Scotlands History

Mons Graupius

A detailed account of a fateful battle between the Caledonians and Romans has come down to us from Tacitus, the Roman historian and son-in-law of the governor of Britain, Julius Agricola.

…men and horses were carried along in confusion together, while chariots, destitute of guidance, and terrified horses without drivers, dashed as panic urged them… the earth reeked with blood.

By AD 80 the tribes of Britons south of the Forth and Clyde had been subdued, but those to the north were harder to tame and they threatened the Roman peace - the ‘Pax Romana’.

Agricola advanced to the River Tay and a legionary fortress was built at Inchtuthil, north of Perth. In AD 83, 5000 professional soldiers from the formidable Ninth Legion faced down 30,000 Caledonians in a pitched battle at 'Mons Graupius'. The location of Mons Graupius is contested. Among the possible sites is Bennachie in Aberdeenshire.

Caledonian chariot charges and individual acts of courage were no match for the disciplined Roman army; Tacitus tells us that the battle was won by well-trained auxiliary forces, with the legion held in reserve.

The Roman historian Tacitus wrote a poetic speech for Calgacus, leader of the Caledonian army, saying ‘Solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant’ - the Romans ‘make a desert and call it peace’.


  • A photograph of a sandstone distance slab that was found at the east end of the Antonine wall
  • Illustration of a large fort with many buildings and some large open areas

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


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


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Celtic war horns

Listen to Celtic war horns, used to terrify the Roman invaders.