19th century sketch of Calgacus delivering his speech to the Caledonians.
19th century sketch of Calgacus delivering
his speech to the Caledonians.

Mons Graupius is in my mind undoubtedly the iconic battle of "Scottish" freedom. Tacitus records the first words of any Scot giving a speech that undoubtedly inspired the Declaration of Arbroath as well as the American declaration of Independence.

Whenever I consider the origin of this war and the necessities of our position, I have a sure confidence that this day, and this union of yours, will be the beginning of freedom to the whole of Britain.

Given that Mons Graupius symbolises the original call for freedom and independence from Rome, this new discovery confirming the field marks of the Roman marching camp overlooking the hill of "Quarrel wood" could not have happened at a more politically charged time. Indeed, we must not forget the context of the original speech speech was also highly charged nor that the discoverer (Mike Haseler) could be seen as politically controversial.

A message from the past?

Indeed, when I realised that having sat up after the discovery (as a result of watching BBC4) and so I had published it early on the morning of the 100th day to the referendum vote, I could not help wonder if I were to believe in such things, whether I would have seen this as a message from the past directly aimed at our modern society. However, whilst the time, the iconic nature of the battle and my own "interesting" position might hint at more than just chance, I am actually at a loss to figure out its meaning. There are in fact three contradictory interpretations of the meaning of this discovery:

  1. Scottish freedom - this was the slant I gave in May 2011 when on my Climate Sceptic blog I first wrote about it (without a location) in: Mons Graupius
  2. Independent from a European Superstate - this is what I decided that I would not have the time to make further progress on the discovery and gave the discovery "to the world" giving its location. The slant had to be changed as I was becoming UKIP Scotland Energy Spokesman: Mons Graupius revealed (I have now left UKIP)
  3. A United British people - having thought that only the SNP could be interested in this site, I reread the speech by Calgacus and realised that speaking of "Britains" (there being no Scottish nation at the time), it could also be taken as a call for unity of Britain.

So, rather than me trying to tell you what it means, I shall let you decide: For the Britons, undismayed by the event of the former action, expecting revenge or slavery, and at length taught that the common danger was to be repelled by union alone, had assembled the strength of all their tribes by embassies and confederacies. 4 Upward of 88 thirty thousand men in arms were now descried; and the youth, together with those of a hale and vigorous age, renowned in war, and bearing their several honorary decorations, were still flocking in; when Calgacus,3 the most distinguished for birth and valor among the chieftains, is said to have harangued the multitude, gathering round, and eager for battle, after the following manner:

Whenever I consider the origin of this war and the necessities of our position, I have a sure confidence that this day, and this union of yours, will be the beginning of freedom to the whole of Britain. To all of us slavery is a thing unknown; there are no lands beyond us, and even the sea is not safe, menaced as we are by a Roman fleet. And thus in war and battle, in which the brave find glory, even the coward will find safety. Former contests, in which, with varying fortune, the Romans were resisted, still left in us a last hope of succour, inasmuch as being the most renowned nation of Britain, dwelling in the very heart of the country, and out of sight of the shores of the conquered, we could keep even our eyes unpolluted by the contagion of slavery. To us who dwell on the uttermost confines of the earth and of freedom, this remote sanctuary of Britain's glory has up to this time been a defence. Now, however, the furthest limits of Britain are thrown open, and the unknown always passes for the marvellous. But there are no tribes beyond us, nothing indeed but waves and rocks, and the yet more terrible Romans, from whose oppression escape is vainly sought by obedience and submission. Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude and call it peace. (The beginning of the speech by Calgacus a leader of the Caledonian tribe as given by Tacitus )

Political Context of Mons Graupius

Roman rule started in Britain when it invaded in 43AD. But Britain did not exist as a country and there certainly was nothing akin to the modern idea of Scotland or England. Instead Britain was divided amongst various tribes. Slowly, one by one, over the decades after the Roman invasion, these individual tribes were overcome by the Romans as they moved north. Then around 80AD Agricola brought an Army into (modern) Scotland. Calgacus was undoubtedly not the first or last political leader to stand up to Roman rule, the Caledonian union wasn't the first coalition in Britain to take on the Romans, but it was the most successful forcing Rome to turn tail and head back south. This is perhaps why Calgacus is almost unique in having his words recorded by the Roman writer Tacitus.

