Friday, 2 April 2010


If we could see in a magic mirror the country now
called Scotland as it was when the Romans under
Agricola(81 A.D.) crossed the Border, we should
recognise little but the familiar hills and mountains.
The rivers, in the plains, overflowed their present
banks; dense forests of oak and pine, haunted by
great red deer, elks, and boars, covered land
that has long been arable.  There were lakes and
lagoons where for centuries there have been fields
of corn. On the oldest sites of our towns were
groups of huts made of clay and wattle, and
dominated, perhaps, by the large stockaded
house of the tribal prince.  In the lochs, natural
islands, or artificial islets made of piles (crannogs),
afforded standing-ground and protection
to villages, if indeed these lake-dwellings are
earlier in Scotland than the age of war that
followed the withdrawal of the Romans.The
natives were far beyond the savage stage of culture.
  They lived in an age of iron tools and weapons and
of wheeled vehicles; and were in what is called the Late
Celtic condition of art and culture, familiar to us from
beautiful objects in bronze work, more commonly
found in Ireland than in Scotland, and from the oldest
Irish romances and poems.

In these "epics" the manners much resemble those
described by Homer.  Like his heroes, the men in the
Cuchullain sagas fight from light chariots,drawn by
two ponies, and we know that so fought the tribes in
Scotland encountered by Agricola the Roman
General (81-85 A.D.)  It is even said in the Irish epics
that Cuchullain learned his chariotry in _Alba_--that
is, in our Scotland. {2}  The warriors had "mighty limbs
and flaming hair," says Tacitus.  Their weapons were
heavy iron swords, in bronze sheaths beautifully
decorated, and iron-headed spears; they had large
round bronze-studded shields, and battle-axes.  The
dress consisted of two upper garments: first, the smock,
of linen or other fabric--in battle, often of tanned hides
of animals,--and the mantle, or plaid, with its brooch.
Golden torques and heavy gold bracelets were worn by the
chiefs; the women had bronze ornaments with brightly
coloured enamelled decoration.

Agriculture was practised, and corn was ground in the
circular querns of stone, of which the use so long
survived.  The women span and wove the
gay smocks and darker cloaks of the warriors.

Of the religion, we only know that it was a form
of polytheism; that sacrifices were made, and that
Druids existed; they were soothsayers, magicians,
perhaps priests, and were attendant on kings.

Such were the people in Alba whom we can
dimly descry around Agricola's fortified frontier
between the firths of Forth and Clyde, about
81-82A.D.  When Agricola pushed north of the
Forth and Tay he still met men who had
considerable knowledge of the art of war.  In
his battle at Mons Graupius (perhaps at the
junction of Isla and Tay), his cavalry had the
better of the native chariotry in the plain; and
the native infantry, descending from their position
on the heights, were attacked by his
horsemen in their attempt to assail his rear.
But they were swift of foot, the woods sheltered
and the hills defended them.  He made no more
effectual pursuit than Cumberland did at Culloden.

More to follow.........

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