How Gask Ridge Became Rome’s Northernmost Frontier

John Richardson

Ancient and Classical Ancient Rome
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Throughout the AD 70s and AD 80s the Roman Army made its way north in Scotland during the time of the Roman Governor Agricola. As they pushed their boundaries ever northwards, it was decided that it was necessary to build a range of forts along the route.

Today stands the Gask Ridge which runs along a ridge of high ground in Perthshire for about 11 miles. The Romans set about the construction of this defensive line of forts and watch towers sometime between AD 70 and finished around AD 80.

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What exactly is the Gask Ridge?

The Romans built Gask Ridge some 40 years before they started constructing Hadrian’s Wall in AD 122. It was not a wall in the sense of both Hadrian’s and the Antonine Wall, but was probably intended by the Romans of the 1st Century AD to be a land frontier with a string of forts and watch towers running along its length.

This may be seen as the first ever attempt by the Roman Army and its engineers in building a linear line, dividing the mountains of the Highlands from the much more fertile lands in the south of Scotland. The main line of these earlier forts and watch towers ran across Perthshire, Kinross and Angus.

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Why did the Roman’s build the Gask Ridge?

These fortifications were ordered by Agricola to be constructed after he defeated the northern tribes under Calgacus following their battle at Mons Graupius.

The Gask Ridge and its watch towers gave the Roman Army added ability to protect the important harbours used by the Roman ships situated along the rivers of the Tay and the Forth.

Running a little further north of Gask Ridge were a number of forts known today as the Highland Line which gave the Roman Army advance notice of any hostile movements coming down from the north.

Later Agricola also put in motion the building of another line of forts which gave them a better view of any tribe movement coming along south from the valleys around Strathmore and Strathearn, giving the Roman legions greater control over such areas.

Ditches and ramparts of Ardoch Roman Fort. Image credit: Dr Richard Murray / Commons.

The main forts were at Ardoch built somewhere around AD 80 and were used as a main supply depot for the Roman Army during the battle of Mons Graupius. This large fort was used at different times during the period of occupation. By the AD 140s it had become one of the largest Roman Forts in Britain. For a while it probably housed the famous Legio IX Hispania.

The Gask Ridge with its forts and the military road would have given the Romans a supply route for the goods and services that the soldiers required. One important fort along this road was at Strageath, again built in the mid AD 80s It is thought the Roman governor of that time Sallustius Lucullus.

Bertha (Perth) was also a fort built during the Flavian Period but was abandoned when the large fort at Inchtuthil was built, by the XX Valeria Victrix legion, during the AD 80s. Under the time of Antonine it was reoccupied.

Kirkhill Roman watchtower. One of the more defined watchtower sites beside the Gask Ridge Roman Road. The sites lie approximately 1km apart. Image credit: Jackie Proven / Commons.

It is thought that many of these Roman frontier forts were only in operation for less than 10 years, many being abandoned for years then rebuilt when later Roman Emperors sent their forces north.

By the time of the invasion by the Emperor Severus some of these forts were again brought back into use, being used by both the legions and the auxiliary troops. Severus concentrated much of his campaigns in the north using the fort at Carpow which lies further down the river from the city of Perth today.

Ongoing archaeology along the line of the Gask Ridge shows that many of these forts and watch towers would have been rebuilt during the period that the Roman Army were in the north. These Watch Towers also were used as signal towers using systems that the Romans engineers had successfully devised for sending information over distances.

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Today

Today the Gask Ridge is seen as a ridge of elevated ground running along between Dunblane and Perth. We can trace this line of forts, fortlets and watch towers from the large fort at Ardoch (Braco) in Perthshire to another main fort at Bertha (Perth) by the River Almond.

For the remains that can still be seen today along the Gask Ridge we have to thank the skills of the Roman Legionary troops of the 1st century AD.

Featured image credit: Forts and Fortlets associated with the Gask Ridge from south to north. Singinglemon / Commons.

John Richardson