Iconic Caledonian battle of Mons Graupius located.

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:

Archaeologist claims to have located site of Roman battle

New Evidence

New Evidence

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.

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..

Romans slaughtering Britons (Bridgeness Scotland)

By Mike Haseler 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.

And these Britains had much to fear. In 60AD 80,000 Iceni died in battle with the Romans but only after the Iceni butchered many more such as the Romans of Colchester. Just over a decade earlier that Mons Graupius in 70AD during the Jewish revolt, the Romans had sacked Jerusalem, enslaved its population, and went on to destroy, enslave and generally annihilate the population. Calgacus would have known that a similar fate was awaiting the Caledonians and their allies. So, Calgacus’ speech though told by a Roman, should be seen as a call for freedom not just for Caledonians, or for Britains, but for all who wanted freedom from this first European Superstate:

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.

Calgacus could well have heard the horrific accounts of the Roman oppression iin Palestine first hand. For whilst the Jewish revolt was far away, those fleeing Roman repression had little choice than to suffer under Roman rule or travel great distances to seek sanctuary beyond the borders of the empire. Indeed, it is entirely conceivable that in the ranks of Calgacus’ army were not only Jews, but early Christians. For around 200AD a writer called Tertullian wrote: those parts of Britain where the Romans had no access were subjected to Christ”. We may even know the name of one of these early Christians from Palestine for we are told that the early Scottish Saint Servanus, had a father from Palestinian and mother from Arabian. (Saint Servanus, known as St. Serf was the foster-father of Saint Mungo or Kentigern who founded Glasgow.) Was Severus an early Jewish Christian who fled to Scotland after the Romans sacked Jerusalem? Did he arrive in Scotland and stir the natives to resist Rome? Did the Romans attack because the Caledonians gave sanctuary to their enemies? We may never know, but we should see Mons Graupius in its context as part of a Europe wide struggle against the Romans. At the end of the day, the Romans claimed to have 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. Roman rule stated in Britain when it invaded in 43AD. But Britain did not exist as a country but was divided amongst various tribes. So, one by one, over the next few decades they successively moved North overcoming local tribes until around 80AD Agricola brought an Army into Scotland. Calgacus was undoubtedly not the first or last to stand up to Roman rule, but he is almost unique because we have his words recorded by the Roman writer Tacitus. Tacitus was Agricola’s Son in Law and apparently “PR man”. Most such texts were thrown away in the dustbin of history, and that would have happened to Tacitus’ writing except for one thing. He accidentally talked about early Christianity in a positive enough light that the Roman Church went out of their way to copy and preserve his writings which coincidentally preserved his writings on this campaign.

Red dots mark the many suggested sites of Mons Graupius

So, unlike most Roman military campaigns, we have approximate dates, places and events and even recorded words. Tacitus tells us that in 83 or 84 AD, Agricola took his army right up to the territory of the Caledonians in the North of Scotland and there Agricola heavily defeated the “last of the free” at the a battle on a mountain called Mons Graupius. But as the proliferation of suggested sites shown on the map to the left shows, no one has known where it was and the site remained hidden. Not surprising that this battle site has entered the national consciousness of Scotland and taken to be the first words of a Scottish nationalist. But we must remember that Calgacus was not a Scot. (The Scots arrived from Ireland much later.) Indeed, he would not even have recognised the idea of a nation of “Scotland” and instead saw himself as a member of the tribe of Caledonians.

The Hunt for Mons Graupius

I first read accounts of this battle many years ago whilst researching early Christianity in Britain. But like all things “Celtic” the vivid accounts of Mons Graupius had attracted no end of interest and just as flypaper attracts flies, this iconic site has attracted a thick layer of layer of myth built on nationalism, celtism & paganism which hides the few facts available. By the time I started an archaeology course at Glasgow I knew that no Roman or Greek historian had ever said there were Celts in Britain (see there were no Celts in Scotland) and except for the factual information in the texts, I saw no point in wasting my time on what I considered to be another “flypaper” for Celtic nonsense. So, you can imagine my horror when that was just the subject I was asked to write about: the archaeological evidence for “Scottish identity”. How could I talk about archaeology and Scottish identity without mentioning Mons Graupius? But the upshot was that it kindled my interest at a time when I had access to wide range of sources through Glasgow University. And this time when I looked I began to make progress. But very much like an archaeological dig, I first had to remove the modern ground layer of coke cans and Celtic Myth which obscured the archaeological evidence. I had to tease out the fact from the many speculative even romantic assertions about the site. To pin down the hard facts: known site details, tribe locations, features in the modern landscape, etc. To follow the evidence not the Celtic myth.

