Wednesday 16 November 2011

Britain's worst military disasters 3 - Mons Graupius AD 83 or 84

We tend to think of the Roman conquest of Britain as extending only as far as Hadrian’s Wall, but, in fact, in AD 83 or 84 (historians cannot agree on the date), a Roman army won a stunning victory perhaps as far north as Aberdeenshire.

Having subdued Wales and the north of England, the Roman governor Agricola had advanced up through Scotland, but found it difficult to bring the Caledonian tribes to battle, Eventually, though, about 30,000 of them confronted him at ‘Mons Graupius’ which many modern-day historians believe to be in the Bennachie range, north-west of Aberdeen.

The Caledonian vanguard was on the plain, with the rear stretching up Mons Graupius.    Agricola held his legionaries in reserve, and sent in his ‘barbarian’ auxiliaries to close with the enemy.    Roman armies were at their most effective in this close, hand-to-hand combat, and they broke through the Caledonians and started to advance up the hill.

The tribesmen fought bravely, but when Agricola sent in his cavalry, they were routed, and the Roman historian Tacitus put their losses at 10,000 against just 360 for the Romans.  It was too late in the campaigning season, though, for Agricola to advance any further, and his troops withdrew to forts further south.  Never again would the Romans penetrate this far north.  

*Article about Britain’s 20 Worst Military Disasters in the Bath Chronicle.

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