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When I was reading about the Battle of Mons Graupius, a question occurred to me. Why didn't the Romans ever completely conquer Scotland? Was it a question simply of not having enough men to hold the territory, or did they feel that the cost wouldn't equal the gain? Certainly they were in a position to do it more than a few times. Agricola's campaign in the early 80's CE, Septimius Severus' campaign in the early 200's CE, or even when Antoninus Pius advanced the frontier to the Forth-Clyde line & built the Antonine Wall all come to mind. Why wasn't there an effort to hold Northern Scotland? I understand that the garrison of Britain was sometimes used as reinforcements for elsewhere in the empire. However, wouldn't it have been as cost effective to hold all of the land in Northern Scotland & free up the troops from defending either Hadrian's or Antonine's Wall? I know this may be an impossible question to answer, but I'm interested in hearing ideas as to why they never held onto Scotland. Gratias Tibi!
Great question. My view is that it was simply a risk - reward trade off. The risk was too high and the rewards were too low.

If you do a search you will find this is a popular topic.
Here is an old one: Defeating Alba.
Here is a more recent one: Britain. This thread also has a link to a good article titled "Why did the Romans fail to conquer Scotland?"
For a more specific issue on this topic there is Agricola's Northern Campaign.
Risks corelate with rewards, i.e. the two concepts are not independent (to run a risk for no reward is not rational; not to run a risk for a great reward is also not rational). The risk threshold, when a risk worth running, is set once the rewards are in focus. So I think the romans never tried to conquer scotland because the rewards were too low.
They hadn't invented whiskey or golf yet, so it's pretty much worthless! Remember, the northernmost outpost of the Roman army was Victoria at Inchtuthil, Scotland, and built by Legio XX. Apparently there was a change of emperors and the new guy decided to move the legion back south again--just BEFORE they finished building their new fortress! Talk about pissed...

Somebody told them about haggis.
Quote:Somebody told them about haggis.
Mmmmm ... haggis. :wink:
According to Tacitus, they did! (they just gave it up again...). Perhaps the question should not be why they didn't conquer it, but why they didn't occupy what they had (arguably) conquered. All the above points stand - there's also another, from the Breeze article David mentioned: Roman dominance worked mainly through local elites, established towns and cities, local currencies and trade networks. All of these were in place in southern Britain before the Roman arrival. Even the Brigantes in the north had a monarchic structure and cities. Further north, though, this sort of structure doesn't seem to have existed - no coinage, no kings of mention (only 'leaders' like Calgacus or Argentocoxus), and no cities (Ptolemy gives a number of settlements in Venicones and Taexali territory, probably Roman forts or bases. No settlements are given for the Caledonians, although this might be for lack of information.) If the Caledonians - or whatever federation they might have represented - were more of a loose tribal assembly than a 'nation', Roman-style rule would have involved building civilisation from the ground up. With no obvious wealth or trade as a payoff for this, it's hard to see why they would have made such an effort. All the Romans wanted from the Caledonians was non-intervention - so long as they stayed in Caledonia, up to their nostrils in bogwater, and didn't bother the more settled peoples to the south, Rome was happy to ignore them. Tribes like the Votadini and Selgovae (who seem to have had towns at least) could act as effective buffer states between the province and the unruly north.

In fact, aside from Agricola's campaign, there don't seem to have been any genuine attempts by Rome to conquer and occupy north Britain. The various campaigns in the second century were responses to treaty-breaking or incursions by the northern tribes, and either were punitive in nature, confined to the district south of the wall, or in the Antonine case aimed at establishing a further boundary. Cassius Dio claims that Severus intended 'conquest', but the Severan notion of conquest was more a military flattening than actual integration into the empire. Severus 'conquered' Parthia in 198, by a swift march into Mesopotamia and a trashing of Ctesiphon, followed by withdrawal to Syria. Same thing in Numidia in 203 - a march across the desert, crushing of the Garamantes, then back home to Lepcis. Dio's comment aside, is there any reason to assume that the Caledonian expedition was intended to be different? It was a response, supposedly, to the Maeate and Caledonians breaking their treaties and invading the south - at first these treaties were reestablished, and when they were broken again Severus ordered the extermination of the Caledonians. He didn't want to occupy 'Scotland' at all, I would suggest - he just wanted to utterly depopulate it and make the Caledonians incapable of ever threatening the Roman frontier again.

