In 2012, a team from Rampart Scotland carried out an archaeological investigation at Sheriffside, a large crop mark site some 20 miles to the east of Edinburgh. Unexpectedly, a ditch measuring over 8m across and up to 2.80m deep was uncovered, which appears to represent the final phase of enclosure of the hillfort. Currently, this is the largest ditch discovered in the region and has produced a C14 date range of AD 211-384.
Archaeologically, this date range and re-cutting of the ditch is extremely interesting, as it falls into a turbulent era in the history of Southern Scotland. After the Romans withdrew behind Hadrian’s Wall in the early 3rd century AD, the Picts carried out frequent raids and may have forced the local tribes such as the Votadini into taking defensive action to protect themselves and their livestock.
A landscape of struggle and societal stress
There is no doubt that weakened military borders were the result of internal politics and competing factions which were beginning to plague the Roman Empire. As a result, people in this largely abandoned region appear to have been living in a landscape of struggle and societal stress for over a century; as Constantius Chlorus’s punitive raids north of the Antonine Wall in AD 305, Theodosius’ reprisals in AD 368-9, Maximus’ conflicts of AD 384 and Stilichos’ Pictish War of AD 400 (Salway 1991, 419) all attest to. A reference to the troubles in Northern Britain in AD 360 by ex-Roman army officer Ammianus Marcellinus paints a grim picture:
“The wild tribes of the Scots and the Picts broke their undertaking to keep peace, were causing destruction in those areas near the frontiers, and the provincials, exhausted by the repeated disasters they had already suffered, were caught in the grip of fear..” – Res Gestae, Book XX, chapter 1