Tuesday 30 April 2019

#A2ZChallenge Z is for Zenith

Z is for Zenith…or maybe not quite.
Theme: Ancient Roman Scotland during the Flavian era

When I looked at my choices for the letter Z, I could only see myself using the following – zap; zealous; zone; zenith. I’m going to sneak in all of them but focus on zenith.

1) The point on the celestial sphere vertically above an observer. 
2) The highest point, peak, acme: the zenith of someone’s achievements

Z is definitely a tough letter to tackle but I’m going to aim for the almost unknown as I finish off this wonderful #A2ZChallenge2019. I’ve managed to keep to my intended theme of Ancient Roman Scotland during the Flavian era all the way through, so for this last post I’ll look at what General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola achieved in #Caledonia. What was his zenith?
General Agricola
Wikimedia Commons 

What was the highest peak of his achievements?

Even after a lot of studying of this era, I am not actually sure. I don’t believe anyone can be sure till more evidence is uncovered.

The almost unknown part is that we don’t really know what Agricola personally achieved in #Caledonia. We mainly have Cornelius Tacitus’ words to refer to. As far as I know, there is no back-up reference by anyone else writing at that same time who actually corroborates the vague comments that Tacitus wrote. 

Tacitus mentions that his father-in-law General Agricola was a military man who led his men during the campaign, was at the front of the marching line (perhaps not always literally) and liked to choose his next encampment site. That part I’m sure would maybe have been slight exaggeration since a commander would have been absorbing information from forward scouts on the terrain that lay ahead of the armies. The site engineer would also have been assessing the land to ensure all criteria were met before the camp engineers began the marking out of the perimeter. 

I can, however, see an experienced general like Agricola giving his stamp of approval in general terms about the suitability of a possible site.  If, for example, he was entering a narrow valley floor where it was instantly easy to see that defence would have been virtually impossible, then I could see him doing an immediate zap of it. And when a suitable situation, visibly well-able to be defended, presented itself after a decent day’s march then I’m sure Agricola was more than capable of doing that kind of ‘choosing’. Tacitus may have been telling everyone that Agricola was a perfectionist who was sufficiently zealous enough to want to be on top of all decision making. 

But was Agricola actually the first general to invade southern and central Caledonia? Was Tacitus giving more acclaim to Agricola than the man actually deserved? 

P.P. Statius
Wikimedia Commons
The poet Publius Papinius Statius was relatively contemporary to Tacitus and Agricola. However, Statius’ advice (in the poem Silvae) to Vettius Crispinus, about following the great example of Crispinus’ father – Vettius Bolanus – sheds a different light on who actually invaded parts of Caledonia first. The possibility that Bolanus was the first Roman Governor of Britannia to invade southern and perhaps even central Caledonia is enhanced by the results of more recent archaeological dating. Some Dendrochronology dates for southern Caledonia fort locations indicate an initial building programme during the early 70s, rather than during Agricola’s governorship of c. A.D. 77-84. Those invasions could then have been during the governorships of Bolanus (A.D. 69-71) and his successor Quintus Petillius Cerialis (A.D. 71-74).

What I really like to keep in mind is that although General Agricola was not Governor of Britannia during the period of A.D. 71-74, he was Legatus of the Legio XX. It’s known that while Cerialis was campaigning in eastern Brigantia (North Yorkshire/ Northumberland), Agricola was striding forward and subduing the western zones of Brigantia (Cumbria/ North-West Yorkshire). The troops who then invaded southern and central Scotland, may have been under the overall command of Governor Cerialis but some of them were probably under the direct command of Agricola if they were men of Legio XX , or vexillations attached to that legion.

Wikimedia Commons
Was that then Agricola’s zenith? I doubt it since invasion continued beyond central Scotland. The wooden forts in the zone of the River Tay (Gask Ridge/ Highland Line? ) may, or may not have been initially built by Agricola. Some historians favour the notion that there had been some action in those areas during the early 70s, organised by Bolanus or Cerialis, and that the earliest forts result from those forays. Did Agricola arrange the building of them? The answer might be yes, but when he was Legate of Legio XX.

Julius Sextus Frontinus, according to Tacitus, was very busy during his 3 to 4 year tenure as Governor of Britannia (c. A.D 74-77) in subduing the tribes of 'Wales'. That may indeed have been a priority for Frontinus but it seems unlikely that all Roman military action would have been completely suspended in the north. Perhaps the most basic presence maintained some sort of stability in the northern zones where fort building had taken place? Though as with Agricola in the early 80s, it may very well have depended on how many troops Frontinus had to command.

It's worth mentioning that during the tenure of Frontinus as Governor of Britannia, Agricola was likely to have been elsewhere. He was appointed Governor  of Gallia Aquitania (France) at this time. The lack of determined and zealous invasion in Caledonia during those few years may have been because there was no military commander experienced enough to ensure that a further expansion into northern Caledonia (beyond the Tay) would have been successful.

A huge problem with theorising like this is how to deal with the fact that when Agricola returned to Britannia as Governor and Commander of the legions it took him from c. A.D. 77 to A.D. 83/84 to push as far north as the Moray Firth. If there was already military presence of any degree in central Caledonia, why did it take so long for him to get to the far north? Was it because he was indeed so zealous, such a perfectionist that only absolute capitulation of everything to the south of where he currently was, was good enough for him? Did he have a lot more engagement with the local tribes of Caledonia which meant his progress was slower than Tacitus wanted to include in his Agricola? Given that Agricola was in charge of the rest of the island of Britannia, did he have issues there that took a lot of time and energy away from his invasions of the far north-east? It's known that he was given a judicial legate to help him with the workload of running all civic and military aspects in Britannia so his responsibilities were considerable. It must have needed a lot of time and huge effort during his longer-than-average tenure as governor to ensure the most smooth-running progress in all areas. 

