120 miles. The district comprehends the whole of the counties of Caithness, Sutherland, Ross, Cromarty, Inverness, and Argyle, large parts of Nairn, Perth, Dumbarton, and Bute, and considerable portions of Elgin, Banff, Aberdeen, Forfar, and Stirling. Considerable parts of this district, however, such as Caithness-shire, the island of Bute and some large tracts of moor or valley or flanking plain, do not exhibit the physical features which are strictly Highland.

A district so extensive can be but faintly pictured in a general and rapid description. Mountains, chiefly covered with heath or ling, but occasionally, on the one hand, displaying sides and summits of naked rock, and on the other, exhibiting a dress of verdure, everywhere rise, at short intervals, in chains, ridges, groups, and even solitary heights. Their forms are of every variety, from the precipitous and pinnacled acclivity, to the broad-based and round-backed ascent; but, in general, are sharp in outline, and wild or savagely grand in feature. Both elongated ridges, and chains or series of short parallel ridges, have a prevailing direction from the north-east to the south-west, and send up summits from 1,000 to upwards of 4,000 feet above the level of the sea.

Glens, valleys, and expanses of lowland stretch in all directions among the mountain, and abound in voluminous streams, and large elongated lakes of picturesque appearance, - nearly all the inland lakes extending in stripes either north-eastward and south-westward, or eastward and westward. Along the whole west coast, at remarkably brief intervals, arms of the sea, long, narrow and sometimes exceedingly rugged in outline, run north-eastward or south-eastward into the interior, and assist the inland fresh water lakes in cleaving it into sections.

The rivers of the region are chiefly impetuous torrents, careering for a while along mountain-gorges, and afterwards either expanding themselves into beautiful lakes and flowing athwart delightful meadows, or ploughing long narrow valleys, green and ornate with grasses, trefoils, daisies, ranunculi, and a profuse variety of other herbage and flowers. Native woods, principally of pine and birch, and occasionally clumps and expanses of plantation, climb the acclivities of the gentler heights, or crowd down upon the valley, and embosom the inland lakes.

On the east side, along the coast to the Moray frith, and towards the frontier in the counties of Nairn, Elgin and Perth, gentle slopes and broad belts of lowland, fertile in soil and favourable in position, are carpeted with agricultural luxuriance, and thickly dotted with human dwellings, and successfully vie with the south of Scotland in towns and population, and in the pursuit and display of wealth. But almost everywhere else, except in the fairytale of Loch Fyne, and the southern shore of Loch Etive, the Highlands are sequestered,- sinless of a town,- a semi-wilderness, where a square mile is a more convenient unit of measurement than an acre.

A district characterized by such features as we have named necessarily exhibits, within very circumscribed limits, varieties of scenery of the most opposite descriptions; enabling the admirer of nature to pass abruptly from dwelling on the loveliness of an extensive marine or champaign landscape into the deep solitude of an ancient forest, or the dark craggy fastnesses of an alpine ravine; or from lingering amid the quiet grassy meadows of a pastoral strath or valley, watered by its softly-flowing stream, to the open heathy mountain-side, whence 'alps o'er alps arise', whose summits are often shrouded with mists and almost perennial snows, and their overhanging precipices furrowed by foaming cataracts.

Lakes and long arms of the sea, either fringed with woods or surrounded with rocky barren shores, now studded with islands, and anon extending their silvery arms into distant receding mountains, are met in every district; while the extreme steepness, ruggedness, and sterility of many of the mountain-chains impart to them as imposing and magnificent characters as are to be seen in the much higher and more accessible elevations of Switzerland. No wonder, then, that this 'land of mountain and of flood' should have given birth to the song of the bard, and afforded material for the theme of the sage, in all ages; and that its inhabitants should be tinctured with deep romantic feelings, at once tender, melancholy, and wild; and that the recollection of their own picturesque native dwellings should haunt them to their latest hours. Neither, amid such profusion and diversity of all that is beautiful and sublime in nature, can the unqualified admiration of strangers, from every part of Europe, of the scenery of the Highlands fail of being easily accounted for; nor can any hesitate in recommending them to visit the more remote or unknown solitudes.

Such are the main features of the Highlands of Scotland at the present day, and, to a considerable extent, the description might have applied to the country at the time of the Roman invasion . Still, in the graphic words of Stuart, "To form an idea of the general aspect of Scotland , as it was some eighteen hundred years ago, we must, in imagination, restore to its now varied surface the almost unbroken gloom of the primeval forest; her waving mantle of sombre hue, within which the genius loci may be supposed to have brooded over the seclusion and the poverty of 'ancient Caledon.' In a bird's-eye view, if such a thought may be indulged, the greatest part of the country presented, in all probability, the appearance of one continuous wood; a mass of cheerless verdure resting on hill and dale - the sameness of its dark extent broken only where some lake or green-clad morass met the view, or where the higher mountains lifted their summits above the line of vegetation. In some districts, considerable tracks of open moorland might, doubtless, be seen clad in the indigenous heather of the North; while, in others, occasional spots of pasture-land would here and there appear;- but, on the whole, these must have formed a striking contrast to the wide expanse of the prevailing forest."

