Here come the Vikings!

Today we started learning about the Vikings, with the help of a brilliant book called SCOTLAND’S VIKINGS by Frances and Gordon Jarvie (ISBN 978-1-905267-10-1) and the BBC primary school history website, which you can find here:

The Vikings first arrived in Scotland in the 790s, and most of their first visits were violent raids on the Scottish coast. However, later on, farmers, traders and craftsmen also came across from Scandinavia and settled in Scotland – so the history of the Vikings in Scotland was not entirely violent and warlike!

The Viking raiders came in long-boats called drakkars. These were long and narrow and relatively light, so they could move very quickly and could even be dragged overland for short distances. “Drakkar” means “dragon ship” because there was often a frightening dragon’s head carved on the prow. Here is a picture of one of these dragon prows:

Blackwolf drew this picture. The SCOTLAND’S VIKINGS book suggested designing your own drakkar prow, so Blackwolf created this one, with two dragon heads so that it looks extra scary!

We learnt that the Viking raiders often targeted religious communities because the monks were men of peace, not warriors, so they were not able to fight back. Also, the abbeys and monasteries often had valuable religious ornaments made of precious metals. In the year 795 AD Vikings attacked the monastery on the island of Iona. They attacked it again in 825 AD and this time they killed the abbot, Blathmac, because he refused to co-operate with them.

Shardspirit imagined what it would have been like to be at Iona abbey when the Vikings attacked. She has written the following story about it:

It was rainy on the night the attack happened. And it was sudden.
I was just out minding the sheep when suddenly they came out of nowhere, on
their big ships. The norsemen with their boats! I had heard rumors but never had I imagined them
attacking our little abbey on Iona isle. I saw them jump off the ship and swarm
around the abbey breaking their way in anywhere they could. It was too late to warn the abbey, and if I tried to
help then they would get me too. Helplessly I watched the brothers and sisters of the abbey being slaughtered
like cattle before a feast. Some of them tried to run, but they were caught up with and killed. I thought the attack
would never end. Then the attackers set the abbey on fire. After a while I could not bear to watch anymore
and I hid in some bushes till morning. Only in daylight could I really see how bad the damage was.
There were no survivors, half the building was burned down and the cattle were either dead
or milling uncertainly about. I gathered up as many as I could and put them in a smaller pen before seeing if
any food had been left over. Though as I thought it had all been taken. I decided to look down by the shore
and see if there was anything left over or something that I could get back to the mainland with. I found
a boat that the attackers had left and got it ready for sailing. I would have to come back for the cattle
another time, so I let them out of their pen, so that they wouldn't starve and sailed out. It was evening when I
reached the mainland. I sank to my knees. I was hungry, I was tired and I didn't know where to
go, but I was alive and that I was grateful for.

We intend to get out and about to see some real Viking artefacts in the National Museum of Scotland – we’ll blog about it when we do.

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Our Visit to the Antonine Wall

Yesterday we visited part of the remains of the Antonine Wall that runs across Scotland from the Forth to the Clyde. It was Built by Antoninus Pius, in the times when the romans were conquering Britain. They built a 40 mile long wall across Scotland. It was mainly built to keep the barbarians out. Outside the wall there were all sorts of traps and tricks, so that it was hard even to reach the wall. First they had ditches with thistles in them and were it would be easy to have things thrown onto your heads. After that the romans dug holes and pits with spears sticking out of the bottom. If you fell in, you would be speared. They were called lilia. The wall itself was made out of two layers of slabs of stone. Inside it was filled with earth from the ditches. When it was filled completely with earth the romans would put a layer of grass on top. Near Falkirk you can still see the remains of the wall, although it has been reduced to bumps and ridges in the ground. There is also a museum there that shows how it used to be and tells you all about what is known about the Antonine Wall, including games, sky shots and activities, plus the gift shop at the end.

Text by Shardspirit

This is a diagram of the Antonine Wall by Blackwolf.

The pictures underneath show me and my brother building a mini Antonine Wall.



Helen adds: The pictures were taken inside the exhibition about the Antonine Wall at Callendar House in Falkirk. We also bought an excellent book called The Antonine Wall by Geoff B. Bailey, ISBN 0954 04 5327,  for reading later.



