Wednesday, 9 April 2014

G is for Graupius in Mons

What was Mons Graupius?

We have very little written evidence left by Roman historians about the conquest of northern Britannia. Tacitus, writing in his annals of Agricola, is the main source of information regarding the campaigns of Agricola in northern Britannia, when he marched his legions north into what is now Scotland.

Tacitus makes few references to any battles or skirmishes with the Celtic natives during Agricola’s time as Governor and commander of the armies. However, he does record an instance which now is open to conjecture regarding a battle between Celtic tribes and the armies of Rome. The location of the battle is not specifically noted and now some historians think Tacitus’ account may be highly fictionalised since he was giving accolades to Agricola, his father- in- law, at a posthumous time.

If a battle of some sort did take place, it happened somewhere in Scotland and over the centuries there have been a few main contender sites identified, according to the descriptions given by Tacitus. The earlier possibilities claimed that the battle site was somewhere north of the central belt of Scotland, in Stirlingshire, Fife or Tayside.

Bennachie taken from Durno
If that is the case, I personally can’t see why Agricola chose to still march possibly two legions worth of men all the way north into Aberdeenshire. He certainly wanted to set foot on all parts of Britannia’s soil and wanted to lay claim to all of the territory for his Emperor Vespasian in the first instance. His relationships with Vespasian’s successors, Titus and Domitian, may have been different but Agricola’s campaigns in northern Britannia continued and it is now known that he left evidence of this all the way up to the Moray Coast.

The sites at Kintore and Durno in Aberdeenshire harboured some ten thousand and possibly thirty thousand soldiers respectively. If Agricola had ‘subdued’ the native tribes of the Caledons, whose leader was named Calgacus by Tacitus, somewhere south of the river Tay why would he need to continue north with such a huge force. Some degree of presence would have been wanted for him to go as far north as Agricola could for the ‘kudos’ of having been there but some ten to thirty thousand troops- some from the classis vessels- seems excessive for tribes already under some oath or treaty.

I am most definitely in favour then of the battle site for Mons Graupius being in Aberdeenshire. The site of Bennachie is some 9 miles from Kintore Marching camp which is known to have had some ten thousand men encamped. The site of Bennachie is also directly opposite in the valley from Durno which housed something like thirty thousand troops.

Beyond and further north towards Morayshire the sites which have so far been identified as Roman Marching Camps are much smaller. The numbers stationed at these camps are more realistic for a fighting force which was merely playing a monitoring role.

In my novel After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks, my Celtic characters engage in battle with the Roman Empire’s armies at a site in Taexali territory. The site I have chosen is Bennachie, Aberdeenshire – though my battle has not been named and the site has its Gaelic name of Beinn Na Ciche.

My site fits many of the requirements named by Tacitus for mustering armies in battle.

My ‘Mons Graupius’ therefore is at Bennachie, Aberdeenshire.

Enjoy the photos of which I have plenty since it just so happens that I live at Kintore, my house a stone’s throw from the roman Marching Camp and only 9 miles from Durno and Bennachie. Am I biased? Yes, I rather think I am!


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