Legionary inscription in Scotland: Abbotsford

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Abbotsford © David Gill

A fragmentary Latin inscription is built (at an angle) into the garden wall of Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott (RIB 2216). It was first known c. 1797 at Callendar House in Falkirk (see Canmore). This location has suggested that the inscription may have been linked to the Antonine Wall. Scott lived at Abbotsford from 1812-32.

The inscription reads: A vexi[llatio]  | of the XXI[I] legion | Primigenia.

At the top left appear to be the legs of what could be a Capricorn, the emblem of Legio XXII. This legion was posted in Upper Germany.

The Legio XXII is also attested from the Roman fort of Birrens, to the north-west of Carlisle (Canmore). An inscription attesting the presence of troops from Legio VIII Augusta and Legio XXII Primigenia was found in 1991 (Britannia 1992, 318, no. 20 [JSTOR]). It has been suggested that this inscription is Antonine in date, and probably associated with troop movements during the construction of the Antonine Wall.

Fixed Frontiers

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Walltown Crags, Hadrian’s Wall © David Gill

As you stand on the northern edge of the Roman Empire it is hard not to speculate on why Hadrian decided to replace the string of forts along the military road (the Stanegate) to a fixed military frontier. Equally important is the economic cost: of the construction, but then of the garrison and upkeep of the defences. And was it effective? Within a generation the line was abandoned and the frontier moved north to the Antonine Wall.

Rome’s Frontier Begins Here

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Segedunum Roman Fort

How do you engage with archaeological heritage in a post-industrial setting? Hadrian’s Wall must rank as one of the premier Roman sites in the UK but the east end lies under Wallsend. The Segedunum project has this fantastic viewing tower overlooking the site with a banner that reads, ‘Where Rome’s great frontier begins’. This, of course, is not just Walls-end but Walls-beginning, especially for those walking from the Tyne to the Solway Firth. The tower itself reminds us of the shipbuilding heritage of the Tyne with clear views up and down the river, explaining the strategic location of the fort.