RESEARCH into the largest relic from the Roman Empire's invasion of Scotland has given historians a dramatic insight into the daily life of ordinary soldiers and the gruesome nature of ancient warfare.

Excavations of the 38-mile Antonine wall at Mumrills Fort, near Falkirk, have revealed evidence of the Romans' defensive structures, which were designed to cause the maximum damage to attackers, and even the daily cooking routines of foot-


Archaeologists have discovered that the frontier, which briefly supplanted Hadrian's wall in the second century AD, was lined with pits filled with stakes which may have been dotted with sharp objects such as glass.

Similar fortifications, known as lilia because they apparently reminded Romans of lilies, are shown on Trajan's column in Rome and were described by Julius Caesar in the Gallic Wars, his description of one of his own campaigns.

Geoff Bailey, keeper of archaeology and local history at Falkirk Museum, said: ''We have now found these lilia on eight separate occasions and it looks like they will have gone along the whole 38 miles of the wall. They are another part of the defensive system which had never been discovered before. The Romans would have had the ditch, the wall and these lilia, which you could call the ancient Roman equivalent of the minefield.

''The Germans had similar structures called wolf pits in the first world war, and they were used relatively recently in the Vietnam war where they were smeared with animal fat, so that any injury inflicted would become infected.

''We just don't know if the Romans did something similar here, but they provided an extra obstacle for people moving north to south and channelled people into the heavily guarded gateways where they could be easily controlled.''

He added: ''Forget the textbooks, this is how they really lived.''

It is still unclear why Antoninus Pius, who succeeded Hadrian as emperor, built the wall that is named after him. It stretched from the Firth of Forth to near Glasgow and, unlike Hadrian's wall, was built of turf on a stone foundation.

Volunteers and experts from Falkirk Museum Service also unearthed the remains of two timber structures, two ovens and a well, all built over an older Roman road, hinting that the area was a hive of activity with a shortage of space to build on.

Defensive earthworks protected land beside forts at the rear of the Antonine rampart which were previously thought to be empty.

However, the dig at Mumrills Fort showed that these areas were extremely busy and housed industries that were a fire risk or smelled unpleasant, such as tanning or smithing.

Mr Bailey said: ''It was traditionally thought that the annexes next to the permanent forts were empty. The evidence now shows that they were packed with buildings.

''Soldiers could go there to get their armour fixed. They also had a cookhouse, and grain was found during the excavation.''

He added: ''The Roman army were also meant to be extremely disciplined and organised, but here we see their buildings and living arrangements were ramshackle.''

Grain, pottery and iron artefacts from the dig are being examined at Glasgow and Cardiff universities and the National Museum of Scotland. They could yield even more details about the wall and the surrounding area in Roman times.

frontier life

In AD141, the Antonine Wall was created across the Forth-Clyde valley as a new frontier.

The wall was made of stone covered with turf and was some three metres high and four metres thick and ran from Bo'ness in the east to Old Kilpatrick in the west.

It was marked by carved stone tablets recording the completion of each sector.

There were at least 17 forts about two miles apart and 40 fortlets running along the southern side of the wall.

Daily life on the wall was a routine of maintenance work and patrols. The centurion in charge of a fort sent reports on wooden tablets.

Some big forts even had a bathhouse, such as the one at Bearsden, near Glasgow.