5.6 The Influence of Rome

The Roman presence in Scotland was sporadic and very brief in terms of the longevity of the Iron Age as a whole. Unlike southern Britain, which was settled for almost 400 years, Scotland was never fully conquered. The 1st century AD saw Roman forts, fortlets and signal towers constructed in Perth and Kinross; later a new frontier was established, the Stanegate, which connected the Tyne and Solway estuaries. In the 120s AD, the Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a wall just to the north of the Stanegate line, defining this frontier. Hadrian’s successor, Antoninus Pius, launched Roman forces back into Scotland in the 140s AD. A new frontier was established on the Forth-Clyde line, with military bases north of this, including in Perth and Kinross. Occasional campaigns were launched into Scotland, notably under the Emperor Septimius Severus in the early 3rd century AD. 

Roman objects and ideas travelled beyond the frontiers, however, and Roman material culture is discussed below within four key themes: Everyday Life, Conflict, Jewellery and Decorative Metalwork, and Belief and Ritual. The aim is to present the types of Roman objects found in Perth and Kinross, on both Roman and Iron Age sites, and often on both, alongside wider consideration of what they can tell us about their role within evolving societies. 

The important synthesis Roman finds from non-Roman sites in Scotland: More Roman ‘Drift’ in Caledonia by Robertson (1970) is a valuable base for the study of Roman and Iron Age interaction. However, the corpus has been substantially enriched in recent years with finds recovered through archaeological excavations and metal-detecting, much of it discussed by Hunter (including 2001; 2007a-c; 2010; 2013). There is a clear influx of Roman objects on Iron Age sites, the majority dated broadly to the 1st–2nd centuries AD. The Romans posed a threat – but they also presented an opportunity, for trade, to gain status and to create powerful alliances. 

Roman and Iron Age identities

By ‘Romans’ we mean people from across the Empire, as it was usual practice to draft military units in conquered lands to serve in distant territories. For example, units raised in North Africa and the Middle East served in Britain. We do not know what the peoples of North Britain called themselves, but we know what the Romans called them. In what is now Perth and Kinross, the two main groupings seem to have been the Caledonians and the Maeatae, and from the late 3rd century AD, the Picts (for the earliest Roman textual references to the Picts, see the summary in Hall 2007, 3; Ritchie 1994). 

Identity is a term that expresses how an individual defines themselves as both the same and different from others. In Roman Britain, people could think of themselves as Roman and/or British and/or any civitas or ‘tribe’ affiliation, military or civilian, warrior or farmer, citizen, free or enslaved. People express their identity through their language(s), clothing and dress accessories, food and a wide range of objects. Owning Roman objects (or rather, objects typical of the Roman world) did not mean you were Roman; Roman goods could be adopted and re-defined to support someone’s non-Roman identity. Whilst some artefacts can be considered as distinctively Roman or local, some objects fuse Roman and Iron Age elements, as discussed in terms of the ‘massive’ style metalwork above. 

A selective process is clear in terms of the types of Roman goods which made their way into local societies; these generally consisted of items of jewellery, and items connected to feasting such as glass vessels and ceramics (Hunter 2001). A range of Roman objects found at or close to military sites across Perth and Kinross give a flavour of everyday life for the soldiers stationed in the Caledonian frontier zone. They reveal facets of the life of infantry and cavalry both in their daily routines of equipment maintenance and in their leisure activities. 

5.6.1 Everyday Life

5.6.2 Conflict

5.6.3 Jewellery and Decorative Metalwork

5.6.4 Belief and Ritual

5.6.5 Roman Coins