This site was set up to make archaeologists and the public aware of the likelihood of an important battle site between Romans and Iron age Britons in the area of Elgin (Moray). On these iron-age battlefields finds are very rare. So the main aim is to raise public awareness so that even the smallest find that could relate to the battle is reported. This is important as even a small fragment could positively identify the site.

What is Mons Graupius?

Mons Graupius is the name given to a battle in 83 or 84AD  between an iron-age people in Scotland called the Caledonii and the Romans. We know about it from the Roman writer Tacitus. Unfortunately, he does not give the exact location other than to say at "Mons Graupius". However, Tacitus gives a lot of details which should be able to identify the site. But so far it has not been found.

Why Moray?

Above is the Scottish section of the only map of the period of Mons Graupius produced by a man called Ptolemy. And this is the only means we have of locating the "Caledonii". As you can see the map is very distorted. There are two mains ways to make sense of it.

  • The first is that the map is "cut-off" with the highlands largely missing.
  • The other is that the map is "turned" through 90 degrees.

OS map from 2003
Whilst the two different interpretations have been known for centuries, the "turned" hypothesis fell out of favour around the time of a notorious forgery attributed to Richard of Cirencester. Perhaps as a result, the turned hypothesis was discredited and since then most serious work located the various tribes according to the "cut-off" hypothesis. This meant that even as late as 2003 the tribal heartland of the Caledonii was being shown on OS maps around Perthshire & Tayside.
 
As the Caledonians are the tribe fighting the Romans at Mons Graupius, this southerly location for the Caledonians implied a similarly southerly location for Mons Graupius.

However recently there has been a move toward the "turned hypothesis" spear headed by Alastair Strang. The result as the maps below show, is that the Caledonii heartland moves from Tayside to Inverness.

This in turn means the likely site for Mons Graupius moves from a site south of the Grampian mountains around Tayside to one north of the Grampians around Moray & Elgin.

Location of Caledonii under the
Cut-off hypothesis
Location of Caledonii under the
Turned hypthesis
 

Under the cut-off hypothesis, the Ptolemy map is
thought to represent the area south of of the
Highlands.

This hypothesis causes the Caledonii homeland
to be located around Perthshire and Tayside.

Because this hypothesis with a southerly location
for the Caledonians was favoured most suggested
sites for the battle of Mons Graupius have been located
in the seaward end of this southerly area around
Tayside.

Under the turned hypothesis, the Ptolemy map of
Scotland is assumed to have been turned by 90 degrees.

This gives a much better fit for features such as the
Dee & Tay. However, it also means that the Caledonian
homeland will lie along the great glen with the northern
heartland around Inverness.

This in turn suggests a much more northerly site
for Mons Graupius than most previous work.

The Roman army would have approached the
Caledonian heartland by the coastal plain around Elgin
making this a likely site of the battle.

Why hasn't the area around Elgin been suggested before?

The idea that the Ptolemy map should be turned is hardly new and all kinds of places have been suggested for Mons Graupius including Culloden. So it is surprising that Mike Haseler, the author of this site is the first to identify the area around Elgin as the likely site. Why?

The main reason must be that serious researchers at the time aerial photographs started discovering so many Roman camps used the "cut off" interpretation of Ptolemy. The result was that few serious researchers considered anything but a southerly location for the Caledonians & Mons Graupius. Then after Alastair Strang revived the "turned" interpretation, Mike Haseler appears to be have been the first to recognise the implications of this change on the site of the Caledonians and in turn the likely area where Mons Graupius would be found.

Where is Mons Graupius?

When William Roy the famous 18th century military map maker looked for Mons Graupius. He concluded that it would be somewhere where the Grampian mountains come close to the sea. There are two places this happens: the area around Stonehaven (south of Aberdeen) and the area around Elgin (east of Inverness).  Unfortunately, almost all Roman remains at the time of William Roy were south of the Highlands. This meant he only seriously looked in the area around Stonehaven and without success. If, he had had access to the aerial photos we have showing a line of encampments heading north from Stonehaven toward Elgin, he would certainly have looked for the site in the area around Elgin. If he had had radio carbon dating and other evidence showing these camps were from the time of Mons Graupius there can be little doubt that like the author, he would have thought Mons Graupius must be somewhere in the area around Elgin and one place certainly sticks out on his map.

So, the evidence strongly suggests a site for Mons Graupius somewhere near Elgin. The exact site is not known, but William Roy shows a very strong candidate on his map at Quarrelwood hill. Then the author found a possible site for a Roman encampment at Longmorn, not much further than the typical 3miles the Romans typically left between themselves and an enemy encampment.

However, nothing is as yet proved! There is no solid evidence and it is still possible that a thorough & systematic assessment could reveal other candidate sites within the general search area. So unless or until we have the funding to carry that research, Quarrelwood Hill best described as best candidate (so far) within the general search area for Mons Graupius.