6.5 The longer-term impact of Rome

As noted above (section 6.3), there have been very divergent views of the impact of Rome in both the short and the long term, with some scholars seeing it as a passing phase of little significance, and others an interaction which caused major change. This remains an area of active debate, but there are grounds to argue that a number of key changes appear in these centuries.

The emergence of the Picts in north-east Scotland has been one contentious area. Some argue they appeared as a confederation caused by the threat posed by Rome, while others have seen a more catastrophic effect of Rome’s political interference undermining existing societies in the area (perhaps due to over-dependence on prestige goods), with the Picts representing re-emergent societies in the aftermath of this (Mann 1974; Hunter 2007a). This remains an area ripe for further research, but most scholars agree that the proximity (and perhaps the interference) of Rome was fundamental to the ethnogenesis of the Picts. Fraser (2009, 375-9) has suggested a conscious rejection of romanitas among the later Picts of the seventh-eighth centuries, and this may reflect very different views of Rome than those of groups to the south.

There has been less recent scholarship considering the possible effects of Rome in the late Roman and post-Roman centuries in southern Scotland, although there are hints of the emergence of larger-scale polities in this area focused on a small number of key sites, such as Dumbarton Rock and Edinburgh Castle. The question of whether this represents some form of political amalgamation, and how this should be understood in the wider context of the late Roman and Early Historic period, remains to be investigated.

In the longer term, a number of facets of society in the Early Historic period drew their origin or legitimacy ultimately from the Roman world – most visibly literacy (both the use of Latin and the origins of ogam), inscribed stone memorials, and Christianity. Similar phenomena are shared with many post-Roman societies (e.g. Wickham 2009; Charles-Edwards 2003). There are potentially other, more subtle traces of long-term effects. Campbell (2007) has suggested the use of imported glass and specialised pot forms such as mortaria in western Britain in the seventh century reflects a continuing desire for habits considered as Roman. The reuse of Roman stone in hillforts in burials and souterrains may reflect a similar desire to evoke or incorporate something of Rome in contemporary society (Foster 1998, 14; Hingley 1992, 29).

There were also more pragmatic long-term benefits, notably the recycling and reuse of Roman material culture; it had an immediate effect on copper alloy supplies (Dungworth 1996), and in the case of silver its impact was apparently felt for centuries (Stevenson 1956). In silver, one of the most significant prestige materials of the Early Historic period, the long-term legacy of Rome is very visible, whether conscious or not. The infrastructure of Roman Scotland also had a long-term impact. The Roman road system had a continuing impact on communication routes into the medieval period and beyond (e.g. Hardie 1942) while, as noted in section 4.6, Roman sites often saw later reuse for churches and castles. Research into this area is badly needed; were these intended to cast the occupants as the inheritors of Rome’s mantle?

There is much scope for further research into the longer-term impact of Rome, testing some of the ideas noted above. It is an overarching area of research at what is too often regarded as a disciplinary boundary. The changing societies of Scotland (especially southern Scotland) need to be considered in the context of new views on the end of the political use of Hadrian’s Wall, and the evidence for continuity of power at many Wall forts, with the garrison’s role shifting from soldiers of Rome to local warband (Casey 1993; Wilmott 2000; Collins 2009).

Scientific analysis could usefully consider the impact of Roman raw materials, especially in the transfer of copper alloy and silver.

Re-newed study of the few silver hoards containing Roman silver, looking in particular at the uses and treatment of the material rather than the art-historical approaches which have dominated so far, would provide fresh insights into the role of Roman material in the post-Roman world.

The later reuse of Roman sites merits detailed study with future excavation projects always placing this possibility prominently in their research design.



A balck and white photograph of a large upright stone carved with a Latin inscription and ornate cross within a circle

Latin inscribed stone from Kirkmadrine ©RCAHMS

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