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Principles for Selecting Battlefields

Covenanters Field, Bothwell Bridge


A battlefield is defined in the Inventory as an area of land over which a battle was fought or significant activities relating to a battle occurred.  A battle is a combative engagement involving wholly or largely military forces that had the aim of inflicting lethal force against an opposing force.

Assessment of National Importance

A battlefield is of national importance if, in informed opinion, it makes a contribution to the understanding of the archaeology and history of the nation as a whole, or has the potential to do so, or holds a particularly significant place in the national consciousness.

For a battlefield to be included in the Inventory, it must be considered to be of national importance either for its association with key historical events or figures; or for the physical remains and/or archaeological potential it contains; or for its landscape context. In addition, it must be possible to define the site on a modern map with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

Some nationally important battles are not included in the Inventory because they cannot be accurately defined on a map on the basis of current knowledge. This is a particular problem for early sites where the documentary evidence is too sparse or imprecise to identify location sufficiently well. If new evidence emerges it may be possible to include some such sites in the future.

The full criteria for selecting battlefields for the Inventory are set out in Annex 6 of Scottish Historic Environment Policy.

Researching sites

Historic Environment Scotland has commissioned detailed research on sites in the Inventory. This involved desk-based research of historical sources and field visits to identify the extent of the battlefield.  Each Inventory description includes a list of the main sources used for compiling the information.  

Desk-based research involved a review of documentary sources that mention the battle, both contemporary (or near contemporary) accounts of the event, but also major sources of later date.  

A very important source of evidence for locating events of the battle in the landscape is historic maps and contemporary paintings.  These often include landscape features that can still be identified on the ground today.  Evidence for the terrain is very important as the landscape normally played a major role in deciding where and how a battle was fought, and often affected its outcome. For each battlefield in the Inventory site visits were carried out to analyse the information from the historical sources and to locate events in the modern landscape.

The research undertaken for the Inventory is not exhaustive, and there is much more to be learned through further documentary research and through archaeological survey and investigations. The information within the Inventory will continue to be enhanced, or reviewed, as new information comes to light. We welcome any additional historical or archaeological information that interested bodies or individuals can provide.

Contact us

Historic Environment Scotland
Longmore House
Salisbury Place
Tel: +44 (0) 131 668 8766