Scotlands History

Caledonii

The Romans called the tribes of the north the ‘Caledones’ or ‘Caledonii’ and named their land ‘Caledonia’. The Roman historian Tacitus tells us that the inhabitants of Caledonia had ‘red hair and large limbs’; they were a fierce people that were quick to fight when they first saw the Roman invaders.

'The tribes inhabiting Caledonia flew to arms, and with great preparations, made greater by the rumours which always exaggerate the unknown, themselves advanced to attack our fortresses…’

Tacitus, Life of Cnaeus Julius Agricola, c AD 98

To the Romans they were the dangerous barbarians that lived beyond the Roman frontier. Roman historians simply named all the tribes in this unknown land ‘Caledonii’.

The Caledonians fiercely resisted the Roman invaders. They spoke a different language than the tribes of Britons to the south, kept their separate identity, and were not easily subdued. In AD 142 the Romans built the Antonine Wall from the Forth to the Clyde to try to stop them from disturbing the peace of the Empire.

In AD 310 Roman sources spoke of ‘the woods and marshes of the Caledones and other Picts.’


  • Illustration of a warrior, blue tattoes on his chest, and holding a small shield and a spear
  • A photograph of large brass armlets

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Listen to the chronicles of the historian Tacitus on the Roman general Agricola's invasion of Britain.