Original Ptolemy Map of Britain Adjusted Ptolemy with Scotland turned anti-clockwise

But what was there to find? Scottish iron age battlefields are notoriously difficult to identify from the archaeology. No doubt many weapons and perhaps armour would be dropped and lie about the place, the accounts of large numbers of dead would leave many bodies. Surely with all this something would be obvious? But iron rusts and there are few burials from the Scottish Iron age suggesting that whatever method they used to dispose of the dead, it was not one that did not leave anything for archaeologists to find. This suggests they treated the bodies like some American Indians and some in Tibet today and left the body to be eaten by birds and animals. This fits in which the few bodies found in Iron age forts in England, because the bones tend to be bits and pieces almost as if they had been scattered by birds. (I cannot recall the site, but there were even a few skulls found in a ditch suggesting to me that some stormy night, the wind blew the skulls from where they had been left out and rolled them into a ditch.) Bones left out on the surface decompose and breakdown fairly rapidly. The Caledonians may have thought it a mark of respect to leave bodies in the open. So, there could have been thousands of bodies at a site and almost nothing left to find. Moreover, because there are so few burials or other finds from this period, we don’t know much about which weaponry was used by the Caledonians. So we do not even know what we are looking for. Even if we happened to find a mangled rusty bit of iron – would we recognise it as a Caledonian weapon or armour? Even on known archaeological sites occupied for hundreds of years, it is rare to happen across finds. So the chances of coming across finds on battlefield: that was spread out over many miles; which would have been picked clean afterwards; which was only occupied for just one day, and in a period where even occupied sites have few artefacts, seemed remote in the extreme.

The distinctive double ditch pattern of a Roman fort.

The key to finding this sight had to be the temporary Roman camp mentioned by Tacitus. Roman camps make distinctive cropmarks**, so after I visited my best site, I was looking at the aerial photography to see where I might have placed a fort and what did I find? Imagine my surprise to suddenly realise I was looking at something bore the distinctive double ditch pattern of a Roman fort! I checked historical maps and could find no previous building or anything else to explain the pattern. It clearly is very like the pattern from another fort seen below. It is the right size and the only way to prove or disprove it, is to go public and ask for experts to assess the site.

Compare the above cropmarks** with that of a typical Roman Fort below:

Typical crop mark of Roman Fort

Why look at this site?

The first stage in locating this site was to clear away the modern layers. The myth and mistakes of the past tell us, for example, that it is undeniable fact that Scotland was Celtic, that these “Celtic tribes” lived in such and such a place. A lot of this is complete rubbish. It is a fact that there is no mention of any Celt closer than France. So, started with a blank sheet clearing my mind everything that I had ever read from an “expert” in the field and without their preconceived (and often false) ideas went to look at the primary evidence. Like everyone else, I had the story told by Tacitus about Agricola. This gives local details of the site, but more importantly tells us that Agricola was approaching the area of the Caledonians. However, unlike everyone else I already knew the supposed experts could not be trusted to “know” about the area of the Caledonians. So I went direct to the source which tells us where the Caledonians were located: the text describing a very old map of Ptolemy produced about 150AD. Unfortunately, as you can see on the map (see topmost “Original Map” above right), if one draws a map from the text, it has one big problem: it is clearly wrong. The English section is distorted with the Cornish peninsula far too big, whereas Wales seems to have shrunk. But that is nothing in comparison to Scotland which bears no relationship to the modern map because Scotland has become a peninsula heading off to the east. This has caused much confusion and debate amongst academics. Many have assumed that the map was just completely inaccurate and took this as a green light to invent their own. Others (only slightly more credibly) took the map to be incomplete beyond Perth and thought the Peninsula to the East was the Northern coastline of the Tay Estuary from Perth to Dundee. And because, their map did not go much beyond Perth, the tribes mentioned by Ptolemy inhabiting northern Scotland such as the Caledonians were located around Perth. And this is why most early attempts for Mons Graupius looked around the Dundee-Perth line. (As shown in the suggest sites above left)

