fortress of Inchtuthil was built in A.D.83 as the advance headquarters of Agricola. It
held about 5,500 men. There were barracks, and administration offices, drill hall and
officers' houses, a hospital and a great workshop which must have housed the Roman
equivalent of our R.E.M.E., doing all the repair work for the garrison and for the 5,000
or so other men who were out garrisoning the Highland Line. Into this workshop must have
come wagons for repair, and all the maintenance work of the army. Its three work
bays were 40 feet wide, and 200 or 120 feet long, with a 200-foot length of workrooms.
Fortresses like this were rare in Britain and not numerous elsewhere in the world.
The Roman Empire only had 27 legions, so there could never be more than 27 fortresses in
use at any one time. Moreover, these great fortresses were so cleverly sited for
strategic and transport purposes that after the Romans left them they were the logical
places to build later towns. They became built over, as in York and Chester, and the
archaeologists have never been able to get at them again.
something unusual happened at Inchtuthil. There was trouble on the Danube, and the
legion garrisoned there was pulled out and sent east between the years A.D.87 and 90.
The Roman frontier fell back south to Strathearn and later to the Wall, leaving
Inchtuthil many miles inside enemy territory; and the frontier never came back again.
Inchtuthil is the only fortress site known which was occupied for only six years
and then left untouched, with no further building over it.
garrison was told that it must leave nothing which would help the enemy in any way.
Professor Richmond has unearthed some of the evidence of this order. All the houses
were timber-framed, with wattle and daub fillings: the wattle had been burned, and the
timber removed. He found a pottery store on one of the main streets: every
single pot had been taken out and systematically smashed into pieces no bigger than the
top joint of a man's thumb. Even the drains and sewers had been filled up tightly
the end they must have run into transport difficulties, because one valuable load could
not be moved. They had taken away the timber frames of the buildings; but now, for
some reason, they could not find room for their stock of nails in the great workshop.
These were important. Each one was hand-made, and in any case they could be melted
down and hammered out into weapons by the Caledonians. The Roman historian Herodian
wrote at the time that the Caledonian tribes valued iron more than silver and gold.
Romans dug a pit in the corner of the store, poured the nails into it 12 feet deep, packed
six feet of clean earth on top, and then carefully demolished the building over the place
to remove all traces of the pit. The job could hardly have been more expertly done.
The pit lay hidden for nearly 1900 years.
Richmond came across it early in the summer of 1961, when he trenched across the site and
noticed a difference in the colour and texture of the soil. Digging down he came
first on the rusted remains of 10 iron wheel tires, and then a crusted mass of metal where
countless nails formed a solid sheet. But it was a sheet, not a block.
Below it was a further mass of nails, almost unrusted. The Professor could hardly
believe his eyes. Most of the nails still had heads and edges as clean-cut as the
day they were made. Some actually had bright patches of metal showing through the
light coat of rust which covered them. Almost all would have passed for 20 or 30
There were over
threequarters of a million of them, ranging in size from 2 inches up to 16 inches.
They weighed nearly seven tons.
'R.E.M.E.' stands for The Corps of the Royal
Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
'Professor Richmond' is (Sir)
Ian A Richmond - Professor of the Archaeology of the Roman Empire at Oxford who died only
a few weeks after the dig finished which was not 'written up' until much later.
'Daub' is a mixture of mud and
straw. First a framework of wood and sticks (wattle) was built, and then the daub was put
on thickly to cover it.
View a plan of Inchtuthil.
fascinating lesson the nails from Inchtuthil provided for nuclear scientists today.
Here is a nail
similar in shape to the Roman nail made 2000 years on.