I Came, I Saw, I Conquered

In 77 AD, command of Britain was given to Gnaeus Julius Agricola by the Emperor Vespasuan. He was ordered to complete the conquest of England. Domitian was determined to bring the spending of his generals under control and he was known for his persecution of the Christians. The various conquered peoples of Rome were allowed to practice their own religions as long as they acknowledged the Emperor as King. This the Christians refused to do. We know the rest.

Julius Agricola, like so many great generals, was a man of great ability and fairness. He is described in most glowing terms by his son-in-law Cornelius Tacitus, a great man in his own right. Tacitus who was known as one of the world’s greatest historians, wrote a book called “The Life of Agricola”.

I have a book about Scotland in which the author describes Caledonia as “the end of the world” to the Romans, with its “inhospitable terrain, appalling climate and elusive people .” It was indeed as far as the Roman army had penetrated at that time, although new discoveries are being made by modern archaeology.

One of the first things Agricola did was build forts, the most notable one at Inchtuthill, Perthshire. This was in an area where traffic in and out of the highlands could be monitored. He then sent his marines along the coast to harry the coastal tribes. Then in 84, he met the Caledonian leader, Calgacus at the battle of Mons Graupius. The Caledonians were soundly defeated. Nothing is known about Calgacus “the Swordsman” except that Tacitus described him as a brave and honorable leader of the Caledonians. Tacitus wrote a speech which Calgacus is supposed to have given to his people before the battle at Mons Graupius, the location of which has never been ascertained .

After the battle, Agricola took hostages and ordered his marines to sail  around the north coast to prove that Britain was an island. In 85, he was recalled to Rome by Domitian, his tenure as governor having been unusually long.  After this, he did not assume another post and died at age 53 in Gallia Narbonensis, which would lie in modern south-east France.

Still, the Caledonians did not rest. They continued to harry the Roman forts until Emperor Hadrian on a personal reconnaissance, decided the best way to way to deal with them would be to build a wall .It was built in 122 and would be 80 Roman miles long or 73 miles long in modern measurement. It would stretch from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth and become the northern boundary of Britain. We know it as Hadrian’ s Wall. It was not simply a barrier, it was a place where settlements would spring up.

In 140, another wall would be built by the Emperor Antoninus further north, the Antonine wall. It would be of different construction, made of turf and wood and would be 38 miles long. In 155 the tribes broke through and knocked it down. The Romans forced them back and rebuilt. In about 180, the forts were destroyed by the army and they retreated behind Hadrian’s Wall for good. The Romans left Britain in about 410.

Part of the Antonine Wall ran through Kirkintilloch, in East Dunbartonshire, home to the Garthsore clan. The Graham clan of my third great-grandmother, lived on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall.  For all the clans in my family who were north of the wall; the McDougalls, the MacPhersons, the Robertsons, the Grahams and the Gartshores  this time was ended, but the struggle for freedom was far from over.

There is a timeline of Agricola’s life here.

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