Scotland in pre-Roman times

Before 70 AD Scotland was made up of groups of Celtic people clustered round hill-forts. (see Atlas of Hillforts in Britain and Ireland.) The people of Scotland spoke Brythonic (also known as Brittonic), a Gaelic language similar to Welsh, Cornish and Breton. We know this from place names such as “Aber” which means confluence, “Strath” which means wide valley and “caer” which means fort. They lived in roundhouses and their diet was predominately meat eaten as a stew. They lived in a land of cairns and stone circles built after 3000 BC. Pottery was used from 2000 BC with the “Beaker” culture imported to Scotland after mass migration from Europe. Read this article from the Orkney News – The Beaker People of North Scotland.

This video takes you through the history of Scotland from 4000 to 2500 BC

In Pembrokeshire there is a Iron Age village at Castell Henllys which recreates life from 2000 years ago. Meet the tribe tells you a bit about life.

 Castell Henllys Iron Age Village Reconstruction (Copyright dave challender

They used chariots as shown by this Newbridge Chariot Reconstruction, made swords and worked iron.

Newbridge, Edinburgh Cairn and stone circle

They wore little body armour. They traded across Britain with flints from York found in the north of Scotland and internationally with links to southern France as shown by the Stirling treasure trove. See Iron age gold torcs. Women wore clothes made of wool, lamb skins and plant fibres. The clothes were dyed various colours. See The Huldremose woman’s clothes for an example found in a bog in Denmark.

The Huldremose woman’s clothes = By Nationalmuseet, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Scotland was known to the Greeks and Romans before invasion. Pliny the Elder writes in his book Natural History 1-11 in 77 AD;

” the island called Britannia, so celebrated in the records of Greece and of our own country. It is situate to the north-west, and, with a large tract of intervening sea, lies opposite to Germany, Gaul, and Spain, by far the greater part of Europe. Its former name was Albion; but at a later period, all the islands, of which we shall just now briefly make mention, were included under the name of “Britanniae.” This island is distant from Gesoriacum (modern day Boulogne), on the coast of the nation of the Morini, at the spot where the passage across is the shortest, fifty miles. Pytheas and Isidorus say that its circumference is 4875 miles. It is barely thirty years since any extensive knowledge of it was gained by the successes of the Roman arms, and even as yet they have not penetrated beyond the vicinity of the Caledonian forest. Agrippa believes its length to be 800 miles, and its breadth 300; he also thinks that the breadth of Hibernia is the same, but that its length is less by 200 miles. This last island is situate beyond Britannia, the passage across being the shortest from the territory of the Silures (Wales), a distance of thirty miles. Of the remaining islands none is said to have a greater circumference than 125 miles. Among these there are the Orcades, forty in number, and situate within a short distance of each other, the seven islands called Acmodae, the Haebudes (Hebrides?), thirty in number, and, between Hibernia and Britannia, the islands of Mona, Monapia, Ricina, Vectis, Limnus, and Andros.”

The tribes of Scotland were documented by the map-maker Ptolemy in Alexandra, Egypt 150 AD with the Caledonii being the best known today.

(myself), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Here is a link to an academic paper detailing Iron Age Scotland :SCARF Panel Report.

The Hunterian in Glasgow has a web page on Iron Age Scotland.

There is evidence that the Romans made some inroads to Scotland before the Agricola Campaign of 79 AD. The fort for Carlisle , for instance , has been dated to 72 AD. The academic evidence and consensus is not complete ( see 3.2 Questions of pre-Agricolan activity) and some marching camps are thought to be part of incursions into southern Scotland ( see “note (April 2017)” in this record )


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