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Das Museum von Schottland

Heute (21.6.2011) waren wir im Museum von Schottland. Als wir reingingen sahen wir ein Rennwagen vom Gewinner der Weltmeisterschaft. Zunächst gingen wir die Treppe runter. Da gab es eine Ausstellung über die Zeiten von Schottland. Wir sahen auch viele Sachen von den Römern. Das Museum hatte auch Steine mit Bilder reingekratzt. Danach gingen wir zu einer Glasshow. 🙂

Text von Blackwolf.



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A visit to the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh

Yesterday we decided to explore the National Museum of Scotland in our quest to find out more about the early Scottish peoples and the Romans in Scotland. We drove to Dunblane, passing Ardoch Roman fort, and took the train to Edinburgh. The train journey takes about an hour and is quite pleasant (well, it is pleasant off-peak, anyway); you can see Sterling Castle and the Wallace monument from the train.

The Museum of Scotland has much more than you can possibly see in a day, so we decided to look at the exhibits about early Scotland (up to the Romans) and come back another day to see the later stuff (mind you, we did sneak a peak at a Viking burial that was too intriguing to be ignored). The museum covers everything from the formation of the Scottish landscape over millions of years before the arrival of man, to much more modern exhibits, such as the racing car which sits next to the coffee bar, accompanied by a film of Jackie Stewart winning a race!

Unusually, the exhibits were arranged according to theme rather than chronologically. This made it a bit difficult to pick out items according to when they were made, but it was very good for comparing the same type of object from different periods, and seeing how it had developed. Here are two pictures of quern stones, one early British one and one Roman one. (A quern stone is used to grind grain to make flour.)

 Early British quern.

Imported Roman quern.

The earlier, British quern is basically just two stones, one big one and one smaller one. It must have been hard work to use! The Roman quern is made of a special type of stone from the Rhineland (Germany) and has a space for a handle, which would make grinding the grains much easier.

We also liked these Roman saucepans – one was used by an ordinary soldier and one by a Roman general – the general’s saucepan has beautiful enamel designs on it!

General's saucepan with enamelled handle.

Ordinary soldier's saucepan.

One of the things we liked very much was the section with Pictish (native Scottish) stone carving. Some of the designs are abstract – there are many large stones carved with spiral designs and smaller ones carved into ball shapes. Nobody really knows the significance of these carvings, although they probably had something to do with religion. Other designs showed animals, including a bull, a duck or goose and a boar. Here are some photos of the stone carvings we saw:

Today we decided to make our own “Pictish” carvings using soap. It’s quite easy to carve soap – all you need is a bar of soap (we used plain uncoloured and unscented soap because we thought it would be a bit daft to have pink or blue carvings!), an ordinary table knife and a plate or tray to work on (otherwise you get flakes of soap everywhere). We also improvised with other tools such as a potato peeler (the end is good for gouging out round bits) and a Nintendo stylus (NOT recommended use by Nintendo!! – it was an old one). Take care using the knife or peeler. Here are some photos of my son working on his piece of soap, and of the finished carvings by both children:

Blackwolf works on his piece of soap!

Shardspirit decided to carve a wolf onto her soap, plus some traditional spirals.

Finished carvings by Blackwolf and Shardspirit. Here, Blackwolf has carved a sword and shield.

Photo showing the reverse of Blackwolf's carving, with sword-in-the-stone design.

You can read more about the Museum of Scotland here: 









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Ardoch Roman fort, near Braco


Today we went to a Roman fort called Ardoch. When we got there we saw lots of straight hills of earth. There were lots of holes in them which rabbits dug. On one ridge we sat and talked and had a drink. We couldn’t see any of the walls but it was good anyway! 🙂

by Blackwolf

A Roman soldier (illustration by Shardspirit)

Helen adds: The Ardoch Roman fort was one of a chain of forts and watchtowers built along the Gask ridge around 80AD. At the time it marked the northernmost frontier of Roman Britain. Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall were built later. A small part of the Antonine Wall is still visible in Falkirk, so we hope to visit it next time we are there.  




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The Knock of Crieff…and the first ever Scots soundbite.

