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The History of Melrose

Trimontium: Roman Melrose

In 80 AD the Romans came to shatter the Celtic idyll. Their great military road from Dover to Aberdeen linked a chain of forts of which Trimontium, three kilometres east of Melrose, was the most important in the 150 kilometre road-length between the Rivers Tyne and Forth.

The fort was garrisoned for about 100 years until the late second century. At its height the six hectare (15 acres) fort housed 1500 Roman infantry and cavalry. In the 80 hectares (200 acres) of fortified annexes and enclosures around, a similar number of civilians lived and worked: garrison wives and children, tradesmen and artisans in wood, leather, glass, bronze and iron, fishermen, farm workers and stockmen, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.

Special features of the settlement were the great parade ground in the east annex set around with shrines to the Romano-Celtic gods. At the north east corner of the fort was a military amphitheatre. In the west annex was an extensive office block for the administration and taxation of the district around. Rotary queues of both Roman and native type attest to rich corn-lands. Water for this great settlement was drawn from wells up to ten metres deep dug into the water-rich clay of the site. Some 200 wells have been located.

As the wells went out of use they were filled with rubbish from around, rubbish but archaeological treasure. Even more precious to the archaeologist were gifts to the Gods of the Underworld, broken to release the spirits, deposited before final sealing of the abandoned wells.

Nothing remains visible on the site but the low swell of the eroded fort ramparts and the hollow of the amphitheatre. Indeed, the site, though mentioned in Roman writings as Trimontium, was entirely lost until the railway building of the 19th Century cut through it.

The Romans maintained a keen interest in the political stability of the Lothians and the Tweed Valley even after they withdrew to Hadrians Wall in about 180 AD. They marked this interest by gifts of silver and luxuries to the tribal princes, and occasional savage military intrusions into the old Antonine Wall line and the "badlands", north of the River Forth.

Eildon Hill North, and the Bronze Age city thereon, was apparently re-occupied by the native Britons in this sub-Roman period up to the abandonment of the whole province of Britannia in 410 AD. The Western Empire was under attack from Celtic and Teutonic tribes from north of the Rhine, and they in turn were under lethal pressure from Attila's Huns driving them to the sea.

Roman recruitment of these tribesmen from beyond the Rhine and from the North Sea coast as army and navy auxiliaries had familiarised many with the riches of Britannia and the lowlands of Alba, Scotland to be.

With the Roman withdrawal, raiders and setters flooded in: Angles, Jutes and Saxons into the southern and eastern lowlands, and the Irish, the Scots into the western islands and the mountains of Alba, there to found the kingdom of Dalriada that was to grow into Scotland.

Locally, in the Tweed Valley, it was Angles who came with their families to found the kingdom of Bernicia, the heartland of Northumbria to be.

Hilde Paxton will take you on a magical journey discovering the region's stunning historic buildings and landmarks, and will ensure your visit to the area is as warm and welcoming as possible. She can be contacted on 01896850644, 07900030666, email:- scottish_borders_tours@yahoo.co.uk or visit the web site at www.scottishborderstours.co.uk to find out more.