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Untrue and trews stories of the Romans

HOW elegiac, and frankly typical, that the first depicted tartan from ancient times should feature on a loser.

The conquered Caledonian has his hands bound behind his back and is about to find himself elevenses for some ravenous fellows from the family Felidae – to wit, lions – in the arena.

Archie (let us call him that) features on a fragment of Roman statue that once stood in yonder Morocco. Atop a giant triumphal arch in the ancient city of Volubilis, the 1800-year-old bronze sculpture depicted the Emperor Caracalla, who led massive military campaigns into third-century Caledonia.

And, for shame, Archie is wearing tartan trews, the ghastliest habiliment known to man. Alex Salmond, the First Eck of All Scotia, has been known to waddle around in these, making a laughing stock of us all before the world. As if Scottish Secretary Michael Moore's Patriots for Powerlessness and Labour leader Yahoo Lamont's Craven Scotch hadn't made us one already.

Some of you, I know, have televisions, and you lucky few can see the trews tonight on Scotland: Rome's Final Frontier (BBC2, 9pm). Dr Fraser Hunter, of the National Museum of Scotland, describes the find on the show and said earlier this week that what we were seeing was "the pre-history of tartan as we know it".

He spoke too of the "curious, rather cuddly" way we often think of the Romans, with their baths, togas and roads, where the reality was one of brutal colonisers, or would-be colonisers in Scotia's case. Says Doc H: "Their strategies encompassed everything up to and including genocide. For the local tribes, the Roman arrival in what we call Scotland must have been absolutely terrifying."

So, what did the Romans ever do for us, apart from making us feart? Not a lot. They never stuck around, this being the only place where apparently they decided: "Nah, we'll just turn back. Who wants to colonise stuff anyway?" Aye, as it were, right.

They were gubbed. There are no literary records from our side of massive battles won, and one from the Romans referring to Mons Graupius. But they were harried out, without a doubt, despite a huge military effort.

Earlier this year, researchers found that the Romans attacked Scotland with a far larger force than previously realised. Indeed, it was bigger than the force used to hold the whole of England and Wales.

Researchers found 260 temporary military camps, more than in any other country in Europe. Dr Rebecca Jones, author of Roman Camps in Scotland, said: "The repeated campaigns to conquer Scotland were bloody, brutal and ultimately unsuccessful for the Roman Empire."

Interestingly, or indeed otherwise, the famous ancient account of the aforementioned Mons Graupius provides Caledonia with arguably her first sustained mention in history. As losers.

History isn't written by the victors. It's written by the literate. In this case, too, it was written by the victor's faither-in-law. Tacitus says the Caledonians were at first "too terrified" to molest Agricola's army. This was during their first incursions, three years before the battle in 84AD, and refers to armies marching unexpectedly into settlements.

However, a few pages on, he's berating those Roman "cowards", who "pleaded for a 'strategic retreat' behind the Forth, maintaining that 'evacuation was preferable to expulsion'." Who was "terrified" noo, then? Presumably, the Caledonians had organised.

As for Mons Graupius, no-one to this day has a clue where it is. Apparently, it featured 30,000 Caledonians – no, it didn't – and 11,000 Romans. According to Tacitus, the Caledonians lost 10,000 men, the Romans 360, probably quite coincidentally from natural causes.

These figures are bilge. Unless one side was unarmed, and the other had a neutron bomb, even the most Scotophobic booby couldn't make them add up. I've no doubt we got gubbed. Perhaps comprehensively.

But d'you know what? If we were wearing tartan trews, we probably deserved it.

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