Battle of Mons Graupius

Roman Navy at war

Roman Naval Ships

The Romans landed in Britain in 43AD, and conquered this land, defeating the uprising led by Boudicca.  Britain was now under Roman rule.  Scotland’s inhabitants new they be at risk, from Roman forces, but had no intention of bowing down to the will of Rome.

In the year 79AD, a Roman fleet surveyed Scotland’s coastline, looking for weak points.  By 83AD, Roman forces had conquered parts of southern Scotland.  Scotland’s Caledonian forces faced an imminent invasion.  The Caledonian went on the attack against Roman forts and legions.  One surprise night attack by the Caledonian’s against the Roman’s nearly wiped out the 9th legion, but was saved by Agricola’s cavalry.

In the summer of 84AD, Agricola advanced into Caledonian territory in the north-east, hoping to force a battle.

Battle of Mons Graupius

Battle of Mons Graupius

“The Battle of Mons Graupius.”

Everything depended on this encounter.  Some 30,000 Caledonian’s faced a Roman army half its size, and they had the advantage of holding higher ground, it looked a foregone conclusion, it should have been a victory to the Caledonian’s.  What the Caledonian’s lacked was organisation and military tactics, as used by the Roman’s.

The Romans were tightly disciplined and relied on a short stabbing sword for combat.  Their front line was made up of Germanic auxiliary troops from Holland and Belgium, with the Roman legionaries following up at the rear.  At one point the Caledonians, using their greater numbers, outflanked the Romans only to meet hidden Roman cavalry suddenly closing on them.

Any hopes of a Caledonian victory soon vanished.  In a merciless bloodbath 10,000 were slaughtered.  Many fought valiantly to the end, others fled into the surrounding woods and hills, burning their houses in fear of Roman reprisals.

The following day… an awful silence reigned; the hills were deserted, houses smoking in the distance…

Wikipedia Images

Roman Britain

Roman Britain Baths

Although it had long been known to the Mediterranean peoples as a source of tin, Britain did not enter the Roman world until Julius Caesar’s arrival in 55 BC, a sort of afterthought to his conquest of Gaul. Caesar’s contact, however, was temporary; for permanent occupation had to wait until Rome had solved more pressing problems at home.

Emperor Claudius I invaded Britain in force in AD 43, but nearly two decades passed before the Romans had captured Anglesey, headquarters of the feared Druids, and put down the revolt of Boudicca, queen of the Iceni. The Roman governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola won the Battle of Mons Graupius (AD 84),  in Scotland, but the northern tribes proved hard to subdue. In 123, Hadrian’s Wall, stretching 117 km (73 mi) from Solway Firth to the Tyne River, became the northern frontier.

Britain was a military outpost, taking a tenth of the Roman army to hold it. Several towns attained a degree of Roman urban civilization, boasting baths and amphitheaters, as well as people who spoke Latin and wore togas. Numerous villas and vast estates worked by slaves and featuring sumptuous noble dwellings were also established. Beyond these, the countryside remained Celtic.

Britain in the 3rd and 4th centuries felt the decline of the Roman Empire. An official known as the count of the Saxon Shore oversaw defenses against raids by Saxons and others along the North Sea coast. Would-be emperors stripped Britain of its occupying forces, moving the legions elsewhere to serve their own political ambitions. In 410 Rome abandoned Britain. After nearly four centuries of occupation, it left little that was permanent: a superb network of roads, the best Britain would have for some 1400 years; the sites of a number of towns: London, York, and others bearing names that end in the suffix -cester; and Christianity.

The Anglo-Saxons, who occupied the country after the Romans left, ignored the towns, chased Christianity into Wales, and gave their own names, such as Watling Street, to the Roman roads.

Wikipedia Image

Roman Britain: Hadrian’s Wall


Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar’s invasion force landed on Britain’s south-coast in 55 BC, and found it inhabited by Celtic tribes.  In 56 BC Caesar returned to Britain, and came face to face with the Catevellauni, whom he defeated in battle.  Caesar set up treaties and alliances before withdrawing his forces, and so the Roman occupation of Britain had begun.

In AD43, Emperor Claudius sent Aulus Plautius with a force of some 24,000 Roman soldiers to Britain, with orders to establish a military presence.  By AD79 England and Wales were under Roman control.

Emperor Vespasian believed Scotland should also become part of the Roman Empire, but they resisted the Romans.

Julius Agricola, Governor of Britain was faced with a formidable task.  By AD81 he had subdued southern Scottish tribal clans of Selgovae, Novantae and Votadini.  Roman forces headed northwards, intent on provoking the Caledonians into battle against hardened Roman warriors.  They met at Mons Graupius, where Romans were victorious, as 10,000 Caledonians were slain in battle, at the cost of only 360 Romans.  The following day, surviving clansmen fled into the hills, remaining resistant to Roman rule.


Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian became Emperor of the Roman Empire in AD117, and under his orders, the Roman Empire no longer expanded.  In AD122 upon his visit to Britain in, ordered the construction of a wall from the North Sea to the Irish Sea; Solway Firth in the West to the River Tyne in the East.  If he couldn’t rule or control these Scottish barbarians, he built a wall; “Hadrian’s Wall” some 73 miles in length, 10 feet in width, and 15 feet in height, across open country, keeping them out of Britain.


Hadrian’s Wall – Mile Castle Remains

The Roman’s built mile castles (small forts) which housed garrisons of some sixty men, every mile with towers every third of a mile.  Sixteen larger forts, holding 500-1,000 soldiers were built along the length of the wall, with large gates on the walls north face, and a wide ditch, with six foot high earth banks on the south side of the wall…


Hadrian’s Wall – Roman Fort Remains

This massive structure, stretching across northern Britain was constructed by legionaries, taking six years to complete.

Much of the wall remains to this day, despite parts being used for road building and houses over the centuries.  This wall is nearly 1900 years old, a testament of Roman construction.

Hadrian’s Wall: English Heritage
Hadrian’s Wall Mile Castle: English Heritage
Hadrian’s Wall Roman Fort: English Heritage
Julius Caesar: Wikipedia

Building Blocks of Londinium


Roman City Wall & Gateway of Londinium (London)

Londinium or London as we know it now, sits upon sand, gravel and clay.  As far back as Roman’s times, man has built upon this land.

Londinium; a Roman settlement established around 50AD, following the invasion of Britain in 43AD, led by the Roman Emperor Claudius and Roman troop commander; Plautius.

This Roman settlement was established upon marshy lands at a point where the existing river was narrow enough for the construction of a bridge, yet deep enough to handle sea-going marine vessels.

The first bridge built to straddle across the river, was constructed by Plautius, and archaeological excavations in 1981, discovered a Roman pier base, as used in bridge construction very close to the current London Bridge.  From there, a network of Roman roads were created, for easy movement of Roman soldiers.

Londinium, the new trading centre for goods being brought up river, was located on the north side.


Queen Boudicca

Boudicca Queen of the Iceni; had not accepted the rule of these Roman invaders of her homeland, and so it was in 60AD, she and her army levelled and burned this settlement, killing thousands… no one was left alive.

The former settlement was rebuilt, becoming a city in its own right, consisting of timber framed buildings around Roman civic buildings.  As the city grew; Palaces, Basilica, Temple’s and Bathhouses rose from the ashes, so its importance did also, reflecting itself as a major trading centre, by the mid second century.



Fragment of Roman Wall

They enhanced their city, their capital by constructing a defensive wall built from Kentish Ragstone around part of the city, located on the landward side.  It was a little less than two miles in length, some twenty feet high and eight feet thick, designed to ward off potential attacks.  This wall survived some 1600 years.  Along with six gates; Newgate, Aldersgate, Bishopsgate, Aldgate, Cripplegate and Ludgate.

Saxon pirates attacked Londinium on a number of occasions, which led to an additional wall being constructed along the river side of the city in 255AD.

Second century Londinium possessed a Basilica, Temple, Bathhouses, Governor’s Palace and Garrison.  This city grew, this Roman city under rule from the Roman Empire, reached some 45,000 inhabitants.


Mithras Slaying a Bull

The Temple of Mithras, to the Persian God of light and the sun can be found at Walbrook.  Built in the mid second century.  Mithraism rose to prominence during the third century, emphasizing courage, integrity and moral behaviour, with a focus on saviour, sacrifice and rebirth.  Mithraism was highly popular with Roman soldiers, and threatened early forms of Christianity.

Other remanants of Roman buildings still remain in the city; the crypt at St.Brides Church, reveals a Roman decorated floor.


Roman Amphitheatre

Beneath the Guildhall, remains of a Amphitheatre, where gladiators would fight, with animals or each other, often to the death.

With the invasion of Roman’s upon the lands of Britain, their architecture was not changed to match the styles of Britain, but they introduced their own styles of builds, creating a home from home feel.

They would build Roman Villa’s (the latin translation of Villa means farm).  Most were built close to major centres like Londinium.

Interestingly, early buildings were built of wood, upon wood or stone foundations and in the second century they were built of stone.  Many of the early structures were rebuilt in stone during the second century.

A single story in height upon a stone foundation, and capped with slate or clay roof tiles.  With mosaic or marbled floors, under floor central heating, piped through stone channels and painted walls.

