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Biggar & Upper Clydesdale Museum
156 High St
Biggar, ML12 6DH

Biggar Museum Trust SCIO, a registered charity in Scotland. Charity number: SC003695

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Crawford Fort and Roman Clydesdale

Roman Forts in Clydesdale and Beyond

Crawford Fort in Clydesdale is a Roman fort, but what is a Roman fort and its purpose?

Evidence of these forts can be found across Britain (but not in the highlands and upper Scotland due to the Romans failure to invade this part of the country).

These forts were built to be either permanent or semi-permanent, the semi-permanent forts were dismantled after the Romans uninhabited them to prevent the locals from destroying them or taking the raw materials from these building. They were primarily used to house Roman military, with many containing auxiliary troops, who were not citizens of Rome, but were recruited from the provinces. However, these forts also helped higher purposes too.

Photograph of the model of Crawford Fort inside Biggar Museum
Model of Crawford Fort, part of the Iron Age and Medieval Settlement collection at Biggar Museum

The Purpose of Roman Forts in Clydesdale

Roman Forts demonstrated the power of the great Roman empire to the natives in the area they had invaded. They also allowed the Romans to patrol the area and maintain communications. Some forts, like Crawford Fort had more local purposes. Crawford fort was used to control nearby resources, specifically the lead and gold mining that took place in Leadhills and Wanlockhead.

Reproduction Roman Chainmail in a display case inside the museum
Reproduction Roman chainmail or “lorica hamata”

Crawford Fort’s Structure and Usage

The area on which Crawford Fort was built was only 2 acres making it the smallest headquarters in the Roman empire.

This fort had been occupied 3 times, the first during AD 80-87, the second AD 140-155 and the third and final time during AD 155-170. Each time the Romans left they dismantled the fort.

The buildings themselves are approximately 116 meters by 69 meters. The fort had 2 entrances one on the south and another on the west this suggests that the fort originally faced the south. The archaeological evidence available also suggests that the interior was originally made of timber and the main wooden members would have been removed and reused when the fort was left on the first occasion.

When the fort was taken over a second time it is believed that the interior design would have been changed dramatically, due to this the fort now faced east rather than south. There is also evidence suggesting that the cross-hall may have contained either a podium or statue.

On the final occasion it was re-inhabited it was subject to some change, but the forts orientation would have remained much the same.

Photograph of the model of Crawford Fort inside Biggar Museum (aerial view)
An aerial view of Crawford Roman Fort
Map showing the internal layout of the Roman fort at Crawford and the functions of the various buildings
Map showing the internal layout of Crawford Fort and the functions of the various buildings

A Chain of Forts Across Clydesdale and Forth

Crawford Fort was first built during the early campaigns of Caius Julius Agricola, who was head of a Roman army that overran the area of Forth and Clyde. He devised a chain of forts to mark the boundaries of his conquest. However, Agricola was called back to Rome in AD 87 when Domitian succeeded his brother Titus to the imperial throne after his death.

The Biggar area was a useful location for the Romans to build a fort due to its easy access to the great Iter (road) that started in Carlisle and led all the way to the wall of Antonius going through the Clyde valley. It is also possible that the fort was used to station small independent numeri (unit in a Roman army). Overall, the position of this fort proved to be fitting for the military of the Roman empire.

Biggar Museum’s Roman Collection

You can view a model of the Roman Fort at Crawford inside Biggar and Upper Clydesdale Museum. Other Roman artefacts such as coins and pottery are also on display along with a reproduction Roman sword and chain mail.

Further details about the Roman artefacts which form part of Biggar Museum’s Iron Age and Medieval Settlements collection can be found here

Sources

Canmore, national record of historic environment, 24/09/2021

Historic England, 2011, Roman Forts and Fortresses, http://historicengland.org.uk/images-books, 24/09/2021

Lockhart. D, Biggar and the house of Fleming, Edinburgh, Murray and Gibb printers, page 11-15.

Author: Anna Baillie
Date: 7th Jan 2022 Back to Blog
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