As the present work is concerned only with the Highlands of Scotland, it would of course be out of place to give any minute account of the transactions of the Romans in the other parts of the island. Suffice it to say that from the time, B.C. 55, when Julius Caesar first landed on the coast of South Britain, until A.D. 78, when, under the Emperor Vespasian, Cnęus Julius Agricola, assumed the command in Great Britain, the greater part of midland and south England had been brought under the sway of the Romans. This able commander set himself with vigour and earnestness to confirm the conquests which had been already made, to reduce the rest of the country to subjection, to conciliate the Britons by mild measures, and to attach them to the Roman power by introducing among them Roman manners, literature. luxuries, and dress.

Agricola was appointed to the command in Britain in the year 78 A.D., but appears not to have entered Scotland till his third campaign in the year 80. He employed himself in the years 80, 81, and 82, in subduing the country south of the friths of Forth and Clyde, - the Bodotria and Glotta of Tacitus,- erecting in 81, a series of forts between these two estuaries. Having accomplished this, Agricola made preparations for his next campaign, which he was to open beyond the friths in the summer of 83, he in the meantime having heard that the Caledonions- as Tacitus calls the people north of the Forth- had formed a confederacy to resist the invader.

These Caledonians appear to have been divided into a number of tribes or clans, having little or no political connection, and almost constantly at war amongst themselves. It was only when a foreign foe threatened their much-prized freedom that a sense of danger forced them to unite for a time under the command of a military leader. Some writers, on the authority of Ptolemy of Alexandria, but chiefly on that of the pseudo-Richard of Cirencester , give a list of the various tribes which, during the Roman period, inhabited North Britain, and define the locality which each occupied with as much exactness as they might do a modern English county. "

There was one thing," says Tacitus, " which gave us an advantage over these powerful nations, that they never consulted together for an advantage of the whole. It was rare that even two or three of them united against the common enemy." Their whole means of subsistence consisted in the milk and flesh of their flocks and the products of the chase. They lived in a state almost approaching to nudity; but whether from necessity or choice cannot be satisfactorily determined. Dio represents the Caledonians as being naked, but Herodian speaks of them as wearing a partial covering. They appear , at all events, if the stone dug up at Blackness in the year 1868, be taken as an authority to have gone naked into battle. Their towns, which were few, consisted of huts covered with turf or skins , and for better security they were erected in the centre of some wood or morass. "What the Britons call a town," says Cęsar, "is a tract of woody country, surrounded by a vallum and ditch, for the security of themselves and cattle against the incursions of an enemy; for, when they have enclosed a very large circuit with felled trees, they build within it houses for themselves and hovels for their cattle. Notwithstanding, perhaps owing to the scantiness of their covering, which left their bodies exposed to the rigour of a cold and variable climate, the Caledonians were a remarkably hardy race, capable of enduring fatigue, cold, and hunger to an extent which their descendants of the present day could not encounter without risk of life.

They were decidedly a warlike people, and are said, like the heroes of more ancient times, to have been addicted to robbery. The weapons of their warfare consisted of small spears, long broadswords, and hand daggers; and they defended their bodies in combat by small target or shield,- all much of the same form and construction as those afterwards used by their posterity in more modern times. It would appear from the stone above referred to that the shields of the Caledonians were oblong, with a boss in the centre, and their swords short and pointed,- not long and blunt, as represented by Tacitus. The use of cavalry appears not to have been so well understood among the Caledonians as among the more southern tribes; but in battle they often made use of cars, or chariots, which were drawn by small, swift, and spirited horses; and it is conjectured that, like those used by the southern Britons, they had iron scythes projecting from the axle.

It is impossible to say what form of government obtained among these warlike tribes. When history is silent, historians should either maintain a cautious reserve or be sparing in their conjectures; but analogy may supply materials for well-grounded speculations, and it may therefore be asserted, without any great stretch of the imagination, that, like most of the other uncivilized tribes we read of in history, the Northern Britons or Caledonians were under the government of a leader or chief to whom they yielded a certain degree of obedience. Dio, indeed, insinuates that the governments of these tribes of these tribes were democratic; but he should have been aware that it is only when bodies often assume, in an advanced state of civilization, a compact and united form that democracy can prevail; and the state of barbarism in which he says the inhabitants of North Britain existed at the period in question seems to exclude such a supposition. We have no certain information from any contemporary, and conjecture is therefore groundless. Later fable-loving historians and chroniclers, indeed, give lists of Kings of Scotland- or, rather, of Pictland- extending back for centuries before the Christian era, but these by general consent are now banished to the realm of myths.

It is probable, as we have already said, that the Caledonians were divided into a number of independent tribes, and that each tribe was presided over by a chief, but how he obtained his supremacy it is impossible to say. We have one instance, at least, of a number of tribes uniting under one leader, viz., at the battle of Mons Grampius, when the Caledonians were commanded by a chief or leader called by Tacitus, Galgacus, "inter plures duces virtute et genere pręstans." " The earliest bond of union may probably be traced to the time when they united under one common leader to resist or assail the Roman legionaries; and out of the Dux or Toshach elected for the occasion, like Galgacus, and exercising a paramount though temporary authority, arose the Ardrigh or supreme king, after some popular or ambitious chieftain had prolonged his power by successful wars, or procured his election to this prominent station for life."

