The Battle of
Over the years I've been piecing together life with the Picts.
Recently I've come to believe that they were European refugees
escaping the Romans, Inverness was their southern fortified
border, and they were a sea faring people who would have arrived by boat.
Archealogists from Aberdeen University have recently been
excavating a site in Burghead which is the largest
Pictish Fort ever discovered, and have offered this as a detailed
representation of what it may have looked like.
Warren MacLeod's brilliant analysis of The Agricola included
compelling evidence pointing to Forres as the site of the battle
of Mons Graupius. Here is Burghead in relation to Forres.
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everything together from the last 15 years while spending time
with the Picts and their brochs, this is how I see things
currently. Agricola was marching along the Moray coast towards
Inverness from Aberdeen. If Inverness fell, the Romans would have
taken Scotland. The Picts would have had months, even years to
prepare and would have chosen the site for their last stand, which
I believe was somewhere very close to Forres as indicated by
When the Romans began their march along the Moray coast from
settlement and Fort at Burghead would have been essential to cater
for the tens of thousands of Picts prepared for war sailing into
the harbour from Orkney, Shetland, Skye and the other islands in
the Hebrides, as well as the west, north and east coasts. This was
their Alamo, their last stand. If they fell, Scotland would have
been taken. Their lives, the lives of their wives and children,
and their very way of life would have weighed heavily on them as
they faced the Romans across the battlefield. It must have been a
ferocious fight with no quarter given on either side.
According to Tacitus the Roman historian,
the battle of Mons Graupius was a decisive Roman victory in which
the Caledonii army was destroyed and scattered. According to
Tacitus, over 10,000 Caledonii were killed in battle for the loss
of only 360 Romans. That's what Tacitus claims. Let's look at the
facts. After the battle of Mons Graupius Agricola built no
fortresses to consolidate his gains, but instead retreated quickly
to his established forts south of Aberdeen. That same year
Agricola was recalled to Rome and was murdered by the Emperor. Two
to six years later the Romans retreated further south to their
fortresses along the Clyde/ Forth isthmus. Not long after that the
Romans retreated out of Scotland and cowered behind Hadrian's
wall. In 367 AD, the Picts with the help of the Irish invaded
England and together they pushed the Romans back from their last
defensive positions at Hadrian's wall. Not long after that the
Romans left Britain.
The facts speak clearly for themselves. The Picts resoundingly
trounced the Romans at the battle of Mons Graupius, and all the
evidence points to the area around Burghead as the site of the
battle. Now we can understand why Agricola slinked back into Rome
under cover of darkness with a hood over his head. Not the triumphant entry reserved for
conquerors returning from glorious battles, hey.
This is the Fort at Burghead today. The big enclosure is the one
on the left in the illustration above.
While visiting the fort and wandering around the site, I had a few
more thoughts regarding Mons Graupius. For example, I doubt this
would have been a static fight fought in one place. With tens of
thousands of Picts attacking one of the largest Roman forces ever
seen, I would surmise it was fought over a huge area. As the
Romans were overpowered, they would have begun to retreat back
towards Aberdeen and the Picts would have chased them. The battle
may have begun near Forres or Burghead, but it may have lasted all
day and victory not achieved until somewhere around Elgin. The
fort would also have served to treat wounded men, house
reinforcements, and prepare food
and water for the men on the battlefield, luxuries the Romans
would not have had.
Knowing the PIcts as I do there would also have been a huge
monument erected to commemorate the battle. Are there any unique
huge Pictish stones or landmarks around the Elgin, Burghead,
Hopeman and Forres areas? What about burial cairns? The Picts
would have buried the dead. What about the site of the old Duffus
Castle? What was it originally built on? The entire hill itself
looks too round to be natural. Could the castle be built on the
site of a huge Pictish monument? Look at the site's proximity to
Burghead. Come on, let's find the battlefield, it isn't far away.
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