Some students of history will object and point out that Scotland was never a part of the Roman Empire while Hadrian's Wall is located entirely in England to the south. Well, that is only partly true. For relatively brief times, a very large part of Scotland was part of the Roman Empire and there were major campaigns even deeper into what is today the Scottish Highlands.
England and Wales to the south were part of the Roman Empire for much longer and many more Roman ruins to see and explore. Some of the most famous Roman ruins in England are the Roman Baths at Bath, England.
The Roman Invasions and Occupations of Scotland
The Romans first invaded (or heavily raided) Britain in 55 BC under Julius Ceaser. They did not launch a lasting invasion of Britain until nearly a century later in AD 43. Around 30 years after that they reached Scotland.
- Occupation of Britain: AD 43
- Reached Scotland: In the AD 70s
- Invasions: The Romans Tried to Occupy Scotland Three Times
During this time, Julius Agricola launched his campaign in the AD 70s by both land and sea. After around seven years, much of Scotland was under the control of the Romans. The Romans then sort to consolidate their gains by building forts that would later become the line of the Antonine Wall - others were also built along the Gask Ridge in Perthshire.
But armies and garrisons are expensive. Territory worth holding needs to at least be able to pay for the expense of occupying it and there was little of value this far north in Britain. In the AD 80s, some of the troops were slowly withdrawn from Scotland to be used elsewhere in the empire.
Then came Emperor Hadrian. He abandoned the age-old expansionist policy of Rome in favor of consolidation and defense of what it had. To that end, in AD 122 he pulled back from Scotland to Hadrian's Wall in northern England.
- First Occupation of The Lowlands: AD 70s to AD 122
- First Abandonment of Scotland: Under Emperor Hadrian AD 122 to Around AD 140
- Second Occupation of The Lowlands: Around AD 140 to AD 165
But that wasn't the end of the Romans in Scotland. On Hadrian's death in AD 138, the new emperor, Antoninus Pius (reigned AD 138–61) decided to come back for one last hurray in Scottland.
While little is known of this emperor, we know he chose to re-invade Scotland. This period also saw the construction of a series of supply forts, roads, and fortlets constructed on the routes up to the new frontier line of the Forth – Clyde isthmus.
The Romans once again got to work on constructing the Antonine Wall around AD 142. They even campaigned as far north as Moray Firth in the Highlands (the Highlands of Scotland are very much worth visiting) and a Roman fleet even reached the extreme northern Orkney Islands.
But soon after the emperor's death, the Romans once again abandoned the Antonine Wall and reoccupied Hadrian's Wall in around AD 165.
- Northern Most Garrison: Stracathro in Angus Only 30 Miles South of Aberdeen
The Roman Earthen Antonine Wall
Without a doubt, the Antonine Wall is the most important and substantial Roman ruin. It once stretched for 30 miles across the central belt of the country. It ran from Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde.
- Built: AD 140
- Length: 30 Miles
- Where: Central Scotland
- Designated: World Heritage Listed
The Antonine Wall was built of earthen works, unlike the stone Hadrian's Wall. There remain the ruins of a few Roman forts that were once dotted along it.
One of the main forts along the Antonine Wall is today the best-preserved Roman fort in Scotland including a length of preserved rampart and ditch on the wall - as well as defensive pits and other remains of Roman fortifications. It was occupied for around 20 years.
Other Roman Attractions In Scotland
- Ardoch Roman Fort: Located In Perthshire And Is Considered One of Britain's Finest Roman Earthworks
- Newstead Roman Fort: One of Scotland's Most Impressive Archaeological Sites Located Where a Major Roman Road Crossed The River Tweed
- Castle Greig Roman Fort: A Small Roman Fortlet With Some of Scotland’s best-preserved Roman Earthworks. Would have Housed around 80 Roman Soldiers
- Bearsden Bath House: The Remains Of A Roman Bath Housse and Latrine
Museums In Scotland:
Roman objects have been found all across the country, from Galloway to Shetland, showing the wide influence of the Empire. These are housed in museums around the country. The Roman ruins in Scotland, while present are also likely to be rather underwhelming. So one of the best places to see the Roman legacy in Scotland is in the museums like the Three Hills Roman Heritage Centre and Glasgow University’s Hunterian Museum.