The vicious but well-organised and hygiene-conscious ancient Romans are back in Falkirk and Bo’ness next month - with a packed programme full of fascinating insight into the Antonine Wall.
Following last year’s successful Big Roman Week the organisation is being handed to Falkirk Community Trust, currently planning details of a programme full of themed events, displays and talks linked to the famous World Heritage Site turf boundary wall of ancient times.
The fun kicks off on Saturday, September 15, with a Big Roman Day at Kinneil House in Bo’ness, followed by events at libraries and museums across the Falkirk Council area.
There will be organised walks to Roman sites along the route of the Antonine Wall - to Kinneil, Bo’ness, and from Twechar to Kirkintilloch.
There will almost certainly be a chance, too, to meet some ancient Roman soldiers in their characteristic 1st and 2nd Century AD “lorica segmentata” armour.
It’s the tenth anniversary of the Wall being declared a World Heritage Site and - nice touch - the start of the programme coincides with the birthday of Emperor Antoninus Augustus Pius, who commissioned the wall ... and who could never have dreamed he would one day be immortalised in the name of a shopping mall in Cumbernauld.
Antoninus gets a good press from historians, having presided over a period of relative peace and consolidation, but never left Italy and died aged 75.
He was born on September 19, AD 86, just a few years after Agricola led an army to an alleged victory (for which we have just one account - by his nephew Tacitus) on the slopes of a mountain somewhere in the north-east.
Roman efforts to subjugate what later became Scotland ultimately foundered, of course, but during its heyday the wall, made from turf, made the central belt a Roman-dominated zone.
Elaborate monuments (once painted in full colour) which testified to their might and military prowess (now in Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum) ended up as lintels over farmhouse doors.
Apart from some key sites there are only traces of the formidable fortified line they hoped would keep barbarian marauders at bay, but what remains offers a fascinating glimpse into the brutal but advanced civilisation which once dominated much of what was then the known world.
Along with heated bath houses, fish paste and other state of the art mod cons the Romans brought gladiatorial fights to the death, crucifixion and subjugation - their empire was founded on extreme violence and, sometimes, genocide.
One fascinating fact likely to emerge in this year’s activities is that few of the people you might have met in the wall zone 2,000 years ago were native to Italy, as the frontier was manned by colonial troops - like the cohort of Syrian archers based at Twechar’s Bar Hill fort.
These men, along with others from other far-off countries like Gaul (modern France) would have added their own distinctive cultural traits to the area’s Celtic tribal civilisation.
But it was the famous legions who built the wall - and who left proud testimonies to their efforts in the form of distance slabs.
The armoured ranks of Legio Valeria Victrix, Legio XIV Gemina and Legio II Augusta would have been an awesome sight for native peoples.
Falkirk Community Trust will be publishing more details of this year’s events in due course.