Ptolemy map with Scotland rotated and scaled

However, there is too much detail all around the Scottish coast for Ptolemy’s map to be a total guess . We have accounts saying the Romans travelled around Britain. So the size of Scotland, at least in terms of days sail was probably quite well known. Closer examination appeared to show that the map have been turned on its side. But just turning the map as you can see above right, still did not look right. Scotland is too long and thin. But then I remembered the map is drawn in latitude and longitude, which changes the east-west scale compared ot the north-south one. (The relationship between Latitude (N-S) and distance is the same wherever we are on the earth, but longitude changes. At the equator, 1 degree 60 nautical miles both west-east and north-south. But by the time we get to Scotland, whereas 1 degree north-south is still 60 nautical miles north-south one degree east-west is only 33nautical miles) So, now I converted from degrees as given on the original ptolemy map to distance (which made Scotland shorter). Then I turned the map and converted back from distance to latitude and longitude (which caused the width to expand). There were still problems around Dumfries (which has been rubbed out) but otherwise the map now has a good resemblance to major features in the geography of Scotland.

Ptolemy map with Scotland rotated and scaled

Obviously just as England isn’t perfect we cannot expect a perfect match for Scotland, but Scotland is now clearly recognisable. In particular the L shape of the Moray Firth is clearly defined from the the NE corner of the Aberdeenshire coast to Caithness at the top. This meant that I could be confident I could locate the Caledonians, not toward Perth but as the map showed between two clear geographical features: the LEMANNOUNIUS bay and the VARA estuary. The VARA estuary is clearly the Moray firth. The LEMANNONIUS bay, being close to where the map was “bent” in eroror less clear, but as it is near the river CLOTA which other texts tell us was the Clyde, the most likely feature is the the bay around the Isle of Aran or the bay up to Fort William. Either way, this places the Caledonians in the region along the Great Glen to Inverness. So, unlike others, I wasn’t led down the path of previous searches for Mons Graupius looking for a site near Perthshire. Instead, the map stated the Caledonians inhabited the region along the Great Glen to Inverness, and because the area around Inverness is so fertile, there had to be a major Caledonian settlement in the area in or around Inverness. It would have been a key site which the Caledonians would need to defend.

Line of Roman Forts and marching camps (red) Area around Elgin shows map below (yellow)

And this fits in well with the archaeological evidence from the line of Roman Forts and camps from the period of the campaign on the map to the right. These clearly form part of the campaign trail of Agricola as he took the most direct line toward Inverness avoiding the high ground. The area around Inverness and the farming land of the Black Isles was threatened by the approaching army, but where would the Caledonians choose to make their stand? The Roman Fort at Raedykes south of Aberdeen has been suggested. Superficially this looks attractive, because the mountainous high ground channels any approaching army into a narrow region which is easier to defend. But try as I might, I could not find it. There was no hill suitably close to the sea which could dominate a plain approaching the hill forcing the advancing Romans to come to battle.

So where was the next potential location?

