I was out recently leading a walk through this beautiful city – see ideas for guided walks at www.edinburghwalks.com/walks – when I was asked why the Romans didn’t enter Scotland, but hid behind Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England fearing attacks from northern barbarians. Well the truth is that the Romans did come into Scotland and in fact made it up to the Moray Coast which is considerably further north of Edinburgh. They also built a structure in earth and wood in the Central Belt between the Rivers Clyde and Forth called the Antonine Wall. The Romans did not stay long – something to do with the weather? – but they were most certainly here and they have left evidence of this.
One of their forts was in Cramond, a village to the North of Edinburgh which sits on the mighty Forth estuary and at the end of the tributary called the River Almond. There is evidence of accommodation here, but it was not until 1997 that a most amazing item was discovered.
The Cramond Ferryman discovered a sandstone sculpture in the mud of the River Almond and it turned out to be the most important Roman find in Scotland in many years. The sandstone was not from a local quarry and was dated as being about 1,800 years old. It is likely to be a memorial stone to a high ranking Roman officer and is symbolic of death. It is a bit grizzly, but depicts a lioness devouring a bearded naked man, who has his hands tied behind his back and is likely to be of a prisoner – more than likely a resident of Scotland. There are also two snakes on the base of the stone which probably depicted the survival of the soul.
Being sandstone, it has been worn down by the river in the last 1,800 years, but the open lioness’s mouth – and sharp teeth – can clearly be seen, as can the depiction of the poor barbarian.
The stone now sits proudly on show within level -1 of the National Museum of Scotland, which is in central Edinburgh and is well worth a visit. Even better, it is free to enter and is fantastic.