I’ve been very surprised that no one seems to mentioned this really important speech by the first Briton of Scotland to have their words recorded almost 2000 years ago. So, I thought I would introduce it to you and have reproduced the first section in full below. In it, Calgacus, a Caledonian (who probably lived somewhere near Inverness) is addressing his troops before the Battle of Mons Graupius fought against the Roman aggressor (or perhaps as we might now call them “EU”).
To set the scene. It is 83 or 84AD. For just over a century, the Romans had been steadily moving north, first through Gaul (France) and then through Britain enslaving whole populations. Not long before this battle, the Romans had brutally treated Boudica raping her daughters causing the Icenii revolt. And this Roman brutality was not reserved only for Britain. Like their treatment of the Icenii, in Palestine, the Romans had brutally killed or enslaved the whole population when they had risen up against them.
Now this horror had come to Northern Britain, driving before them a stream of refugees from the Roman empire who could recount these horrors in graphic details. Finally, they had reached Caledonia: literally “the last of the free”. And this was the last battle for British freedom, a huge battle and with some 50,000 combatants it is still arguably the largest battle on Scottish soil.
The Caledonian heartland was probably the fertile wheat growing plains of the Moray Firth. At first the Caledonians union had ventured out to confront the Romans, winning many victories and almost wiping out the Ninth Legion at a site near Brechin. But as the line of 1st century marching camps heading toward Elgin shows, the tables had been turned and now three Roman legions had pursed them back to their heartland.
From the speech we know this site was somewhere in view of the sea. So, we can imagine the Caledonians, on a hill defending their territory (like Quarrelwood Hill beside Elgin which at the time was the only Road into Caledonia). Here some 30,000 people had formed a Union to stand up to the Roman army. Now with this union was in what was possibly its last fight, with the Roman army at their front a few miles across the level plain and the Roman fleet at their back on the sea behind them.
And this is what Calgacus said:
“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 desert and call it peace.”
For more info on Mons Graupius see mons-graupius.co.uk