Evidence Of New Route Into Scotland For Roman Invasion Attempt
Archaeological excavations undertaken by GUARD Archaeology prior to the building of the new Ayr Academy uncovered evidence of thousands of years of continued occupation. They unearthed traces of an Iron Age occupation with a shale bracelet, pits, and post-holes dating to the late third and second millennium BC, a Neolithic settlement from the fourth millennium BC, and a Mesolithic hunter/gatherer camp from the sixth millennium BC.
The remains of the Roman marching camp were uncovered during building work. (GUARD Archaeology Ltd)
Roman Marching Camp Discovered
But the jewel in this archaeological crown was evidence of a Roman marching camp dating to the first century AD. At this time, Agricola, the Roman Governor of Britannia, led armies northwards towards Aberdeenshire where they ultimately clashed with an army of Caledonians at the battle of Mons Grampius.
The camp discovered in Ayr tells archaeologists that apart from the two known Roman roads; the present-day M74 and A68 roads, a third, west coast route extended from the south-west tip of Scotland into the Highlands.
Roman marching camps in North Britain/Scotland. (Notuncurious / CC BY-SA 3.0)
A report in The Herald quotes Iraia Arabaolaza who is director of the excavation: “There was a ford across the river Ayr just below the Roman marching camp while ships may have been beached on the nearby shoreline.” This camp in Ayr is situated only 20 miles north of anther Roman camp at Girvan and Arabaolaza said “There is a little more distance to other Roman camps to the north-east near Strathaven. Altogether this suggests that this site was chosen as a strategic location for the Roman conquest of Ayrshire.”
The Discovery Of Bread Ovens
Most Roman camps are enclosed with regular linear ditches but ploughing at the Ayr Academy site has destroyed such features. Still, Ms. Arabaolaza said archaeologists found “26 large, often double, fire-pits that were distributed evenly in two parallel rows 30 meters (33 yards) apart. The arrangement and uniformity of these features implies an organized layout and the evidence suggests that they were all used for baking bread.”
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Layout of ancient Roman marching camp. (barbulat / Adobe)
It is not unexpected that bread making devices were discovered as it was a central component in the Roman conquests, and without bread, a 6000 strong legion couldn’t walk very far, never mind fight barbarian hoards. An article on Living Strong details the “high-calorie diet of the Roman soldier who expended an estimated “6,000 calories daily” when actively fighting in a war. When not battling, training activities and manual labor, designed to keep him fit for battle, brought his daily caloric intake to an estimated “3,500 to 6,348 calories”. At the upper end, that is two standard loaves of bread per soldier.
The GUARD Archaeology website says, “The location of the oven was recognized by the scorching of the subsoil base, stone slabs, and burnt clay fragments, some with wood imprints and with dome molding.” They also found “ash pits” at the opposite end to the ovens and within these “figure-of-eight features” filled with “burnt and charcoal-rich soil” comprising the raked-out material “from the clay-domed ovens.”
Stone-lined oven and rake-out material at Roman marching camp. (GUARD Archaeology / Fair Use)
What Was This Marching Camp Used For?
Marching camps like this one were created to support Agricola’s conquest of Ayrshire in Scotland, a military campaign which ended after his clash with the Caledonians at the battle of Mons Grampius, the location of which is still argued about among historians. Last year I wrote a research paper called Caledonian Guerrillas Crush New World Order which analyses the main contenders proposed as hosts for this legendary battle.
What is known, is that after this battle with the Caledonians, Agricola returned south and Scotland would not be invaded by Romans for another century, until the Emperor Septimus Severus came north to subdue the barbaric northern tribes. He got a bloody nose too, and just like Agricola, he returned south with his tail between his legs having failed to subdue the Highlanders. My folk.
Romans at marching camp getting ready for battle. (Ludovic LAN / Adobe)
Top image: Roman marching camp has been discovered in the west of Scotland. Source: Feenstaub / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie