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3.4 Antonine Scotland (c. AD 139-165)

Antonine permanent forts 2nd century AD © Crown Copyright Historic Scotland

Upon Hadrian's death, Antoninus Pius seems to have taken a prompt decision to reconquer southern Scotland. This has been seen as the desire of an Emperor with limited military experience to achieve an easy military victory, but growing Hadrianic evidence for troubles on the northern frontier suggests that there may equally have been pressing local reasons for such a campaign (Gillam 1958, Jobey 1978). The campaigns were underway by 139/140 and victory celebrated in 142. A network of forts was re-established, augmented by a greater number of fortlets, covering similar ground to that held in the Flavian period, but not extending quite so far to the north. Many forts reused Flavian sites, but others were new foundations (such as at Inveresk) or shifted slightly from their Flavian precursors (e.g. Lyne). The most striking outcome of the campaign was the Antonine Wall, the premier Roman monument in Scotland (see 3.5).

Traditionally the Antonine occupation in Scotland was split by scholars into two phases with a period of unrest in the middle (Antonine I and II). This has been convincingly dismissed by Hodgson (1995), with most of the evidence representing site-specific local variation. There are, however, grounds for suggesting a phase of refortification and consolidation in Dumfriesshire, where various strands of evidence do indicate a period of unrest (Hodgson 2009; Wilson 2003), or certainly increased activity for some reason, as evidenced by a possible increase in the numbers of temporary camps in this area which may be Antonine in date (Jones 2009b), and the relative density of fortlets in the area. It is possible that the much-debated siege works around Burnswark hillfort relate to this phase (see section 4.1).

The occupation and operation of the Antonine Wall required the creation of outpost forts up to the River Tay (at Camelon, Ardoch, Strageath and Bertha). Precisely why they were deemed necessary remains a matter of interpretation, though it may be no coincidence that the installations precisely mirrored those of the first century. It certainly indicates that the Antonine Wall was not the limit of direct Roman occupation and control. The chain of towers (the Gask system) running along the Roman road seem to have been used only in the Flavian period, although dating evidence from them is scarce. The road itself is undated (see 3.8 below). There are suggestions from stray finds that some of the forts, including Dalginross and Cargill, may also have seen later occupation (Woolliscroft 2002b and pers comm); this merits further work but this remains to be resolved and emphasises the potential limitations of the existing picture. Our current knowledge base requires improvement in this area and hypotheses formulation and further testing.

Antonine temporary camps (mid-2nd century AD) © Crown Copyright Historic Scotland

The identification of temporary camps of likely Antonine date has proved even more difficult than those of potentially Flavian or Severan date, so the extent of campaigning remains speculative, though the objective appears to have been more limited (Jones 2009a). No temporary camps north of the Forth-Clyde isthmus have yet been confidently assigned to the Antonine period, but recent work at Innerpeffray West, Perthshire a 63-acre (25-ha) camp previously thought to have been of Severan date (St Joseph 1973), indicated that the probable road was later than the camp (Britannia 39, 2008, 274). This raises the intriguing possibility that these camps may be earlier in date and were possibly used in the Antonine, or even Flavian, period.

There is still disagreement about the nature of the Roman occupation of southern Scotland (and northern England) and whether it was opposed by the local population to the extent of stimulating an uprising or the need to impose a special control. Further study of the destruction deposits as well as the nature of the military occupation is therefore important. The reasons for, and the chronology of, the withdrawal remain a matter for debate (see section 3.5).

Further work at Bertha is required to fully understand its layout and chronology, and a better understanding of the defences at Ardoch is also needed. More work is also required on temporary camps to provide for their independent dating, along with more detailed work at Dalginross and Cargill in order to contextualise the stray finds located there. Continuing investigation and assessment of other northern forts is necessary in order to elucidate the possibility of the existence of later phases. The publication of the excavations carried out at Camelon (see Table 4: major unpublished Roman excavations) would considerably advance knowledge.

3.3 Flavian Scotland (c. AD 77-86/90)

1st century AD Flavian temporary camps (later first century AD) © Crown Copyright Historic Scotland, with the addition of Glenluce © ScARF

Sites along the Gask ridge © Crown Copyright Historic Scotland

With the exception of the dating of the first incursions (see section 3.2 Questions of pre-Agricolan activity), the broad outlines of the extent and chronology of Flavian Scotland are generally accepted. However, there remain a number of issues of debate and uncertainty. Knowledge of the distribution of temporary camps is far from complete and their confident attribution to particular campaigns remains a matter of speculation rather than hard evidence (Jones 2006a). Similarly, knowledge of the site of the battle of Mons Graupius remains elusive (section 4.1). Despite some assertions to the contrary (e.g. Gregory 2001), there is no evidence of fort building north of the Mounth. The postulated sites at Thomshill and Easter Galcantray lack the distinctive morphological characteristics of Roman military works and have not provided any artefactual support for a Roman date, but questions remain over the distribution of sites in the south-west of Scotland and the existence of Flavian precursors to Antonine Wall sites.

Considerable survey and excavation has been undertaken over the last decade or so on sites associated with the Gask Ridge (e.g. Woolliscroft 2002; Woolliscroft and Hoffmann 2006). In addition to challenging the dating of the conquest of the area, the work has led to a re-assessment of the function of the chain of towers that accompany the road. Opinion is currently divided between those who follow the view that this represents an artificially-defined frontier (e.g. Hanson 1991b), and those that see it as simply a controlled supply line to the legionary fortress at Inchtuthil (e.g. Dobat 2009), or part of a wider frontier zone (Woolliscroft and Hoffmann 2006).

Inchtuthil itself is the key site of Flavian Scotland, and one of international importance as an early Imperial fortress unencumbered by later developments. The excavations of Richmond and St Joseph reconstructed a seminal plan (Pitts and St Joseph 1985); recent geophysical survey (DES 2009, 145; Britannia 41 (2010), 347, fig 2), combined with aerial survey data, will serve to put these extrapolations from small trenches onto a firmer basis. Our horizons should not be limited to the plan of the fortress alone; from the early excavations comes a small but significant (and incompletely published) assemblage of material beyond the headline-grabbing massive nail hoard, while recent survey work has expanded the material range and looked at the setting of the fortress (Britannia 41 (2010), 347-8; 42 (2011), 328-330). Its significance comes both from its tight dating and its information on legionary supply and equipment at the time; further study of the existing material and renewed excavation would be of value far beyond Scotland.


Cropmarks of the Flavian legionary fortress at Inchtuthil, Perth & Kinross. SC972093 © RCAHMS

Evidence points to a staged withdrawal from Scotland, with the forts north of the Forth-Clyde line and those south of it as far as Newstead abandoned by AD 86-87, with most of the remaining southern forts shortly thereafter. No Scottish forts show any certain Trajanic occupation, although some of the southern forts such as Broomholm may not have been abandoned until the early Trajanic period. With the construction of Hadrian's Wall in the 120s, Birrens (Dumfriesshire) was established as an outpost fort (Robertson 1975) at this time.

1st century AD Flavian forts and fortlets © Crown Copyright Historic Scotland

Inchtuthil represents a key site that would reward further study both in the field and in the archive. Assessment and publication of the Broomholm excavations would also considerably advance knowledge of Flavian Scotland (publication is in progress). Geophysical survey and fieldwalking at the fort of Ladyward would also provide useful information, as the site lies at a key position for the SW, but its chronology is unknown.