The history of Scotland is fascinating and complex; there are Roman soldiers, Vikings, noble clansmen, powerful ruling monarchs and even enlightened philosophers.
Scotland has experienced extraordinary growth and change during the course of its lifetime - it’s a place that has been invaded and settled many times and that has made mighty contributions to culture and society.
Explore thousands of years of people and events with our timeline that highlights some of the most significant moments in Scotland’s fascinating history.
The birth of Scotland
The Palaeolithic Era
The period of earliest known occupation of Scotland by man is from the Palaeolithic era – also known as the Stone Age. Hunter-gatherers hunted for fish and wild animals and gathered fruit, nuts, plants, roots and shells.
The earliest prehistoric tools found still surviving in Scotland date from 3000 BC – during the Neolithic age Scotland was home to nomadic hunter-gatherers as well as the first farmers who built permanent dwellings. The remains of domestic and ritual buildings from this time make up The Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. Visit UNESCO for more information.
The Roman Empire
Scotland’s recorded history began with the arrival of the Roman Empire. Despite building two impressive fortifications – Hadrian’s Wall to defend the northern border, and the Antonine Wall across Central Scotland to advance it forward – the Romans never truly conquered Caledonia. Unable to defeat the Caledonians and Picts, the Romans eventually withdrew and over time retreated away from Britain. Much of the 60km Antonine Wall survives and it was inscribed as a World Heritage Site, one of six in Scotland, since 2004.
Arrival of the Vikings
Vikings were accomplished seamen at this point in history, and around 800 AD they began migrating from Norway and Denmark, crossing the treacherous North Sea to trade and settle in Scotland. While Vikings began to settle in the west, the Picts were forging a new kingdom; the Kingdom of Alba.
Macbeth rules Scotland
Immortalised forever in Shakespeare’s fictitious retelling, Macbeth is perhaps one of the best-known early Scottish kings. Macbeth ruled as King of Alba from 1040 to his death in battle in 1057.
Becoming a feudal society
In the 12th century the Kingdom of Alba continued to grow and became a feudal society. The Treaty of Falaise, signed by William I, ushered in a period of relative peace in Scotland. During the reigns of Alexander II and then Alexander III, more land was turned over to agriculture, trade with the continent bolstered the economy and monasteries and abbeys grew and flourished around the country.
Fighting for independence
Battle of Stirling Bridge
A succession crisis brought unrest to Scotland after the death of Alexander III. England’s monarch, Edward I, believed he should be recognised as overlord of Scotland and his troops marched north in a series of bloody sieges. In 1297, Edward’s army planned to cross the River Forth at Stirling Bridge; the Scots seized the opportunity to attack at the crossing of the River Forth, the Stirling Bridge, forcing the English army to retreat. It was here one of Scotland’s most famous figures, William Wallace, earned his place in the history books forever.
Robert the Bruce crowned King of Scotland
Unrest continued into the 14th century when Robert the Bruce took the throne and was crowned king. Fighting continued until 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn, where Robert the Bruce and his army defeated Edward II, a major turning point in his rule.
The Declaration of Arbroath
A letter written in Latin, signed by Scottish Barons and Nobles, and sent to Pope John XXII, the Declaration proclaimed Scotland’s status as an independent sovereign state. Though its effect was largely symbolic, the powerful declaration remains an important document in Scottish history – many historians believe it inspired America’s founding fathers to write the United States Declaration of Independence. For more information visit the National Records of Scotland.
The Union of the Crowns
Renaissance in Scotland
The cultural, intellectual and artistic movement that took hold around Europe brought significant changes to Scotland; education, intellectual life, literature, art, architecture, music and politics all advanced in the late 15th century.
Mary Queen of Scots
Mary, newly born at Linlithgow Palace, was just six days old when her father, James V, died and she was crowned Queen of Scots. Her reign was marked by Catholic-Protestant conflict and civil unrest in a period known as the ‘rough wooing’. In England, worried about the possibility of a Catholic plot against her, Elizabeth I imprisoned Mary and later, after almost 19 years of captivity, had her executed at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire in 1567 at the age of 44.
The Union of the Crowns
James VI succeeded the throne at just 13 months old after Mary was forced to abdicate. When Elizabeth I died with no children, James VI succeeded to the English throne and became James VI & I – a historic move that’s now known as the Union of the Crowns.
The Act of Union
In 1707 The Act of Union brought Scotland even closer to Britain by creating a single Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain at the Palace of Westminster.
Battle of Culloden
The Battle of Culloden in 1746 was the final Jacobite rising and the last battle fought on British soil. The Jacobites were no match for the Hanoverian army – the battle lasted just an hour and the army was brutally crushed.
Shortly after the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden, a period known as the Highland Clearances began. A number of laws were introduced in an attempt to assimilate the Highlanders; wearing traditional tartan attire was banned and clan chiefs had their rights to jurisdiction removed.
The Age of Enlightenment
The ideas from philosophers living in Scotland during The Age of Enlightenment shaped the modern world. The intellectual movement sought to understand the natural world and the human mind and ranged across philosophy, chemistry, geology, engineering, technology, poetry, medicine, economics and history. Figures like Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Adam Smith, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott are still celebrated for their achievements.
Urban and Industrial Scotland
Industrial advances and wealth accumulated from the trade of tobacco, sugar and cotton bring about the dawn of urban Scotland at the turn of the 19th century. The country shifted from rural to urban, and huge towns, massive factories and heavy industry took hold. Mining, shipbuilding and textiles were very important to Scotland’s development during this time.
The 20th Century and Beyond
First World War
Scottish soldiers played a significant role in the First World War and Glasgow’s Clyde side was an important centre during the war as well – products from the shipyards, steel works and iron foundaries were vital to the war effort.
North Sea Oil
The drilling of the first North Sea oil well was considered a major industrial achievement of the time, creating a huge supporting industry in Scotland and giving the UK access to oil made at home for the first time.
Scottish culture worldwide
Films like Braveheart and Trainspotting helped to establish Scotland as a cultural powerhouse; authors, artists and musicians from Scotland were enjoying renewed success. the global phenomenon, Harry Potter, was written in Edinburgh, and in 1997 scientists from the Roslin Institute successfully cloned the first mammal from an adult cell, Dolly the Sheep.
Scottish Parliament reconvenes
The calls for more devolved powers had been growing for decades and resulted in a referendum in 1979. A second referendum was held in September 1997, with the vote delivering greater powers. In 1999 the Scottish Parliament reconvened for the first time in nearly 300 years, ushering in a new era for the Scottish people. The Scottish Parliament building at the foot of the Royal Mile officially opened on October 9, 2004.
Road to Referendum
In 2012, the Edinburgh Agreement was signed by Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond and UK Prime Minister David Cameron. It paved the way for a once in a generation referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 by confirming the Scottish Parliament’s power to hold a vote that will be respected by both governments.
On the 18 September 2014, the people of Scotland voted. In response to the question, 'Should Scotland be an independent country', 1,617,989 (45%) voted Yes and 2,001,926 (55%) voted No.
Net Zero Ambitions
The Glasgow Climate Pact was adopted at the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow in November 2021, to help tackle the global climate emergency. COP26 was attended by world leaders, climate experts and public figures from nearly 200 countries.