The landscape context of the Antonine Wall: a review of the literature

Richard Tipping (Author)

Eileen Tisdall (Author)

Smallscale Farms, Palaeoenvironmental Data, Cereal
Southern Uplands; Highlands; Scotland; UK
Roman, Iron Age, Bronze Age


The landscape, environmental and land use changes before, during and after Antonine occupation are examined for the region of central Scotland between the Southern Uplands and the Grampian Highlands, principally from the published literature. The purpose is to synthesize and make available a range of new palaeoenvironmental data, to evaluate critically these new data-sets, to search for significant shifts in landscape or land use and to characterize their timings and effects, thus placing the Antonine occupation in a coherent landscape context. It is established that economic expansion in the region occurred in the later Iron Age, demonstrably before Roman military occupation. This expansion developed from Bronze Age and earlier Iron Age small-scale farms and gathered pace in the last cal 200–300 years BC, for crop growing as well as pasture, and was continued rather than intensified in the first two centuries cal AD. It is difficult to see differences in this economic expansion north and south of the Antonine Wall itself, or east and west of the Forth–Clyde isthmus, but it is tentatively suggested that in the foothills of the Southern Uplands the Romans entered a landscape already decaying. Roman influence is perhaps recognizable at some localities in a reduction of cereal production and the expansion of grazed pasture, assumed to represent a restructuring of the native economy to support a new market. It is presumed that imports of foodstuffs continued to be important to Roman forces during Antonine occupation, although possible reconstructions of the sediments in the Forth and Clyde estuaries suggest these may not have provided ideal harbours. There is little evidence that this increased pastoral economy imposed stresses on soils or plant communities, and the market seems to have been readily supplied within the agricultural capacity of the landscape. Nevertheless, the native economy was probably artificially buoyed by the Roman presence, and withdrawal eventually led to what is best described as an agricutural recession, not population collapse.


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How to Cite
Tipping, R., & Tisdall, E. (2006). The landscape context of the Antonine Wall: a review of the literature. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 135, 443-469. Retrieved from

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