BURNSWARK HILL, SCOTLAND – at the remains of a native hill fort dating back to the days of Hadrian’s Wall and the Roman occupation of ancient Britain, a new story is emerging.
“This literally is a site where people suffered an attrition to the very end and I would suspect that probably nobody survived this and the Roman army moved on into the rest of Scotland.” – Lead archaeologist Andrew Nicholson.
Burnswark is a tall hill that juts 1,000 feet out from the Solway plain. It’s visible for miles around. It used to be the site of a native fort, one that was, eventually, occupied by two Roman camps on the north and south slopes that were capable of supporting 6,000 soldiers at once. Archaeologists have been excavating at the site for the past year in an attempt to figure out what went on here.
The first theory states the Romans found the fort abandoned and used it to train their men, like an early firing range. Another proposes that the Romans found it still occupied by local ancient highlanders and lay siege to the fort to starve them out.
However, lead archaeologist Andrew Nicholson has a much darker theory to suggest.
He believes that Burnswark was a site of a bloody massacre that was the first hit in a series of attacks in an attempt to subdue the wild ancient Scotland.
“What this probably is, is the start of the Antonine push from Hadrian’s Wall, conquering all of southern Scotland.” – Andrew Nicholson.
Previously, Emperor Hadrian had found that he could not keep Britain and Scotland – predominantly Scotland – under Roman control. Instead of trying to conquer the barbarians, he constructed Hadrian’s Wall, “to separate Romans from barbarians”, according to the Historia Augusta.
However, Emperor Hadrian died and was succeeded by Antoninus Pius, who was anxious for a victory to add to his name. So, he set his sights on Scotland right around 140 AD, and launched a huge invasion. Nicholson believes that invasion started here, at Burnswark.
An Act of Terror
What evidence supports this theory? Well, two months earlier, archaeologists used metal detectors to screen the Burnswark site and found copious amounts of lead shot used in Roman slingshot ballistics. It doesn’t look like it was just routine target practice. The shot used was what has been labeled as “the Roman Centurion’s terror weapon”: slingshot bullets with a 4mm hole drilled into them.
Why did each piece of ballistics have holes drilled into them? Well, archaeologists made replicas and fired them, and discovered they made a whistling noise when released.
“You’d hear this screeching noise that you’ve never heard before or experienced before in your life,” Andrew Nicholson explained, “What sort of unearthly spirits are these dreadful Romans conjuring up to assail you with amongst all their missiles? I hear this keening sound through the air and the chap with the spear next to me drops dead and I wonder what on earth is doing it. I’d be utterly terrified.”
Further evidence that this was a massacre meant to scare the natives into submission was supplied by John Reid of the Roman Heritage group, Trimontium Trust.
It seemed that Roman general Lollius Urbicus was brought to Burnswark all the way from the Middle East to subdue the native Scotsmen. Who was this guy? Well, John Reid explained, “He made his name in the Jewish war which had taken place in Israel in the previous four years where they had literally gone through the whole of Judea taking hill forts one after the other. He was given the job of taking Scotland, we know that from Roman literary sources.”
The researchers working on the site believe Lollius Urbicus chose Burnswark as the site to blood his troops. The number of soldiers called in, the general, and the sheer amount of slingshot ballistics specifically created to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies suggests that Burnswark was the site of complete overkill against a much smaller, weaker army. The native Celts never stood a chance.
John Reid ends the narrative on a somber note:
“The Romans were well recognized for what is called ‘exemplary violence’. These people literally did suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”