The trail takes us to the coast south of Aberdeen which likely marked the southern boundary of a tribe, but rather than attacking the coastal areas where one would expect to find important settlements, it hugs the poorer land close to the mountains and takes a fairly direct root toward Elgin. This suggests that the Romans were relatively friendly with the tribes in this area. This fits with the account that after the battle the Romans sought help from a friendly tribe called the Boresti. The Boresti and other friendly tribes may have been the inhabitants in this region of Buchan, formerly called Buquhan. One can’t dismiss the possibility that that the name Buquhan derives from the name Boresti. But looking at modern maps there was no obvious location for Mons Graupius. The trick was to look at Scotland through the mind of a military map maker of the 18th century. William Roy came to Scotland soon after the Jacobite risings. The Jacobites had several times used their knowledge of the local terrain to outwit the British Army. At Prestonpans the Jacobite army outflanked the British and made a surprise dawn attack. At Falkirk Muir the Jacobites again made a long march which the British did not see until they were on the high ground forcing the British to move their forces hastily up onto the Muir without their canon so that the Jacobites routed most of the British. Finally at Culloden the Jacobites again tried to use their knowledge of the land to mount a surprise night attack, but this time failed. William Roy was sent to Scotland to ensure that never again would a British army be unaware of the local landscape. The map was completed around 1750 and for obvious reasons it portrays the landscape through the eyers of a solider: hills and high ground which gave armies advantage in battle. Steep slopes, mires and impassible rivers that impeded their progress and farmland and settlements which provided food and shelter. So, if anyone was going to highlight the kind of hill that the Caledonians would choose for their battle against the Romans, it was William Roy. Looking at the next point where the trail of Roman forts comes sufficiently close to the sea is at Elgin, I found it! As the map below shows, the river Lossie which flows past Elgin has created a large flood plain to the South of the Town. A large army would avoid the steep and difficult mountainous terrain to the south of the plain. To the west, an area of mire bars the way. It was impractical for a huge Roman army to cross the line I have shown drawn in red to the south. But the situation to the north of Elgin was little better. The modern landscape of mostly open farmland is very deceptive, for it hides the fact that Loch Spynie was much larger with surrounding marshland. This created another barrier from Elgin Northwards to the mouth of the River. (drawn as the upper red line). The Romans were funnelled toward an “ambush” at Quarrywood Hill where they had little choice but to take a line close to the modern road past the hill. This funnelling of the Romans is echoed in the speech recorded as given by Calgacus the leader of the Caledonians:.

Few in number, dismayed by their ignorance, looking around upon a sky, a sea, and forests which are all unfamiliar to them; hemmed in, as it were, and enmeshed, the Gods have delivered them into our hands (Calgacus speaking about the Romans).

Site of Mons Graupius. Upper and lower red show where steep slopes and boggy terrain made effective barriers forcing the Romans through modern Elgin on Quarrywood Hill. The site of the crop markings are shown as a rectangle which looks toward the hill. Recently several Roman period coin hoards have been found at Birnie. There is also evidence for a Roman Camp at Thomshill.

The general position of the site is an excellent fit for Mons Graupius. There is a hill that is long and has a marked step (along which the modern road goes) that could accommodate the massed ranks of Caledonians as described by Tacitus:

The enemy, to make a formidable display, had posted himself on high ground; his van was on the plain, while the rest of his army rose in tiers up the slope of a hill. There is an open plain in front.

The plain between resounded with the noise and with the rapid movements of chariots and cavalry. Agricola, fearing that from the enemy’s superiority of force he would be simultaneously attacked in front and on the flanks, widened his ranks

The site is close, but not too close, to the sea so that the navy would have been able to give limited support. But most importantly of all, this lone hill stood as a barrier to further progress and the Romans had no choice but to pass it.

The Sueno Stone 10miles to west of Quarrelwood Hill has scenes showing a major battle

Local evidence for a battle

At first glance on the map there is little to suggest there was ever a battle at Quarrywood. It is heavily quarried with no defences and the name did not suggest it may once have been called “Mons Graupius”. But looking at the history, the wood shares its name with Quarrywood Castle which was previously known as “Quarrelwood” Castle. So the wood was not named after the quarries after all! The earliest recorded name is that assumed by Sir Robert Lauder who around 1350 called himself: “Robertus de Lavadre, Dominus de Quarrelwood, in Moravia.” Quarrel is an Old French word probably introduced by the Norman elite of that time. It is not the original name, but could this “Quarrel” refer to a folk memory to a battle in the area? There certainly is a massive Pictish Stone at Forres just 10miles toward Caledonian territory to the west which appears to portray a huge battle. (shown right) The bottom shows three rows of mounted warriors leading archers and foot-soldiers. The bottom panel shows a bridge, or maybe a tent which may represent the Roman camp. Below this are seven decapitated bodies and their executioner. There are three figures who seem to be blowing instruments very much like the Roman trumpet called a tuba. There are cavalry and ranks of soldiers which one central figure, which some suggest is “kilted” but could also represent the Pteruges: decorative feathers that hung from the waste of Greek and Roman armour. The stone has been give a dated to 500-1000AD using carbon dating of nearby material, but if it had been moved, it could easily date well before this. Even if it post dates the Roman period, it may have been erected much later to commemorate the battle. And it is the largest so called “Pictish” stone, so this battle must have been very important in the area.

