Exploring Celtic Origins Part 2 – The Picts and Scots of Alba 40-500 AD
In part one I introduced the hypothesis that the Celts of Bronze and Iron age Scotland conversed in the Goidelic that matured into the Gaelic language from around 600 BC into the early centuries AD and then extended for many centuries thereafter as the main language of Alba and then Scotland. In part two as the title above has indicated I will be continuing from around 40AD in my analysis of the Celts who are the following: Gales, Caledonians, Picts and Scots of early Iron Age Scotland. There is a number of Hypothesis regarding the above named Celtic people and I think some of the theories are not correct, therefore I hope that I can put forward my studies along with my hypothesis to enlighten the reader of other possibilities of Scotland’s early people and how they influenced the creation of a nation that was Alba and then became Scotland.
Before we move on let’s have a brief reminder of what was said in Part One Exploring Celtic Origins – The Gale and Alba-BC. Archaeological, linguistics, and genetics evidence is showing that indigenous development of people, the hunter-gathers of the Mesolithic, through existing social networks were linked along the Atlantic sea coastal zones. From Iberia all the way up the east coast of Ireland the West coast of Scotland to the Orkney and Shetland islands.
Then the introduction of farming to the Atlantic zone during the Neolithic period by new people from Asia Minor was rapid. These coastal farming communities began to develop networks of communication that can be traced through the development of passage graves that can be seen on the Orkney Islands. The earliest passage graves are found in Portugal about 4800 BC.
Then the Beaker phenomenon around 2800 BC saw the rapid expansion of connectivity through Western Europe along the Atlantic sea routes but also inland via the river systems of mainland Britian and Europe through enhanced mobility with the desire for metals as the prime cause of this new mobility. This in turn lead to the development of a common language over 2-3 millennia from Iberia up the Atlantic facade to the Orkney and Shetland Islands.
The Atlantic languages may have absorbed influences from other Indo-European families along the way and perhaps also from languages spoken by the indigenous hunter-gatherers that developed over millennia was most likely Proto-Celtic. It was during the Beaker period that the mature Celtic language developed and peaked during the Atlantic Late Bronze Age c.1300 -800BC; its strongly believed that the Atlantic Celtic language matured into the Goidelic which was widely spoken through Western Europe and along the Atlantic sea routes and inland via the river systems.
Around 900BC the trading links between Iberia and the British Isles are disrupted and a dislocation between the Iberian Celts and the British Celts began. Around c. 1200BC The Hallstatt Bronze culture develops north of the Alps then about c.750BC The Hallstatt Celts adopt ironworking; in about c.550BC The Hallstatt culture spreads to mainly Southern Britian. In about c.450BC The La Tène Celtic Culture develops in Germany and France and by c.400BC it has spread to Britian, Austria and Hungary. Both the Hallstatt and La Tène Celts were beginning to speak in a P Celtic language that became the Brythonic; it is most likely their ancestors conversed in the Goidelic but over a number of centuries where they were in contact with many other cultures in mainland Europe their language began to change to the P Celtic. They brought the Brythonic language with them into mainly southern Brition through trading exchanges where their culture and language began to take over Iron age England. According to Julius Caesar the southern Britons had been overrun and culturally assimilated by the Celtic Gauls during the Iron Age and were now aiding Caesar’s enemies in mainland Europe this being his reason for invading southern Iron Age England in 55 and 54BC as part of his Gallic wars with the Celtic Gauls. The Celtic Gaulish language largely died out under the impact of Romanization.
Iron Age Scotland and Ireland had some trading links with the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures with possible direct trade links by sea, or this might have been only from the Iron Age English Celts who probably had inland trade roots to Iron Age Scotland and possible costal trade roots with Ireland. However, around c.600BC Ireland and Scotland seem to fall out of the exchange network and enter into a period of isolation where the Goidelic language was predominately still the main one in use by both Iron Age Ireland and Scotland. The Brythonic Celtic language was completely rejected by the Celts of Alba and Ireland and from this period on the Goidelic evolved in both countries to become the Scots and Old Irish Gaelic respectably. This is probably the best explanation for the difference between the Q (Gaelic) and P (Brythonic) Celtic languages that are in existence today. Furthermore, there is a probability that the Scots were already in the west cost of Iron Age Scotland from around 900BC and had been over a number of centuries increasing their colonization from Gallaeci in northern Iberia, where both the Scots and Irish hail from. It’s also more than likely that the Scots sometime between 600BC and 200AD established their colony in northern Ireland, this was more probably because of trading links rather than any major invasion of the province of Antrim Dál Riata, therefore the Scots of Dalriada (Dal nAraide) had colonised Antrim from the west cost of Iron Age Scotland; rather than the long established belief that the Scots came from Ireland to Scotland in 500AD, it appears just as likely that there had been a much early settlement to Antrim by people from the western coastline of Scotland and most likely from the Argyll coastline. To sea-faring people the Irish Sea would have been an easy root to navigate where a two-way migration must have taken place between Argyll and Antrim. Note also that the Scots of western Scotland called their kingdom Dalriada where’s in Antrim it is Dál Riata which indicates a smaller less important succession.
