Full text: Agricola by Tactitus
(Note I’ve updated the language slightly)
We usually think of independence from a European super-state as being a very modern struggle. But 2000 years ago, the people of Scotland were engaged in the same struggle against the might of the then European superstate: the Romans.
For reasons which are not well understood, the Roman advance came to a stop in Scotland, not as many would believe at the later and better known border of Hadrian’s wall but at the Forth Clyde line which for a time became one of the most heavily fortified locations in the Roman World with a wall of turf perhaps 12foot high stretching from coast to coast. Today all we can see is the massive ditch – which even 2millennium of infill has not diminished in scale even if the depth is now much less.
However why did Rome resort to building this wall? The reason was the Caledonian revolt of around 83AD. As was normal for the Romans – there was a pretext for their invasion as there had been trouble as far as the Tay which had been ravaged.
And like the EU superstate – the Romans seized the advantage to gain control and preceded northwards, first to the Forth-Clyde line which was initially fortified by a line of Forts and then further North.
Here the famous Ninth Legion was almost overpowered by the Caledonians somewhere north of the Tay and likely very roughly somewhere around Forfar and south of the Highland fault line (although the exact location still needs to be determined).
Finally in 83 or perhaps 84AD, the Romans advanced north as shown by a series of encampments heading in the general direction of Elgin. Then somewhere in sight of the sea, there was fought the Battle of Mons Graupius. Described by the Roman writer Tacitus as a huge victory for the Romans – but as the Romans then retreated and there is little evidence they ever came back – it seems that perhaps the ultimate victory was with the Caledonians who pushed them back, first to the Antonine wall and finally to Hadrians wall – which to a large part can be credited with creating the political boundary that formed modern Scotland.
The ancestor “declaration of independence”
When I look at the declaration of Arbroath I see the same language and ideas being used. This shows that the ideas within the declaration of “freedom for the whole of Britain” still resonated with Scots some 1200 years later. And then in turn that declaration of Arbroath was used by the Scottish contributors to the US declaration of independence (almost certainly also drawing on Calgacus’ speech) – when the US was also seeking its own freedom from the UK “superstate”. This was then in turn was then used throughout the world as a template for the freedom of other nations.
So, in a real sense, the ideas of freedom from repression from the superstate in Calgacus’ speech are still with us today, and this is the granddaddy of them all, for whilst there were other British freedom fighters like Boadicea from what we know of their speeches, they fought for their own freedom and not for “all of Britain” (link)
Yes, the US is proud of their declaration of independence, but we Scots did it first. For not only is the declaration of Arbroath the father of the US declaration and by inference the grandfather of many others, but the great daddy of them all was Calgacus’ brexit speech 2000 years ago.