Yesterday we decided to travel a little further in time and learn something about the Romans in Scotland. At some time in the future we’d love to visit the remains of the Antonine Wall, but this time we decided to visit a site a little nearer home: the Knock of Crieff. (The Knock is a hill near the town.) There aren’t any Roman remains to be seen on the Knock of Crieff but many people believe it to have been the scene of a famous battle between the native Scots and the Romans. This battle was called the Battle of Mons Graupius and it is described in detail by the Roman historian Tacitus in his book Agricola (Agricola was the name of the Roman general leading the Romans into battle, and he was also Tacitus’ father-in-law). Our plan was to climb to the top of the Knock and then read an English translation of Tacitus’ description of the battle. There are two routes up the Knock, one short steep one and one longer, circular one. We came across the long circular one first so we decided to take that, but about a third of the way round we got bored and decided to take a side path straight up the hill. We got a bit lost on the way and it began to rain quite heavily. We wondered what the Roman soldiers thought of Scottish weather, especially the ones who had actually come from Italy! I expect they wished they had stayed at home with a wineskin or two and a nice plate of stuffed dormice. Eventually we took shelter under a tree and read Tacitus’ account of the battle. I had to read quite quickly because rain was dripping onto the pages and I was afraid the print would be washed away before I had finished!

The interesting thing about the description in Agricola is that it includes two long speeches which were made by Agricola himself to the Roman troops and by Galgacus (or Calgacus) to the local Scots tribesmen, before the battle began. Galgacus’ address is the very first recorded speech by a Scot! Agricola was mainly encouraging his men to continue expanding the boundaries of the Roman empire by conquering more and more of Northern Scotland. He said that he thought they could continue until they reached the sea. Galgacus painted a picture of how horrible life would be as slaves of the Romans. He said that if he and his men could break the army in front of them, there would be nothing much behind it except old men in forts. He criticised the Romans, saying that “they make a wilderness and call it peace.” This is Galgacus’ most famous “soundbite”! When the two leaders spoke to their armies, they soon had all the men cheering and shouting for battle.

At the beginning, things looked very good for the Scots. They occupied the hill, and they had all their chariots lined up at the bottom. It was a good position to defend. Also, there were more Scots than Romans. However, the Romans were very well organised and they were quite flexible, for example, when some of the Scots fled into the woods to escape, the Roman general Agricola was able to pick out some soldiers with light weaponry who were able to chase them easily over the difficult ground. Agricola also spread his men out quite early in the battle so that the Scots could not surround them. Sadly for Galgacus and his men, the Romans won the battle and the Scots were either killed or had to run away.

I asked the children “Who do you think should have won?” and they both said “The Scots.” It was interesting for me to consider this question too. I studied Greek and Roman history and literature at university, so I had always tended to see things from the Roman side. They sounded like a very civilised people, with their central heating and hot baths and running water! But I felt very sad for Galgacus and his men. I agreed with the children.

After we had finished reading about the battle, we walked around the Knock a little more and eventually we reached a clearing with a little monument like a sundial on it. I think this must be the top! We took some photographs of our walk which you can see below.


Most people probably have some idea of what a Roman soldier looked like, so here is a picture of a Scottish warrior from Galgacus’ time:

(Illustration by Blackwolf)



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What is a crannog?

This week we went to the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow and kicked off our journey through Scotland’s history by visiting an exhibition about “Scotland’s First People.” We learnt that the first people arrived in Scotland about 10,000 years ago. The exhibition covered the period from the arrival of these first people to the Vikings (who arrived in Scotland in 794 AD).

Our favourite thing in this exhibition was the description of the crannog from about 4,500 years ago. A crannog was a kind of dwelling built in the middle of a loch (lake). First of all the builders made a kind of artificial island in the loch by dumping stones, branches, etc in it until the mound stuck out of the water. Then they built a kind of hut surrounded by a fence. The crannog could be reached by boat or sometimes by a defensible walkway. We saw one of the boats. It was made out of a hollowed-out oak tree. According to the exhibition, the inhabitants of the crannog sometimes kept their animals inside too. We wondered how they managed to cross the water with them in such an unstable-looking boat!

Afterwards, we made our own model and picture of a crannog, which you can see here:

Model crannog made out of Geomag (by Blackwolf)

Illustration of a crannog (by Shardspirit)

(Click on images to get a bigger version!)


You can find out more about Kelvingrove here:

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