In The Footsteps of the Emperors

Falkirk's Roman Connections

   

Almost 2000 years ago the Roman army invaded Britain under the Emperor Claudius. It was approximately 35 years later before they managed to penetrate Scotland, and they were never to conquer the Northerly areas of Britain.

The area of Falkirk lies on the border of what would have been the most Northerly Frontier of the Roman Empire, and the most enduring memorial to the Roman presence here is the Antonine Wall, which was built around 142AD. Substantial lengths of this remarkable monument can still be seen at various sites in the Falkirk area today.

Background To The Building Of The Antonine Wall

The Roman invasion of 'Caledonia' (Scotland) was led by the Roman Governor of 'Britannia' Agricola, who, within 7 years had managed to conquer Southern Britain and penetrate right into the heart of Caledonia. In AD82 he defeated the Picts, led by the warrior Calgacus, at the battle of Mons Graupius, one of the biggest land battles ever fought on Scottish soil. However, the Romans found it difficult to hold onto the Northern areas, and Agricola withdrew to the South before being recalled to Rome.

Continuing problems with the Northern 'barbarians' prompted the Emperor Hadrian to visit Britain in AD122, and he ordered a wall to be built to separate the barbarians from the Roman Empire, and to prevent the Picts from raiding Roman settlements in the Southern half of Britain. This wall, known as Hadrians Wall, was 73 miles long, and stretched from the Tyne to the Solway Firth.

  Antoninus Pius

Antoninus Pius - builder of the Antonine Wall

However, on the accession of the Emperor Antoninus Pius in AD138, it was decided to once again extend the Northern Frontier, and an order was given to advance into Caledonia. He then ordered another wall to be erected, the Antonine Wall, which was to become the most Northerly frontier of one of the most vast and powerful Empires mankind has ever seen.

The Wall Itself

The Antonine Wall was erected around 142AD, and stretched from the Carriden on the Forth, to Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde, and was approximately 37 miles long. Unlike the stone built Hadrians Wall, the Antonine Wall consisted of a rampant of soil faced with turf, resting on a stone foundation. It originally stood 12 feet high, and was protected on the North by a V shaped ditch 40 feet wide and 12 feet deep. South of the wall itself ran a cobbled road, the 'Military Way' which linked a network of forts that were built along the wall at intervals of approximately 2 miles. These forts acted as barracks for troops who defended the frontier.

The Wall was constantly being attacked by the Picts, and as the Roman Empire gradually became weaker, the Romans were forced once again to withdraw back to Hadrians Wall. Eventually, because of turmoil in the Empire, the Romans abandoned Hadrians Wall and withdrew from Britain after almost 250 years of occupation.

 

Places Of Interest Around The Falkirk Area

Map of Antonine Wall route in Falkirk area

 

Ditch at Watling Lodge   WATLING LODGE - Tamfourhill

Here you will find the best surviving stretch of the Antonine Wall, which gives the clearest impression of the formidable nature of the ditch. It is still about 40 feet wide and 15 feet deep. The remains of the turf rampart can be seen as a low mound set back some 20 feet South of the ditch. The siting of the Wall at this position gave an unobstructed view of the countryside to the North.

ROUGH CASTLE - Nr Bonnybridge

This is the best preserved of all the forts on the Antonine Wall. Built against the back of the wall, this fort was defended by turf ramparts, 20 feet thick on a stone base. Double ditches ran round the other three sides. In places the wall itself still stands some 5 feet high, and the ditch and rampart of the wall are particularly well preserved.

  artists impression of Rough Castle
defence ditches at Rough Castle   The fort lies to the East , and would probably have provided barrack accommodation for about 500 men. The rampart and ditches can be followed round the fort, and the over grown ruins of some of the more important buildings can still be seen.

Over the causeway across the Antonine ditch, lies a series of pits called 'lilia'. These originally had a pointed stake at the bottom of each to serve as a trap for anyone attacking the fort.

KINNEIL ESTATE - Bo'ness

In 1978, excavations at Kinneil Estate uncovered a small Roman fort, which would have been attached to the rear of the Antonine Wall. The fort consisted of a rectangular area, enclosed by a turf and earth rampart, protected by an outer ditch. A gravel road ran from South to North through the fort, with gateways at either end, the positions of which are now marked by timber posts. Timber posts also mark the positions of original Roman buildings which were found within the fort during an excavation in 1981. Several finds from this area are now on show in the nearby Kinniel museum.

  remains of fort at Kinneil estate

POLMONTHILL - Nr Grangemouth

From Kinniel, the Antonine Wall ran westwards on the crest of the high ground. A small part of the ditch can still be seen, parallel to and on the North side of Polmonthill ski slope, although it is far shallower than it was originally.

CALLENDAR PARK - Falkirk

The ditch of the Antonine Wall can be seen in the grounds of Callendar Park. It runs westwards from the Business Park for about half a mile and is still 6 - 10 feet deep. The wall itself survives for part of this length, as a low mound, set back from the Southern edge of the ditch between two lines of trees.

  Roman soldier

Ditch running through Seabegs Wood   SEABEGS WOOD - Nr Bonnybridge

The line of the Antonine ditch and wall ca be clearly seen running for a quarter of a mile through Seabegs Wood, to the South of the Forth and Clyde Canal. At this point the ditch is still some 40 feet wide, but only 6 - 8 feet deep. In places, the rampart survives to a height of 4 feet.


There are also a number of other less well preserved sites within the Falkirk area, where there are interpretative display panels to describe each location for visitors. These are located at Kemper Avenue, Anson Avenue and Tamfourhill Road in Falkirk, and Castlecary. The museums at Falkirk and Kinneil also house an extensive collection of finds, including pottery, jewellery, weapons and clothing which have been uncovered from sites around the route of the Antonine Wall.   Roman coins found at Falkirk

Pot containing over 2000 Roman coins found in Falkirk.

The background to this page was created using the Falkirk Tartan, one of the oldest known tartans.
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