Agricola - the general

The single account we have of this battle and Calgacus is by a Roman Tacitus. He wrote a book "Agricola" which is the account of his father-in-law Gnaeus Julius Agricola, one time governor of Roman Britain and an eminent Roman general. The book has both factual details such as the geography and ethnography of ancient Britain but it is also overtly political in that Tacitus favorably contrasts the liberty of the native Britons to the corruption and tyranny of the Empire. It also contains vicious polemics against the rapacity and greed of Rome. So, in a modern sense Tacitus was Agricola's "PR man". This, and the inability to find the site, has led many historians to doubt the account by Tacitus and even to suggest Calgacus did not exist. Agricola began his military career in Britain. He was appointed quaestor in Asia province in 64AD, Plebeian Tribune in 66AD, and praetor in 68AD. He supported Vespasian during the Year of the Four Emperors (69AD), and was given a military command in Britain when the latter became emperor. When his command ended in 73AD, he was made patrician in Rome and appointed governor of Gallia Aquitania. He was made consul and governor of Britannia in 77AD. While there, he completed the conquest of what is now Wales and northern England, and led his army to the far north of Scotland and the battle of Mons Graupius in 83AD or 84AD. Soon afterwards in 85AD he was recalled from Britain.

Tacitus - the author

Tacitus claims Domitian ordered Agricola's recall because his successes outshone the Emperor's own modest victories in Germany. The relationship between Agricola and the Emperor is unclear; on the one hand, Agricola was awarded triumphal decorations and a statue (the highest military honours apart from an actual triumph); on the other, Agricola never again held a civil or military post, in spite of his experience and renown. What is clear is that Tacitus delayed writing about his father in law for a decade until after the assassination of Domitian in 96AD. Amid the turmoil of the regime change, Tacitus used his new-found freedom to publish this, his first historical work. The proud tone of the Agricola is similar in style to the laudationes funebres (funeral speeches). Tacitus exalts the character of his father-in-law. He shows how, as governor of Roman Britain and commander of the army, he attends to matters of state with fidelity, honesty, and competence, even under the government of the hated Emperor Domitian. Critiques of Domitian and of his regime of spying and repression come to the fore at the work's conclusion. In contrast Agricola is portrayed as being uncorrupted, but dying in disgrace under Domitian. Tacitus makes no clear statement as to whether the death of Agricola was from natural causes or ordered by Domitian, although he does say that rumours were voiced in Rome that Agricola was poisoned on the Emperor's orders.

The political context of Mons Graupius

The Boudican Revolt 60 AD

Boudica was queen of the British Iceni tribe. Her husband Prasutagus ruled as a nominally independent ally of Rome and left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Roman emperor in his will. However, when he died, his will was ignored by Rome and the kingdom was annexed as if conquered. Boudica was flogged, her daughters were raped. In response in 60 or 61 AD, while the Roman governor (Gaius Suetonius) was leading a campaign on the island of Anglesey in Wales (against rebels including Druids), Boudica led a revolt burning Camulodunum (Colchester) to the ground and killing the inhabitants who had shelted in the temple. Boudica then led 100,000 Iceni, Trinovantes and others to burn and destroy Londinium, and Verulamium (modern-day St Albans). But the Romans, regrouped his forces in the West Midlands, and despite being heavily outnumbered, defeated the Britons in the Battle of Watling Street. The crisis caused the Emperor Nero to consider withdrawing all Roman forces from Britain, but the eventual victory over Boudica confirmed Roman control of the province. Boudica then either killed herself or fell ill and died.

