02 August 2020
As one of the furthest outposts of the Roman Empire, Scotland was never conquered by the Romans, and had a permanent Roman military presence for as little as forty years. Despite this transient presence, Scotland has a number of important Roman remains and museums exploring this heritage, which we present here.
1. Antonine Wall
Without doubt Scotland’s most important and substantial Roman remain, the Antonine Wall was built by the Romans beginning in AD140 and stretched thirty miles across the country’s central belt, from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde.
Substantial sections of the wall (which was built of turf rather than stone) and its buildings (such as forts) still remain and several of these are explored here. The Antonine Wall is classed as a World Heritage Site and information on the Wall’s history together with suggested itineraries, can be found on the website.
2. Rough Castle
A Roman fort on the Antonine Wall which comprises the best preserved length of rampart and ditch on the Wall, and the best preserved fort, as well as a short length of military way complete with pits (defensive structures to repel attack). This 1.5 acre site, with its visible fort and annexe defences, offers visitors the chance to imagine what the wall would have been like during the twenty years that it was an active Roman defence.
Rough Castle, signposted from Bonnybridge, Falkirk; website.
3. Ardoch Roman Fort
The village of Braco in Perthshire is home to Ardoch Roman Fort, considered to be one of Britain’s finest Roman earthworks. The site comprises two intersecting forts and a large annexe; whilst archaeological studies have also shown that there was once a signal tower.
Ardoch Roman Fort, near Braco, Perthshire
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4. Newstead Roman Fort
Classed as one of Scotland’s most important archaeological sites, Newstead Fort lies just outside Melrose and was strategically placed where a major Roman road crossed the River Tweed. The fort has been excavated several times and Roman finds include pots & pans, carpentry tools, pottery and worked iron. Many of these finds are now in the care of National Museums Scotland.
Information boards and viewing platforms help visitors to gain and understanding of the fort’s importance, and the Trimontium Trust runs guided walks to the site in the summer months.
Newstead Roman Fort, Newstead village, Melrose. OS ref: OS ref: NT 547339.
5. Castle Greig Roman Fort
A small Roman fortlet close to West Calder, which has some of Scotland’s best preserved Roman earthworks. The site, which would have housed around eighty Roman soldiers, was once home to a barracks, stable and defensive ditches, with the latter still visible to visitors.
Castle Greig Roman Fort, off the B7008, grid reference: NT 050 592; website.
6. Three Hills Roman Heritage Centre
The town of Melrose is home to this accredited museum whose name is taken from the three hills – Trimontium – above Melrose which formed the Roman capital of southern Scotland.
The visitor centre is home to Roman artefacts and items found as part of treasure hoards. You can also see aerial photos of the area, an exhibition about the Romans in Scotland, a Roman kitchen and pottery, replica armour and a video room.
Three Hills Roman Heritage Centre, The Ormiston, Market Square, Melrose TD6 9PN; website.
7. Cramond Roman Fort
The village of Cramond, near Edinburgh, is home to a Roman fort and bath house which are currently undergoing new archaeological excavations. The first Roman fort was built here c140AD as part of a military campaign to conquer the area and extend Roman influence further north.
Traces of the lines of the fort can be explored at the site, however the bath house is usually under protective cover – the history of both structures is explored on information boards at the site.
Cramond Roman Fort, Cramond, Edinburgh; website.
8. Bearsden Bath House
The town of Bearsden is home to the well-preserved remains of a Roman bath house and latrine which were built in the second century to serve one of the forts on the Antonine Wall.
Bearsden Bath House, signposted from A810, Glasgow; website.
9. Callendar House
Historic Falkirk Callendar House stands within parkland through which runs a section of the Antonine Wall. The museum inside the mansion reflects this Roman heritage a permanent display related to the Antonine Wall, along with Roman artefacts.
Callendar House, Callendar Park, Falkirk FK1 1YR; tel: 01324 503770; website.
10. The Hunterian
Glasgow University’s Hunterian Museum is home to a permanent gallery which showcases monumental sculpture and Roman artefacts recovered from the Antonine Wall. A display titled The Antonine Wall: Rome’s Final Frontier explores the history and legacy of the Wall through four themes: the building of the wall and its architecture and impact; the role of the Roman army; cultural interaction and evidence for local resistance; and the abandonment of the Wall and its subsequent re-discovery.
The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, Hunterian Scott Building, Glasgow G12 8QQ; tel: 0141 330 4221; website.
Bonus no 11!
Ally Gordon reached out via our Facebook page to suggest Bar Hill Fort in Dunbartonshire, saying:
Can’t believe Bar Hill Fort isn’t on this list, never mind near the top...
Stunningly eerie outpost with all the stone foundations still in place. Coupled with the views over to the Campsies, you get a real sense of what it would be like being posted as a legionnaire at the ends of the world...
Antonine Wall © Andrew Barclay