Whatever may have been the relation of the members of the different tribes, and the relation of the tribes to each other, it is certain, from the general tone of the works of Tacitus and other Roman historians in which those early inhabitants of the Scottish Highlands are mentioned, that they offered a far more formidable resistance to the Roman arms than had hitherto been done by any other of the British tribes.

In personal stature, the natives of Caledonia, like those of other parts of Britain, appear to have excelled their Roman invaders, and from Tacitus we learn that those with whom his father-in-law came into contact were distinguished by ruddy locks and lusty limbs. It is also certain that for the sake of ornament, or for the purpose of making their appearance more terrible in war, they resorted to the barbarous practice of tattooing their bodies. Indeed it may be taken as a proof of their never having to any gret extent come under the power and influence of Rome and Roman customs, that they retained this practice for long after the other Britons had abandoned it, and on this account, in all probability, afterwards acquired the name of Picts.

The people whom Agricola encountered in Scotland cannot have been otherwise than tolerable proficients in the common branches of art; how else can we suppose them to have been supplied with which they are said to have appeared before him? Indolent and uninformed as were the bulk of the people, they must have had among them artificers both in wood and in iron, not unskilled in their respective trades- able to construct the body of a car - to provide for its axles of great strength - above all, able to construct the wheels and arm them with those sharp-edged instruments that were destined to cut down whatever opposed their course.

Agricola, in the summer of 83, after having obtained information as to the nature of the country and the aspect of its inhabitants from exploring parties and prisoners, transported his army across the Frith of Forth to the shores of Fife by means of his fleet, and marched along the coast eastwards, keeping the fleet in sight. It cannot with certainty be ascertained at what part of the Forth this transportation of the forces took place, although some bold antiquarians assert it must have been not far from Queensferry. The fleet, Tacitus tells us, now acting, for the first time, in concert with the land-forces, proceeded in sight of the army, forming a magnificent spectacle, and adding terror to the war. It frequently happened that in the same camp were seen the infantry and cavalry intermixed with the marines, all indulging their joy, full of their adventures, and magnifying the history of their exploits; the soldier describing, in the usual style of military ostentation, the forests which he had passed, the mountains which he climbed, and the barbarians whom he put to the rout; while the sailor had his storms and tempests, the wonders of the deep, and the spirit with which he conquered winds and waves.

The offensive operations of the sixth campaign were commenced by the Caledonian Britons, who, from the higher country, made a furious attack upon the trans-Forthan fortifications, which so alarmed some of Agricola's officers, who were afraid of being cut off from a retreat, that they advised their general to recross the Forth without delay; but Agricola resisted this advice, and made preparations for the attack which he expected would soon be made upon his army. As Agricola had received information that the enemy intended to fall upon him from various quarters, he divided his army into three bodies and continued his march. Some antiquarians have attempted to trace the route taken by each division, founding their elaborate theories on the very slender remains of what they suppose to have been Roman fortifications and encampments.

As it would serve no good purpose to encumber our pages with these antiquarian conjectures, detailed accounts of which we will be found in Chalmers, Stuart, Roy, and others, we shall only say that, with considerable plausibility, it is supposed that the Ninth Legion encamped on the north side of Loch Ore, about two miles south of Loch Leven in Kinross-shire. Another legion, it is said, encamped near Dunearn Hill, about a mile distant from Burntisland, near which hill are still to be seen remains of a strength called Agricola's camp. At all events the divisions do not seem to have been very far apart, as will be seen from the following episode.

The enemy having watched the proceedings of the Roman army made the necessary preparations for the attack, and during the night made a furious assault on the Ninth Legion at Loch Ore. They had acted with such caution that they were actually at the very camp before Agricola was aware of their movements; but with great presence of mind he dispatched a body of his lightest troops to turn their flank and attack the assailants in the rear. After an obstinate engagement, maintained with varied success in the very gates of the camp, the Britons were at length repulsed by the superior skill of the Roman veterans. This battle was so far decisive, that Agricola did not find much difficulty afterwards in subduing the surrounding country, and, having finished his campaign, he passed the winter of 83 in Fife; being supplied with provisions from his fleet in the Forth, and keeping up a constant correspondence with his garrisons on the southern side.

By this victory, according to Tacitus, so complete and glorious, the Roman army was inspired with confidence to such a degree, that they now pronounced themselves invincible, and desired to penetrate to the extremity of the island.

The Caledonians now began to perceive the danger of their situation from the proximity of such a powerful enemy, and a sense of this danger impelled them to lay aside the feuds and jealousies which had divided and distracted the tribes, to consult together for their mutual safety and protection, and to combine their scattered strength into a united and energetic mass. The proud spirit of independence which had hitherto kept the Caledonian tribes part, now made them coalesce in support of their liberties, which were threatened with utter annihilation. In this eventful crisis, they looked around them for a leader or chief under whom they might fight the battle of freedom, and save their country from the dangers which threatened it. A chief, named Galgacus, by Tacitus, was pitched upon to act as generalissimo of the Caledonian army; and, from the praises bestowed upon him by that historian, this warrior appears to have well merited the distinction thus bestowed.

Preparatory to the struggle they were about to engage in, they sent their wives and children into places of safety, and, in solemn assemblies in which public sacrifices were offered up, ratified the confederacy into which they had entered against their common enemy.