Tacitus, for obvious reasons, states that Agricola had conquered the north and brought it into the empire - Breeze's point about the general's mandata is interesting, though: the withdrawal from Inchtuthil etc happened, I think, later under Domitian rather than his successors. Could it be that Agricola's advance into the north was more his own plan - a desire for glory, or frustration at an enemy that constantly retreated before him and denied him a settled border - rather than any 'imperial policy' for the total subjegation of the north? This might make more sense of Domitian's supposedly less-than-ecstatic reception of the news of the Graupius victory: rather than pique at the general outdoing the emperor, perhaps Domitian felt that Agricola had just pushed too far north in his campaign, and involved Rome in regions beyond its interest?

- Nathan
Quote:Cassius Dio claims that Severus intended 'conquest', but the Severan notion of conquest was more a military flattening than actual integration into the empire. ... is there any reason to assume that the Caledonian expedition was intended to be different?
Fortress at Carpow sounds pretty permanent to me.
I thought Carpow was a supply depot for the campaigns to the north?

I think the real reason the Romans never consolodated what they took, north of the two frontiers are manyfold,
the main ones being:-

A: Crap weather that never takes the chill out of your bones, despite full days of sunshine every decade or so.
B: Midges.

Edit: A covers most of the east, B covers the rest and west.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't a lot of the Western provinces net importers of tax revenue? i.e., the amount of money spent on their upkeep exceeded the amount they brought in.
I seem to remember reading somewhere that this was the case with Germania Inferior.
Quote:Fortress at Carpow sounds pretty permanent to me.

Good point. But what was Carpow for? Like Byron says, it's usually interpreted as a supply base - linked perhaps to other Severan sites at Cramond and South Shields. We know it was still in occupation several years into Caracalla's reign, and it's impossible to know what might have happened if Severus hadn't died... But a well fortified coastal supply base doesn't necessarily evidence an intention to militarily occupy the north of Britain. Surely if this was the case there would be signs of forts built inland, even perhaps a restoration of the Inchtuthil site - but as far as I know Carpow is the sole 'permanent' Severan structure in the region.

Wouldn't it be more feasible to see Carpow as a sort of bridgehead in case further expeditions into the Caledonian heartland became necessary - plus a visible threat to the tribes not to break their treaties and threaten the Roman frontier again?

Quote:A: Crap weather that never takes the chill out of your bones, despite full days of sunshine every decade or so.
B: Midges.

Edit: A covers most of the east, B covers the rest and west.

Do you not get midges on the east coast then? I always thought Scotland was covered in the things... Smile

- Nathan
I could be going to the wrong places, but to be honest, I have never noticed them....mind you I lived in the tropics for 7 years and also spent more than one spring/summer on farms in Alberta, both of which have pretty bood thirsty misquitoes..... Tongue
Quote:A: Crap weather that never takes the chill out of your bones, despite full days of sunshine every decade or so.

I know that is a joke, but in all honesty I think weather can be a factor to some extent. Marcus Aurelius' Meditations are filled with pinings for a nicer climate and angry self recriminations for wanting to live in a nicer place. I think it is human nature.
Actually, I am serious, but in a joking manner and hoping not to offend the natives....
But I agree entirely with your assessment.
There are always pros and cons to weigh up.
I think the pros of the eastern trade routes would have been partly responsible for the dogged
attempts at taking the eastern Parthian provinces.
I like the point about the eastern trade routes through Parthia, & why Rome made so many attempts to bring them into the empire. I suppose Scotland didn't have much that was desirable to Rome. Even Britain could contribute something to the Roman state. Do we know of any metal deposits in Scotland during that period? Still, why would Rome would be so willing (at least under Domitian it seems) to attempt to hold onto Scotland, & then so willing to give it up under Nerva? Was it just Domitian trying to live up to his father & brother?
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