by Andrew Lang
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If we could see in a magic mirror the country now called Scotland as it
was when the Romans under Agricola (81 A.D.) crossed the Border, we
should recognise little but the familiar hills and mountains. The
rivers, in the plains, overflowed their present banks; dense forests of
oak and pine, haunted by great red deer, elks, and boars, covered land
that has long been arable. There were lakes and lagoons where for
centuries there have been fields of corn. On the oldest sites of our
towns were groups of huts made of clay and wattle, and dominated,
perhaps, by the large stockaded house of the tribal prince. In the
lochs, natural islands, or artificial islets made of piles (crannogs),
afforded standing-ground and protection to villages, if indeed these lake-
dwellings are earlier in Scotland than the age of war that followed the
withdrawal of the Romans.

The natives were far beyond the savage stage of culture. They lived in
an age of iron tools and weapons and of wheeled vehicles; and were in
what is called the Late Celtic condition of art and culture, familiar to
us from beautiful objects in bronze work, more commonly found in Ireland
than in Scotland, and from the oldest Irish romances and poems.

In these "epics" the manners much resemble those described by Homer. Like
his heroes, the men in the Cuchullain sagas fight from light chariots,
drawn by two ponies, and we know that so fought the tribes in Scotland
encountered by Agricola the Roman General (81-85 A.D.) It is even said
in the Irish epics that Cuchullain learned his chariotry in _Alba_--that
is, in our Scotland. {2} The warriors had "mighty limbs and flaming
hair," says Tacitus. Their weapons were heavy iron swords, in bronze
sheaths beautifully decorated, and iron-headed spears; they had large
round bronze-studded shields, and battle-axes. The dress consisted of
two upper garments: first, the smock, of linen or other fabric--in
battle, often of tanned hides of animals,--and the mantle, or plaid, with
its brooch. Golden torques and heavy gold bracelets were worn by the
chiefs; the women had bronze ornaments with brightly coloured enamelled

Agriculture was practised, and corn was ground in the circular querns of
stone, of which the use so long survived. The women span and wove the
gay smocks and darker cloaks of the warriors.

Of the religion, we only know that it was a form of polytheism; that
sacrifices were made, and that Druids existed; they were soothsayers,
magicians, perhaps priests, and were attendant on kings.

Such were the people in Alba whom we can dimly descry around Agricola's
fortified frontier between the firths of Forth and Clyde, about 81-82
A.D. When Agricola pushed north of the Forth and Tay he still met men
who had considerable knowledge of the art of war. In his battle at Mons
Graupius (perhaps at the junction of Isla and Tay), his cavalry had the
better of the native chariotry in the plain; and the native infantry,
descending from their position on the heights, were attacked by his
horsemen in their attempt to assail his rear. But they were swift of
foot, the woods sheltered and the hills defended them. He made no more
effectual pursuit than Cumberland did at Culloden.

Agricola was recalled by Domitian after seven years' warfare, and his
garrisons did not long hold their forts on his lines or frontier, which
stretched across the country from Forth to Clyde; roughly speaking, from
Graham's Dyke, east of Borrowstounnis on the Firth of Forth, to Old
Kilpatrick on Clyde. The region is now full of coal-mines, foundries,
and villages; but excavations at Bar Hill, Castlecary, and Roughcastle
disclose traces of Agricola's works, with their earthen ramparts. The
Roman station at Camelon, north-west of Falkirk, was connected with the
southern passes of the Highland hills by a road with a chain of forts.
The remains of Roman pottery at Camelon are of the first century.

Two generations after Agricola, about 140-145, the Roman Governor,
Lollius Urbicus, refortified the line of Forth to Clyde with a wall of
sods and a ditch, and forts much larger than those constructed by
Agricola. His line, "the Antonine Vallum," had its works on commanding
ridges; and fire-signals, in case of attack by the natives, flashed the
news "from one sea to the other sea," while the troops of occupation
could be provisioned from the Roman fleet. Judging by the coins found by
the excavators, the line was abandoned about 190, and the forts were
wrecked and dismantled, perhaps by the retreating Romans.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940013835931
Publisher: SAP
Publication date: 12/11/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 223 KB

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A Short History Of Scotland 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
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A fascinating history of Scotland.