Built as part of Rome’s northernmost frontier, Rough Castle was a small earth and timber fort on the Antonine Wall. Only occupied for around twenty years it was seemingly attacked around AD 155 and, when the Romans re-established the frontier on Hadrian’s Wall in the AD 160s, the fort was abandoned.
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Rough Castle consists of earthworks of the fort and the associated annexe along with impressive remains of the Antonine Wall including ditch, rampart and the Military Way. Also visible are defensive pits, lilias, situated in vicinity of the fort’s north gate. Strong footwear is recommended as the site does get muddy even in the Summer months.
Rough Roman Fort. Layout and position of Rough Castle and its annexe.
Ditch. Defensive ditches surrounded the fort and annexe.
View North. In Roman times the fort had an unrestricted view north but today tress limited visibility.
Antonine Wall. Rough Castle was an outpost on the Antonine Wall. Some of the most impressive surviving sections of that frontier are adjacent to the fort.
Rough Castle is well sign-posted and has a dedicated car park which is accessed via Bonnyside Road.
In AD 43 the Romans invaded the south coast of England and, during the course of the subsequent 40 years, fought their way up the island culminating in the Battle of Mons Graupius in AD 83. Roman control of both England and Scotland seemed assured until the Roman army suffered serious military defeats on the Danube in Romania, forcing the reallocation of one of the four Legions based in Britannia. This significant reduction in available forces led to the Romans withdrawing to the Solway/Tyne isthmus where they famously built Hadrian's Wall from AD 122 onwards. But in AD 138 Emperor Hadrian died and his successor, Antoninus Pius, needed a military victory to secure his position. Accordingly he sent his Legions north to occupy what is now Southern Scotland and established a new frontier on the narrow neck of land between the Clyde and the Forth. Here the Antonine Wall was built in the years following AD 142 running from Bo'ness to Old Kilpatrick. Although the original intent was only to build seven forts along the new frontier - spaced around 8 miles apart as had been the norm on Hadrian’s Wall - this plan was modified before construction on the frontier had completed. At least a further eleven outposts, referred to a secondary forts, were added along the line reducing the distance between each installation to an average of approximately 2 miles. Rough was one of these additional forts.
Rough Castle (the Latin name is unknown) was a relatively small fort. Constructed to the standard Roman playing card design the defences were only ever built in earth and timber and, unlike many of the forts along Hadrian's Wall, it did not straddle the Wall. Accordingly only the North Gate provided access north of the frontier and this was well defended; the road through the gate angled sharply to the right and the front pits were dug (known as Lilias) filled with wooden tipped spikes. The fort housed around 500 Roman Auxiliaries and was garrisoned by the Sixth Cohort of Nervians (Cohors VI Nerviorum), an infantry unit recruited from North East France.
An interesting feature visible at Rough Castle, and typical of Antonine Wall defences in general, was a system of annexes; a defensive enclosure outside but adjacent to the fort. This seems to have acted as a more localised version of the Vallum seen on Hadrian's Wall and created a dedicated and relatively secure ‘military only’ area for recreation, storage and perhaps training purposes. Rough Castle had one such enclosure, directly to the west of the fort in which the Bath House was situated. The Military Road, which connected all the forts along the Antonine Wall, ran to the south.
Little is known about the period of the fort's occupation. Some archaeological evidence points to fighting in the area around AD 155 and at Rough Castle in particular there is evidence of destruction by fire around this time. Furthermore coins were minted in AD 154/5 celebrating a major victory in Britannia. Along with the rest of the Antonine Wall, the site was abandoned in circa-AD 162 (possibly even several years before) when the Romans withdrew back to Hadrian's Wall. Whilst future emperors, most notably Septimus Severus, fought in Scotland the frontier was never again moved north.
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