Having strengthened his army with some British auxiliaries from the south, Agricola marched through Fife in the summer of 84, making for a spot called by Tacitus Mons Grampius; sending at the same time his fleet round the eastern coast, to support him in his operations, and to distract the attention of the Caledonians. Various conjectures have been broached as to the exact line of Agricola's march and the exact position of the Mons Grampius. The most plausible of these is that of General Roy, who supposes that the march of Agricola was regulated by the course of the Devon; that he turned to the right from Glendevon through the opening of the Ochil hills, along the course of the rivulet which runs along Gleneagles; leaving the braes of Ogilvie on his left, and passing between Blackford and Auchterarder towards the Grampian hills, which he saw at a distance before him as he debouched from the Ochils. By an easy march he reached the moor of Ardoch, from which he descried the Caledonian army, to the number of 30,000 men, encamped on the declivity of the hill which begins to rise from the north-western border of the moor of Ardoch.

Agricola took his station at the great camp which adjoins the fort of Ardoch on the northward. If the Roman camp at Ardoch does mark the spot where the disastrous engagement about to be noticed took place between these brave and determined Caledonians and the invincible Roman legions, it is highly probable that Agricola drew out his army on the neighbouring moor, having a large ditch or trench of considerable length in front, the Caledonian host under Galgacus being already disposed in battle array on the heights beyond. The Roman army is supposed to have numbered about 20,000 or 30,000, the auxiliary infantry, in number about 8,000, occupying the centre, the wings consisting of 3,000 horse. The legions were stationed in the rear, at the head of the entrenchments, as a body of reserve to support the ranks, if necessary, but otherwise to remain inactive, that a victory, obtained without the effusion of Roman blood, might be of higher value.

Previous to the commencement of this interesting fight, according to "the fashion of historical literature at that time," a speech is put into the mouth of each general by the historian Tacitus. "How much more valuable would it have been to us had Tacitus deigned to tell us something about the tongue in which the leader of the barbarians spoke, or even his name, and the name of the place where he fought, as the natives uttered it ! Yet, for the great interests of its day, the speech of Galgacus was far removed from a mere feat of idle pedantry. It was a noble rebuke on the empire and the Roman people, who, false to the high destiny assigned to them by Virgil, of protecting the oppressed and striking down the oppressors, had become the common scourge of all mankind. The profligate ambition, the perfidy, the absorbing pride, the egotism, and the cruelty of the dominant people - how could all be so aptly set forth as in the words of a barbarian chief, ruling over the free people who were to be the next victims.

The narrative of the battle we give mainly in the words of the Roman commander's son-in-law, Tacitus, who no doubt had the story from Agricola's own mouth. The battle began, and at first was maintained at a distance. The Britons wanted neither skill nor resolution. With their long swords, and targets of small dimension, they had the address to elude the missive weapons of the Romans, and at the same time to discharge a thick volley of their own. To bring the conflict to a speedy decision, Agricola ordered three Batavian and two Tungrian cohorts to charge the enemy sword in hand. To this mode of attack those troops had been long accustomed, but to the Britons it was every way disadvantageous. Their small targets offered no protection, and their unwieldy swords, not sharpened to a point, could do but little execution in a close engagement. The Batavians rushed to the attack with impetuous fury; they redoubled their blows, and with the bosses of their shields bruised the enemy in the face, and, having overpowered all resistance on the plain, began to force their way up the ascent of the hill in regular order of battle. Incited by their example, the other cohorts advanced with a spirit of emulation, and cut their way with terrible slaughter. Eager in pursuit of victory, they pressed forward with determined fury, leaving behind them numbers wounded, but not slain, and others not so much as hurt.

The Roman cavalry, in the mean time, was forced to give ground. The Caledonians, in their armed chariots, rushed at full speed into the thick of the battle, where the infantry were engaged. Their first impression struck a general terror, but their career was soon checked by the inequalities of the ground, and the close embodied ranks of the Romans. Nothing could less resemble an engagement of the cavalry. Pent up in narrow places, the barbarians crowded upon each other, and were driven or dragged along by their own horses. A scene of confusion followed. Chariots without a guide, and horses without a rider, broke from the ranks in wild disorder, and flying every way, as fear and consternation urged, they overwhelmed their own files, and trampled down all who came their way.

Meanwhile the Britons, who had hitherto kept their post on the hills, looking down with contempt on the scanty numbers of the Roman army, began to quit their station. Descending slowly, they hoped, by wheeling round the field of battle, to attack the victors in the rear. To counteract their design, Agricola ordered four squadrons of horse, which he had kept as a body of reserve, to advance the charge. The Britons poured down with impetuosity, and retired with equal precipitation. At the same time, the cavalry, by the directions of the general, wheeled round from the wings, and fell with great slaughter on the rear of the enemy, who now perceived that their own stratagem was turned against themselves.

The field presented a dreadful spectacle of carnage and destruction. The Britons fled; the Romans pursued; they wounded, gashed, and mangled the runaways; they seized their prisoners, and, to be ready for others, butchered them on the spot. Despair and horror appeared in various shapes; in one part of the field the Caledonians, sword in hand, fled in crowds from a handful of Romans; in other places, without a weapon left, they faced every danger, and rushed on certain death. Swords and bucklers, mangled limbs and dead bodies, covered the plain. The field was red with blood. The vanquished Britons had their moments of returning courage, and gave proofs of virtue and of brave despair. They fled to the woods, and rallying their scattered numbers, surrounded such of the Romans as pursued with too much eagerness.