Whatever the answers to the timescale and the actual events of the invasion of Caledonia, it's evident that thousands of Agricolan soldiers marched onwards to the Moray Firth area, though only creating temporary camps rather than wooden forts. 

While I was writing Agricola’s Bane, Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series clan saga, I tried really hard to get into the mind set of General Agricola as he shivered in a Caledonian early winter. In an academic paper on climate studies, I read that the climate of ‘Caledonia’ 2000 years ago would not have been vastly different from it is now. The atmospheric conditions which can affect our Scottish weather patterns today may well have been somewhat similar and just as responsible for creating mercurial weather back then. While today we accept the scientific reasons for changeable weather, Agricola really would have been likely to have blamed the god Mercury for the unpredictable conditions he was enduring! 

It’s thought there was an Agricolan presence at one, or both, of the encampments named Auchinhove and its larger much larger neighbour Muiryfold. If Agricola was encamped at either one then marching his armies to almost the Moray Coast of Scotland was quite an achievement, yet I don’t think that was his ultimate aim or the zenith of his career. To conquer the whole of Caledonia and thus the whole of the island of Britannia would have meant a bit more campaigning, time that he wasn’t given since it seems he was recalled to Rome. After campaigns spanning the best part of seven years it would be reasonable to think that a zealous invader like Agricola would have been shocked to the core to realise his ultimate ambition wasn’t going to come to fruition. Archaeological digs in Aberdeenshire have produced sufficient ground evidence to be sure of Roman presence there, but the land north of the Moray Firth has not produced similar crop markings. Of course, the lack of evidence from aerial photography north of Inverness doesn’t mean Agricolan troops never visited the area – it’s currently just that there’s no evidence.

Cornelius Tacitus Wikimedia Commons
Tacitus wrote an interesting phrase that went something like: Agricola held the whole of Caledonia in his hands but then it was let go. In the translations that I've read, Tacitus does not say 'Agricola let it go'. The zenith of Agricolan achievement, the climax of his Roman army campaigns, would have been the capitulation of every local person on Caledon soil. Sadly for Roman Empire expansion, I don't quite think that Agricola made his zenith...

Speaking as a born and bred zealous Scot, I'm not sad at all that the country of my birth remained less influenced by the Roman legacy compared to some other countries. 

But... if you've been following my blog posts this past April 2019, you'll have noticed that I'm definitely fascinated that Agricola (Rome) came and then went away again! 

Do you think that Agricola reached his zenith?

Thank you for reading my April #A2ZChallenge posts. If you have any questions on any of the topics, pop them into the comments box! 


Monday 29 April 2019

#A2ZChallenge Y is for the Year of the Four Emperors!

Y is for Year of the 4 Emperors A.D. 68/69
Theme: Ancient Roman Scotland during the Flavian era

June A.D. 67.
Emperor Nero must have believed that the province of Britannia was sufficiently stable and well monitored because he removed one of the four legions which had been stationed there. He ordered the Legio XIV Gemina Martia Victrix to quit Britannia probably with the intention of using it to strengthen his forces in the Balkans where he was intending war with Parthia. That doesn’t appear to have happened since events were not going in Nero’s favour. He seemed to be heartily disliked by the middle and upper classes, since the taxes he demanded from them for his ambitious building programmes were a huge bone of contention. The Great Fire of Rome of A.D. 64 devastated huge areas and Nero was determined to rebuild in a more spacious fashion, with better 'spread-of-fire prevention methods' but that meant money from sources that were not his own funds. Some of the general populace favoured his organising of games and theatre events, but in general he seems to have gained more enemies than friends. Across the empire the legions began to take sides with prospective new candidates for the job of emperor.
Galba - Wikimedia Commons

June A.D 68
New Emperor 1  - Servius Sulpicius Galba (lasted 7 months June 68-Jan 69)
Roman civil and military officials declared the 66 year old Servius Sulpicius Galba the new emperor, Galba having the support of some of the legions. Nero could see no way out of his predicament, wanted to commit suicide on June 9th A.D. 68 but couldn’t quite do it. He died, so it’s written, with a bit of help from his freedman secretary.

The death of Nero meant the end of the Julio/ Claudian dynasty but from this period on it wasn’t actually necessary for a candidate to be present in Rome when declared the next emperor. Control of the empire rested on having the support of the 30 or so legions; the Senate in Rome and the Praetorian Guard.

Sulpicius Galba only had tenuous support from some of the legions for a short while. His fragile health – maybe gout – and a weakness in decision-making, i.e. a tendency to let others sway his judgement, made him a poor emperor. After about 7 months, January A.D. 69, he was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard who bore a grudge against Galba for not being paid for services rendered when creating him emperor.

Otho - Wikimedia Commons
New Emperor 2- Marcus Salvius Otho (lasted 3 months Jan 69-Apr 69))
Next up as emperor was Marcus Salvius Otho. His coup, supported by the Praetorian Guard, was even shorter lived. He soon found out how much support Aulus Vitellius had across the empire, and especially from legions in Germania. After a failed conciliatory attempt to offer to share the emperor’s job with Vitellius, Otho prepared for war against the legions in support of Vitellius.

At the Battle of Bedriacum Otho could see he wasn’t going to win and committed suicide leaving the job of emperor to Vitellius.

(possible) Vitellius - Wikimedia Commons

New Emperor 3 - Aulus Vitellius (lasted 8 months Apr 69- Dec 69)
To become emperor Vitellius had the support of legions in Germania and soon after legions in Britannia, Gaul and Raetia also pledged their support to him.

Aulus Vitellius only lasted 8 months before being murdered by the troops of Titus Flavius Vespasianus, the man who commanded the eastern legions.

I love looking at this painting of poor Vitellius being dragged through Rome before his assassination.

