A Roman Frontier Fort in Scotland

The Native Celts Meet Their New Neighbours....The Romans

Modern view of the Elidon Hills

This line drawing is what we believe a native Celtic warrior may have looked like. The Celtic men did not shave their faces like the Roman men did. The Celts were known to have tattoos. Their dress was made of leather and cloth. They did not have chain mail or scale armour like the Romans did.
A collection of bronze axes from the Bronze Age (700-900 BC), discovered in the Eildon Hills. They are evidence of strong occupation of the area many centuries before the Romans arrived.

When the Romans came to what they called Caledonia (Scotland), they did not come to empty fields. The native local peoples had been living in the area for thousands of years. When the Romans arrived, the locals who were Celtic tribes, were not too sure about them.

This is a Celtic armlet. It is made of bronze. This armlet was a symbol of power. It would have let other Celtic people know the person wearing this was important. A Celtic chief may have worn this. Instead of a crown or a tiara, the Celtic people had different ways to show people in power.

Unlike the Romans, the Celtic people in south Scotland did not live in houses made of stone or bricks. Their buildings and homes were made of wood and moss. Wood is organic. This means that over time, wood disappears. Stone does not disappear. This is why we have more Roman ruins than Celtic ones. The Celtic people would live in round houses and hillforts. Round houses were easy to make, and they were easy to heat with a fire. Celtic families would all live together in round houses. These round houses could sometimes have two stories.

This is a model of an Iron Age hillfort. You can see the roundhouses inside the hillfort. The circles around the hillfort are ditches and ramparts. They were used to defend the hillfort from attack. This model is at the Biggar Museum, in South Scotland.
Celtic style round houses. An artist drew this to show what the Celtic people lived and how their houses would have looked like inside. Do these look like modern houses? What characteristics are similar or different from houses today?

The Celtic people did not have a written language like we do. Theirs was an oral tradition. The Romans did have a written language, it was called Latin. The Romans liked to write down almost everything that happened and would send letters to each other from across the Empire. Since the Celtic people did not have a written language, we do not know as much about them as we do the Romans.

A drawing of a Roman and a Celtic man fighting. The Roman is wearing a mask, a helmet and armour.
Roman writing tablet found at Trimontium. Today, we write on paper. For the Romans, it was common to write on a tablet made of wood containing wax. They would have used a 'stylus' a type of ancient pen to inscribe letters on the wax.
This is Melrose Abbey. This is not Roman, it is medieval. It was first built in 1136 by monks. They rebuilt and expanded the abbey many times. Some of the stones that they used to build their Abbey were stones from the ruins of Trimontium.

What we know about the Celts is mostly from the Roman perspective. This means that the information about the Celtic people may be biased. The Romans believed that the Celtic people were 'barbarians' and not civilized. In today’s time, we know that is not true. The Celts just lived differently to the Romans, that’s all.

Another source of information about the Celts is their characteristic art.

The style of this brooch is called ‘dragonesque’. These brooches are only found in the British Isles. They present a mix of a Roman made object with the artistic designs of the Celtic people. Many of these were found at Trimontium.
This is a Celtic ring made of bronze. It is decorated with enamel with a Celtic symbol, a ‘triquetra’. This dates to the same time as Trimontium but was found in the north of Scotland. Triquetras are found in Celtic and later Pictish art.
This is a Celtic brooch. It is made of bronze. It was found at Trimontium. This may have been used to tie a cloak together. Bronze turns green over time.

We do know that the Celtic people and the Romans did not get along. We know this from a few different ways. One way is from the Romans. The Romans wrote on how difficult the Celtic people were, and how they were always attacking the forts and settlements like Trimontium. This is different from the English down south, who did trade and work with the Romans. In England, the population became 'romanized'. The Celtic people would get large amounts of silver from the Romans to stop attacking them. This worked for a time. We know that one of the reasons the Romans did not take over Scotland, is because of the fighting with the native Celtic peoples.

When the Romans left Scotland for good, the local people used the stones from Trimontium over time. They used the stones to build their homes and later their churches. The local people had iron before the Romans, but iron became more popular because of the Romans. The presence of the Romans activated a kind of ‘unity’ of the local tribes and they became “the Picts”. The name 'Pict' comes from Latin meaning “painted people”. The Pictish period begins when the Romans left. It lasted from the 4th to the 9th centuries.