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Battle of Mons Graupius
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Battle of Mons Graupius

The Battle of Mons Graupius took place in AD 83 or AD 84. Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the Roman governor had sent his fleet ahead to panic the Caledonians, and, with light infantry reinforced with British auxiliaries, reached the site, which he found occupied by the enemy.

Even though the Romans were outnumbered in their campaign against the tribes of Britain, they had difficulties in getting their foes to face them in open battle. The Caledonians were the last to be subdued. After many years of avoiding the fight, the Romans managed to force the battle by marching on the main granaries of the Caledonians, just as they had been filled from the harvest. The Caledonians had no choice but to fight, or starve over the next winter.

The Caledonian hordes were no match for the discipline of the legions. It is estimated that a total of 20,000 Romans faced 60,000 Caledonian warriors, and a further assembly of wives and children.

The allied auxiliary infantry, 8,000 in number, were in the centre, while 3,000 cavalry were at the flanks. The Roman Legionaires were in front of their camp wall, being kept in reserve. The Caledonian army under Calgacus was stationed on higher ground; its vanguard was on the level ground, but the other ranks rose in tiers, up the slope of the hill in a horseshoe formation.

After a brief exchange of missiles, Agricola ordered auxiliaries to close with the enemy. The Caledonians were pushed back up the hill. Those at the top attempted an outflanking movement, but were themselves outflanked by Roman cavalry. The Caledonians were then comprehensively routed and fled for the shelter of nearby woodland, but were relentlessly pursued by well-organised Roman units.

It is said that the Roman Legions took no part in the battle, being held in reserve throughout. The successful auxillies had been recruited from the Batavii tribe. According to Tacitus, 10,000 Caledonian lives were lost at a cost of only 360 Romans.

Following this final battle, it was proclaimed that Agricola had finally subdued all the tribes of Britain. Soon after he was recalled to Rome, and his victories in the far north were not pressed home.

The site of the battle is unknown but presumably lies in the Scottish Highlands, and Bennachie in Aberdeenshire on the border between the Highlands and the Lowlands has been suggested as the exact site. It has also been suggested that the decisive victory reported by Tacitus is an exaggeration, either by Tacitus himself, or by Agricola, for political reasons.