Local naming evidence for Mons Graupius

But what about “Mons Graupius”? Much has changed since the 1st century AD. Scotland has been ruled by Picts who spoke a language like Welsh, Scots who spoke Gaelic, Normans who spoke French. There have been Norse invaders, Flemmish immigrants. So it is not suprising that place names have changed like “Clota” changed to “Clyde” & some have been completely lost. So, the name “Mons Graupius” could be unrecognisable or completely lost. But what would it look like now? First we remove the obvious Latin ending which suggests a name, which or may not ended with ‘i’ like:

Mons Graupi” or “Mons Graup” Next, we know that in Scotland, many places names were recorded by Gaelic scribes, who did not use a “P”. Instead they used a variety of letters and based on other similar places we would expect to see something like:

Mons Grauc(i)” or “Mons Grauqq(i)

There still is no match to any local name, but what if the Romans themselves had mistaken the name? Could they have simply misheard the local name? Or perhaps the name changed later so that:

Mons-Graupi” … became … “Mon-Sgraupi

Under Gaelic influence this becomes:

Mon Sgrauci” or “Mon Sgrauqqi

“Mon” may well mean “Mountain or hill”, which will have changed, so we are looking for a local name which is a good match for “Sgrauqqi”? And we have one! In the Full text of “The history of the Province of Moray” we find this text:

On the west end of the estate of Sheriffniill [east side of Quarrywoodhill], and not far by the road … stands Scroggiemill.

Scroggie !!

There are many instances of ‘C’ becomning “G’ in places names so Scroggie is very close linguistically to Sgrauci or Sgraqqi, and as the map below shows, you you cannot get closer or more central without being on the hill.

1750 William Roy Map showing “Scroggie M[ill]”

But there is another very interesting name locality. If we go down the river Lossie a few miles from Elgin to its mouth at Lossiemouth, there was until the 19th century a cave said to have been the Hermitage of a Saint Gervadius. Little is known of the person. However it is a strange coincidence that the River at the base of Quarrywood hill (the Lossie) is closely connected with the Saint GERUADIUS which is so similar to Graupius. Again because Gaelic had no P, sometimes (but less often) a word with a ‘P’ has been recorded as a ‘B’. So with a bit of licence, this could be a Gaelic form of an earlier name GeRUAPIUS. Perhaps the saint was not “Saint GeRUAPIUS” but was the “Saint of GeRUAPIUS”? It is not such a close fit, but it adds to the sense that this could have been a local name of importance.

Archaeology dig at Birnie

Evidence of Romans in the area.

Surprisingly given the description of Caledonia given by Calgacus:

To us who dwell on the uttermost confines of the earth and of freedom, this remote sanctuary of Britain’s glory … there evidence for the Romans all along this coast. Roman coins minted before Mons Graupius and other Roman artefacts have found at Cawdor, covesea, Portmahomack & Tarradale, at Fortrose and Forres. And by shear chance, I almost literally stumbled across a group excavating the most important Roman site at Birnie which is about a mile from the “fort” crop mark. The site was first identified when in 1996 a scatter of Roman coins was found in a field near Birnie Kirk by a local metaldetectorist. In 2000 they discovered a coin hoard, and a second hoard was found in 2001. When The leader was very kind and showed me around the site. It was mostly Iron-age but clearly there were several Roman finds including Roman Brooch decorated with enamel and some glass.

The Battle Site

The Roman Camp Tacitus tells us that the battle field was close to the camp:

He arrayed his eager and impetuous troops in such a manner that the auxiliary infantry, 8,000 in number, strengthened his centre, while 3,000 cavalry were posted on his wings. The legions were drawn up in front of the intrenched camp; If this was similar to the other camps on this trail it would cover about 45hectares as all of the forts: Raedykes, Normandykes, Kintore, Durno, Glenmailen & Muiryfold are this size. (They are slighty rectangular with dimensions about 750-850m by 500-650m). However, the fort at Mons Graupius may be unusual, because we are told immediately prior to the the battle that Agricola:

Having sent on a fleet, which by its ravages at various points might cause a vague and wide-spread alarm, he advanced with a lightly equipped force,

