Just to be clear, if you visit this site you will see a big field with a few slight earthworks. Furthermore the treeline makes it difficult to appreciate the fort’s setting as the River is obscured from view. However, what is immediately obvious is the scale of the fortress - the huge facility would have dominated the entire field. Had the fort remained in operation, there would probably have been a city here now.
NO OFFICIAL SITE
Controlling the Highlands. Inchtuthil, with its mobile force of 5,000+ infantry, was at the centre of a chain of forts and watch-towers designed to contain hostile forces. Many of the 800,000 unused nails found at the site were probably destined for new forts as Roman forces extended their grip on Aberdeenshire and beyond.
Inchtuthil Layout. 64 barracks provided accommodation for the soldiers whilst a hospital, multiple storehouse and workshops supported broader military functions. The Commanding Officer’s house and some for the Tribunes were not completed before the fort was abandoned.
Inchtuthil Roman Fort
Notes: The fort is on a private estate and there are no signposts or parking facilities. A number of farm tracks lead to the site but CastlesFortsBattles.co.uk cannot comment on the legality of using them nor on use of the on-road parking option shown above.
1. The massive hoard of Iron nails discovered in 1959 at Inchtuthil has unfortunately been destroyed. The archaeological team were unable to handle so many nails and they were 'recycled' at the DALZELL steelworks in Motherwell.so the nails were buried before the site was burnt and then abandoned.
Inchtuthil Legionary Fortress was key to Roman’s military operations in northern Scotland. Home to the Twentieth Legion, it was positioned at the centre of a networks of forts that were intended to encircled and contain the tribes of the Scottish Highlands. Roman military re-deployments saw it abandoned after only five years of use.
HISTORY OF INCHTUTHIL ROMAN LEGIONARY FORTRESS
Inchtuthil, known to the Romans as Pinnata Castra, was probably established on the orders of General Gnaeus Julius Agricola around the time of Roman victory at the Battle of Mons Graupius in AD 83/4. Built and garrisoned by the Twentieth Legion (Legio XX Valeria Victrix), originally based in Wroxeter, it conformed to the traditional Roman design - a rectangular enclosure with rounded corners and gateways on each length. The curtain wall was initially earth and timber but was upgraded into a stone fronted earth bank over 4 metres thick. In front was a single 'V' shaped ditch approximate 2 metres deep and 6 metres wide. The site enclosed 53 acres - comparable to the Legionary fortresses at Caerleon and York which were the bases of the Second and Ninth Legions respectively. The location was also similar to the latter, it was positioned inland but on a navigable waterway (the River Tay) enabling easy resupply by vessels of the Classis Britannica (the British arm of the Roman Navy). General Agricola was well acquainted with York (he had overseen significant upgrades to the facility in the AD 80s) and it is likely this had influenced his decision to establish the fortress at the chosen location.
Conquest and Control of Northern Scotland
Inchtuthil was part of a complex military laydown designed to contain the Highland massif. The Battle of Mons Graupius had seen Agricola defeat a large force - possibly as much as 30,000 strong - raised from across a confederation of northern tribes which, according to a contemporary account by the historian Tacticus (Agicola's son-in-law), was headed by Calgacus. With such a significant defeat in open battle, the Caledonian tribes could now be expected to shift their tactics towards insurgency to which the isolated glens of Highland Scotland would have been well suited. Inchtuthil - along with the associated network of forts, roads and watchtowers - was built against this backdrop.
An experienced military commander who had served in Britain during the Boudica rebellion and witnessed extensive operations to subdue and conquer tribes of Wales and Northern England, Agricola was well aware fighting within the Highlands would require a costly and protracted campaign which favoured the Caledonians. Instead he adopted a different strategy seeking to isolate and encircle the Highlands from the rich agricultural land in Aberdeenshire and Moray. This was achieved by:
1. Securing the Clyde-Forth isthmus. Agricola secured his advance by consolidating along the Clyde-Forth isthmus seemingly building many of the forts that would later be re-occupied and incorporated into the Antonine Wall almost sixty years later. Strong evidence suggests Balmuildy, Cadder, Camelon, Castlecary, Mumrils and Old Kilpatrick forts were all founded at this time.
2. Glen Blocker system. The rough terrain of northern Scotland funnelled movement in and out of the Highland massif through a number of glens. In each of these a fort, manned by an auxiliary garrison, was stationed to ensure all movement could be supervised. These forts were established at Drumquhassle, Callander (Bochastle), Dalginross and Fendoch.
3. Gask Ridge Frontier. A frontier was established between the two great rivers the backbone of which was a Roman Road running from Camelon, north-west to Doune and then north-east towards Aberdeenshire. This included a chain of forts (including Doune and Ardoch) augmented by watchtowers and fortlets. A section of this frontier ran along a ridge of high ground running east-west which was the recipient of significant number of watchtowers - the so-called Gask Ridge. The frontier ended at Stracathro in Angus but had Roman occupation continued, construction of new facilities would probably had continued until the Romans had completely encircled all land access into the Highlands.
4. Twentieth Legion at Inchtuthil. Whilst the forts and fortlets along the frontier provided sufficient troops to deal with minor issues, any major incursion would be dealt with the Legion's 5000+ strong force of heavy infantry. This significant fighting force was centrally located along the frontier from their fortress at Inchtuthil.
The Roman approach in Northern Scotland was probably similar to the operations previously conducted further south - containment by encirclement and then establish control over food supplies. Had the Roman operation in Perthshire, Angus and Grampian continued the Roman conquest of Scotland would have become entrenched. However events in central Europe were to take precedence and, judging by coin discoveries at the site, Inchtuthil was abandoned as a military base sometime during the period AD 87-90. This conforms to our knowledge of Roman military dispositions as at this time 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) in AD 86/7. The withdrawal of the integrated 5,000+ man Legionary force would have been matched by a drawdown of associated auxiliary regiments and accordingly the new Governor of the province, Sallustius Lucullus, had the unenviable job of scaling back the military operations. With insurgency in the Pennines and Wales, the Twentieth Legion was relocated to Chester (Deva) leaving the Ninth as the northern most force at York. This made Scotland untenable and accordingly the Romans commenced a staged withdrawal towards the Solway-Tyne isthmus. By AD 100 their Stanegate Road between Corbridge and Carlisle had become the new frontier - this would be entrenched as Hadrian's Wall in AD 122.
Inchtuthil had been occupied for around five years and seems to have been largely complete by this time it was abandoned with only the Praetorium (the Commanding Officer's House) and some of the accommodation for the Tribunes not yet completed. The speed of establishing the fortress is a testament to the efficiency, logistical prowess and industrial capability of the Roman military machine. In infrastructure terms the fortress was a town and for the Romans to establish it at this remote plain in the north of Scotland in just a matter of a few years is remarkable - production today would take much longer! The industrial achievement is perhaps best emphasised by the archaeological discovered in 1959 of a huge cache of Roman nails - in excess of 800,000 - ranging from small nails a few centimetres long to larger spikes used for the timber joints on the defensive arrangements. These were new, unused nails manufactured here presumably for use elsewhere - perhaps on the ongoing work to extend the forts and watchtowers of the Glen Blocker and Gask Ridge systems further north. The weight of the nails was in excess of 10 tons almost certainly explaining why they were not taken south with the Legion. Iron however was highly prized by the northern tribes - for its obvious weapon making properties - and so the nails were buried before the site was burnt and then abandoned.