Orcadian broch builders
one time, the accepted archaeological theory on the origin of the brochs was that
they were built after an "invasion" of "broch builders" -
people thought to have been people forced northwards by the Roman invasion of
Modern archaeology, however, has debunked
this long-held idea.
Instead, the current thinking
is that the people who constructed Orkney's brochs were simply farmers and fishermen
- the descendents of the islands' Neolithic tomb
They developed their
dwellings in response to the needs of their time, not only providing a solid defensive
structure, but probably also to allow them to show-off.
from the sea?
The fact that most Orcadian brochs were
built by the coast has led to the suggestion they were constructed to defend
against a sea-borne threat.
Early historians blamed the
Romans, who they said, made trips north hunting slaves.
most recent proponent of this theory is Shetland archivist, Brian Smith, who believes
Iron Age Orkney was the centre of a vast Iron Age province, ruled over by a chieftain
who co-ordinated a massive programme of defensive brochs to counter a threat from
Mr Smith, who carried out an 18-month survey
of brochs in Orkney and Shetland, proposes that these broch-builders had an enemy
to the south, so constructed their fortifications in strategic positions, watching
over harbours where an enemy might gain a foothold, as well as monitor huge expanses
The brochs are also found clustered around places where an enemy might co-ordinate
an attack from east to west or north to south. Click
here for more details.
However, as always, there are
other suggestions as to the relevance of the broch's coastal locations. Perhaps most importantly, a coastal position allows easy
access to the sea for fishing and transport and meant the structures could
be built without wasting good agricultural land.
the presence of external defences, comprising of ramparts and ditches, would certainly
verify that brochs were built with some defence in mind.
this, however, there is little or no evidence of fighting or of the violent destruction
of a broch.
This has led to the idea that the broch dwellers
lived in a society where feuds over lands and status were common - perhaps not
surprising considering the small area involved - but that actual conflict rarely
escalated above local squabbles.
The fact that brochs across Scotland are built
to practically the same design led to the theory that they were the work of travelling
These wandering artisans, it is suggested,
undertook commissions from individuals, or families, wishing to signal their wealth
and standing by constructing a broch.
But wandering craftsmen
or not, what brochs do tell us is that Iron Age society was led by strong individuals,
leaders who were anxious to broadcast their status and wealth to their rivals.
An imposing broch provided an ideal method of doing this.
brochs were designed to be impressive - an outward show of power, wealth and prestige.
To build a broch required considerable manpower, so it was clearly apparent that
anyone with a broch must have control, or influence, over a sizeable workforce.
may have continued as far as the continual maintenance of the broch, which, it
has been suggested, could have been organised to reinforce the superiority of
the broch owner and maintain the social order within the village.
time, the defensive role of the brochs became unnecessary and the dwellers began
moving outside the walls.
As the brochs were abandoned,
their towering walls were often dismantled, providing a source of building material
for the new dwellinghouses.