Archaeologists have unearthed the foundations of a “lost” second-century Roman fortress in western Scotland, part of an ill-fated attempt to extend imperial control across Britain.
The fort was one of 41 fortifications built along the Antonine Wall, a fortification mostly made up of earthen and timber ramparts that is said to have stretched for about 40 miles (65 kilometers) across Scotland at its narrowest point. Historical environment of Scotland (will open in a new tab) (HES), government agency.
The Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius ordered the construction of the wall in AD 142 in the hope of outdoing his predecessor Hadrian, who built a fortification known as Hadrian’s Wall some 20 years earlier about 100 miles (160 km) to the south.
But his push was ultimately unsuccessful, due in part to the hostility of the natives. (At this time the Romans called them “Caledonians”; later they would call them “Picts” from a Latin word meaning “painted people”.,” due to body art or tattoos.) After 20 years of trying to hold their new northern line, the Romans abandoned the Antonine Wall in 162 AD and retreated back to Hadrian’s Wall.
“Antoninus Pius was in fact a bureaucrat”, historian and archaeologist. John Reid (will open in a new tab) Live Science said. “He had no military experience and we think he was looking for a victory that he could pretty much guarantee against the exotic Caledonians.”
Connected: Ancient Romans painted terrifying blood-red warnings on walls across Scotland
Reid explained that the Roman emperors needed to claim military victory and so Antoninus Pius used his conquest of Scotland while it lasted to justify his reign.
Reid, who did not take part in the new discovery, is the author of the book. The Eagle and the Bear: A New History of Roman Scotland (will open in a new tab) (Berlin, 2023) and Chairman Trimontium Trust (will open in a new tab)which explores Roman archeology in the area of the Scottish borders.
Archaeologists from HES have unearthed the buried remains of a small fort, or “fortress,” next to a school on the northwestern edge of present-day Glasgow.
The structure was mentioned by an antiquarian in 1707, but has never been found since, despite attempts to find it in the 1970s and 1980s.
The fort consisted of two small wooden buildings surrounded by a rampart of stone and turf up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) high, built along the south side of the Antonine Wall. The rampart had two wooden towers above the gates on opposite sides – one in the north to allow people, animals and carts to pass through the wall and one in the south.
But now there is nothing above the ground that would indicate the existence of a fort; , and archaeologists have identified its buried stone foundations using gradiometry, a non-invasive geophysical technique that measures tiny changes in the Earth’s magnetic field to detect underground structures.
About 12 soldiers – many of them local assistants, or “auxilia” signed up to fight on the side of the Romans – were to be stationed at the fort for about a week to watch the area and prevent raids on the Romans. fortifications.
They will then be relieved by a new detachment of soldiers from the larger Roman fort at Duntocher, about a mile (1.6 km) to the east, according to a HES statement.
There is little visible evidence of the Antonine Wall now, and the newly discovered fortress is a rare find.
Reid said that this helped support the theory that the Romans at first hoped to replicate Hadrian’s Wall, with stronger and taller stone fortifications and a small fort, or “milzack,” for every mile of its length. “But then they changed their minds and decided that they needed forts of the right size,” he said.
According to him, the Roman fortifications in the Tayside region, north of the Antonine Wall, showed that the Romans planned to subjugate all of Scotland, but the Antonine Wall and any northern possessions seem to have been abandoned after 162 AD.
Thereafter, Hadrian’s Wall became the empire’s northernmost frontier, presumably until Roman rule collapsed in Britain in the early fifth century, he said.
Reed’s Trimontium Trust has excavated on Bernswark Hill, the site of a Caledonian stronghold and a fortified Roman military camp built to attack it after Antoninus Pius ordered his legions to conquer Scotland north of Hadrian’s Wall. Among the finds were whistling sling bullets which the Romans could use as “weapons of terror” against the defenders.
The reason for the final departure of the Romans from the Antonine Wall and back to the Hadrian Wall is not entirely clear.
“There’s a lot of controversy,” Reid said. “Was it because the Romans were fed up? Was it because the Romans had problems elsewhere? Was it because it was too expensive to manage two borders? It was because Antony Pius had died. [in A.D. 161]? Nobody is sure; I suspect it was a combination of all of that.”