The presence of the Roman military in southern Scotland and northern England had a major impact on indigenous societies. However, recent scholarship has broadened the scope of enquiry; it was not just the world of the indigenous population which changed, but the world of the fort community, of the soldiers themselves and of the various peoples who accompanied and interacted with them. Increasingly complex understandings are being developed of the individual and the group identities and social worlds which emerged and changed in the frontier zone. In this enquiry, the Scottish material has considerable potential.
Traditionally, social identity in Scotland at this time has been conceptualised as strictly dichotomous at various levels. Chief among these is the Roman / ‘native’ divide (Barrett 1997a), with Roman being further subdivided into military and civilian (cf James 2001; Salway 1965). Within the latter, there has, furthermore, been a debate about how much of the civilian element consisted of the local population versus immigrants to the region (cf Salway 1965; Clarke 1999b). Discussions of group identity have tended to be formulaic and rather dehumanising, focusing largely on somewhat uncertain tribal unities in the case of the Iron Age (eg Clarke 1958; Gillam 1958), and viewing the Roman military presence as rather monolithic (see critique in Haynes 1999; James 2001). More detailed studies have tended to be very focused on epigraphic evidence (eg Birley 1980; Salway 1965). Yet theoretical work on the nature of identity has shown the complexity of people’s perceptions of themselves and others (eg Jones 1997), and the way in which this is both contextual and changing. For instance, at one level the army may be characterised as a single, threatening force by indigenous groups, but within the military itself this would be seen as much more complex; at one level, concepts of a community of soldiers with a shared sense of identity, but also differences by unit type and origins, age and experience, rank and social status, and so forth. Archaeology presents an opportunity to consider this bigger and more complicated picture by investigating rather than stereotyping the identities of the people and groups involved. Much of this research has focused on a contextual approach to material culture, looking at how and where it was used, and how this compares to other contexts, to begin to tease out some of these complex issues (eg Allison 2006a; 2006b, Allison et al. 2005, Cool 2004).