Much of the heavy equipment may have been left behind in order to move faster and further than before. So, we might expect something smaller than 45 hectares, but air photography shows the “fort” at Thomshill was only 3.25 hectare which is far too small. But could this be big enough for a small advance Scouting party? In contrast, the observable part of the crop marks at Longmorn is about 500m by at least 500m. Even without seeing the full extent, it is big enough for the lightly equipped army of the text. Moreover, the sides align with Quarrelwood hill and being on a slight rise it looks over the plain to the hill. It is almost as if it were built as a statement proclaiming Roman might to the Caledonians onloookers on Mons Graupius. But the 15 miles from the next nearest Roman camp to the east at Muiryfold, is much further than the typical 10 miles between other camps. But this fits with the the idea of a “forced march” by the lightly equipped force making a dash to engage the Caledonians before the “ambush” was completely in place. The Camp is close enough to the Caledonian position but not too close. Anyone who has left a sporting venue, knows it takes around 30minutes for a large crowd to exit a stadium. Similarly the tens of thousands in the Roman army would need time to exit the gate and form up for battle. A horse could cover the four miles to Quarrelwood in perhaps half and hour and the Romans would want that kind of warning of a massed attack. So the four miles between Longmorn and Quarrelwood Hill is just about right. And, behind the crop marks, the ground starts to rise more and more steeply, making attack from a large force from this direction unlikely. The Hill

There isn’t much of a desciption of the Hill of Mon Graupius except to say that those on it were clustered together in groups- rising in “tiers”. However we can guess its size as we are told there were 30,000 Caledonians. If they line up 10men deep 1m apart, the hill front would need to be some 3km long. If they were five men deep it would be 6km long. Quarrelwood Hill has a very straight southern face rising out of the flood plain. It is about 3km long and rises up 25m where it reaches a plateau and there is a slight dip (in which the modern road runs). Behind this the hill rises up steeply to the top where there is a stone circle. The upper hill has a front about 2km long. There could have been two ranks 5 men deep on the various rises. This certainly fits the description of rising in tiers: the lowest tear being the plain, the next the plateau, and the top of the hill the last. The size is also big enough for an army of 30,000 but not too big.

View south across the Lossie River Plain toward Quarry or Quarrelwood. The Romans would have looked across this plain and seen ranks of Caledonians rising up the hill. In front there would be British Chariots.

The Plain Between the hill and the Roman camp lay a plain where the British chariots engaged the Romans as they deployed and started to advance. Roman-Scotland calculates the front of the Roman army would normally be about 1.4km long. However, “Agricola, fearing envelopment of his flanks ‘extended’ his line till deemed ‘dangerously thin’ by some of his officers.” If the Caledonians front extended along the 3km front of the Hill, then smaller Romans army could be easily outflanked by a counter attack. So, Roman-Britain suggest the line was extending to 2.7km. This fits in very well with the geography around Quarrelwood Hill where there was plenty of room for a much bigger army (the plain could accomodate an army 5km long) But was this plain a sufficiently smooth area for the Caledonian chariots which engaged the Romans as they deployed and started to advance? The plain is crossed by the River Lossie. This river is not very wide nor deep (According to SEPA, the height of this river is around 25cm) Only in flood would it create a serious obstacle. The banks and various ditches would be a problem, but this is true of any plain and we must assume the Caledonians with their local knowledge would be able to get around. After the Battle

Our men pursued, … the enemy, … fled in whole battalions with arms in their hands before a few pursuers, … On approaching the woods, they rallied, and its they knew the ground, they were able to pounce on the foremost and least cautious of the pursuers. Had not Agricola, who was present everywhere, ordered a force of strong and lightly-equipped cohorts, with some dismounted troopers for the denser parts of the forest, and a detachment of cavalry where it was not so thick, to scour the woods like a party of huntsmen, serious loss would have been sustained through the excessive confidence of our troops. When, however, the enemy saw that we again pursued them in firm and compact array, they fled no longer in masses as before, each looking for his comrade; but dispersing and avoiding one another, they sought the shelter of distant and pathless wilds.

