The modern country known as “Caledonia” to the Romans is Scotland. Caledonia is the Latin name the Romans used to refer to the northern area of Britain that lies beyond their province of Britannia, primarily the Scottish Highlands. The name itself is believed to have a Celtic origin and possibly derived from the word “caled,” which means “hard” or “tough,” potentially referring to the rugged landscape or the resilient nature of its inhabitants.
Scotland’s history with the Roman Empire is characterized by both conflict and interaction. The Romans, under the command of Emperor Claudius, began their invasion of Britain in 43 AD. While they managed to establish control over much of southern Britain relatively quickly, the northern territories proved more elusive. The indigenous tribes of Caledonia, such as the Picts, resisted Roman incursions fiercely.
One of the most significant attempts by the Romans to subjugate Caledonia occurred during the governorship of Gnaeus Julius Agricola, around 77-84 AD. Agricola led several campaigns deep into Caledonian territory, culminating in the Battle of Mons Graupius, where Roman legions claimed a decisive victory against the Caledonian tribes. Despite this success, the Romans did not establish long-term control over the region.
The Romans’ northernmost frontier in Britain was marked by the construction of two significant defensive structures: Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall. While Hadrian’s Wall is the more famous and better-preserved of the two, it was the Antonine Wall, situated further north, that represented the furthest reach of Roman territory in Britain. Neither wall was intended to annex Caledonia but rather to serve as a defensive barrier and control point for movement.
Despite these efforts, the Romans never fully conquered Caledonia. The region’s challenging terrain, combined with the fierce resistance of its tribes, made it difficult for the Roman Empire to maintain a lasting presence. Over time, as the Roman Empire faced pressures elsewhere, its focus on Caledonia waned. The legions eventually withdrew, and the Antonine Wall was abandoned in favor of the more defensible Hadrian’s Wall.
The legacy of the Roman-Caledonian interactions can still be seen today in Scotland, from archaeological sites to the enduring stories of resistance and resilience that are woven into the fabric of Scottish history and identity.