Night coming on, the Romans, weary of slaughter, desisted from the pursuit. Ten thousand of the Caledonians fell in this engagement: on the part of the Romans, the number of slain did not exceed three hundred and forty.

The Roman army, elate with success, and enriched with plunder, passed the night in exultation. The Britons, on the other hand, wandered about, uncertain which way to turn, helpless and disconsolate. The mingled cries of men and women filled the air with lamentations. Some assisted to carry off the wounded; others called for the assistance of such as escaped unhurt; numbers abandoned their habitations, or, in their frenzy, set them on fire. They fled to obscure retreats, and, in the moment of choice, deserted them; they held consultations, and, having inflamed their hopes, changed their minds in despair; they beheld the pledges of tender affection, and burst into tears; they viewed them again, and grew fierce with resentment. It is a fact well authenticated, that some laid violent hands upon their wives and children, determined with savage compassion to end their misery.

After obtaining hostages from the Horestians, who in all probability inhabited what is now the county of Fife, Agricola garrisoned the stations on the isthmus and elsewhere, recrossed the Forth, and took up his winter quarters in the north of England, about theTyne and Solway. In the meantime he gave orders to the fleet, then lying probably in the Frith of Forth or Tay, to proceed on a voyage of discovery to the northward. The enterprise appears to have been successfully accomplished by the Roman navy, which proceeded coastwise as far as the Orkneys, whence it sailed by the Western Islands and the British Channel ad Portum Trutulensem, Richborough in Kent, returning to the point from which it started. This is the first voyage on record that determined Britain to be an island.

The Emperor Domitian now resolved to supersede Agricola in his command in North Britain; and he was accordingly recalled in the year 85, under the pretence of promoting him to the government of Syria, but in reality out of envy on account of the glory which he had obtained by the success of his arms. He died on the 23rd of August, 93, some say, from poison, while others attribute his death to the effects of chagrin at the unfeeling treatment of Domitian. His countrymen lamented his death, and Tacitus, his son-in-law, preserved the memory of his actions and his worth in the history of his life.

During the remainder of Domitian's reign, and that of Hadrian his successor, North Britain appears to have enjoyed tranquillity; an inference which may be fairly drawn from the silence of the Roman historians. Yet as Hadrian in the year 121 built a wall between the Solway and the Tyne, some writers have supposed that the Romans had been driven by the Caledonians out of North Britain, in the reign of that Emperor. But if such was the case, how did Lollius Urbicus, the Roman general, about nineteen years after Hadrian's wall was erected, penetrate without opposition to Agricola's forts between the Clyde and the Forth? May we not rather suppose that the wall of Hadrian was built for the purpose of preventing incursions into the south by the tribes which inhabited the country between that wall and the Friths? But, be this as it may, little is known of the history of North Britain from the time of Agricola's recall till the year 138, when Antonius Pius assumed the imperial purple. That good and sagacious emperor was distinguished by the care which he took in selecting the fittest officers for the government of the Roman provinces; and his choice, for that of Britain, fell on Lollius Urbicus.

The positive information concerning the transactions of this general in North Britain is as meagre as could possibly be, the only clearly ascertained fact in connection with his commnd being that he built a wall between the Forth and Clyde, very nearly on a line with the forts established by Agricola. "The meagreness of all ancient record," says Burton, "of the achievements of Lollius Urbicus is worthy of emphatic mention and recollection, because his name has got into the ordinary abridged histories which speak of it, and of 'his campaign in the north', as well-known events, of which people naturally expect fuller information elsewhere. The usual sources for reference regarding him will however be found utterly dumb."

The story commonly given is that he proceeded north as far as the Moray Frith, throwing the extensive country between Forth and Clyde and the Moray Frith into the form of a regular Roman province, which, on the worthless authority of the pseudo-Richard, was named Vespasiana. All this may have been the case, and the remains of Roman stations found throughout the wide tract just mentioned give some plausibility to the conjecture; but there is only the most slender grounds for connecting them with any northern expedition of Lollius Urbicus. At all events we may very safely conclude, from the general tone of the records which remain of his and of subsequent expeditions, as well as from the fact that they found it necessary to divide the Lowlands from the Highlands by a fortified wall, that the Romans considered the Caledonians of their time very troublesome, and found it exceedingly difficult if not impossible to bring them under their otherwise universal yoke.

It may not be out of place to give here some account of the wall of Antonine. The wall or rampart extended from Carriden on the Forth, two miles west from Blackness, and about the same distance east from Bo'ness, to West Kilpatrick on the Clyde. The date, which may be depended on, assigned to the building of the wall is between 138 and 140 A.D. Taking the length of this wall from Kilpatrick on the Clyde to Caeridden or Carriden on the Forth, its extent would be 39,726 Roman paces, which exactly agrees with the modern measurement of 36 English miles and 620 yards. This rampart, which was of earth, and rested on a stone foundation, was upwards of twenty feet high and four and twenty feet thick. Along the whole extent of the wall there was a vast ditch or prœtentura on the outward or north side, which was generally twenty feet deep and forty feet wide, and which, there is reason to believe, might be filled with water when occasion required.

