No masonry remains are visible at Ardoch but the earthworks remains are superb - some of the best visible. It is also worth the short walk (or drive) to Blackhill camps to see the (less drmataic) earthwork remains of third century earthworks associated with Roman marching camps.
Blackhill Camp grounds are owned and managed by Historic Scotland. Ardoch fort has no website.
Ardoch Roman Fort. Ardoch was positioned between Doune and Strageath Roman Forts on the Roman Road that marked the Forth-Tay frontier and led to the rich agricultural lands of North East Scotland. To the West the Glen Blocker forts controlled each access point out of the Highland massif whilst the Twentieth Legion, at Inchtuthil, were well placed to deploy as required to any emerging threat. Agricola also built a line of forts along the narrow stretch of land between the Rivers Clyde and Forth to contain any threat to the newly conquered South Scotland.
Roman Camps Ardoch and Blackhill. The strategic location was re-used by the Romans during numerous campaigns. Aside from the fort (dated with confidence to the Agricola and Antonine periods), the largest of two marching camps has been dated to Septimius Severus campaigns of AD 208/9. The remaining camps/annexes - there seem to be at least six - are harder to date with certainty.
Notes: Ardoch fort itself is found just north of the small village of Braco (if arriving from the South pass through the village and over the Bridge). No signs but fort can be found directly adjacent to the main road. A lay-by approximately 100 metres further on offers parking for a few cars.
1. After the abandonment of Scotland, the garrison of Ardoch Roman Fort - the First Cohort of Spaniards (Cohors I Primae Hispanorum equitata) - was relocated to Maryport in Cumbria.
Ardoch Roman Fort
Blackhill Ramparts. The surviving ramparts of one of the marching camps at Blackhill. This was probably built by the army of Emperor Septimius Severus in the early third century AD.
Occupying a key strategic route through Perthshire and into North East Scotland, the site of Ardoch Fort regularly hosted a Roman military presence in the first to third centuries AD. The fort itself was rebuilt twice whilst Emperor Severus built a vast marching camp here for an army over 30,000 men strong.
HISTORY OF ARDOCH ROMAN FORT AND BLACKHILL CAMPS
The Roman conquest of Britannia, started by Emperor Claudius in AD 43, had taken longer than anyone expected. Rebellion and resistance, particularly in Wales and Northern England, had tied down military resources for decades. Accordingly it wasn't until the late AD 70s that Roman forces were ready to penetrate into modern day Scotland. By this time the Governor of Britannia was Gnaeus Julius Agricola - an experienced military commander with extensive knowledge of the province having served there during the Boudica revolt (AD 60). His first years were spent in campaigns against the Welsh and the Brigantes tribe (Northern England) but by AD 80 he invaded deep into Scotland proceeding along the East coast as far as the River Tay. As the Romans advanced they would have passed through the site of the later Ardoch Fort - a key strategic route towards the North East of Scotland - and it was probably at this time the that first of at least six marching camps was built.
Roman marching camps were used by the army as a means of penetrating deep into hostile territory. Roman tactical thinking assumed that any enemy could be defeated in the field by the superior training and equipment of the Legionaries but, like any regular army, they were vulnerable to unconventional attack particularly at night. The defence to this was the marching camp - a makeshift fortification that could be dug by the soldiers in a few hours at the end of a day's march. A ditch, perhaps only 1 metre deep and 2 metres wide, provided spoil for a rampart. This was then topped with stakes - the Legionary marching equipment included two per soldier - which were lashed together to form caltrops. The camp would be a configured into a 'playing card' shape although, unlike their forts, this was regularly modified to suit the local terrain. Within the enclosure the same layout of tents would be used each time enabling every soldier to know where they were accommodated and, more importantly, where their station was in the event of attack. A significant gap between ramparts and the tents enabled a mustering area and ensured the accommodation was out of range of any projectiles thrown over the ramparts. There were no gateways but entrances to the camp were protected by an additional earthwork. The net effect of these defences was a not a camp impenetrable to attack - but one that would slow an enemy down sufficiently for the Romans to form up in battle order and defeat them. Using such techniques the Romans could advance their armies into enemy territory.