The Jewish Revolt

In 66AD the Jews expelled the Romans from Jerusalem, and overwhelmed a Roman force in the pass of Beth-Horon. A revolutionary government was set up and extended its influence throughout the whole country. The Roman emperor Nero despatched a force to crush the rebellion. The Roman armies entered Galilee, where the historian Josephus headed the Jewish forces. Josephus’ army fled. In 70AD, Jerusalem fell and the Temple was burned. The Jewish state collapsed, and much of the population fled, was enslaved or like the garrison of the fortress of Masada (which was not conquered until April 73AD) committed suicide.

The impact on the Caledonians

So in 83/84AD the Caledonians and other Britains would have known of these Roman atrocities. Indeed Calgacus specifically refers to the Iceni/trinovantes revolt in his speech:

The Trinobantes, even under a female leader, had force enough to burn a colony, to storm camps, and, if success had not damped their vigor, would have been able entirely to throw off the yoke; and shall not we, untouched, unsubdued, and struggling not for the acquisition but the security of liberty, show at the very first onset what men Caledonia has reserved for her defense?

Was this reference to Trinobantes rather than Icenii because part of his force were exiled Trinobantes from East Anglia in England?

The Nature of the Caledonian "Union"

One key question in understanding the "meaning" of Mons Graupius in the modern context is the nature of the Caledonian "Union". Was it "Scottish" (a much later term), "British" or indeed a more international coalition? We are not told much about this except that Tacitus introduces Calgacus' speech this way:

For the Britons, undismayed by the event of the former action, expecting revenge or slavery, and at length taught that the common danger was to be repelled by union alone, had assembled the strength of all their tribes by embassies and confederacies. Upward of thirty thousand men in arms were now descried; and the youth, together with those of a hale and vigorous age, renowned in war, and bearing their several honorary decorations, were still flocking in; when Calgacus, the most distinguished for birth and valor among the chieftains, is said to have harangued the multitude, gathering round, and eager for battle.

Tacitus refers to "Britons". But he didn't have name for what we now call "Scotland" so this doesn't help us understand the extent of the coalition. But could the coalition have included non-Britains? In one part of Calgucus' speech there is a hint that "our own" is international in Character because after referring to "our own band" there are refers to Britons, Gauls and Germans:

In the very ranks of the enemy we shall find our own bands. The Britons will acknowledge their own cause. The Gauls will recollect their former liberty. The rest of the Germans will desert them, as the Usipii have lately done.

Certainly the Roman army was certainly international in character:

These Gauls and Germans, and, I blush to say, these numerous Britons, who, though they lend their lives to support a stranger's rule, have been its enemies longer than its subjects, ... Fear and terror there certainly are, feeble bonds of attachment; remove them, and those who have ceased to fear will begin to hate. All the incentives to victory are on our side.

Common sense tells us that with so many being oppressed within the Roman Empire and on its borders, there must have been many refugees fleeing Roman oppression. Where could they have gone except to those areas like Caledonia beyond the borders of Rome? Calgacus' speech is certainly international in character, so, it is very likely that he had met many others who had confronted Rome. So, it is very likely that, part of the Caledonian success in confronting Rome, was because in this union there were not only many from Scotland, but also "English" such as the Trinovantes & Icenis, and also many from abroad such as Gauls, Germans and even perhaps some from further afield such as Jewish refugees. These rebels would have provided an invaluable insight to the fighting tactics of the Romans and this may go part of the way to explaining the apparent success of the Caledonians at least as far as sending the Romans back south.

The Aftermath

At the end of the day, the Tacitus claimed the Romans won the battle, but it seems the Caledonians won the war, for Argricola quckly turned tail and no further attempt by a Roman was made to go so far north.

The meaning of Mons Graupius

In this battle we have at least three themes: The noble caledonians coming together to fight off aggressors from the south and maintain their independence and liberty. We have the call of Britains to unite. And, we have the call to reject the "European superstate" of Rome. But perhaps the biggest message we have is a sense of liberty and freedom for people and whatever our identity, whether "Britains", "Caledonians" or "Romans" the theme of freedom and liberty that Calgacus' speech presents, is as important today as it was then. Compare these passages of Calgacus and the Declaration of Arbroath

Calgacus 83/84AD

our united efforts on the present day will prove the beginning of universal liberty to Britain. For we are all undebased by slavery;

These plunderers of the world, after exhausting the land by their devastations, are rifling the ocean: stimulated by avarice, if their enemy be rich; by ambition, if poor: unsatiated by the East and by the West: the only people who behold wealth and indigence with equal avidity. To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.

