Battle plan of Mons Graupius
The day before the battle the Romans quickly marched to the site and arriving late they surprised the Caledonians who were still gathering for the battle on what became known until fairly recently as "Quarrel Hill" but was then known as "Mons Graupius".
The Romans built a camp about 4.5miles from the Caledonians which faced toward the Caledonians across the plain of the Lossie river.
The next morning the Caledonians stood along the natural terraces of Quarrel hill forming the tiered ranks described by tacitus and war chariots rushed across the flat lands near the river.
The Caledonians had chosen a very defensive site. Their west flank was protected by marshes and bogs and then higher ground. Their rear was protected by Loch Spynie (already started to be drained when this map was drawn in 1750 but now much smaller). In front of them was the river Lossie and then steep banks cutting into Quareel hill.
- map from William Roy (1750)
- The town of Elgin is obviously as it was in the 18th century and may not have been present at the time of the battle.
- The size of the armies is based on estimates of their size and typical fighting formations.
- Written by Mike Haseler
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In early 2013 I revealed research I had carried out into the potential location of the battle of Mons Graupius. News of this discovery was carried in several newspapers including the Northern Scot and Glasgow Herald:
Unfortunately, without even visiting the site, this research was dismissed as being "geological" features by key people in the archaeological community. I can now reveal more evidence that cannot be so easily dismissed. To recap, the key piece of evidence which confirmed this as a likely site of Mons Graupius was what appeared to be a double ditch on aerial photography. (See original article reproduced below.) More importantly, not only did the site of this double ditch fit the location of the fort recorded in the Roman account, but as the ditch pointed toward the site of "Quarrel Hill" near Elgin (the likely position of the Caledonians), this appeared to be very strong evidence that this must be the battle site. However, despite the strong evidence, it was dismissed without even so much as a site visit. But new evidence has now come to light in another aerial photograph which shows the markings are not geological markings. This new aerial photograph shows a hidden second SE corner to the fort. Like the SE corner, this is also a double ditch (typical of a Roman fort) and it is also curved. This is the evidence I needed as whilst one corner might just be geological, because it is almost inconceivable that two very similar curved corners would be produced by geological process. Taken together with an old field boundary perpendicular to the original ditch which I now think marks the northern edge of the site, this appears to define the complete outline of the Roman camp as shown below.
Original field markings in colour with new evidence showing corner in grey.
Red dotted line shows likely extent of fort
From this we can for the first time estimate the size of the fort at Elgin. If this is the right size it means a proper investigation cannot be delayed. We can estimate the size the fort needed to be from the size of the Roman Army that Agricola brought north in 79 AD. To do this we can compare this fort with a similar marching camp at Pathhead in the Lothians. This Camp measures 530m from north-west to southeast by 390m transversely, enclosing 20.5ha (just over 50 acres). The field markings at Elgin measure 360m wide west to east. If the old boundary fence is the northern boundary as I suggest, the size of this fort north to south is around 630m making the whole fort about 23ha (just under 57acres) which is very close to that of Pathhead. Conclusion: This additional evidence revealing the SE corner makes it very unlikely that the markings of a double ditch could be "geological" as originally suggested. There is now multiple strand of compelling evidence in terms of size, shape and orientation which are consistent with a Roman fort fitting the account of the battle of Mons Graupius at Quarrel Hill. It is now imperative that a proper field survey is undertaken as soon as possible. (original Article below) Acknowledgement - the BBC is not my favourite broadcaster, so much to my disgust, I should acknowledge that it was while watching a BBC 4 program on the Romans and the use of aerial photography that I was encouraged to have another look for evidence confirming the site. Also inspiration for the original identification came from Dr Alan Leslie and all the gang at Glasgow.
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By Mike Haseler (1st May 2013)
Mons Graupius is an iconic battle for British independence against the repressive hand of Rome. According to the Romans, 10,000 Britons died that day at the hands of this first European Superstate. Was their struggle in vain? No, for Scotland, or at least their part of Scotland, remained free!
And how could such a battle fail to capture our imagination? For we have the first words of any Britain telling us a message as relevant today as it was then; a British freedom fighter of Caledonians tribe called Calgacus saying*:
“You have not tasted servitude. There is no land beyond us and even the sea is no safe refuge when we are threatened by the Roman fleet….We are the last people on earth, and the last to be free: …. They plunder, they butcher, they ravish, and call it by the lying name of ‘empire’. They make a desert and call it peace.”
Now, finally the site may have been revealed, and there appears be firm archaeological evidence in the form of crop marks** to substantiate the claim.Add a comment
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