Over the following two years (AD 81-2) Agricola consolidated his advance on the Clyde/Forth isthmus establishing many of the forts later rebuilt for the Antonine Wall whilst concurrently eliminating resistance in Southern Scotland. But by AD 83 he was ready to move north again against the Caledonian tribes who had formed themselves into a confederation headed by Calgacus to repel the invaders. Possibly building another marching camp near Ardoch on his way north, Agricola engaged and defeated Calgacus' force at the Battle of Mons Graupius. With every expectation that the defeated Caledonians would now shift tactics to guerrilla strikes from the comparative safety of the Highland massif, construction started on a militarised frontier aimed at separating this vast geographical area from Fife and the land in the East. The spine of this new frontier was a new Roman Road that ran from Camelon on the Clyde/Forth line, via Doune and then north-east towards Aberdeenshire passing by the new Legionary fortress at Inchtuthil - the base of the Twentieth Legion who forced the standing expeditionary army in the north. For day-to-day policing and security duties though forts, fortlets and watchtowers were built along the road's length including an unusually dense concentration of the latter along a ten mile ridge of high ground running east/west near modern day Perth - now christened the Gask Ridge frontier. Ardoch was established as a permanent fort around this time positioned between Doune Fort (on the River Teith) and Strageath Fort (at the start of the Gask Ridge). Known to the Romans as Alauna Veniconum, this fort housed a 500 strong detachment with some evidence suggesting this was the First Cohort of Spaniards (Cohors I Primae Hispanorum equitata) - a part mounted, part infantry Auxiliary regiment. Both the defensive rampart and the internal structures were timber. A signal station linked it to a communication network that extended along the frontier to Inchtuthil.
In AD 86 Rome shifted from a four to three Legion policy for Britannia with the Second Adiutrix Legion (Legio II Adiutrix Pia Fidelis) redeployed to Dacia (modern day Moldova). With the removal of the 5,000+ man Legionary force plus a large number of supporting Auxiliary regiments, sustaining an occupation of Northern Scotland was no longer viable. The Romans commenced a phased withdrawal to the Solway-Tyne isthmus which was eventually consolidated into Hadrian's Wall in AD 122. Ardoch was abandoned as part of this general drawdown.
Emperor Hadrian died in AD 138 and his successor, Antoninus Pius, was not content to leave the Roman frontier on the Solway/Tyne line. Even after decades of retrenchment, the Roman policy of imperium sine fine - empire without limits - was a popular concept. The Romans advanced back to the Clyde/Forth isthmus and built the Antonine Wall re-using many of the forts of Agricola's campaigns from the AD 80s. Although north of the Wall, Ardoch was rebuilt at this time albeit it was reduced in size; the fort was scaled back on its northern side with the earlier earthworks being incorporated into the complex system of defensive ditches seen today. The fort acted as an outpost similar to the role performed by Bewcastle, High Rochester and Risingham north of Hadrian's Wall. But the Roman presence in Scotland was once again short-lived - by AD 160 they withdrew back to Hadrian's Wall and Ardoch was again abandoned.
In AD 208 the Romans once again advanced into Northern Scotland under the personal direction of Emperor Septimius Severus. He was responding to a request from the Governor of Britannia for military aid against raids from north of Hadrian's Wall. The Emperor responded on a significant scale arriving with an army possibly as large as 50,000 men strong. Advancing north of the Wall he campaigned against the Maetae of Southern Scotland and the Caledonians of the Highlands. During his tenure he re-established many of the Clyde-Forth forts and advanced towards the River Tay. Near Ardoch a marching camp - some 131 acres in size (compared to a permanent Legionary base of just 50 acres) - was established. The war petered out as Severus' forces suffered extensively at the hands of guerrilla raids with a peace treaty concluded in AD 209. The death of the Emperor in AD 211 (at York) brought hostilities to a close as his heirs, Caracalla and Geta, were more interested in securing the succession. The end of their operation marked the final Roman use of this key strategic site.