Wikipedia Images

Burgh Castle & Church


Burgh Castle Ruins

Situated out beyond the marshes amongst the golden countryside, and shaded by the ruins of the Roman Fort.  Still it sits there, elegant as ever, after centuries of decay and destruction.

For as long as the Roman Empire ruled this land of ours.  Burgh Castle towered as an impregnable fort, which formed part of the Saxon Shore System, stretching from North Norfolk along the coast to Suffolk – Essex – Sussex and round to Hampshire.  Built by the Romans, during the 3rd Century, to guard against Saxon marauders.

The remnants of this fine old fortress with its imposing flint walls bonded together with narrow layers of brick; covers six acres.  Where once a legion of 1,000 fully trained troops were based here, to seek out and destroy the enemy forces, so the sword has yielded to the plough.  The blood of those who built and manned these walls, is buried deep in the soil of this land, as the corn ripens above, and spreads a mantle of oblivion over much, that they built.


Roman Legionaires

Where once Caesar’s Roman legions occupied this fort, these old walls constructed of rubble, flint, brick and concrete, now fifteen feet high and ten feet thick in places, is a tremendous monument to their building design.  The east wall, along with most of the north and south walls, the colossal gateway and round defences along with external bastions, remain to this day.  These bastions are fourteen feet in diameter with hollow tops, and at one time housed their beacons or catapults, from which they hurled boulders at their aggressors.

The Fort now more than three miles inland, would have at the time of its construction, commanded access by water, and excavations over the years have discovered flint and oak piles by the outer walls, suggesting there was once, a quay used by the Romans for landing horses, stores and troops.

The mighty fortress once thought to be impregnable was manned by Roman Legionnaires and Cavalry recruited from Russia, Balkands, Pelusium and beyond.

When the Barbarians were thundering at the gates of Rome, they sailed off to her rescue, leaving their British wives and children mourning their departure.  They had expected to return after a brief campaign, but alas, they came no more this way.

Like so many other citadel’s built by a pagan Empire, this Roman Castle’s history came to an end, when in the 7th century, an Irish saint; St. Fursey founded a monastery within its walls, and its monks sang matins, vespers and songs of Zion for many a year.


St.Peter & St.Paul Church


The fine old church of St.Peter & St.Paul, built close to the castle is of Norman design, and much of the building has been built out of Roman bricks, tiles and flints.  During the 15th century the church underwent a restoration, but since that time little has changed.  Found within the church is a classic 14th century hand carved font adorned with lions, shields and emblems.  The altar table is Jacobean and located close by are richly carved benches.

One of the features of this medieval church has to be the rood screen with its ornate frieze, which was used to separate the chancel from the nave.  They tended to be elaborately painted and carved, causing iconoclastic fury at the time of the Reformation.  Located above the screen is the rood loft, where certain parts of the ceremony were performed.  Here the old stairs can be located, behind a richly carved door hanging on its 17th century hinges.



One of the ornate windows, shows St.Fursey the 7th century evangelist who founded a monastery within the castle walls, another is dedicated to Herbert Laws killed in a volcanic eruption on the island of Martinque, along with Elijah in his chariot of fire.  Here, we also have a window with portraits of King Alfred and Queen Victoria, as a gentle reminder to us, of what this historic place means.

This fine old castle has for many centuries been a quarry for the locals; stones have been removed and used in the construction of roads, farmhouses and cottages.  Part of the church’s walls and the round tower, came from the castle ruins.

As one wanders round this castle and church at Burgh, you can’t help but admire, and pay tribute to the grandeur of Rome.  This building feat by the Romans has lasted to this present day.  Much remains hidden beneath the ground, but that which survives above ground, is the finest example of the genius of the master builders of the ancient world.

Burgh Castle Church Image: Photographed in black & white and hand tinted by using old tea bags to create a natural sepia effect.
All other images: Wikipedia

Cavalryman from Corinium — Heritage Futures

The Corinium Museum contains a particularly find Roman tombstone of a Roman cavalryman, eq(u)es, Sextus Valerius Genialis. It was discovered at Watermoor towards the south-east corner of the (later) Roman town of Cirencester. The relief shows Genialis riding over a fallen soldier, and aiming his lance downwards. In his left hand he has a hexagonal shield […]

via Cavalryman from Corinium — Heritage Futures

Corbridge – The Roman Garrison Town — The Classic Traveller

Having been very busy this summer, I’ve not been able to visit any classical sites. Until now that is. I went with some family friends to Corbridge, which in around AD 86 was known as Coria, or even Corstopitum. The Corbridge you can visit today is only a snippet of the estimated 40-50 acre fort […]

via Corbridge – The Roman Garrison Town — The Classic Traveller