By David J Breeze
Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol.118 (1988)
Introduction: In the late summer of his seventh and final season (AD 83) the army of the Roman governor of Britain, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, defeated a larger Caledonian force at the battle of Mons Graupius. Agricola’s son-in-law, the historian Tacitus, writing at the end of that century, was able to say, perdomita Britannia, ‘Britain was conquered’. However, he goes on to state, ‘statim omissa‘, ‘it was immediately lost’. No permanent Roman forts of first century – or any other date – have been found beyond the Mounth, where the Highlands reach the sea at Stonehaven, though Roman camps are known, while archaeological evidence suggests that by about 90 all installations on and north of the Forth-Clyde line had been abandoned. Tacitus may have been indulging in hyperbole – not all Britain was lost, only the northern part – but nevertheless the Romans had failed to complete the conquest of the island, and had even withdrawn from territory which they had overrun.