Saturday, 3 March 2012

An Engrossing Read?!

It has been a while since we looked in on the Roman Scotland web site (last visited in 2010). I'm afraid that, in the intervening eighteen months, it hasn't gotten any better.

Web site logo


The web site owner, Euan Lindsay, modestly claims that "this is an engrossing read". He flatters himself.

He also claims that his unnamed collaborators "felt the need to share their knowledge of the Roman period in Scotland". Unfortunately, they are not very knowledgeable at all. (The Gods alone know how the web site got an award for "Classical Studies"!) But what they are is opinionated.

In fact -- let's call a dolabra a dolabra -- their web site is slipshod, tedious, peculiarly nationalistic, and anti-Roman. As a grumpy old emperor, that last one hurts.

Off to a poor start

The web site's first section ("Chronology") does not inspire our confidence in Mr Lindsay's self-professed "knowledge". Here are some of his claims:

  • In 325 BC, "the Greek navigator and astronomer Pytheas sails the coast of Britain and names the island Pretani". (I've heard of sailing the seas, but never sailing a coast.) In fact, Pytheas (whose work does not survive) probably called the island Prettania, a name which is found in the ancient Greek writers as a variation on Britannia.
  • Under 54 BC, we read that Julius Caesar broke off his campaign in southern England "to deal with Vercingoterix (sic) uprising in Gaul". The Gallic chieftain's name was actually Vercingetorix. (Here we first meet Mr Lindsay's dislike of the apostrophe. Surely, it was Vercingetorix's uprising? In fact, he's not very hot on punctuation at all, full stop!)
  • Under "43 AD" -- incidentally, if he doesn't know how to use the abbreviation "AD" correctly, perhaps he should use "in the Common Era"! -- we read that "Claudius arrives to receive the southern tribes (sic) formal submission". Mr Lindsay has missed a trick here, as Claudius allegedly received envoys from the Orkneys, too!
  • Under "71-73 AD", we read of Petillius Cerialis "smashing Venutius Brigantians (sic) most probably at Stanwick Hill Fort". (Stanwick isn't a hillfort.)
  • Under "77 AD", he tells us that "Pliny the Elder (a reliable source) publishes his Natural History", from which Mr Lindsay quotes a sentence. Unfortunately, his translation is not reliable! (The sentence concerns the Roman army reaching the vicinity of the Caledonian Forest, but Pliny doesn't say "nearly thirty years ago" -- which would mean AD 48! --, and we don't know where the Caledonian Forest was, in any case.)
  • Under "79 AD", we read that "the over-run (sic) territories are named Vespasiana in honour of the emperor around this time", bizarrely resurrecting a myth created in 1789 by John Pinkerton (who, like Mr Lindsay, claimed "great erudition" for himself)!
  • Under "82 AD", we read that "while operating in Strathmore the Caledonians by pass (sic) the main Roman column ...", but why were the Caledonians "operating in Strathmore"? (And what does "operating" mean, anyway? What were they up to?)
  • Under "83 AD", we read that the Battle of Mons Graupius was "located at Dunning in Strathearn" -- this is one of Mr Lindsay's hobby-horses and doesn't reflect current scholarship at all.
  • Under "84-86 AD", we read that "a new legionary fort is put under construction at Inchtuthill (sic) on the Tay" (the place is called Inchtuthil) and "the Gask ridge road leading ultimately to this post is supplemented with forts, fortlets and regular watchtowers providing defence in depth, Scotlands (sic) second Roman frontier". (I wonder what an irregular watchtower is? And how can a fortified roadway form a "defence in depth"? Where is the depth?)
  • Under "87 AD", we read that the new Roman governor was "possibly Metilius Nepos", but this is highly unlikely. Nepos is attested as a departing governor in AD 98, and it is unthinkable that he served in the post for twelve years! (Governors usually seem to serve for three or four years only.)
  • Under "88-100 AD", Mr Lindsay's "resurgent Caledonian tribes" are entirely in his imagination; they are certainly not mentioned in any of our sources. "Roman withdrawal from Scotland is from hereon (sic) undertaken in fairly rapid then consolidating stages further south". (Incidentally, Mr Lindsay's arbitrary "stages" are comical, taking no account of the archaeological evidence.)
  • Under "105 AD", we read that "Scottish posts are deserted or over-run (sic)" -- presumably Mr Lindsay means the Roman posts in Scotland, which had been abandoned by this date. (This is the first creeping sign of Mr Lindsay's nationalistic agenda, that the Roman forts were not evacuated in an orderly fashion, but were deserted -- a sign of insubordinate and fearful Romans -- or, even worse, overrun!) His statement that "The fort at Newstead is sacked around this time" is not the standard interpretation of the orderly abandonment of this site, but conforms to Mr Lindsay's slowly revealed agenda.
