scottish history
A service from

One, Two, Three, Four, Five

The Highland Clearances

Scottish Origins... up to William Wallace

The Battle of Stirling Bridge

Battle of Falkirk & Execution of Wallace

History of the Kilt

Patrick Geddes

Tragedy at Glencoe


Scottish William Wallace
Chapter One - Scottish Origins

One, Two, Three, Four, Five
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Dawn. Early man learns to use his dextrous hands to make tools. He begins to live in small villages or communities, relying on each other for their own unique talents to survive. In early Scotland, man lived in and around the coasts of the mainland and the Isles. Early man steps forward to modern man.

From the beginning Scotland was made up of coastal settlements. To go inland meant forest and swamp , and wild animals. It is known that the early settlements seldom ventured into the mainland too far for fear of a number of creatures. The wolf, notably, was the major rival of man for food. Other wild life included Red deer, snakes or serpents, wild cattle, falcons, eagles, wild pigs, wild boars, and large cats in remote areas, are just some of the animal life on the mainland of Scotland. Even the giant Sabre Tooth cats, legend has it, were still alive early in the first century. Acccording to some this is where the name of the town of Caithness, (great cat - not a literal translation), in the far north of Scotland got it's name.

Eventually, slowly at first, man made his way inland and claimed all as his own. Thankfully, largely due to archaeology, we have some examples of man's skills and travels.

Stone from Rum and Arran found it's way to Fife and southeast Scotland by boat. Axes from Antrim were used in communities in the Isle of Lewis, the Shetlands and Aberdeenshire. Boats came too from the English Lake district and north Wales. Flint from Yorkshire has been found all around Scotland and elsewhere. Communities few and far between, but not without knowledge of each other.

Jarlshof, in Shetland, had inhabitants as far back as 4000 years ago. They made a living rearing sheep and cattle, eating mainly shellfish and seafoods. Their homes -- similar to those found in Crete, in the Aegean. Make what you will of that -- speculation of a connection to Greece is nearly impossible to prove -- but possible.

It has been said that the early civilized inhabitants of Scotland were Sythians. Wherever civilized man in Scotland first came from is another story, so I will not dwell on it. However, stone age man certainly got religion at some point and those in Scotland built Cairns to honor their dead. These circular stone monoliths and burial mounds are found in many places in the British Isles. In the Orkney's, Isles north of Scotland, some stones weigh up to three tons! All of this from a people without levers or rollers to help them. The tombs, from families or tribal communities, are all over the Orkneys. For these early folk life was hard, thus, they honored the dead with lavish graves.

The 'beaker people' came to Scotland from the Rhine. Their name derives from the act of laying clay beakers in their tombs. They may have built the stone monolith cirlcles in Orkney -- so similar to those found in Crete, in the Aegean, and closer to Scotland are the monoliths of Stonehenge, in England. Most likely, religious or holy gathering places for the tribe(s).

On the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides -- the western Isles -- at a place called Callernish the same stone structures exist.

Later, with the discovery of bronze came metal axes with wooden handles, bronze daggers -- the forerunners of the dirk. Bronze shields the forerunners of the Highand Targe. Ireland was the chief centre for the manufacture of bronze, and Scotland's early settlers were energetic seamen -- traveling to Ireland, the Outer Hebrides and mainland Europe. The most powerful were fond of displaying their wealth. Beautiful gold and silver, arm, neck and ankle decorative bands were found all over Britian, showing the entire island of Britian was inhabited by Celtic peoples.

One thousand years before Christ, the Celtic people first came from Europe; (mainly from the north of Germany and northern France). These new settlers, in Scotland and all of Britain, were skilled in working iron. Now, armor and weaponry, due to these new Celts, took an evolutional leap forward due to their iron working abilities. The Celts, (actually a type of generic word, as there were so many types of Celtic people throughout Europe), were the first race to use the long sword and small shield (a type of buckler shield) in Europe. Previously, knives or daggers, short swords -- as the Romans used -- were the accepted Roman way of fighting. This three and one-half foot long sword put fear in the Romans. The great Roman historian, Tacitus wrote of the Celtic weapon -- "...their (Celts) swords of this iron materials, and extreme length seemed a poor choice of sword to the legions until they saw that these monstrosities could actually be used quickly and efficiently with proper training. The Ninth Legion under Agricola, in Britain, feared the barbaric Caledonians extreme advantage in reach, with this overly long sword."

Settlements such as the one found in East Lothian had to be fortified as tribal warfare became a way of life for the Caledonians. Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, the Celts built hill forts all over Scotland.

The Celts also built artificial islands called Crannogs for shelter against animals and invaders. These so-called floating islands were small circular homes, like huts, built on wood pilings over a pond or body of water for exceptionally good protection. And they needed that protection, sea raiders (not Vikings yet) invaded Scotland, in search of slaves for the Roman Empire, a century before Christ. To better protect themselves, the settlers (Celts) built fortified towers called Brochs.