This ditch and rampart were strengthened at both ends, and throughout its whole extent, by about twenty forts, three being at each extremity, and the remainder placed between at the distance of about two English miles from one another; and it is highly probable that these stations were designedly placed on the previous fortifications of Agricola. The following, going from east to west, are the names and sites of some of the stations which have been identified:- Rough Castle, Castlecary, Westerwood, Bunhill, Auchindinny, Kirkintilloch, Bemulie, East Kilpatrick, Castlehill, Duntocher, West Kilpatrick. It will be seen that to a certain extent they are on the line of Edinburgh and Glasgow railway, and throughout nearly its whole length that of the Forth and Clyde canal. Its necessary appendage, a military road, ran behind the rampart from end to end, for the use of the troops and for keeping up the usual communications between the station or forts.

From inscriptions on some of the foundation stones, which have been dug up, it appears that the Sixth legion, with detachments from the sixth and twentieth legions and some auxiliaries, executed these vast military works, equally creditable to their skill and perseverance. Dunglas near the western extremity, and Blackness near the eastern extremity of the rampart, afforded the Romans commodious harbours for their shipping, as also did Crammond, about five miles west from Edinburgh. This wall is called in the popular language of the country Grime's or Graham's Dyke. In 1868 a large oblong slab, in first-rate preservation, was dug up at Bo'ness, in the parish of Kinneil (Bede's Peanfahel, "the head of the wall"), containing an inscription as distinct as it was on the day when it came from a Roman chisel. The remarkable stone is now in the Scottish Antiquarian Museum.

We have no distinct mention of the Caledonians again until the reign of Commodus, when, about the year 183, these troublesome barbarians appear to have broken through the northern wall, slain the general in command of the Roman forces, and pillaged the lowland country beyond. They were, however, driven back by Ulpius Marcellus, who succeeded by prudent management in maintaining peace for a number of years. In the beginning of the reign of Severus, however, the Caledonians again broke out, but were kept in check by Virius Lupus, who appears to have bribed rather than beaten the barbarians into conformity. (See also The Antonine Wall in Scotland)

The irrepressible Highlanders again broke out about the year 207, and this time the Emperor Severus himself, notwithstanding his bad health and old age, came from Rome to Britain, determined apparently to "stamp out" the rebellion. On hearing of his arrival the tribes sent deputies to him to negotiate for peace, but the emperor, who was of a warlike disposition, and fond of military glory, declined to entertain any proposals.

After making the necessary preparations, Severus began his march to the north in the year 208. He traversed the whole of North Britain, from the wall of Antonius to the very extremity of the island, with an immense army. The Caledonians avoided coming to a general engagement with him, but kept up an incessant and harassing warfare on all sides. He, however, brought them to sue for peace; but the honours of this campaign were dearly earned, for fifty thousand of the Romans fell a prey to the Caledonians, to fatigue, and to the severity of the climate. The Caledonians soon disregarded the treaty which they had entered into with Severus, which conduct so irritated him that he gave orders to renew the war, and to spare neither age nor sex; but his son Carcalla, to whom the execution of these orders was intrusted, was more intent in plotting against his father and brother than in executing the revengeful mandate of the dying emperor, whose demise took place at York in the 4th February, 211, in the sixty-sixth year of his age, and in the third year of his administration in Britain.

It is in connection with this invasion that we first hear of the Meats or Męatę, who are mentioned by Dion Cassius, or rather his epitomiser Xiphiline, and who are supposed by some to have inhabited the country between the two walls, while others think it more likely that they were a part of the Caledonians, and inhabited the district between the Grampians and the wall of Antonine. We shall not, however, enter into this question here, but endeavour, as briefly as possible, to record all that is known of the remaining transactions of the Romans in the north of Scotland, reserving other matters for the next chapter.

It was not consistent with the policy by which Carcalla was actuated, to continue a war with the Caledonians; for the scene of his ambition lay in Rome, to which he made hasty preparations to depart on the death of his father. He therefore entered into a treaty with the Caledonians by which he gave up the territories surrendered by them to his father, and abandoned the forts erected by them in their fastnesses. The whole country north of the wall of Antonine appears in fact to have been given up to the undisputed possession of the Caledonians, and we hear of no more incursions by them till the reign of the emperor Constantius Chlorus, who came to Britain in the year 306, to repel the Caledonians and other Picts. Their incursions were repelled by the Roman legions under Constantius, and they remained quiet till about the year 345, when they again entered the territories of the provincial Britons; but they were compelled, it is said again to retreat by Constans, son of Constantine the Great.

Although these successive inroads had been always repelled by the superior power and discipline of the Romans, the Caledonians of the fourth century no longer regarded them in the formidable light in which they had been viewed by their ancestors, and their genius for war improving every time they came in hostile contact with their enemies, they meditated the design of expelling the intruders altogether form the soil of North Britain.

The wars which the Romans had to sustain against the Persians in the East, and against the Germans on the frontiers of Gaul, favoured the plan of the Caledonians; and having formed a treaty with the Scots, whose name is mentioned for the first time in history in this connection by Ammianus Marcellinus, they, in conjunction with their new allies, about the year 360 invaded the Roman territories and committed many depredations. Julian, who commanded the Roman army on the Rhine, despatched Lupicinus, an able military commander, to defend the province against the Scots and the Picts, but he was recalled before he had done much to repel them.