  • Under "108 AD", we read that the absence of records relating to the Ninth Legion (or, as Mr Lindsay calls it, "the ninth legion") is "a sure sign of destruction in battle, probably in action in southern Scotland". Readers of this blog know better than that!
  • Under "117-119 AD", we read that "Fashionable modern suggestions that the ninth (sic) were transferred elsewhere in the empire for a date with destiny can be discounted as entirely unrecorded and unproven". (How can a "modern suggestion" be "entirely unrecorded"? If it's unrecorded, how does Mr Lindsay know about it? And what makes a suggestion "fashionable"? It sounds as if Mr Lindsay is trying hard to discredit this theory before he even explains to his reader what it is.)
  • Under "119 AD", we read that "Roman coin issues records (sic) conclusion of war in Britannia", but the coin in question may not date from this year: we blogged about it here.
  • Under "138 AD", we read that "Trajanic expansionism was long gone however a move is made immediately back into southern Scotland and Pausianus (sic) refers to this being the only place in the empire where; (sic) military action had to be taken". (The Greek historian's name is Pausanias and he doesn't refer to Britain.) Mr Lindsay's reference to Trajanic expansionism is ironic, as it was Trajan who oversaw the withdrawal from Scotland! He goes on to criticise "fashionable modern interpretations" (that adjective again) of Antoninus Pius' motivation for his (my!) invasion of Scotland. He prefers to see it as "possible Roman retaliation for 117 which Hadrian evidently failed to do satisfactorily". To be honest, I'm not sure that this is any different from the "fashionable modern interpretations" that Mr Lindsay deplores.
  • Under "140 AD", we read that "Ptolemy's (!) Geography, first remaining map of Scotland". (An apostrophe, at last!) I've heard of a "last remaining" this or that, but never a "first remaining" thing. (Ptolemy's Geography is, indeed, dated to around AD 140-150, but -- ironically, for Mr Lindsay's purposes -- the British section is thought to derive from a Flavian map, some fifty years older than Ptolemy!
  • Under "140-148 AD", Mr Lindsay lists "Construction of the Antonine Wall between the Forth and Clyde". (I wonder where he got his end-date from? There is certainly no evidence for AD 148 as a significant date.) He writes that "Forts tend to be larger to the western side and may reflect flashpoints of trouble while that part of the wall lies awaiting completion". Ironically, -- and, to be honest, predictably, given the woeful standard of "knowledge" that Mr Lindsay displays -- while the fort sizes are fairly evenly distributed along the Wall, the smallest fort is found near its western end!
  • Under "154-158 AD", Mr Lindsay writes about "a spree of devastation at the wall being carried further south". He is, by now, in full nationalist swing, with any signs of refurbishment or repair indicating devastation. "Clearly havoc descends from the tribes in northern and southern Scotland". (I'm always suspicious of a sentence that begins with "Clearly".) Mr Lindsay reckons that a reoccupation of Hadrian's Wall at the end of this chronological stage "is highly doubtful". Predictably, he is out of step with current scholarship, which accepts AD 158 as a pivotal year.
  • Under "162 AD", he writes that "It is possible that between 162 and 165 Agrippa 'mothballs' the Antonine Wall in the face of yet more manpower crisis (sic) caused by war in Parthia and Germania". Well, at least it isn't Mr Lindsay's beloved Caledonian heroes descending from all parts again. But, as before, he is out of step with current wisdom. "The Roman emphasis is slowly but steadily sliding or pushed in a southern direction towards a reactivated Hadrians wall (sic) by the end of the decade". So, only ten years later than the current crop of Hadrian's Wall experts think!
  • Under "169 AD", Mr Lindsay introduces "the two developing tribal confederacies of the north, the Caledonians and a new name, the Maetae (sic)". (The correct tribal name is Maeatae.) He tells us that, although scholars believe that both tribes dwell in the north, "it is more plausible that the now abandoned tribes of Scotland below the Forth-Clyde isthmus coalesce into an identity in the face of large aggressive neighbouring political entities". (How can tribes be "abandoned"? Abandoned by whom? And who are their large, aggressive neighbours? Surely not the Romans? For Mr Lindsay's Romans are cowed and fearful, deserting their overrun posts in the face of the Caledonian horror!)