The Romans In Scotland:

The Romans came to Caledonia again in A.D. 80, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, Governor of the Province of Brittania (and chief general), invaded northern England and southern Scotland (as they were to be known). With an army of 20,000 men, Agricola reached the River Tay and proceeded to build fortifications to keep out the northern tribesman, while his Roman fleet supplied him from channel.

(Author's Note: Agricola's plan of campaign would be later imitated, down to the minute details, by others bent on conquering Scotland). Agricola's Ninth Legion built the great fortified camp of Pinnata Castra, near Inchtuthil on the River Tay. But Agricola was called away by the Emperor of Rome before he could organize a large attack. He returned three years later having left his Ninth Legion on their own. This time Agricola came intent on conquering Galloway and Morayshire. This soon led to the battle of Mons Graupius, (near the Grampian Mountains, so tradition holds) in 84 A.D. The Celtic Tribes were led by Calgacus the Swordsman, who before battle gave a rousing speech to his men and with reference to what the Romans would do to Caledonia -- "... ..They make a desolation (of our lands) and they call it peace!". The Romans drove out the Caledonians on this day where 5,000 Romans battled 30,000 Caledonian Tribesmen.

The odds seem , by today's standards, to have been way out of balance in favour of the Caledonians, but the Romans were expert and professional soldiers and had been fighting as a unit for centuries. The Romans won the battle of Mons Graupius killing thousands of Caledonians. The survivors fled to the hills beaten in battle but they remained unconquered.

Later, Emperor Hadrian ordered construction of a wall (to be known as Hadrian's Wall) erected from the River Tyne to Solway -- to keep out the Tribesmen who continued to invade Roman occupied lands and slaughtered an entire Legion of Romans based near York by attacking at night.

Thirty years after Mons Gaupius, after the defeat of the Tribesmen in 114, the Caledonians regained their fighting, burgeoning, patriotic enthusiasm. They suddenly attacked the Roman Legion's fortresses and wiped out the unprepared Roman invaders. Many of that fateful Ninth Legion, now without leadership, spread out and ran from their forts. The Caledonians had expected this, and had set an ambush in the south and east of the Roman's fortresses. Over a period of one week the Caledonians, who were used to hiding in the mountains sprang one at a time on the confused and hopelessly lost Romans utterly killing them all. But the new Roman Ninth Legion returned in 118 and marched north again to suppress the rebellious ingrates and simply disappeared. Little trace has ever been found of that famous Ninth Legion or any of it's equipment. (There are many theories as to their disappearance, i.e. - one account tells of the wild Caledonians filling the dead Roman soilders bodies with stones and sinking them, forever, into a Loch).

This prompted in 122 , Emperor Hadrian himself to come to Britain. Hadrian brought with him, enough helpers to help gaurantee some respect among the turbulent barbarians. But he too, found that he could see no reason for ruling Scotland. Too much trouble and too little reward. Hadrian concluded England was quite enough and ordered Hadrians Wall to be completed and that this wall, running across the north of England, would be the limit of Rome's Europe. The Romans however couldn't quite give it up.

Aroud 143 the Romans tried again to suppress the northern Tribes of Caledonia. Another Wall or rather barricade was built The Antonine Wall (also known as Grahmn's dyke) north of Hadrian's wall. The Antonine Wall ran from the rivers Fourth to Clyde --- thus cutting Caledonia off from the rest of already occupied lower Britain.

The Antonine Wall named after Emperor Antonius Pius was built of turf on a stone foundation barrier against the Picts and Caledonians. The Romans re-occupied much of the lands originally taken by Agricola, but after forty years Roman Legions, were again attacked, its' forts (20 of them) lost , retaken, and lost again by the 2nd, 6th and 20th Legions and were again forced south below their protective walls.

In the year 155, the natives stirred again attacking the wall and chased the Romans. The Scots are on occasion, believed to be stubborn to the point of absurdity. Perhaps this could this could be said of the Romans in Britain at this time, for they returned to the decimated wall, and began rebuilding. The Caledonians routed them again. The combination of boredom and common sense eventually persuaded the Empire to leave Scotland to the Natives. The Romans did hold England for the next 200 years.

The Romans began pulling out of Britain and abandoned work on the seventy-two mile Hadrian's Wall begun in 122A.D. The wall included at least sixteen forts. Eventually they pulled down the forts, but they left a legacy -- the Romans helped unify the Tribes of Scotland by attempting to conquer them.

Scotweb's Scottish History Magazine
is edited by
Robert M. Gunn

Please email comments and suggestions to

All original material © Robert M. Gunn 1997-2003 unless stated
No parts to be reproduced without prior written consent

Scottish History site provided courtesy of
This site is hosted by Scotweb - see our range of kilts and tartans