"In the 46th year from the incarnation
of our Lord, Claudius was the second of the Romans to invade
Britain, and a great part of the island surrendered to him.
And he added the isles of Orkney, the isles of the Picts,
to the Roman empire and from there he returned to Rome."
Despite several early historical
accounts, the Roman Empire never made it as far north
as Orkney in any great numbers - if they ventured this far at all.
There is no evidence of a Roman presence in Orkney,
although there have been a few Roman artefacts unearthed at late
Iron Age/Pictish sites.
These tend to be things like fragments of pottery
and jewellery - items that do not necessarily mean that the people
of Orkney had any contact with the Romans - only that they knew,
or traded with, people that did.
But according to some classical scholars, Orkney
and Rome were in contact.
According to Orosius, Orcadian emissaries made
a formal submission to the Roman Emperor Claudius at the time of
the Roman invasion of Britain in AD43.
Because these Orkney chieftains
were familiar with a sophisticated diplomatic manoeuvre used by
Gaulish tribes to avoid devastation by the advancing Romans, it
has been suggested that the Orcadians had actually arrived from
The Claudius episode, although it might well be
true, has generally been taken to be an exaggerated Roman "boast".
It was symbolic of the power of Rome to state that they had "subdued"
Orkney - being as it was one of the furthest extremities of the British
Isles. In other words, the Roman "conquest" of Orkney was
being used to emphasise the extent of their rule in Britain.
The same is probably the case when we read that
Agricola also "subdued" the islands in AD84.
On saying that, however, there are some who think
that Orkney did have tangible links to Rome.
Archaeologist Andrew Fitzpatrick concentrated
on the shards of Roman amphora found at the Broch
of Gurness - an amphora of a style that had become obsolete
Roman goods of these dates were rare further south in Scotland,
which would imply that, some time before Agricola invaded Scotland,
the Orcadian inhabitants of Gurness had links and access to Roman
Fitzpatrick suggested that kings/chieftains in
Orkney had connections (either through marriage or military alliance)
with tribes in the far south of Scotland.
This could explain the
number of broch-like structures
in the Lothian region. Fitzpatrick went so far as to suggest
Orkney links with tribes in Essex who were known to have submitted
The Roman practice of establishing "puppet"
kingdoms along its expanding frontier could be related to the Claudius
and Agricola reference - did the Roman invaders form some kind of
alliance with certain powerful families in Orkney that benefited
them both? It is certainly possible.
The same may have been the case with Agricola's
alleged conquest of Orkney in AD84, in which he is reported to have
"discovered and subdued" the islands.
However, this must remain, for the time being
at least, as mere speculation.