  • Also under "169 AD", we read that "A siege mentality appears in the Romans with the initiative apparently now lying with the tribes of Scotland". (We are surely minutes away from a tsunami of howling barbarians, breaking thunderously like a surf-flecked wave against the shuddering brickwork of Hadrian's Wall!)
  • Under "179 AD", we read that "Clearly" -- that word again! -- "the run down (sic) Antonine Wall proved an insufficient obstacle" to the ravening hordes. (This is the wall that was decommissioned twenty years earlier. Of course it was no obstacle!) "Endemic trouble on the northern frontier with Newstead succumbing to the sack (sic!) for the final time". (You're probably tired reading that the abandonment of a Roman fort doesn't necessarily mean that it had succumbed to anybody's sack!)
  • Under "Late 180s", we read that "The legions in Britannia embroil themselves in politics and several leading figures were approached with a view to becoming Emperor". (Who are these leading figures? Isn't it really annoying how cryptic Mr Lindsay can be?) This is presumably a reference to the fact that the soldiers in Britain allegedly "wanted to make anybody emperor", other than Commodus, the present incumbent. "The tribes in Scotland appear from records to be left in peace" -- is that the opposite of appearing from the bracken to overrun a fort? -- "while the Roman garrison ferments (sic) political agitation". (Please let's not lose that wonderful verb, to foment rebellion.)
  • Under "192 AD", we read that it is "Probable that Hadrians wall (sic) is denuded of troops during this episode" -- the invasion of Gaul by the Governor Clodius Albinus -- "and that the Caledonians and Maetae (sic), who can safely assume to have been in treaty agreement with Albinus, act in concert to take advantage of the situation following the death of Albinus". (There must be a word missing here. Is it the Maeatae who are doing the assuming, or is it someone else?)
  • Under "197 AD", Mr Lindsay's nationalism again shows itself: "The remnants of the British legions and auxiliary forces return but it is improbable the forces are in any state to counter the combined strength and actions of the tribes of modern Scotland which will have escalated with the lack of firm response". (And all without a comma. Breathe!) I'm not sure why "modern Scotland" appears in this sentence, unless it's simply to underline the all-pervasive nationalist agenda.
  • Under "197-208 AD", Mr Lindsay claims that "So complete is the reconstruction required [on Hadrian's Wall] that the crop of centurial stones recording this work cause many sources from antiquity to antiquarians to believe the wall is originally constructed by Severus". This is another of those occasions where Mr Lindsay is simply dead wrong. The Venerable Bede (8th century) thought that it was the turf vallum that Septimius Severus had built. The early antiquarians, misled by the written sources -- not by Mr Lindsay's "centurial stones" --, thought that the vallum was Hadrian's and the stone wall was Severus'. Predictably, any repairs to the Wall were not occasioned by neglect, but because it "had been thoroughly wrecked by hostile action from the north"!
  • Under "208 AD", I was confused by Mr Lindsay's (more than usually) obscure writing: "Work on various installations precedes Severus subsequent landing which is accompanied by substantial army formations aimed to bolster the British garrison. ... Cramond and Carriden forts are reinstated (if indeed as has been suggested they have ever been abandoned)". Some punctuation would go a long way towards making this intelligible (though only a complete rewrite would make it "engrossing"). Similarly obscure: "The suggestion that Severus demand (sic) that all living things should be killed in this campaign is not probably carried through as there is no archaeological record of the effects of this bedridden (sic!) genocidal command". (On occasion, the generally poor standard of writing does raise a smile, as when "Caracalla was attempting to bribe the doctors to hasten the death of the old man and probably loiters at and around the large Severan marching camp at Castlecraig".)
  • Under "211 AD", we read that "The Severan bases at Carpow, Cramond and Carriden may have soldiered on into the 220s but are eventually abandoned". (There is no Severan material from Carriden to "soldier on".)
  • Under "304 AD", we read that "Simmering trouble on the northern frontier seems to have come to a head with the Picts". How intriguing! So, what happened?!
  • Under "306 AD", we read that "A deeply unwell man, an anonymous biographer of [Constantius Chlorus'] son Constantine refers to Constantius: defeating the Picts" (How does Mr Lindsay know that the anonymous biographer was deeply unwell?)
  • Later entries from AD 306 to 410 are more laconic, reflecting the brevity of the original sources, so there is less scope for Mr Lindsay to misconstrue any of the evidence.

