7.1 Introduction

In every way, Roman Scotland was part of the Roman Empire and can only be fully understood within that framework. Roman Scotland offers the study of the Roman Empire several significant elements:

  1. The literary evidence, in particular the Agricola, which offers a unique account of a Roman province, and the unique references to the building of Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall.
  2. The survival of the earthworks of Roman military installations, in particular camps, uniquely among all frontier provinces.
  3. The division of the Roman intervention into separate episodes which aids their study.
  4. A continuing history of research, as exemplified by the remarkable results at Kintore camp and Elginhaugh fort.

The northern frontier brought notable generals to Britain. This was partly because the army of Britain was so large, but also related to the fact that the conquest of the island had not been completed. These senators, who together with other senior regimental commanders and officers were part of the military (and civilian) class, held each post for about three years before moving on, sometimes literally from one end of the Empire to the other. In this way, a certain level of homogeneity was created throughout the whole Roman army. Retired governors might serve on the Emperor’s council, reinforcing links. Units, too, moved into and out of Britain, sometimes bringing to the northern frontier their own particular traditions. This can be seen especially with the introduction of African styles of cooking in the 150s and, through that, changes in pottery production (Swan 1999). Roman Scotland was also part of a wider trading network.

It was thus on every point of the scale from imperial politics and military defence to the provision of exotic foods such as figs and coriander that Roman Scotland was linked to the Roman empire.

Obversely, knowledge of the Roman Empire aids an understanding of Roman Scotland, ‘evidence by analogy’ in Rivet’s phrase (1958, 27-8). That evidence illustrates every aspect of the operation of Roman Scotland. An appreciation of the cursus honorem of Rome’s ruling class allow us to assess better the individuals serving on the northern frontier and even date their service in Britain and other events when independent evidence does not exist. An understanding of Roman recruiting practices can be transferred to Britain, amplifying the meagre local evidence. Roman documents from elsewhere in the empire, and particularly the Eastern frontier, can be used to illuminate life on the northern frontier. We can be sure that the Roman army in Scotland operated in the same way as the Roman army elsewhere, sending annual reports to Rome, maintaining files on soldiers and horses and preparing timetables and records of work. Inscriptions from elsewhere allow the better interpretation of local inscriptions, as illustrated by the interpretation of the recently discovered Carberry tombstone (Hunter and Keppie 2008; Tomlin 2008, 372-4).

A photograph of a degraded square stone with the faint remains of carved decoration and a Latin inscription

Tombstone of the cavalryman Crescens, from Carberry (E Lothian). The style of tombstone can be identified from complete examples elsewhere, while other inscriptions provide more information on his unit, the Ala Sebosiana, and the equites singulares, the Governor’s bodyguard. ©NMS

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