Thursday, September 13, 2012

When in Rome… Er… Scotland

The year is 60 CE. Imagine, my galleons, a legion of Rome’s finest soldiers, 5000 strong, marching through the mists of old Caledonia. The Ninth Legion, to be exact, a well-trained force on their way to quell rebellion in Britland. 5000 soldiers, marching through the mists…

Never to be seen again.

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Roman Ninth Legion is one that’s baffled historians for years. Was it the uplifting tale of a band of rag-tag Picts or Iceni besting the battle-hardened legion as the tribes fought for freedom from Roman rule? Or was it the much less exciting story of a strategic reassignment of the legion to the Middle East (where they were, ostensibly, wiped out)? Both ideas have been bandied about, but the idea of their ancestors heroically rebelling against the Ninth burns brightly in the hearts of Scots and Brits, cementing this version into their minds and tying it to their cultural identity.

But the historians are less inclined to fall for that just because it’s dramatic and poignant. In fact, historians are leaning strongly toward the “transfer” theory. And the latest find out of Scotland certainly helps their case.

A team from the University of Liverpool just found the remains of a pub at a fort at Stracathro from around 70 CE, a pub where Picts and Romans would pull up a chair together and down a pint.

The bar was found in a vicus (small civilian settlement) just outside the fort’s walls, challenging previous beliefs about how the civilians and Roman soldiers got on. As Dr Birgitta Hoffmann said:

It was always taught that you didn’t have to look for settlements at forts in Scotland because it was too dangerous. Civilians didn’t want to live too close.

And yet, here’s a settlement, bar and all. Turns out, instead of constantly clashing, the Romans and locals probably learned to live rather harmoniously together.

Via When in Rome… Er… Scotland | Epistula Rasa