Vitellius dragged through the streets of Rome by Rochegrosse
Wikimedia Commons 
New Emperor 4 -Titus Flavius Vespasianus the elder (lasted almost 10 years Dec 69-June 79)

Vespasian- Wikimedia Commons
Vespasian (Titus Flavius Vespasianus the elder) assumed the title of emperor at the age of 60. He was the first emperor to have come from an equestrian background but his military capability was not in doubt. He settled the empire down fairly quickly, especially the problems that had been ongoing in Judea for some time, with the help of his elder son Titus.

Details for his emperorship are a bit hazy but he seems to have gradually gained the support of virtually everyone he needed to keep a firm control of the whole empire, including all of the 30ish legions. He began a programme of filling Rome’s coffers which included re-introducing the not altogether popular urine tax (money does not stink!), and with his son Titus’ help he secured the flow of grain supplies that Rome needed from Egypt, though stabilising that eastern region had been a difficult and long campaign.

He ordered the destruction of some of Emperor Nero’s excessively lavish buildings and in the place that Nero’s Domus Aurea (Golden Palace) had stood he started the building which became the Colosseum using funds from the spoils of the Jerusalem/Judea campaigns. The Templum Pacis (Temple of peace) was built, as was a temple to the deified Claudius whom he had served under during the A.D. 43 invasion of Britannia.

What did the Year of the Four Emperors mean for Britannia, and in particular with regard to my Celtic Fervour Series of novels which starts in AD 71?

When the cat's away...the mice will play! 

In AD 68, the Governor of Britannia was Marcus Trebellius Maximus who had assumed the role in AD 63. During the five years of Maximus' governorship (according to Tacitus) he didn’t claim any new territory but consolidated the areas towards the south of Britannia which had already been settled upon by the Roman armies. London continued to grow as a Romanised settlement and he rebuilt Camulodunum, after the ravages of Boudicca’s rebellion. However, not being a military man he had little control of the legions who grew restive with no new campaigning and—it appears—they also hated his meanness.

When the civil war in Rome began in AD 68, for the position of Roman emperor, Britannia sent no successor as the other Roman regions had done. Though it appears that the province of Britannia itself remained relatively calm, mostly regarding the natives in the south, Trebellius Maximus and Roscius Coelius, commander of the Legio XX, were constantly quarrelling. The situation became so troublesome between them that eventually Trebellius Maximus, no longer in control of the troops, fled from Britannia and appears to have joined Aulus Vitellius in Germania. Interestingly, though, when it came to Vitellius' turn to become emperor the Britannic legions seem to have favoured him. 

From my point of view as a fiction author, such a situation had to have been a lucrative one for the Celtic Brigante tribes of the north. Any hint of the Roman governorship being weakened had to have been a situation the tribes – who had not already signed allegiance to Rome – would have exploited whenever possible.

After Vitellius took control of the Empire, Trebellius Maximus was replaced by Vettius Bolanus .The situation Vettius Bolanus inherited as Governor of Britannia in AD 69 wasn’t actually as peaceable as he may have wanted. The south of Britannia (southern England) might have been amiable and accepting of the strictures of Rome but the north wasn’t (northern England), and neither was the west (Wales). Bolanus was immediately to find the supporters of King Venutius of the Brigantes in the north a sore trial to him. The Queen of the Brigantes, Cartimandua, had been a loyal 'client-kingdom' ruler for 20 years but her ex-husband King Venutius wasn’t at all happy about their 'loyalty to Rome' status. So, not only was there civil war across the Roman Empire, but there was also civil war in Brigantia as well. 

King Venutius launched a successful second rebellion against the armies of Cartimandua and Vettius Bolanus had to send in his troops to rescue Cartimandua and remove her from the territory. What happened to her after that is unknown. For a short time King Venutius remained undefeated by Rome and maintained control of Brigante territory.

This the period when my Celtic Fervour Clan Saga begins. The Beltane Choice (Book 1)  introduces my warrior clan from the Brigante Hillfort of Garrigill and throughout the book there is the threat of war in Brigantia with Rome. At the end of The Beltane Choice my warriors go to battle against the armies of Rome at a place named Whorl. 

Rome's intervention to rescue Cartimandua seems to have been a turning point for Roman expansion of the north. During the time of Vettius Bolanus as Governor (A.D. 69-71) recent archaeology is pointing towards a determined campaign by the Romans to control the north. It seems highly probable that many of the Roman installations of small forts and fortlets that began to appear in northern Brigantia, and connecting road systems, were instigated by Bolanus at this time with the full approval of Vespasian. It's possible that some of the earliest fortlets in southern Scotland were also built in the time of Bolanus. Emperor Vespasian had plenty of personal experience of campaigning in southern Britannia so he was likely to have been aware of just how much more land there was for Rome to conquer in the north. Book 2 of the series, After Whorl: Bran Reborn takes place between A.D. 71- 73.

After Bolanus' term as Governor of Britannia, Vespasian sent in Quintus Petillius Cerialis (possible brother-in-law to Vespasian). Cerialis had already made his mark as a successful military man in Germania, even if he hadn't done so well earlier in Britannia during the revolt of Boudicca. Under the approval of the Emperor Vespasian, it looks very possible Cerialis continued the expansion of Roman troops into what we would now call southern Scotland during his term as Governor (A.D 71-73/74)  - even though Brigantia was still a volatile area and required a lot of subduing. The amount of Roman installations built across Brigantia (present-day Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Northumberland) are thought to have been because the natives were not entirely subdued at this point in time. During his governorship, Cerialis was campaigning in eastern Brigantia with the Legio IX, while Gnaeus Iulius Agricola as legate of the Legio XX was campaigning in western Brigantia.  

It's not clear if Sextus Julius Frontinus, the next Governor that Vespasian sent in, campaigned very much in southern Scotland. It's thought he spent most of his time subduing the Silures of Wales and was probably still heavily involved in grasping and maintaining control of Brigantia. If Frontinus did send in any of his troops to Southern Scotland during the period A.D 74-77, it was likely to have been with the full support of Emperor Vespasian. The main source for events at this time is the work of Cornelius Tacitus who doesn't specify that Frontinus had any engagement in Scotland. Tacitus does, however, indicate that it was his father-in-law, Gnaeus Iulius Agricola who did invade Scotland with the approval of Vespasian. Book 3 After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks takes place between A.D 73 and 84 during which period Roman expansion into Scotland was thorough and systematic.

Book 4 Agricola's Bane takes place in A.D. 84 and is set in the aftermath of a huge confrontation between the Ancient Roman legions of General Agricola and the Caledonian allies (The battle takes place at the end of Book 3) Book 4 investigates what Agricola does in north-east Scotland during a period that a number of large temporary camps were built in the area. 

The Year of the 4 Emperors was crucial to what eventually happened in northern  Britannia because there’s no way of knowing if one of the first three emperors (Galba, Otho, Vitellius) would have condoned the continued expansion of the north. Since the positions of authority in Rome and across the Roman Empire’s legions depended a lot on ‘who you knew’ there’s no guarantee that someone like General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola would have been in a position to march his troops all the way to central Scotland under someone who wasn’t Vespasian. I believe it was important that both Vespasian and Agricola had prior military campaign experience in Britannia long before the expansion of Roman troops into Caledonia.

Dog eat dog! Would you like to have been one of the contenders for the post of Roman Emperor in A.D. 69? 

Till one more post on the #A2ZChallenge...




Sunday 28 April 2019

Sunday Selection #A2ZChallenge research books

It's Sunday and almost the end of April! 

#A2ZChallenge Theme: Ancient Roman Scotland during the Flavian era

Since there's no April #A2ZChallenge post today, I promised to show a few of the books I've used for the research for my theme of #Agricolan Scotland. 

In addition to those I'm posting below, there have been many other pieces of research done via internet sources and not just Wikimedia - though I do use that in conjunction with background sources, if I can be sure of the origin of the information. 

I have a number of bookcases in my house which have some other less used information, but the ones shown are most commonly used just now for my Romans in Scotland research.

An upstairs bookcase has many other Celtic research books; general Scottish and British history references; and ones used during my Open University studies (my degree is history/ culture & literature studies) which went from 17th Century England through to the Victorian era.  And there are World War II books, as well as other periods which I taught to my pupils when I was a primary teacher- Vikings, Egyptians, Elizabethans, Jacobite.... Yes, History is and has always been a passion of mine!

One of these days I'll amalgamate all of my history research into one room!

The texts shown here are in no particular order of favour, or order of use. There are older references like Sheppard Frere which is still excellent for some things but his 1960s and 1970s theories have been supplanted by the more modern ones by archeologists like Woolliscroft and Hoffmann. I've found some theories in one which may conflict with another author's, but taken as a whole huge block of information there is a lot for me as an author of Historical Fiction (Saga) to dip into. 

I'm well aware that what one archaeologist presents as his or her impression of Roman Scotland is just that - an interpretation. Interpretations on sound solid evidence is the best anyone can do since there are no actual remains of full physical buildings to draw on. 

What is gleaned from the soil, and from artifactual evidence, is all that can be used to construct an impression of what it was like to live in #Roman Scotland- along with the scant written evidence of Cornelius Tacitus and those ancient writers who post date him. 

Without Tacitus, I would have a lot less to build my historical fiction saga on.

The reference book that I'm probably using most just now for my new writing is this very heavy text on the Roman fort of Trimontium/ Newstead. At the beginning of Book 5, my current WIP Beathan the Brigante (probable final title), 13 year old Beathan is presently enslaved in Trimontium fort.

Skipping backwards in my series, in the final pages of Book 3 there is a battle at Beinn na Ciche between the Roman Armies of General Agricola and the amassed Celtic warrior force led by a Caledon leader named Calgach (Tacitus' Calgacus). My battle is loosely based on the information of the battle as given by Cornelius Tacitus in his Agricola, the one historians refer to as Mons Graupius. 

As the author of my series, I was unable to name the battle Mons Graupius because the site of the battle has never been positively identified but many recent historians favour the site currently named Bennachie in Aberdeenshire. I have used local Gaelic names for many of my locations in my series so my battle site is Beinn na Ciche (Bennachie). 

Beathan is the baby born to the main protagonists in Book 1 of the series- The Beltane Choice- a son who has been prophesied to become a great leader of the Celts. As Book 5 progresses Beathan will mature to become that man! 

The last text shown here is an English Heritage copy of Hadrian's wall. the messy pages cluttering it are print-outs from my Futurelearn course on Hadrian's Wall. This was a really good course on what is known about Hadrian's Wall from it's beginnings c. A.D. 120 to it's end of Roman use c. very early A.D 400s- though some of the Wall forts continued to be used for longer than that. I absolutely recommend the Futurelearn course for anyone who wants to dip into the history of Hadrian's Wall, or Virtual Rome, without doing a demanding degree course.

Have you read any of the above reference books, or heard of them? 

Till tomorrow and my penultimate #A2ZChallenge post...


Saturday 27 April 2019

#A2ZChallenge X is for Xystum

X is for Xystum
Theme: Ancient Roman Scotland during the Flavian era

Xystum is an architectural term. ... And I'll confess now that this post actually has little to do with Roman forts in Flavian Scotland, since we know very little about what the interiors of Agricolan-built forts looked like. 

Dictionary Definition of Xystum: It can refer to a wall, alley or open path, promenade or colonnade. It can also refer to an atrium (Roman Courtyard), ambulacrum, or parvis in front of a basilica.

My P for Praetorium and Principia post briefly touched on the design of the Praetorium in a Roman fort but didn’t refer to the colonnade/ Xystum.

