|Beneath the school playground are the remains of Agricola's Lost Fort|
ONE of the questions I’m most frequently asked is: Why did you choose the Romans? The answer’s simple. Dip your toe in the Roman Empire at any point over a period of a thousand years and you will find some fascinating event or some personality with the potential to provide you with a book.
From the early Republic through Julius Caesar to Caligula and on to Tiberius Constantine in the sixth century every period has a tale to tell. And we’re still learning about them.
That was what took me to Doune on Saturday for the archaeological dig open day at Doune Primary School. We know of literally hundreds of Roman sites in Scotland from Pennymuir in the Cheviots to Cawdor outside Inverness, but the fort at Doune wasn’t discovered until 1983 when cropmarks showed the outline of its defences.
It’s in a classic elevated position guarding an important river crossing of the Teith only a few hundred yards from Doune Castle and would have dominated the surrounding area. Plans for building work at the primary school mean part of the complex will be lost when the foundations are dug, so a team from Headland Archaeology have been carrying out intensive investigations in what was the playground. They’ve made some fantastic finds, the jewel in the crown of which is a wonderful enamel-inlayed bronze mount for a horse harness of a type that hasn’t previously been seen in Scotland.
|Doune is a classic Roman fort in a|
strategic position above a river crossing
Doune would have played a key role in governor Julius Agricola’s invasion of Scotland around 84AD. Agricola’s campaign was recorded by his son-in-law, the historian Tacitus, and we know he spent six years subduing first the druids on Mona (Anglesey), then the Brigantes in northern England, before finally turning his sights on the troublesome Caledonian tribes. The governor’ three legions pushed relentlessly northwards until they finally brought the Caledonian alliance to battle at Mons Graupius, in Aberdeenshire. The Romans were heavily outnumbered but, in a one-sided contest, Tacitus claims the northern tribes suffered 10,000 casualties and the Roman auxiliaries less than four hundred. Only a single Roman citizen died.
Agricola drove the survivors into the mountains, but didn’t follow them. Doune appears to be one of the so-called glen-blocking forts which were built in the years after Mons Graupius to ensure the Caledonians were kept bottled up in their Highland hideaways. It would have been garrisoned by auxiliary troops, possibly Tungrians or Batavians, but Agricola is also known to have been accompanied by British auxiliaries, and was only occupied for a decade at most.
When the Romans withdrew from Scotland (Tacitus accused the Emperor Domitian of throwing away everything Agricola had won) the palisades were removed, the buildings destroyed and the Roman fort at Doune was lost to memory.
|One of the finds: a piece of decorated horse harness|