Occupying the northernmost reaches of the island of Great Britain, Scotland’s history has long been intertwined with that of its formidable neighbor to the south. Having fought repeatedly for independence throughout its history, the nation of Scotland often found itself the object of desire for invading forces from across the world.
Some of Scotland’s earliest recorded history comes from the conquests and travels of the Roman Empire, who seized large portions of England and Scotland at the turn of the 1st Century. At the time, Scotland was inhabited by various indigenous tribes known to the Romans as the “Caledonians.” Frequent skirmishes between the Romans and these local tribes are said to have inspired the construction of Hadrian’s famous wall to isolate the natives from the burgeoning empire (with debatable effectiveness).
By the mid-4th Century, the Romans had all but abandoned their attempts to control the British Isles, and over the next millennia the local kingdoms grew in strength and coordination. Among them were the Gaels and their kingdom of Dal Riata in the west, and the Picts and their kingdom to the east.
Although the Gaelic language (and much of their culture) prevailed over that of the Picts, by most accounts it was the Gaels who were slowly absorbed as the Pictish kingdom itself evolved into what became the Kingdom of Alba. In the Gaelic language the Kingdom of Alba translates as the Kingdom of Scotland, and over time all who inhabited their lands came to be known as Scots.
The arrival of the first Vikings from Denmark and Norway to the shores of Scotland around the turn of the 9th Century brought a new threat to the fledgling kingdom. However, while coastal settlements across western Scotland suffered from a number of raids by these Norsemen, it was England that suffered the majority of their wrath.
In 1124, King David I was crowned King of Scots, ushering in an era of sweeping changes so vast that historians came to refer to the period as the "Davidian Revolution." The rise of feudalism changed the Scottish approach to land ownership, local governance, and military structure.
It was under King David that Scotland constructed the first towns by royal charter. Known as burghs, these officially-sanctioned settlements provided a crucial source of income for Scottish monarchs for centuries to come. The commerce (and subsequent tax revenue) created in the burghs proved to be a critical factor in Scotland's ongoing development throughout the middle ages.
Some 200 years after David's reign, Scotland faced the growing specter of English rule over its lands and people. What came to be known as the First War of Scottish Independence began during the reign of notorious English King Edward "Longshanks", whose brutal tactics and disdain for the Scots incited a conflict that would last more than 20 years.
It was during this revolution that two of Scotland's most famous heroes, Sir William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, first rose to prominence. Both would lead Scotland's armies into battle against the English Kings, first Longshanks, and later his son Edward II.
Under the rule of Robert, the Declaration of Arbroath was signed in 1320 and delivered to the pope. Considered by many to be the world's first declaration of independence, and the later inspiration for the United States Declaration of Independence, this document claimed Scotland's status as a sovereign state. And for a time, it held true.
Robert the Bruce was succeeded by his son, David II, who in turn died childless in 1371. This led to the throne passing to Robert II, the grandson of Robert the Bruce (through his daughter Marjorie) and the high steward of Scotland, Walter Stewart.
As the first king of the royal house of Stewart, Robert's reign marked the beginning of the Stewart Dynasty (later changed to Stuart), a continuous line of rulers who lead Scotland until the early 17th century. Among the Stuart monarchs was the famous Mary, Queen of Scots, who was notably imprisoned and later beheaded after being convicted of planning the assassination of Queen Elizabeth of England in an attempt to usurp her throne.
In 1706, Scotland and England entered into negotiations to unite the two kingdoms in an effort to avoid the possibility of another protracted conflict, and to improve the financial security and trade arrangements of both sides. The agreed upon Treaty of Union led to the Acts of Union that officially brought both nations together as the United Kingdom of Great Britain on May 1st, 1707.
Coinciding with the Industrial Revolution, the 18th Century marked the dawn of a period known as the "Scottish Enlightenment" when Scottish culture flourished. Advances in architecture and engineering, literature, music, and medicine all brought Scotland esteem and influence across the world. It was during this time that Scotland became famous for its shipwrights, who contributed greatly to the transition from wooden sailing ships to steamships made of iron.