Scottish Origins, Ch. One
NOTE: This historical essay was written many years ago as an attempt to give some flesh to the bones of Scottish history, before the emergence of William Wallace. It is somewhat brief, and not as fully detailed as the new series "The Story of Scotland" , which shall eventually replace Origins, should be. The reader needs to be advised that the new series (which debuts on this web site only) is more thoroughly researched, detailed and complete than this older series of documents. The "Story of Scotland" will be added, one chapter at a time, over the next year to 18 months and will eventually phase-out this series of documents on early Scottish history. I leave it on this web site for now because it temporarily fills a vacancy that the "Story of Scotland" shall fill soon; and because it was so well received by visitors to the old site. I thank you for your patience as I continue to update this growing web site.


Scottish Origins up to Wallace, Chapter One.


Dawn of civilization in Scotland begins with prehistoric man during the Mesolithic Period. Mesolithic man learns to use his dextrous hands to make tools, and 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 slowly forward to modern man.

Pictish Standing Stone, Class I.
[Pictish stone, class one]
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 legend has it, large cats in remote areas. These then are just some of the animal life on the mainland of ancient Scotland.

Eventually, slowly at first, man made his way inland and claimed all as his own. Thankfully, largely 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 4,000 years ago. They made a living rearing sheep and cattle, eating mainly shellfish and seafoods. Their homes are 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.

It has been said that the early civilized inhabitants of Scotland were Sythians. But this is certainly more myth than truth. This idea -- of early Scots from Sythia -- first appears in the famous document of Arbroath. Perhaps it was an attempt to convince a skeptical Pope and perhaps themselves, that they were originally of noble blood. 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 Orkney, 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 Orkney. For these early folk life was hard, thus, they honored the dead with lavish graves.

The people we can first identify are the appropriately named 'beaker people'. They probably came to Scotland from the Rhine. Their name derives from the act of laying clay beakers in their tombs. Where they went or who they were exactly, remains an enigma, not unlike the origins of a later people -- the Picts. The Beaker folk may have built the stone monolith circles in Orkney, again so similar to those found in Crete. Closer to Scotland are monoliths like Stonehenge, in England. Most likely, these mysterious contructions were religious or holy gathering places for the tribe. Whilst scientists endlessly debate their use as astronomical tools, sacrificial altars, or alien focal points, their exact purpose is unknown. Most likely they simply pleased the ancients in some way that is now lost to us. Constructions of enormous difficulty are common all over the world.

The Callanish Standing Stones.
[Callanish Standing stones]
On the Isle of Lewis, part of the Outer Hebrides in the Western Isles, at a place called Callanish, are similar standing stone structures. These rings are found throughout Scotland (especially the Isles and Orkney), and in many places in Britain.

With the discovery of bronze, a mix of copper and tin, came metal axes with wooden handles, bronze daggers, the forerunners of the Dirk. Bronze shields, perhaps the forerunners of the Highand Targe. Ireland was the chief center 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 decorative ankle bands were found all over Britian. After the Beaker folk and before the arrival of Germanic invaders, the entire island of Britian was inhabited by Celtic peoples.

One thousand years before Christ, the Celtic people first came from Europe; (mainly from their previous homes in northern Germany, and parts of France [Gaul]). They were being systematically chased north and west by Roman conquerors and civilization. The Celts had a particular aversion to cities, and Roman civilization meant domination, submission and cities. These new settlers, in Scotland and all of Britain, were highly skilled in working iron. Armor and weaponry that was produced by these Celts, took an leap forward, due to their iron working abilities. The Celts, (actually a 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, primarily short swords (e.g the Roman Gladuis) were the accepted way of fighting. In the Roman method, the short sword was indeed a lethal and effective weapon when used as the Romans used the gladius. The problem is that to effectively use a gladius as your primary weapon against foes with longer spears, took a great deal of training and discipline. The Celts shunned such disipline in warfare preferring bravado and the individualism in combat. While this made the Celt an unpredictable often superior foe one-on-one, it would come to haunt them in later large-scale battles. But this three and one-half foot long Celtic sword (often known as the "leaf-bladed" sword) put fear in the Romans. The great Roman historian, Tacitus wrote of the Celtic weapon with great reverance. But, talk of Romans is premature at this point in history.

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. The 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 other empires, 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 about 80 AD. 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.

Agricola's plan of campaign would be later imitated 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 organise a large attack. He returned three years later having left his Legion on their own. This time Agricola came intent on conquering Galloway and Morayshire. This soon led to the battle of Mons Graupius, in 84 A.D. The Celtic Tribes which were led by Calgacus the Swordsman, who before the battle gave a rousing speech to his men making 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 military 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.

Hadrian's Wall
[A View of Hadrian's wall.]
Later, in 121 AD, Emperor Hadrian ordered construction of a wall (known as Hadrian's Wall) to be erected from the River Tyne to Solway -- obstensably to keep out the tribesmen who continued to invade Roman occupied lands -- and slaughtered an entire Legion of Romans based near York, when they attacked at night. Later theories discount the threat of the Celtic tribes (who were probably Picts and North Britons), and place the emphasis on the wall's construction as Hadrian's pride in defining a northern border and leaving a lagacy of a fortified wall. Both theories are probably right.

Thirty years after the defeat of the tribesmen at Mons Graupius, aroud 114 A.D., the Caledonians regained their fighting enthusiasm. They suddenly attacked the Roman Legion's fortresses and wiped out the unprepared Roman invaders. It is said that many of the fateful Ninth Legion, now without leadership, spread out and ran from their forts. The Caledonians had expected this, and had set an ambush to the south and east of the Roman fortresses. Over a period of one week the Caledonians chased the confused and hopelessly lost Romans killing them all. But the new Roman Ninth Legion returned in 118 and marched north again to suppress the rebellious ingrates and after an initial success, they simply disappeared.

This prompted Emperor Hadrian himself to come to Britain. Hadrian brought with him, enough helpers to help guarantee some respect from the turbulent barbarians. But he soon 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 the wall to be completed; and that this wall, running across the south of Scotland, would be the limit of Rome's Europe. The Romans however, couldn't quite give it up.

Around 143 CE the Romans tried again to suppress the northern tribes of Caledonia. Another Wall, or rather turf and wood barricade, was built; the Antonine Wall (also known as Graham'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. The Romans re-occupied much of the lands originally taken by Agricola, but after 40 years the Roman Legions were again attacked, it's 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 again 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 Celts attacked 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 180 years.

The Romans began pulling out of Britain and abandoned work on the 72 mile Hadrian's Wall begun in 122. The wall included at least 16 forts (probably over 20). Eventually they pulled down the forts, but they left a legacy -- the Romans helped unify the Tribes of Caledonia by attempting to conquer them.

Go to Chapter 2, "Four Peoples - One Nation? "


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