Wearisome stuff

There is an appended "Chronicle of the Emperors and Scotland", but it, too, is dull, wearisome stuff, ungrammatical and often inaccurate. And trite: "Few ancient figures are more famous than the best known Roman Emperors". Meaningless nonsense.

For further amusement value, there is, however, a "newsbite excert (sic)" where Euan Lindsay tells us that Julius Caesar "invaded Britain in 84 and 85 BC" (sic!) in order to "get his hands on Scottish freshwater pearls or, at the very least, at least (sic) hold a stranglehold on the trade routes and revenues that accrued from them"! (Evidence, please?)

So far, this certainly hasn't made for "an engrossing read". Indeed, sometimes it seems as if English is not Mr Lindsay's first language. Example: "Quixotic Flavian defences underlying or predating Agricolan structures are more commonly being attributed to Cerialis". I'm not sure what Mr Lindsay thinks he means here. (If there are archaeological deposits "underlying Agricolan structures" then they necessarily predate them, so why does he write "underlying or predating"? And "more commonly" than what?)

It's all very poor quality, written with the clear agenda of (a) relocating the Battle of Mons Graupius to a place favored by Mr Lindsay, (b) emphasizing the destruction of the Ninth Legion at the hands of the Scottish tribes, and (c) generally reinterpreting (mostly misinterpreting) Romano-British history along Scottish nationalistic lines.

And that's only the first item on the web site menu! I'm not sure if this old emperor has the stomach for much more ...


  1. Like shooting fish in a barrel.

  2. Gideon Nisbet19/3/12 3:14 pm

    Picts in a barrel?

  3. George Sandison5/4/12 2:00 pm

    Crap in a barrel?

  4. Clearly there is going to have to be an amendment to the saying " Politicians and the Press do not allow the truth to interfere with a good story" to include "Scots Nationalists"

    Love this site!

  5. Hello. Great blog. Are you still on the go ? Was looking for a bit of help in regards to the inscriptions on the distance slab markers on the Antonine Wall. I noticed the majority of them are either inscribed with an AEL or AELI before Hadrian Antonines name. I would assume that could possibly refer to the root name Aelius ? Would be very suprised if the Romans hadn't inscribed there name for the terrority they were claiming if the distance markers weren't partly meant to intimidate the locals. Cheers

  6. Territory - apologies. Been wondering about the root of the word Palaestina and a massive avenue with terracing style steps at Bar Hill Twechar which is meant to be a Military way into the bargain. Cheers --


  7. The AEL on the Antonine Wall Markers is AELIUS. This unit have the same name as Aelia Capitolina - Jerusalem and seem to have spent their entire military life serving in Scotland and Northern England which is extremely interesting

  8. Cheers