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Video courtesy of Prof. Matthew Nicholls, University of Reading

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83AD(CE) - 86AD(CE) Inchtuthil




Inchtuthil Bath House


How Blairgowrie almost became the capital of Scotland


Like many famous Roman sites, today there is little to see at Inchtuthil. The land is privately owned, and it can appear as just another tranquil area of countryside where cattle graze.

Yet it was here, on the plateau overlooking the River Tay, that around 83 AD(CE) Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the powerful Roman governor of Britain, built the vast legionary fortress.  Many forts, fortlets, camps and watchtowers were built by the Romans in Scotland, but Inchtuthil is Scotland’s only legionary fortress. Inchtuthil is regarded as the linchpin of Agricola’s campaign to subdue the Iron Age tribes, the Caledonians, and to take control of Caledonia (Scotland).

360 Photo Courtesy of Graeme Berry

The fortress covered approximately 53 acres (21.5 hectares) the size of 25 football pitches, 10 times the size of London’s Olympic Stadium. It was larger than the fortress at York and accommodated around 5500 soldiers of the Legion XX Valeria Victrix, in 64 BARRACK  BLOCKS shown with black roof tiles in this reconstruction. 

Reconstruction courtesy of Prof. Matthew Nicholls, University of Reading

When the Legion XX set off on a march from Inchtuthil, the head of the marching column would have been 5 miles up ahead, while the tail end was still at the fortress. A truly awesome and terrifying sight!

Most of the buildings would have been enclosed and protected by ditches, palisades (high fences of sturdy wooden stakes), ramparts and watchtowers. Two main streets ran through Inchtuthil and into the countryside beyond: the VIA PRINCIPALIS and the VIA PRAETORIA. Each of the four gateways into the fortress would have been vast wooden structures guarded 24/7.

Reconstruction courtesy of Prof. Matthew Nicholls, University of Reading

At the centre of Inchtuthil was the administrative building or headquarters: the PRINCIPIA. Excavations revealed that it had a 160 foot frontage and a large courtyard as well as the administrative offices. Yet  the Principia at Inchtuthil did not fill the space allocated for it. It may be that it would have been replaced by a much larger, grander building had the Legion XX remained at Inchtuthil.

Reconstruction courtesy of Prof. Matthew Nicholls, University of Reading

Although plans for Inchtuthil included a large area for the COMMANDING  OFFICER’S HOUSE (PRAETORIUM), it had not been built before Inchtuthil was evacuated and abandoned around the Summer of 86AD(CE) or early in 87AD(CE). Using evidence from other fortresses, had it been built, it would have been large, spacious and well-appointed, offering all the comforts that a wealthy, high ranking officer required.

The MILITARY  HOSPITAL (VALETUDINARIUM) was a vast building which had the potential to accommodate around 300 patients.

In the WORKSHOP (FABRICA) blacksmiths, carpenters, leather workers and other craftsmen would have made and repaired armour, weapons, chariots, wheels, bricks, roof tiles, nails and other building materials.

In the Summer of 1960, during excavations a large hoard of Roman nails, cartwheel rims and other iron objects such as a ballista head were found beneath where the Fabrica had been. 

See here for an excavation photograph showing the nails.  

In addition, Inchtuthil had 6 GRANARIES (HORREA) and stabling for 1000 horses and mules.

In the 2012 BBC documentary 'Scotland: Rome's Final Frontier' Dr Fraser Hunter, Principal Curator of Iron Age and Roman Collections at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, points out that great cities like York and Chester developed from Roman fortresses, and suggests that, had the Legion XX remained at Inchtuthil there was the potential for it to be the location of Scotland's capital city.

To reach Inchtuthil travel west from Meikleour on the A984. Where it joins the B947 turn left. Follow a track for about 3 miles past the farm and carry on up the slope. Having crossed by the stile you will be standing on the Via Principalis.


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