The Picts - who on this occasion are mentioned by Ammianus Marcellinus as being divided into two nations, the Dicaledones and Vecturiones - Scots, being joined by the Attacots, "a warlike race of men," and the Saxons, numbers of whom appear at this early period to have settled in Britain, made another attack on the Roman provinces in the year 364, on the accession of Valentinian. These appear to have made their way as far south as London, and it required all the valour and skill of Theodosius the Elder, father of the emperor of that name, who was sent to Britain in the year 367, to repel this aggression, and to repair the great ravages committed by the barbarians. The next outbreak occurred about the year 398, when the Picts and Scots again broke loose and ravaged the provinces, being repelled by a legion sent over by the great Stilicho, in answer to the petition of the helpless provincials for assistance.

In the beginning of the fifth century the enervated Romanized Britons again appear to have been subjected to the tender mercies of their wicked northern neighbours; and in reply to their cry for help, Honorius, in 416, sent over to their relief a single legion, which drove back the intruders. The Romans, as is well known, engrossed by overwhelming troubles nearer home, finally abandoned Britain about the year 466, advising the inhabitants, who were suffering from the ravages of the Picts and Scots, to protect themselves by retiring behind and keeping in repair the wall of Severus.

Such is a brief account of the transactions of the Romans in Britain so far as these were connected with the Highlands of Scotland. That energetic and insatiable people doubtless left their mark on the country and its inhabitants south of the Forth and Clyde, as the many Roman remains which exist there at the present day testify. The British provincials, indeed, appear in the end to have been utterly enervated, and, in the worst sense, Romanized, so that they became an easy prey to their Saxon helpers. It is quite evident, however, that the inhabitants of Caledonia proper, the district beyond the wall of Antonine, were to a very slight extent, if at all, influenced by the Roman invasion. Whether it was from the nature of the people, or from the nature of the country which they inhabited, or from both combined, they appear to have been equally impervious to Roman forces and Roman culture. The best services that their enemies rendered to the Caledonians or Picts were that they forced them to unite against the common foe thus contributing towards the foundation of a future kingdom; and that they gave them a training in arms such as the Caledonians could never have obtained, had they not been brought into collision with the best-trained soldiers of the world in their time.

We have in what precedes mainly followed only one thread in the very intricate web formed by the early history of the Highlands, which, to a certain extent at this period, is the history of Scotland; but, as will have been seen, there are various other threads which join in from time to time, and which, after giving a short account of the traces of the Roman invasion still existing in the Highlands, we shall endeavour to catch up and follow out as far as possible. It is not necessary in a history of the Highlands of Scotland, as we have defined that term, that much space should be given to an account of Roman remains; for, as we have already said, these Italian invaders appear never to have obtained anything like a firm footing in that rugged district, or made any definite or characteristic impression on its inhabitants.

"The vestiges whence it is inferred that the Empire for a time had so far established itself in Scotland as to bring the natives over to the habits of peaceful citizens, being almost exclusively to the country south of Antonine's wall, between the Forth and Clyde. Coins and weapons have been found farther north, but scarcely any vestige of regular settlement. None of the pieces of Roman sculpture found in Scotland belong in the districts north of the wall. It is almost more significant still, that of the very considerable number of Scottish Roman inscriptions in the various collections, only one was found north of the wall, and that in the strongly-fortified station of Ardoch, where it commemorated that it was dedicated to the memory of a certain Ammonius Damionis. On the other hand, it is in that unsubdued district that the memorials of Roman conquest chiefly abound".

The whole of Britain was intersected by Roman ways, and as, wherever a Roman army went, it was preceded by pioneers who cleared and made a durable road to facilitate its march, there can be no doubt that the north of Scotland was to a considerable extent intersected by highways during the invasion of Agricola, Lollius Urbicus, and Severus. One road at least can be traced as far north as Aberdeenshire, and is popularly known in some districts as the Lang Causeway. This road appears to have issued from the wall of Antonine, passed through Camelon, the Roman port on the Carron, and pushing straightforward, according to the Roman custom, across the Carron, it pursued its course in a general north-east direction through Stirling, Perth, by Ardoch, through Forfar and Kincardine, to about Stonehaven.

It would appear that there are traces of Roman roads even farther north. Between the rivers Don and Urie in Aberdeenshire, on the eastern side of Bennachee, there exists an ancient road known in the country by the name of the Maiden Causeway, a name by which some of the Roman roads in the north of England are distinguished. This proceeds from Bennachee whereon there is said to have been a hill-fort, more than the distance of a mile into the woods of Pitodrie, when it disappears: it is paved with stones, and is about fourteen feet wide. Still farther north, from Forres to the ford of Cromdale on the Spey, there has been long known a road of very ancient construction, pointing to Cromdale, where the Romans may have forded the Spey. Various traces of very ancient roads are still to be seen by Corgarf and through Braemar: the tradition of the people in Strathdee and Braemar, supports the idea that there are remains of Roman roads which traverse the country between the Don and the Dee. Certain it is, that there are obvious traces of ancient roads which cross the wild districts between Strathdon and Strathdee, though it is impossible to ascertain when or by whom these ancient roads were constructed, in such directions, throughout such a country.