Like the Romans, the Caledonians would have had little choice but to exit the battlefield to the west. Here the high ground continues with flatter ground down to the sea on the north and hills, woods and beyond them mountains to the south. This certainly fits the description of a Caledonian army leaving in an ordered fashion, using the woods as cover and then choosing to disperse into the mountainous wilds beyond. After the battle, Agricola withdrew the army “deducit” to a location where he made contact with the fleet. There is no suggestion that this was a great journey suggesting it was within a day’s march. Ideally the fleet would have found a harbour or anchorage. Lossiemouth & Garmouth would have provided some protection for the fleet.


Quarrywood, formerly Quarrelwood Hill, was ideally suited as the place to stop an advancing Agricolan army attacking the Caledonian northern heartland. The mountainous terrain to the south is a barrier inland. To the north, the formerly large Loch Spynie and the boggy ground created a barrier on the seaward side. The Romans would have had no choice but to take a path over Quarrelwood where if they had held onto this high ground the Caledonians would have stopped the Romans in their tracks. There is surprisingly good linguistic evidence as, not only does the name of the hill suggest a battle, but a local place name (Scroggie Mill) is readily understood as “sgrauqqi” the Gaelicised form of (Mon) “s-graupi”. At 15miles from the previous Agricolan fort at Muiryfold (not the more normal 10miles), a camp at Longmorn would fit nicely with the idea of a lightly equipped army doing a “forced march” to the site. The cropmarks indicate a fort of suitable size and it is orientated so as to look over the plain toward Quarrelwood. The 4miles that seperate the hill and crop marks is neither too close nor too far. As described by Tacitus for Mons Graupius, Quarrelwood hill is tiered and with a front some 3km long rising above the plain. The hill and plain are the right size for two armies of several tens of thousands of men. Along the line of the Caledonian retreat to the west we find both the open ground which would suit the initial ordered retreat of some Caledonians, and the woodland and mountains to the south which fits well with the description of the woods and wild places to which the Caledonians finally retreated. And the site is close enough to good anchorage at Lossiemouth and Garmouth so that the the army could quickly rendezvous with the fleet there after the battle. Even without the crop marks of Longworm, the site is an outstanding match for Mons Graupius. With the cropmarks, it cries out for investigation.


Link to Map showing cropmarks

*There is much dispute about Calgacus. Some have even gone as far as to suggest there was no such speech. Others see Tacitus as a “PR man”. However, as it is the only evidence we have, whilst remaining suitably sceptical because there is (no way to verify what Tacitus says until we find the site, his account is the only source we have. **I use the term “cropmark” loosely to refer to the shading see on the aerial photography. This could be a typical crop mark, or it could be a change in ground slope or vegetation.


Filed under Scottish Politics

8 responses to “Iconic Caledonian battle of Mons Graupius located.

  1. neilfutureboy

    Geological features? “God doesn’t do straight lines” from the film Prometheus


  2. Pingback: Mons Graupius and #Indyref | Scottish Independent People

  3. Pingback: Climategate, Mons Graupius and #indyref | ScottishSceptic

  4. Neil, just as in the arena of climate, as soon as you are classified as “an outsider” you are categorised as “knowing nothing” and “denying” the authority of the academic establishment.

    As such I think they intentionally or otherwise, found themselves looking for reasons to reject the evidence.

    I’ve no doubt that if some learned professor had done the same as me – there would have been a grant in the post within days if not hours. But as an outsider they cannot believe I could possibly find anything of importance.

    Sounds familiar?


    • neilfutureboy

      An anecdote – at the Satellite 4 (UK Easter Science fiction Con) Dame Jocelyn Burnet Bell held a small discussion at which the question, would she have got the Nobel (her bosses did but she didn’t) if she had been researching independently rather than as their PHD student when she discovered quasars.

      “I wouldn’t even have got published”

      Liked by 1 person

      • That is a very good example and shows why I think much of “science” is going to the dogs. It’s not the quality of research – it’s who you are that seems to be all that matters.

        That is what is so different about “skeptical science” – for a skeptic, the evidence counts not the person. So, e.g. you will see a skeptic versus non-skeptic argument go like this:

        Skeptic – the facts are A.B.C
        Non-Skeptic – You can’t deny the writings of C.D.E
        Skeptic – the facts are A.B.C
        Non-sceptic – you are a F.U.C …


  5. Pingback: Climategate, Mons Graupius and #indyref | Scottish Sceptic

  6. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s