Reconstructed villa in Pompei Wikimedia Commons 
There's sufficient evidence from some Roman forts across the Roman Empire, and in southern Britannia, to demonstrate that the central headquarters building, the principia, ideally would have had a colonnaded walkway which mirrored the style of architecture in a domestic Roman villa. The image here may be far more ornate than would have been found in a Roman fort on the periphery of the Roman Empire, but it highlights the main principle of a collonaded walkway providing shade or weather protection. 

Wooden forts in #Caledonia during the Agricolan era may have had wooden columns supporting a covered roof, at least until the principia area was converted to stone, if that took place at all in later Flavian times. 

Roman presence may have withdrawn from central and northern Scotland c. A.D. 86 but the fort at Trimontium was rebuilt in a new Agricolan phase around this time, so perhaps the principia was built in stone with a proper stone colonnaded walkway around the interior, or even also on the exterior! Unfortunately, At Trimontium (Newstead) the layout of the Agricolan forts are confused by later phases of building on the same area.

This site below has some interesting graphics of the interior of a Roman fort. Don't hesitate to click on the interactive areas- you might like what happens! I'm conscious of copyright and haven't used any of the images but they're interesting, so have look.

And this virtual reconstruction video also gives some insights as to what the xystum areas might have been like in permanent and important forts in Caledonia - even if they weren't built in stone till during the Antonine or Severan phases of reconstruction. 

Having written the above, I remembered reading somewhere that Roman Vindolanda didn't seem to have had a colonnaded portico. Vindolanda is just south of Hadrian's Wall and doesn't quite qualify for a Caledonian fort, even though the earliest Vindolanda phases were built during the late Flavian era. I wonder if the Vindolanda style set a precedent for the forts in Caledonia? Or, if forts already built in southern and central Scotland by c. A.D. 86 had also rejected the use of the colonnaded walkway xystum? 

What do you think? Do you know? If you have more information, please point me in the right direction. 

Tomorrow, because it's Sunday, there will be no official #A2ZChallenge post but I intend to post a list of some of my favourite research books for my Roman Scotland studies. 


Friday 26 April 2019

#A2ZChallenge W is for wattle and daub

W is for wattle and daub
Theme: Ancient Roman Scotland during the Flavian era

Dictionary definition of wattle and daub: form of wall construction consisting of interwoven twigs plastered with a mixture of clay, water and sometimes chopped straw.

During this #A2ZChallenge I’ve written about different fortresses, forts and fortlets in #Flavian #Caledonia (Scotland). The strategic sites of some have been mentioned, and I’ve written a little about the P is for Principia and Praetorium , but I’ve not mentioned much about what it may have been like inside the wooden built forts during the Agricolan era. We have no physical record left of a wooden built fort since little survives in the soil over the almost 2000 year period, but there are some clues to build up an interpretation of what they may have been like. Of course, as with all Roman archaeology in Scotland, the interpretation could change if new evidence alters current perceptions.

Wattled hurdle - Wikimedia Commons 
Some things can be surmised from the few pieces of ancient writings that have come down to us of the life of the Roman soldier, and more can be interpreted by archaeologists working on the sites. When test pits on sites of interest (possible forts) are dug there are priorities I personally don’t know of, since I’ve not trained as an archaeologist. However, I’ve read that changes to the soil colours, at the relevant depth for the Roman period, are incredibly important as are the markings and traces left from wooden support posts, or evidence in the soil of particles of clay and other materials.

When investigations at part of Trimontium Roman Fort (Newstead, Melrose) were done, traces from bonfires provided some evidence to surmise that when the original Agricolan fort was being deliberately dismantled (a theory) c. A.D. 86 before the withdrawal of the unit from Trimontium, interior panels of wattle and daub were placed on a bonfire and burned along with other rubbish. 

The wattle and daub construction method has been used for probably 6000 years, and was used by many communities around the world long before the Ancient Romans would have used it in their forts. No matter where the soldiers of the Roman legions had originally come from, it's highly likely that wattle and daub was the building method used in the area of their upbringing. 

Nancy Jardine - Trimontium Museum
Wattled hurdles, as in the photograph above,  have been used as fences and low walls. They were used as low partition walls in Celtic Roundhouses and were probably used by Ancient Roman soldiers to pen their livestock in the more permanent forts. 

To create interior wattle and daub walls within a barrack block would have been a simple process. Partition walls not attached to the roof could have been fairly basic and perhaps even installed as a ready-built partition - lifted into place just high enough to separate a soldier and his horse from another ‘pairing’, or to provide a separate space for a contubernium group if it was an auxiliary, or legionary infantry unit. 

The materials to create such simple barriers would have been easily gleaned from the local countryside and having read of the expertise of the Roman army in many other aspects of building – roads, temporary camp ramparts etc. – I’m sure that the interior walls in the barracks, or the praetorium, or the principia, would have been created very quickly and efficiently. 

Slightly more permanent wattle and daub walls could have been installed - wattled panels initially fixed to the wooden roof and wooden walls with iron brackets or nailed into place, and then the daub process added which would have bonded the panel to the roof beams and wall boards. 

There's evidence from other Roman forts from a later date (e.g. Severan era at Arbeia fort on Hadrian's Wall, approx. 120 years after Agricola) which confirm that doors were installed with iron hinges. I don't doubt it was within the skills of the Agricolan smiths of A.D. 80 to fashion hinges and brackets to attach the framework for a wattle and daub wall.

Nancy Jardine- Trimontium Museum 
The rooms created may not have been very sound proofed but the wattle and daub would have eliminated draughts, more effective if an exterior door was able to be firmly closed.

Separating rooms with wattle and daub would have made the interiors pretty dark, though, since I'm not sure that windows would have been a priority (I'd love to read evidence of this). 

Meagre lighting would have been provided by an oil lamp or a torch brand in a wall bracket. Drawbacks to that would have been smoke and smells from the oil - or fat - used and the fact that any naked 'light' would have been a fire hazard.