Along these roads there were without doubt many camps and stations, as it is well known that the Romans never halted even for a single night, without entrenching themselves behind secure fortifications. There are many remains of what are supposed to have been Roman camps still pointed out in various places north of the line occupied by Antonine's wall. These are well known even to the peasantry, and are generally treated with respect. The line of these camps reaches as far as the counties of Aberdeen and Inverness, the most important being found in Strathallan, Strathearn and Strathmore. Besides the most important of these camps, that at Ardoch, traces of many others have been found. There was one on the River Earn, about six miles east of Ardoch, which would command the middle part of Strathearn lying between the Ochil hills on the south and the river Almond on the north. Another important station is supposed to have been established near Callander, where, on the tongue of land formed by the junction of the rivers Strathgartney and Strathyre, the two sources of the Teith, are seen the embankments referred to by Scott as................

"The mouldering lines
Where Rome, the empress of the world,
Of yore her eagle wings unfurled."

Another camp is placed at Dalgenross, near the confluence of the Ruchel and the Earn, which, with Bochastle, would command the western district of Strathearn. Another important station was the East Findoch, at the south side of the Almond; it guarded the only practicable passage through the mountains northward, to an extent of thirty miles from east to west. The Roman camp here was placed on a high ground, defended by water on two sides and by a morass with a steep bank on the other two sides. It was about one hundred and eighty paces long, and eighty broad, and was surrounded by a strong earthen wall nearly twelve feet thick, part of which still remains. The trenches are still entire, and in some places six feet deep.

On the eastern side of Strathearn, and between it and the Forth, are the remains of Roman posts; and at Ardargie a Roman camp was established with the design, it is supposed, of guarding the passage through the Ochil hills, by the valley of May water. Another camp at Gleneagles secured the passage of the same hills through Glendevon. With the design of guarding the narrow, but useful passage from the middle Highlands, westward through Glenlyon to Argyle, the Romans fixed a post at Fortingal, about sixteen miles north-west from the station at East-Findoch.

A different line of posts became necessary to secure Angus and the Mearns. At Coupar Angus, on the east side of the Isla, about seven miles east from Inchtuthel, stood a Roman camp, of a square form, of twenty acres within the ramparts. This camp commanded the passage down Strathmore, between the Sidlaw hills on the south-east, and the Isla on the north-west. On Campmoor, little more than a mile south from Coupar Angus, appear the remains of another Roman fort. The great camp of Battledyke stood about eighteen miles north-east from Coupar Angus, being obviously placed there to guard the passage from the Highlands through Glen Esk and Glen Prosen. About eleven and a-half miles north-east of the camp at Battledykes was another Roman camp, the remains of which may still be traced near the mansion-house of Keithock. This camp is known by the name of Wardikes. The country below the Sidlaw hills, on the north side of the estuary of the Tay, was guarded by a Roman camp near Invergowrie, which had a communication on the north-east with the camp at Harefaulds. This camp, which was about two hundred yards square, and fortified with a high rampart and a spacious ditch, stood about two miles west from Dundee.

Traces of a number of others have been found, but we need not go farther into detail. This account of the Roman transactions in Scotland would, however, be incomplete without a more particular notice of the well-known camp at Ardoch.

Ardoch village, in Perthshire, lies on the east side of Knaigwater, ten miles north from Stirling, and is about two miles from the Greenloaning station of the Caledonian railway, the site of the camp being a little distance to the north-west of the village. As this station guarded the principal inlet into the interior of Caledonia, the Romans were particularly anxious to fortify so advantageous a position. "The situation of it," says the writer of the Old Statistical Account of Muthill, "gave it many advantages; being on the north -west side of a deep moss that runs a long way eastward.

On the west side, it is partly defended by the steep bank of the water of Knaik; which bank rises perpendicularly between forty and fifty feet. The north and east sides were most exposed; and there we find very particular care was taken to secure them. The ground on the east is pretty regular, and descends by a gentle slope from the lines of fortification, which, on that side, consists of five rows of ditches, perfectly entire, and running parallel to one another. These altogether are about fifty-five yards in breadth. On the north side, there is an equal number of lines and ditches, but twenty yards broader than the former. On the west, besides the steep precipices above mentioned, it was defended by at least two ditches. One is still visible; the others have probably been filled up, in making the great military road from Stirling to the north. The side of the camp, lying to the southward, exhibits to the antiquary a less pleasing prospect. Here the peasant's rugged hand has laid in ruins a great part of the lines; so that it may be with propriety said, in the words of a Latin poet, 'Jam seges est, ubi Troja fuit.' The area of the camp is an oblong of 140 yards, by 125 within the lines. The general's quarter rises above the level of the camp, but is not in the centre. It is a regular square, each side being exactly twenty yards. At present it exhibits evident marks of having been enclosed with a stone wall, and contains the foundations of a house, ten yards by seven." There are two other encampments adjoining, having a communication with one another, and containing about 130 acres of ground. A subterranean passage is said to have extended from the prĘtorium under the bed of the Knaik.

Not far north of this station, on the way to Crieff, may be traced three temporary Roman camps of different sizes. Portions of the ramparts of these camps still exist. A mile west of Ardoch, an immense cairn lately existed, 182 feet long, 45 broad at the base, and 30 feet in sloping height. A human skeleton, 7 feet long, in a stone coffin, was found in it.

Next Part | Index


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus