Roman Caledonia – The Failed Invasion

Related Articles

Related Articles

Caledonia was the Latin name applied to the lands north of Roman Britannia, roughly corresponding to the territories of modern-day Scotland.

The region was inhabited by several ancient tribes, most notably the Caledonii, Vacomagi, Cornavii, Taexali, Creones, Venicones, Epidii, Lugi, Smertae and the Damnonii that the Romans nicknamed “Brittunculi” meaning “nasty little Britons”.

It is generally assumed that the tribes of Scotland remained completely autonomous, with the nationalistic notion of ancient Caledonii tribes holding firm against the might of the Roman war machine. But, archaeological evidence has shown that the low-land regional boundaries moved several times with many annexed tribes becoming subject to Roman rule for a time.


Incursions into central and northern Caledonia established chains of fortifications such as the Gask Ridge (built between 70-80 AD) and exploratory marching camps encircling the Fife, Angus, Tayside, Crampians and stretching as far north as the Moray Firth (next to the modern city of Inverness).

In the summer of 84AD, an army of 30,000 Caledonian warriors faced off against the 20,000 strong Roman invasion force led by General Gnaeus Julius Agricola at the Battle of Mons Graupius. According to the Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus, 10,000 Caledonian lives were lost at the cost of only a fanciful 360 Roman auxiliary troops.

This resulted in the proclamation that Agricola had finally subdued resistance to Roman rule across all the territories of Britain. A brief period of “Romanisation” now occurred as the lowland territories saw a series of construction projects, roads and infrastructure that would have been the foundations of a new Roman province.

It is likely that Rome had intended to continue campaigning and expand the borders of Britannia from coast to coast, but Rome recalled Agricola and necessitated a troop withdrawal.

Tacitus’ statement on his account of the Roman history between 68 AD and 98 AD: “Perdomita Britannia et statim missa” “Britain was completely conquered and immediately let go”, denotes his bitter disapproval at the failure to unify the whole island under Roman rule after Agricola’s successful campaigning in Caledonia.

In later years, the accepted frontier of the Roman territory and Caledonia was fixed south of the Cheviot Hills by the Emperor Hadrian with the construction of Hadrian’s Wall in 122AD. The frontier was moved further north around 142AD when the Antonine Wall was built between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde (west of Edinburgh along the central belt of Scotland).

The Romans retreated to Hadrian’s Wall a decade later but reoccupied the Antonine wall temporarily in 208AD under the orders of Emperor Septimius Severus (this has led to the wall being referred also as the Severan Wall).

Following the final retreat to Hadrian’s Wall, incursions by the Romans were generally limited to scouting expeditions in the buffer zone that developed between the walls, trading contacts, bribes to purchase truces from the natives, and eventually the spread of Christianity.

The archaeological legacy of Roman Caledonia demonstrates a failed attempt at creating a Roman state through military intervention.

The surviving archaeology (that includes the countless forts, marching camps and around 400 miles of roads across the Scottish landscape) has given archaeologists a valuable glimpse into a militaristic approach to subdue a native population, rather than the less forceful techniques of Romanisation applied in the rest of Britannia through bribery, building works and cultural assimilation.

Map of Roman forts & fortifications in Caledonia – To view the full map on mobile or desktop – Click Here

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic


50 Million-Year-Old Fossil Assassin Bug Has Unusually Well-Preserved Genitalia

The fossilized insect is tiny and its genital capsule, called a pygophore, is roughly the length of a grain of rice.

Dinosaur-Era Sea Lizard Had Teeth Like a Shark

New study identifies a bizarre new species suggesting that giant marine lizards thrived before the asteroid wiped them out 66 million years ago.

The Iron Age Tribes of Britain

The British Iron Age is a conventional name to describe the independent Iron Age cultures that inhabited the mainland and smaller islands of present-day Britain.

Cretaceous Amber Fossil Sheds Light on Bioluminescence in Beetles

Bioluminescence has fascinated people since time immemorial. The majority of organisms able to produce their own light are beetles, specifically fireflies, glow-worm beetles, and their relatives.

The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids

The Egyptian Pyramids are described as pyramid-shaped monuments, constructed mostly as funerary tombs and ceremonial complexes for the departed pharaohs during the Old Kingdom (2575 BC to 2150 BC) and Middle Kingdom (2050-1550 BC) periods.

Archaeologists Excavating Anglo-Saxon Cemetery Reveal 3000 Ornate Grave Goods

A team from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) have excavated the largest Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Northamptonshire at Overstone Gate.

New Archaeology for Anthropocene Era

Indiana Jones and Lara Croft have a lot to answer for. Public perceptions of archaeology are often thoroughly outdated, and these characterisations do little to help.

Researchers Rewind the Clock to Calculate Age & Site of Supernova Blast

Astronomers are winding back the clock on the expanding remains of a nearby, exploded star.

Popular stories

The Iron Age Tribes of Britain

The British Iron Age is a conventional name to describe the independent Iron Age cultures that inhabited the mainland and smaller islands of present-day Britain.

The Roman Conquest of Wales

The conquest of Wales began in either AD 47 or 48, following the landing of Roman forces in Britannia sent by Emperor Claudius in AD 43.

Vallum Antonini – The Antonine Wall

The Antonine Wall (Vallum Antonini) was a defensive wall built by the Romans in present-day Scotland, that ran for 39 miles between the Firth of Forth, and the Firth of Clyde (west of Edinburgh along the central belt).

Vallum Aulium – Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall (Vallum Aulium) was a defensive fortification in Roman Britannia that ran 73 miles (116km) from Mais at the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea to the banks of the River Tyne at Segedunum at Wallsend in the North Sea.