Wattle and Daub- Wikimedia Commons
The design and construction of a fort like Trimontium may have differed from others in Caledonia e.g. those on the Gask Ridge or the Highland Line forts. Trimontium was in a strategic situation to handle a lot of traffic: Roman troops and goods making their way northwards on Dere Street, or those going back down to southern Britannia. Even though the initial Flavian fort was of wooden construction it may have had more substantial interior walls, the intention for them to last a longer duration. 

Some of the other forts further north, on the Gask Line etc, may have been of the ‘overwintering’ very basic wooden fort type - intended only for a very short duration. In those any partitioning may have been more basic. On the other hand, the reason to eliminate draughts and weather conditions would have been the same regardless of where in #Caledonia the fort was installed. 

Tacitus wrote of Agricola's troops going south to 'overwinter' after the Agricolan summer campaign seasons. At first reading, I thought that must mean sending troops to southern bases like the supply base at Corstopitum which is in territory just south of the Scottish/ English border. However, more reading has indicated that some forts may have been created for the 'overwintering' of troops instead of having them endure heavy winter conditions in temporary encampments and living under 'leather' (tents). Such forts may have had the most basic interior constructions. 

When a wooden built fort was converted into a stone fort, the fixed interior walls of wattle and daub may have been further strengthened by the addition of a coat of limewash. (Arbeia evidence) The limewash would have served to brighten the room, as well as give that added extra draught-proofing! Some soldiers spent years in a Roman fort and even a few home comforts must have been very welcome. 

Were there many other choices of building styles in an ancient Roman wooden fort? -  I doubt it. 
What do you think? 

Till tomorrow and another #A2ZChallenge post...


Thursday 25 April 2019

#A2ZChallenge V is for Victory

V is for Victory - 
But no proper triumphus for Agricola?
Theme: Ancient Roman Scotland during the Flavian era

Ancient Roman Emperor Augustus set a precedent for full triumphal honours to celebrate great victories over the enemies of Rome. The conditions were strict in that the full triumphus could only be given to a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Essentially only emperors, or their family members, could benefit from the elaborate ceremonial triumphal march into, and through, Rome at the head of their army/ armies. A triumphal arch was generally built in honor of that emperor. Sadly only 3 out of of 36 such arches in Rome have survived, with some dedicated reconstruction. However, the ruins of numerous other arches erected throughout the Roman Empire can be visited. The remaining 3 arches in Rome were built in honour of Titus, Severus and Constantine. 

Arch of Titus - Wikimedia Commons
The Arch of Titus (above) that we can see today was reconstructed in the 18th century from the remains of the original inner arch and the inscription above built c. A.D. 82 by his brother Domitian after the death of Titus. The arch was to commemorate Titus' victories, including the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 which took place shortly after their father Vespasian become the emperor. 

**This site has an incredibly busy painting of the Triumphal Entry to Rome of Emperor Vespasian. I'm not sure of the copyright of displaying the painting on this blog but one click HERE will get you the image. **

Generals who had conducted themselves victoriously, and who were not related to the emperor, were awarded insignia triumphalia, special ornamentation to indicate their triumphant success. They could wear their ornamentation along with a specials toga styles which were generally only worn by the emperor, or the main consuls/magistrates in Rome.

A public acknowledgement was granted in the form of a bronze statue of the recipient of the triumphal honours which had pride of place in the Forum of Augustus in Rome.
Nancy Jardine 

Unfortunately these honours fell out of use in the time of Emperor Tiberius but Emperor Vespasian reinstated them – possibly because Vespasian had received the awards from Emperor Claudius for his triumphs after the Claudian invasion of Britannia.

And what about General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola?

Agricola was recalled to Rome probably in early A.D. 85. According to the writings of Cornelius Tacitus, Agricola had been in post as Governor of Britannia for twice as  long as most of his predecessors. There were possibly many opportunities for Agricola to deserve a triumph during his career but the main one regularly quoted would have been Agricola’s triumph over the Caledonian allies at the Battle of Mons Graupius. If a battle took place as Tacitus describes where Agricola’s forces slaughtered some 10,000 Caledonians while he only lost 360 of his own men, mainly Roman auxiliary troops,  then that would certainly qualify as a triumphal honour for Agricola.

The aftermath of the said battle seems to be somewhat hazy in Tacitus’ Agricola. Tacitus makes no mention of the usual treaties being signed; makes no mention of the typical formal march of large numbers of high ranking captives to Rome. What Tacitus does write is that after marching his troops to north-east Scotland, Agricola was then recalled to Rome by Emperor Domitian in c. early A.D. 85. Tacitus then makes it clear that under Agricola the ‘whole of Caledonia’ was in the grasp of Rome but then on his recall ‘let go’.

Frejus - France 
(Gallia Narbonensis)
Wikimedia Commons
Tacitus goes on to say that Agricola returned to Rome unobtrusively at night. Emperor Domitian is said to have awarded Agricola insignia triumphalia, and a statue was erected in his honour but the intriguing thing is that Agricola never held any other military or political post after his return to Rome. It was written that Domitian offered Agricola the Governorship of Africa but Agricola is said to have declined. Why this was so will probably never be known. There is also no record of a statue to Agricola that's been found in Rome. 

Agricola returned to his estates in Gallia Narbonensis (Frejus, near Marseilles in France) and died there at the age of 53. According to the ancient writer Cassius Dio, Emperor Domitian showed great disfavour towards Agricola since Agricola had been too successful during his many campaigns in Britannia. Domitian, on the other hand, hadn’t been successful at all in Lower Germania, even after he had requested huge numbers of Troops stationed in Britannia be transferred to Germany to help quell the unrest of the Chatti. Domitian recalled even more troops of the Legio II Adiutrix from Britannia to help him during his Dacian wars. Cassius Dio wrote that Emperor Domitian’s disfavour of Agricola might even have gone so far as to have Agricola poisoned, but there seems to be no proper evidence for this.