Our children and relations are by the appointment of nature the dearest of all things to us. These are torn away by levies to serve in foreign lands. Our wives and sisters, though they should escape the violation of hostile force, are polluted under names of friendship and hospitality. Our estates and possessions are consumed in tributes; our grain in contributions. Even our bodies are worn down amidst stripes and insults in clearing woods and draining marshes. Wretches born to slavery are once bought, and afterward maintained by their masters: Britain every day buys, every day feeds, her own servitude. And as among domestic slaves every new-comer serves for the scorn and derision of his fellows;

The Trinobantes, even under a female leader, had force enough to burn a colony, to storm camps, and, if success had not damped their vigor, would have been able entirely to throw off the yoke; and shall not we, untouched, unsubdued, and struggling not for the acquisition but the security of liberty, show at the very first onset what men Caledonia has reserved for her defense?

Declaration of Arbroath, 6 April 1320

Thus our nation under their protection did indeed live in freedom and peace up to the time when that mighty prince the King of the English, Edward, the father of the one who reigns today, ... The deeds of cruelty, massacre, violence, pillage, arson, imprisoning prelates, burning down monasteries, robbing and killing monks and nuns, and yet other outrages without number which he committed against our people, sparing neither age nor sex, religion nor rank, no one could describe nor fully imagine unless he had seen them with his own eyes. But from these countless evils we have been set free, ..

"As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself."

There is a clear theme of liberty and freedom from oppression that flows through these these texts. But it does not stop there. In recognition of the 6th April (Tartan Day) the Us Senate passed a Resolution acknowledging that the Declaration of Arbroath was an inspiration for the US Declaration of Independence:

April 6 has a special significance for all Americans, and especially those Americans of Scottish descent, because the Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish Declaration of Independence, was signed on April 6, 1320 and the American Declaration of Independence was modeled on that inspirational document;

And so, now we see how the Words of Calgacus have inspired concepts of freedom and liberty through to our day as the similarity of the following shows:

American Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

... But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.

And as the US declaration has itself inspired almost every declaration of independence and human rights ever since, the importance of Mons Graupius is that in the words of Calgacus, we have the original declaration that inspired them all.


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Mike Haseler

  • Mike first stood as a Lib Dem for a council election.
  • He left over Europe and the Lib Dem's attitude to business.
  • In 2003 Mike was selected by the Scottish Green party as second on the MEP list.
  • However Mike refused to stand after he learnt that the first placed candidate refused to oppose the planned closure of A&E at Stobhill hospital (against a massive local campaign).
  • After working in the wind industry he left because of the unethical nature of the business. However his interest in energy and science background led to him becoming concerned at the whole basis for predicting catastrophic global warming. As a result following the disclosure of emails from climate academics showing malpractice such as "Mike's Nature trick", Mike created the petition in 2009 that led to the Climategate inquiries.
  • In 2013, having campaigned to have the evidence heard on climate and previously supporting independence, Mike realised that the Scottish government as an institution were squashing all dissenting views particularly on issues like climate. Despite the evidence on climate, such as 17 years without warming, unpredicted by any climate models, and the growing reluctance by other countries to waste money on climate (as shown by the collapse of Kyoto in 2012) the Scottish government continued to refuse to hear opposing. As such Mike changed his mind on independence and joined the only party which accepted the scientific evidence on climate: UKIP.
  • Within weeks, he had been asked to be the Scottish Party's Energy Spokesman.
  • However, UKIP Scotland were beset by internal problems. After an English NEC member found himself "top" on the Scottish MEP ballot, the Scottish membership rebelled. In November 2013 this led to an EGM with various votes of no confidence. This EGM was cancelled by the English NEC, the Scottish leader was sacked and the Chairman resigned. In response many others either resigned their post or like Mike, left the party.