"Julius Agricola" by Zicon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Taken in the roman baths in Bath, England.

Agricola 79 AD Invasion

The Romans invaded and occupied England in 43 AD gradually expanding control and influence across the country. In 79 AD, after conquering Wales, the French General Agricola went as far north as the river Tay, perhaps further, and his navy circumnavigated Scotland. We know a lot about Agricola as his son-in-law Tacitus wrote about his exploits You can read the 2000-year-old book Agricola by Cornelius Tacitus – Free Ebook which is downloadable in Kindle and many formats.

Agricola arrived in Britain in 77 AD and subdued the Ordovices tribe in North Wales. His early military success was complemented by a fair and just peace whereby those who consented to the Romans were treated favourably compared to the previous administration. He would send his troops into enemy territory harassing the locals then suing for peace under these favourable and just terms. Peace with the Romans then became the most favourable action. In doing this tribes had to pay tribute and hand over hostages for their future good behaviour. In 79 AD during the winter, he made the new integrated tribes build temples, courts of justice and houses. The sons of chieftains were given a Roman education and held as hostages for their behaviour.

The Caledonians

Roman historians record “the ruddy hair and large limbs of the Caledonians point out a German derivation.” There is no record of painted warriors (“Picts”).

Invading Scotland

In 79 AD Agricola invaded Scotland and over the next couple of years, he ventured as far as the river Tay and built Ardoch one of the biggest Roman Forts still surviving in Europe. You can see the forts he builts

Ardoch Roman Fort north of Dunblane
by Spodzone is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Agricola established the first line of border forts in the Roman Empire called “the Gask Ridge”. See the Gask Ridge project website for more information. The Romans eventually circled their entire empire with border forts and the Gask Ridge is believed to be the first, coming before Hadrian and the Antonine Walls.

Gask Ridge West of Perth (simulated picture)

In 80 AD he had reached the Tay and established many forts, the location of which he personally selected and each with a year’s supply of provisions. Over the winter the troops made regular sallies harassing the local population and not one of his fortified posts was either taken by storm or surrendered. ( for more details see Tacitus chapter 23.)

Route of Agricola
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8494910

In 81 AD he secured the area establishing a line of forts between the Clyde and Forth, which 60 years later would become the Antonine Wall.

In 83 AD he sent his armies north but “the enemy’s army rendered marching unsafe” so he used ships to transport troops safely up the northeast coast. The “cavalry, infantry, and marines were frequently mingled in the same camp”. Agricola’s force was split in three to counter flanking movements by the Caledonians. The Caledonians consequently massed their armies and attacked during the night the Ninth Legion, the weakest of the three, managing to breach the camp defences. Agricola saw the danger and brought other troops to attack the Caledonians from the rear winning the battle

In 84 AD the first recorded major battle of armies in Scotland took place at Mons Graupius

In the year 85, he was recalled from Britain by the emperor Domitian, who was envious of the victories.

The map above shows the dates of Roman forts established by Agricola and the roads between them. Many forts in Scotland were re-occupied over the centuries. The dating of occupations and the various layers in forts can be difficult and academics put forward theories on how far Agricola got in Scotland.

The Romans used the landscape to their advantage – look at the green areas below. The Navy transported supplies, the roads and rivers allowed quick movements of materials and men, and the forts and watch towers allowed control of those coming and going.

Routes into Scotland, Antonine Wall route (forts in Agricola’s time) and Gask Ridge line

Military Units

Legions of about 4,600 men

Auxiliaries of between 500 and 1000 men (auxiliary units mostly unknown)

Coinage Distribution

If you look at the mapping of coins across Scotland above it gives an idea of timelines across Scotland although it is not certain who by and when coins were dropped. The coins may have been traded or given as bribes to tribes.

The coin-issuing emperors of the time are (by permission of https://finds.org.uk/)


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