A FIGHT WITH THE ROMANS
When the Scots first came to Albion, they found it
already peopled by the Britons, and by another race
called the Picts. It is not certain from where these
Picts came, but they were a very wild and fierce people.
It is supposed that they were called Picts, from the Latin
word pictus, which means painted, because they painted
their bodies instead of wearing clothes.
So there were three races living in Scotland, and these
were divided into many tribes who often fought with each
other. There were kings of Scots, kings of Picts, and
kings of Britons, all ruling in Albion. Sometimes the
kings and their peoples all fought against each other ;
sometimes the Picts and the Scots joined together against
the Britons. Those were fierce and wild times, and they
were all fierce and wild peoples. They lived in caves, or
in holes dug in the ground and covered over with turf
and with branches of trees. They wore few clothes
except those made from the skins of animals, although
the Scots knew how to weave and make cloth in bright
coloured checks and stripes.
A great part of the country was covered with forests.
In these forests wild beasts prowled about. Bears, wolves,
wild boars, bisons, and a kind of tiger, were the fiercest,
but there were also several kinds of deer, beavers, and
6 SCOTLAND’S STORY
many other animals which are no longer to be found in
The people hunted these animals and killed them for
food, and also for their skins, of which they made clothes.
In hunting they used bows and arrows. Bows and
arrows were used too in war, as well as a long, blunt,
heavy spear. And in hunting and fighting the men
spent nearly all their time.
Years went on. Many kings, good and bad, lived,
and ruled, and died, and at last a great and clever people
called the Romans heard of the island of Britain, and
came sailing over the sea to conquer it. They landed
first in the south of the island and tried to conquer the
people there, and it was not until the year 80 a.d., more
than a hundred years after the Romans first came to
Britain, that a general called Agricola marched into
Scotland against the Caledonians, as the Romans called
all the tribes who lived in the north part of the island.
Agricola took some of his soldiers into Scotland by
land. Others sailed there in great galleys, as the Roman
ships were called. The Caledonians did not fear the
Roman soldiers. They had already fought against them
many times, for they had often marched into the south of
the island to help the Britons against the Romans. ‘ They
were willing,’ says an old writer, ‘ to help towards the de
livery of the land from the bondage of the Romans, whose
nestling so near their noses they were loth to see or hear of.’
But if the Caledonians did not fear the soldiers, the
great galleys of the Romans filled them with awe and
dread. Never before had they seen so many nor such
great ships. ‘ The very ocean is given over to our
enemies,’ they said. ‘ How shall we save ourselves from
these mighty conquerors who thus surround us on every
A FIGHT WITH THE ROMANS 7
But although the Caledonians were filled with dread,
they fought bravely. As Agricola marched northward
by the coast, his galleys followed him on the sea. Some
times the galleys would come close to the shore, and the
sailors would land and join the soldiers in the camp.
There they would tell stories to each other of the battles
and dangers, of the storms and adventures, through which
they had passed, each trying to make the others believe
that their adventures had been the most exciting, their
dangers the greatest.
The Caledonians fought fiercely, but Agricola’s soldiers
were far better trained, and gradually he drove the
islanders before him into the mountains beyond the
rivers Forth and Clyde. There he built a line of forts.
He knew that he had neither conquered nor subdued the
fierce Caledonians. So he built this line of forts in order
to cut them off from the south, and shut them, as it were,
into another island.
Having built this line of forts, Agricola marched still
farther north. But the Caledonians fought so fiercely
that some of the Roman leaders begged Agricola to turn
back. Agricola would not go back, but as the winter
was near, and the roads were so bad as to be almost
impassable, he encamped and waited for the spring before
fighting any more.
The Caledonians spent the winter in making prepara
tions for battle. All the various tribes forgot their quarrels
and joined together under a leader called Galgacus. Send
ing their wives and children to a safe place, the men,
young and old, from far and near, flocked to Galgacus
eager to fight for their country.
When spring came and the roads were once more
passable, the Romans left their camp and marched north
ward, seeking the Caledonians. They met, it is thought,
8 SCOTLAND’S STORY
somewhere upon the slopes of the Grampian hills, but
no one is sure of the exact spot.
The Caledonians were little more than savages, yet
they were ready to fight to the last for their country.
They were almost naked. They wore no armour and
carried only small shields. For weapons they had bows
and arrows, blunt iron swords and heavy spears. Those
in the centre of the army were mounted upon rough little
horses, and there too were gathered the war chariots with
swords upon the wheels ready to dash among the enemy
and cut them down.
Against these savage warriors came the splendid
soldiers of the Roman Empire, clad in glittering coats
of mail, armed with swords and spears of sharpened steel,
every man among them trained to obey, to fight, and
As the Caledonians stood ready for battle, Galgacus
made a speech to them. ‘ Fight today,’ he said, ‘ for the
liberty of Albion. We have never been slaves, and if we
would not now become the slaves of these proud Romans
there is nothing left to us but to fight and die. We are
at the farthest limits of land and liberty. There is no
land behind us to which we may flee. There is nothing
but the waves and rocks and the Romans in their ships.
These plunderers of the world having taken all the land,
now claim the seas, so that even if we fly to the sea there
is no safety from them. They kill and slay, and take
what is not theirs, and call it Empire. They make a
desert and call it Peace. Our children, our wives, and
all who are dear to us, are torn from us, our lands and
goods are destroyed. Let this day decide if such things
we are to suffer for ever or revenge instantly. March
then to battle. Think of your children and of the freedom
which was your fathers’, and win it again, or die.’
A FIGHT WITH THE ROMANS 9
When Galgacus had finished speaking, the Caledonians
answered with great shouts and songs, then with their
chariots and horsemen they rushed upon the Romans.
Fiercely the battle began, fiercely it raged. The Cale
donians fought with splendid courage, but what could
half-naked savages do against the steel-clad warriors of
Rome ? When night fell, ten thousand Caledonians lay
dead upon the field. The Romans had won the victory.
All through the night could be heard the desolate cries
of sorrow and despair, as women moved over the battle-
field seeking their dead, and helping the wounded. All
through the night the sky was red with the light of fires.
But in the morning the country far and near was empty
and silent, and the villages were smoking ruins. Not a
Caledonian was to be seen. They had burned their homes
and fled away to hide among the mountains.
Agricola, knowing that it would be useless to try to
follow them through the dark forest and hills, turned and
marched southward again beyond his line of forts. A few
months later he was called back to Rome.
Agricola had been four years in Scotland, and when he
left it the people were still unconquered.
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