New book maps out archaeological legacy of Romans’ failed conquest

THE Borders features strongly in a new book which reveals the true extent of the Roman Empire’s attempts to conquer Scotland and explores the archaeological legacy left behind by its legions.

Roman Camps in Scotland, published by Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), brings together a full archaeological record of the Empire’s military outposts, which were designed to be the temporary homes and headquarters for conquering legions and armies.

The camps are the least-studied form of Roman monument, but are among the largest features to survive in the landscape to the present day.

Scotland is home to the largest number of surviving Roman camps in Europe – with a particular concentration in the Borders and the south of the country.

Author Dr Rebecca Jones, an RCAHMS archaeologist and expert on Roman frontiers, highlights the sheer number of Roman camps throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK – up to 260 have now been discovered and recorded in Scotland, adding to some 240 in England and Wales.

The camps provided accommodation for hundreds – sometimes thousands – of soldiers at the most basic level. Although they were only occupied for very short periods of time, they have left distinctive imprints in the landscape that can still be detected today.

Many camps are discovered through aerial survey flights, particularly during dry summers, where the outlines of ancient structures lying beneath the soil show up as crop marks. The Roman camps found in Scotland are significantly larger than those discovered in England and Wales, mostly due to the size of the battle groups operating in the north of Britain and the Empire’s repeated attempts to conquer the lands beyond Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall.

A number of Roman camps – for example, Pennymuir in the Borders – have survived despite thousands of years of changes to the landscape and are still remarkably well preserved.

RCAHMS’ aerial survey collection and existing archives of camp excavations were used extensively by Dr Jones in her research. Now every new, known, and possible camp – whether existing as earthwork remains or as crop markings seen from the air – has been mapped and recorded, alongside details of its historical significance and role in the Roman campaigns in Scotland.

The book draws on Dr Jones’ extensive knowledge of Roman archaeology and is a companion volume to earlier publications of camps in England and Wales. It is also illustrated throughout with plans, maps and photographs, and will be of interest to anyone who wishes to know more about the archaeology of the Roman army, its campaigns in northern Britain and ancient military strategy.

Dr Jones says, for the first time, there is now a picture of the true extent of the Roman war machine in Scotland.

“The repeated campaigns to conquer Scotland were bloody, brutal and ultimately unsuccessful for the Roman Empire,” she said.

“They had to deal with tribes unwilling to be conquered and strained resources, as soldiers were always needed to fight wars elsewhere throughout their vast Empire.

“By mapping and recording the hundreds of army outposts in Scotland, we have provided an important benchmark for further research into the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire.”