Had Emperor Vespasian not died in A.D. 79 then who knows what more Agricola might have achieved in northern Britannia?

Agricola , Bath -Wikimedia Commons 
 It’s unclear if Vespasian’s successor, his elder son Titus, would have given Agricola the resources he needed to completely ensure capitulation of the northern Caledonian tribes. Titus, having had real experience in the field as commander of a legion, might have continued to support Agricola in Britannia. and Titus may well have given Agricola the best possible honours since Titus had an arch built in his honour (albeit much later than the events had happened) However, Titus’ short reign of less than two years ended when he died in A.D. 81.

Domitian seems to have begun the withdrawal of troops from Britannia almost immediately after his accession to emperor, which probably annoyed Agricola greatly since he had been making such good progress in controlling more and more of Britannia.

There may be no record of a statue of Agricola in Rome but there is a statue of Agricola in Bath, England. Not very old, since it was erected in late Victorian times (end 19th Century) but it acknowledges that Agricola spent most of his military and political career in Britannia. 

My #Celtic Fervour Series is roughly, and geographically, based on the campaigns of Agricola though it's mainly told via the perspectives of my Late Iron Age warrior clan members from the Hillfort of Garrigill. I wanted to write about what happened to relatively ordinary people of the time, not the kings or queens, when the legions of Ancient Rome descended on their territorial lands. My clan members fight battles against the Roman legions but when death, or being subsumed into the Roman Empire against their will, is inevitable they flee northwards. As the forces of General Agricola plough northwards into Caledonia my clan warriors are one step ahead.

Agricola becomes an important character in #4 of the series Agricola's Bane.  He also features for a time in what is intended to be the last book of the series - Beathan the Brigante.

Agricola may have seemed victorious in Caledonia but was that always true? My fiction series says ...maybe not always!

Till tomorrow and another #A2ZChallenge post...



Wednesday 24 April 2019

#A2ZChallenge U is for Ultimus

U is for Ultimus - limes
Theme: Ancient Roman Scotland during the Flavian era

From my Latin Dictionary
ultimus: superl adj farthest, most remote, the end of
limes: path between fields, boundary, path, track, frontier, boundary line

When we think of the Ancient Romans creating frontier lines in Britain the most readily thought of permanent, huge boundary is most likely that of Hadrian’s Wall. It is indeed an impressive structure that has withstood weather, and other attacks, for around nineteen hundred years, but it was not the only frontier the Romans physically constructed, or nominally set, on the landscape. I'd love to write here about Hadrian's Wall, but since it was built c. A.D. 122, some 40 years after Agricola was in Scotland, I'll leave the subject for another time! 

As the Roman legions made their progress northwards from the south-east coast of England, after the invasion of Emperor Claudius in A.D. 43, they set new confines of the empire time after time when they totally overran and subdued tribe after tribe. In addition to building fortresses, forts, fortlets and watchtowers on subdued territory, the Romans also began their systematic road building programme. Effective roads meant that Roman installations could be more easily garrisoned and necessary supplies regularly delivered. The earliest Roman built roads were certainly great communication lines but were probably not considered as official and fixed boundaries.
Fosse Way - Wikimedia Commons 
I’ve read of the Roman road named the Fosse Way as being, in a sense, an early western boundary line in southern Britannia but its purpose and function as a frontier doesn’t really compare with the later-built Hadrian’s Wall. Whether, or not, it started out as a ditch boundary and then was later filled-in to become a paved road…or... whether the road was built alongside a ditch, the ditch being on the ‘barbarian’ side of the road – the word Fosse comes from the Latin meaning ditch.

I’m sure the locals would have been highly impressed if they’d been watching the Fosse Way’s construction progress across their lands, probably even terrified by what it represented. But since Roman military installations were built on both sides of the Fosse Way, it wasn’t a real frontier barrier. The Fosse Way was a remarkable road, and personally I’d love to know what made the Ancient Roman Governor of Britannia (Aulus Plautius or Ostorius Scapula?) settle on that exact route – apart from the fact that it was a very long and direct link from the fortress at Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter) to Lindum Colonia (Lincoln), with Aquae Sulis (Bath) being one very notable place along the route. I’d also love to get confirmation that the Fosse Way was first begun by the Legio II Augusta at Isca under the command of Titus Flavius Vespasianus (who later became emperor).   

Between A.D. 43 and 69, nominal boundaries were fluid and were likely temporarily established after each new campaign had resulted in the conquering of more tribal lands, those territories subsumed into the Roman Empire via treaties and set conditions imposed on the vanquished (or acquiescent) tribes. New territory seems to have been ‘policed’ by the auxiliary and legionary soldiers who manned newly installed fortresses, forts, fortlets and watchtowers which were soon peppered across recently occupied territory. It was overseen by the soldiers of Rome, until the local tribal leaders established and maintained the Roman laws and regulations that were required of the tribes. 

All was probably not as simple as that since there were sufficient recorded incidents of tribal unrest and conflict which seem to have caused some localised retreat of the Roman legions till the territory was retaken by them at a later date. (e.g. parts of Wales eventually by Gnaeus Iulius Agricola)

From A.D. 69 onwards the Romans turned their attention to conquering the tribes of the Brigantes Federation (Yorkshire/ Cumbria/ Northumberland) and then those inhabiting present-day southern Scotland. The expansion of the Roman Empire continued in a similar fashion over the next decade – tribes were conquered, some perhaps were brought into the Roman Empire relatively easily (Votadini?). And in the usual Roman expansion pattern forts, fortlets and watchtowers were built.

