Wednesday, 9 March 2011

I Clydius

As news reaches us of a potential Roman coin horde discovered in Inverclyde...we explore the Romans links with our area...

The Romans never conquered Scotland.  The most powerful and efficient army on earth, the active hand of an Empire which spanned over two million square miles, was unable to sub-due a handful of un-organised tribes.  But if this is true, why then are the hills and valleys of this country dotted with the remains of Roman occupation? 

Julius Agricola was made governor of Britain in AD 79, and within a few years, the man who had successfully defeated the Iceni revolt under Boudicae, defeated the Caledonian tribes at the battle of Mons Graupius. 

In order to secure everything south of the Forth and Clyde, Agricola established garrisons in the territory of the Damnonii, the tribe who occupied most of modern Strathclyde, the most westernly of which was  south of Langbank, at Barrochan. Rediscovered in 1972, this fort was known in Roman times as the Clota Flumen,  the fort was most likely used during the subjugation of the Damonni settlements within the Inverclyde area. A number of bronze coins dated to the year AD86 have been uncovered here and it would seem that the fort was occupied at least until this date or shortly thereafter.

During this period, it is likely that there was some Roman naval presence on the river, and there has even been a suggestion that the Romans may have operated a dockyard somewhere on the firth, repairing ships stationed on the Clyde.

After the campaigns of Agricola, the Romans withdrew south again and within a few generations had begun work on the mighty Hadrians Wall. However around 144 AD, the Romans returned to Scotland and constructed a line of forts along a turf wall stretching between the Clyde and the Forth. Known as the Antonine wall, it was the northernmost frontier of the Roman empire, stretching from Bo'ness to Old Kilpatrick, just outside Glasgow.

In order to protect the western approaches to the Antonine Wall, two fortlets were constructed in the Inverclyde area; one on Lurg moor behind Strone, and the other at Outerwards, on the hills behind Skelmorlie. Each one was home to around fifteen Legionaries, most likely from the Second  Legion, whose purpose it was to watch the firth of the Clyde for possible raiding forces from the north.

The forts remained undiscovered until around fifty years ago, although the presence of Romans in the area found its way into the local folk memory. A medieval stone bridge outside Inverkip has for hundreds of years been referred to as the “Roman Bridge”, and the local ballad, “The Vision of Auld Dunrod”, thought to date from the 17th century, speaks of Roman ships sailing up the Clyde. However, it was only through aerial photographs that the locations of the two forts were finally revealed.

Excavations by Frank Newall in the fifties yielded a number of interesting finds, now held by Glasgow University.  There is also evidence of a network of roads and signal tracks throughout the area, which linked the two forts with a larger site outside Bishopton. Over the years there have also been a number of other finds, including  a spearhead found in Gourock. However, perhaps the most significant find is that at both sites, there is some evidence that the forts were burned to the ground. 

Evidence suggests that sometime around 155 AD, a major revolt took place within Scotland against the armies of Rome. Many forts and fortlets of this period show evidence of burning and raising, and it is likely that this was a co-ordinated attack designed to have maximum impact. It worked. Occupation of Scotland seems to have dwindled after this period.

But the Romans  left behind them a legacy which was to shape Britain for centuries to come. Where once had stood forests, now lay straight roads, allowing for trade and easy communications. The Legions of Rome had brought with them crafts, jewellery and religions from the far corners of the Empire, re-shaping peoples perceptions of the world and their beliefs. There was no mass exodus of the Romans –they simply drifted away. But then, the Romans never conquered Scotland…they were just visiting.
When lo! Owr Gourock point he saw
A sicht o' meile pride;
There were twenty Roman ships an three
Cam rowin up the clyde
Then mariners and soldiers
They mingled on the shore;
These told of mountains, these of sea
And Isles ne'er seen before.

From The Vision of Auld Dunrod - anonymous

Local Roman Historian and archeaologist Louie Pastore has campaigned to get the site on Lurg Moor recognised as a world heritage site, and has also made a number of excellent short films exploring the Roman occupation on The Clyde. Enjoy...

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