Why research Roman Scotland?
This is currently an exciting time to be studying Roman Scotland. Well-established approaches to the period, which have focused very much on aspects of military history and politics have been enlivened by studies questioning long-held views on frontier history. To this debate has been added a much broader appreciation of other aspects of the period, looking at topics such as military supply, the diversity of peoples and identities in the frontier zone, and more subtle understandings of interactions with the indigenous population there. The wealth of complex data from the Roman period provides an ideal arena in which to explore these topics so that the application of these ideas, and the questioning of former certainties, is newly revived for Roman Scotland.
Study of military organisation and campaigning remains fundamental – and not just in the disposition and chronology of their installations, which still presents challenges. Current research is, however, moving to a more complex, more all-encompassing picture of life in the frontier zone through studies including: the lifestyles and identities of the soldiers and the similarities and differences that occurred among them; the impact of forts on the landscape that they dominated both militarily and as settlement nodes which created and drew activity to them; and the effects of these new social and economic phenomena on local populations. The shifting chronology of contact makes it possible to look at the effects of frontier systems (and thus the meaning and purpose of frontiers) in such detail that is rarely possible elsewhere. Researching Roman Scotland therefore has a significant contribution to make to wider studies of the Roman world. The existing dataset contains material whose potential has barely been tapped – such as surveys of forts (e.g. for questions of landscape setting) or some aspects of the rich finds assemblages in museums.
Panel Task and Remit
The Roman panel was asked to critically review the current state of knowledge, and consider promising areas of future research into the Roman presence in Scotland. This is intended to help with the building of testable, defensible and robust narratives that describe and explain the impact of the Roman presence on contemporary and post-Roman societies, as well as, in turn, the impact of developments on the Scottish frontier on the Roman Empire. This will facilitate the work of those interested in the Scottish Iron Age and help set a trajectory for future research. Although the remit of the current project is Scottish, it is important that this research in undertaken within the wider context of the northern military zone and broader studies of the Roman frontier. Equally, it is vital that it should not be seen as a separate element from the Scottish Iron Age, as the interrelation of the two is critical.
This report, the result of the panel’s deliberations, is structured by theme: Changing Perspectives; The time and place of Roman Scotland; Forts in their landscapes; Supplying the army; Changing worlds; Roman Scotland in the Roman world; and Research and methodological issues. The themes reflect the desire to understand the impact of the Roman presence in Scotland within a wider European context. The document, which outlines the different areas of research work and highlights promising research topics, is reinforced by material in an on-line Wiki format which provides further detail and resources. The Roman Scottish Archaeological Research Framework is intended as a resource to be utilised, built upon, and kept updated, hopefully by those currently involved in the work of the panel as well as those who follow them.
The main recommendations of the panel report can be summarised under five key headings:
1. Scotland in the Roman world: Research into Roman Scotland requires an appreciation of the wider frontier and Empire-wide perspectives, and Scottish projects must be integrated into these wider, international debates. The rich data set and chronological control that Scotland has to offer can be used to inform broader understandings of the impact of Rome.
2. Changing worlds: Roman Scotland’s rich data set should be employed to contribute to wider theoretical perspectives on topics such as identity and ethnicity, and how these changed over time. What was the experience of daily life for the various peoples in Roman Scotland and how did interactions between incomers and local communities develop and change over the period in question, and, indeed, at and after its end?
3. Frontier Life: Questions still remain regarding the disposition and chronology of forts and forces, as well as the logistics of sustaining and supplying an army of conquest and occupation. Sites must be viewed as part of a wider, interlocking set of landscapes, and the study of movement over land and by sea incorporated within this. The Antonine Wall provides a continuing focus of research which would benefit from more comparison with frontier structures and regimes in other areas.
4. Multiple landscapes: Roman sites need to be seen in a broader landscape context, ‘looking beyond the fort’ and explored as nested and interlocking landscapes. This will allow exploration of frontier life and the changing worlds of the Roman period. To do justice to this resource requires two elements:
- Development-control archaeology should look as standard at the hinterland of forts (up to c.1 km from the ‘core’), as sensitive areas and worthy of evaluation; examples such as Inveresk show the density of activity around such nodes. The interiors of camps should be extensively excavated as standard.
- Integrated approaches to military landscapes are required, bringing in where appropriate topographical and aerial survey, LIDAR, geophysics, the use of stray and metal-detected finds, as well as fieldwalking and ultimately, excavation.
5. The Legacy of Rome: How did the longer term influence of the Romans, and their legacy, influence the formation, nature and organisation of the Pictish and other emergent kingdoms?