Brochs are among the most iconic monuments in Scotland. They are thick-walled, circular buildings with stairs in the walls leading to upper floors. Brochs have a distinctive ‘cooling tower’ shape and may have once stood 13m tall. They dominated the Iron Age Caithness landscape.

Caithness has more brochs than any other area of Scotland: there may be as many as 200. As with much of the county’s archaeology the majority were excavated in the late 19th- and early 20th centuries by early antiquarians, such as this spectacular example at Dunbeath, or the promontory settlement at Nybster.

Brochs were homes, refuges and symbols of power. They are closely linked to the emergence of warrior-aristocracy types of society. It appears that some brochs were magnets for high status activities, such as metalworking, and the inhabitants had access to exotic goods. This period witnessed contact between the native inhabitants and the Romans. The Romans invaded Scotland 3 times during the 1st and 4th centuries AD. Although they built forts and temporary camps in southern and central Scotland there is no such evidence in northern Scotland, including Caithness. However, we know that Romans circumnavigated northern Scotland and a handful of Roman finds – mainly pottery and glass – have been recovered from brochs in the county. Whether this was acquired by trade or Romans stopping off prior to attempting to cross the treacherous Pentland Firth is impossible to now know.

Back to Iron & Brochs: Iron Age