By around A.D. 80/81 the land between the River Forth and the River Clyde, the shortest stretch across Scotland (Caledonia) had been invaded and fort-building was established. Whether this line of forts was considered as a limes (pl, limites), at the time, is something I’ve yet to find out. There’s no evidence of a physical joining of them that's been found from Agricolan times (as far as I can tell) but any roads constructed between them may have sufficed as a Flavian boundary. The Ancient Roman writer Cornelius Tacitus wrote that by c. A.D. 81 the whole area of the Central Belt of Scotland (Forth/Clyde) was strongly fortified under Roman hands, as was all territory south of it. 

Tacitus hints in his Agricola that the tribes to the north of the Forth/Clyde area were more resistant and rebellious.
Copyright Nancy Jardine
By this point in time (c. 81)  Agricola had been in office as Governor of Britannia for probably slightly longer than the usual duration of approx. three years. If he had been recalled back to Rome at this point, a fortified line of defences between the Rivers Forth and Clyde would have been a reasonable stop point for a 'proper' and more long lasting frontier. 

As well as having more rebellious inhabitants to the north of the Forth /Clyde area, it maybe wasn’t entirely clear just what the ultimate benefits would be for Rome if they  kept invading further northwards in Caledonia. It's very possible that the mountainous north may not have yielded the rewards the Roman empire desired...and needed. 

By the time Agricola was at the central belt of Scotland he would probably have had some advance knowledge, from scouting forays, that Rome would not get decent wheat or cereal crops from the mountain regions, though he had yet to prove it. Also, at this point of the invasion, he perhaps had no knowledge of the extent of other supplies that could be claimed by the Roman Empire – useful and precious ores, or other minerals, that could be extracted from the mountain fringes.

Archaeology indicates that Agricola continued his Caledonian campaigns for at least another 3 years.

There has been some controversy over the purpose of the installations which Agricola built north of the Forth/ Clyde area. In my #A2ZChallenge 2019 post G is for GaskRidge and Glen Blockers there are more details about the two different lines of defences.
Copyright Nancy Jardine 
Questions have been asked about those sometimes referred to as the Highland Line, those from Drumquhassle to Inchtuthil. Were they erected as a barrier to deter movement of the natives from the mountain passes of the Caledonians to the lower lands of the Venicones and Damnonii (or whatever the tribes actually called themselves)? Or, were the forts built at glen entrances for convenient access when the Romans were ready to send in advance forces to vanquish those who lived beyond?

There seems to have been slightly less controversy over the line of defences generally named the Gask Ridge, and sometimes the Gask Frontier, the installations from Doune to Bertha. From my reasonable amount of reading (virtually every piece of information on the subject I can lay hands on) there is better consensus that the smaller watchtowers, tiny fortlets and forts of the Gask line were probably built with greater intentions of the line being a limes, even if a temporary one till General Agricola made further advances in the north-east of Scotland. Some of the installations were set at very short distances apart, of approximately a Roman mile (see map above) and were, in a sense, like an ‘un-joined’ boundary. No evidence has been found (as far as I know) of any wooden fences or ditch ramparts between them, but many would have been visible to each other, and from some a sentry would have been able to see a good distance depending on the topography of the land.   
Copyright Nancy Jardine
Early archaeological problems over the perceptions of these defences were hampered by a lack of surety over who had built them. Some were thought to have been built during the Antonine invasions and some during the Agricolan phases, which does allow for more uncertainty over whether the respective Roman commanders considered them effective enough to be termed a frontier.

When the two sets of installations are taken as combined defences built by Agricolan forces, then it seems more realistic that the Highland Line was intended as a frontier barrier to prevent attack on Roman legions coming from the mountain passes, but that they were also built to enable further invasion into the Caledon mountain ranges as and when that was deemed timely. The Gask Ridge forts may have provided a safe route for Roman troops advancing further north. Since the tribal territory we would currently term Fife has few Roman installations built on it, the supposition is that the tribe/ tribes who lived there (possibly southern Venicones) may have been happy to make immediate treaties with Rome, with or without bloodshed being spilt. However, it wouldn’t have been prudent for the Romans to ignore the possibility of attack on their troops from that direction. The forts of the Gask Ridge are perfectly placed to defend enemies approaching from a Fife direction, or from the distinct line of the Caledonian mountains.

The Ancient Roman writer Cornelius Tacitus writes of an attack on a fort, possibly in the vicinity of the Highland Line/ Gask Ridge, which almost decimated the Legio IX. According to Tacitus, if General Agricola hadn’t been close by to avert complete disaster the result of the Caledon attack would have been much more devastating. Tacitus, in fairly typical form, doesn’t give enough details and leaves the incident open to much speculation!   (Read #3 of my Celtic Fervour Series)   

Therefore, the first realistic Roman Frontier in Britannia may well have been the un-joined forts on the Highland Line/Gask Ridge area of Scotland.

Or, where Emperor Antoninus Pius had the Antonine Wall built during the Britannic governorship of Quintus Lollius Urbicus c. A.D. 142, when the official boundary frontier of around twenty years duration moved from Hadrian's Wall back up north to the Forth/ Clyde area! 

Writing about the Antonine Wall, or Hadrian’s Wall, will be for another day since they were definitely not Flavian.

I'll finish this post with a favourite image of mine that I've not yet been able to use during this 2019 #A2ZChallenge. The frieze that this partial is taken from adorns the entrance hall of the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland. The artist William Hole was commissioned to paint the frieze in c. 1897, for what was a brand new gallery, his remit being to include every notable person in Scottish History. The frieze below the gallery railings begins with a mythical Caledonia female figure followed by figures from the Stone Age onwards. The first named 'Scottish' person is Calgacus, the name given by Cornelius Tacitus to the leader of the Caledonian allies (Iron Age Tribes) who confronted Agricola in battle at Mons Graupius. 


Copyright Nancy Jardine- at the National portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.
Which bit of today's information did you find new and/or useful? Please let me know in the comments box. 

Till tomorrow and another #A2Zchallenge post...