There is almost no archaeological evidence to support the traditional view of Irish migration to the west cost of Alba and more evidence to support the view that there was considerable influence in the opposite direction, from Scotland to Ireland. Professor Ewen Campbell’s paper is very clear that archaeology suggests movements of cultural forms in the late Iron Age from Argyll into Ireland rather than the long believed tradition that Irish Scots migrated to the west coast of Scotland in 500AD.
Over on the mainland and east of Iron Age Scotland the Celtic inhabitants were of a similar linage to the Scots but from an age further back in time, the long-established link from Iberia that had taken place from around 4800BC was the foundation and root of what would be the Goidelic Celtic language where they had established a foothold on the existing indigoes people with integration well established and in greater numbers than the Scots, and would become known as the Caledonii and Picti from Roman sources; and were more than likely the Goidelic Celts. Both Classical and Irish sources make reference to Cruithne, the people or Tribe of the Designs, as being the Picts. However, Irish sources mention the Dal nAraide as being Cruithne or Picts as well, therefore there had to be some form of link between East and West Iron Age Scotland which probably existed both in trade and social communication, this was more than likely to have been in place for many centuries, and would continue for many centuries further on where it played an important factor in the union of the Picts and Scots by Kenneth MacAlpin in 843 AD. The claim that the Picts were absorbed by the Scots after 843 and that the people mysteriously disappear from history is not accurate, the Picts outnumbered the Scots by 10-1, they were already well established as allies with many marriages between both sides forming closer family links. Yes there were often power struggles between both sides with various overlord-ship Kinship battles, but mostly they would live in harmony, the most important fact was they shared a similar language and culture and therefore merged without much difficulty into the new Kingdom of Alba with the king of Scots as the King of the people.
As I have previously mentioned from around c.600BC the Celts of Iron Age Scotland and Ireland moved into a period of isolation from the Celts of the south who were over the next 400 years becoming assimilated by the Celtic Gauls along with their culture and P-Celtic language. Where’s the Celts in the north and west were now linguistically progressing from the Goidelic into the Gaelic, with probable regional differences where they could probably converse with each other with out to much trouble as the trade links between the Gaelic speaking Celts of Iron Age Scotland and Ireland were maintained as well as the trade links of west and east Scotland. There is nothing to suggest that the Celts of east coast Iron Age Scotland were assimilated by the Celts of Gaul with their P-Celtic language and therefore there can only be the assumption that they were of the Goidelic / Gaelic family of languages as has been already mentioned. The other facts we have to take into account are the Celts of the north, which is really Alba as previously mentioned, and the name I will start using from now on when referring to Iron Age Scotland, are as follows. They were made up of many tribes or clans of various sizes, as we can see from Ptolemy’s tribal map of 127AD where there is around sixteen named tribes. They did not desire a cohesive political nationhood and were certainly not imperial people although there would often be local warfare between tribes. Their tribal family unity might have been the perfect political model that made them a brilliant people of the oral tradition with a complex and sophisticated legal structure.
The Druids, it could be said, were the Celtic version of Christian Monks or Priests. They officiate at the worship of the Celtic gods and give rulings on all religious questions. The Druids were held in great honour by the people, would act as judges in practically all disputes, whether between tribes or individuals, or in crimes and even murder, where they would adjudicate the matter and appoint the compensation or lay down the punishment. Within the Druidic doctrine they had a higher leadership with one overall chief Druid who would be replaced only after death. The profound study by young pupils could take up to twenty years because they had to memorize a great number of verse and a large number of other skills, such as the art of healing to even metalworking, they were bards, artists, philosophers, and much more. There were also female priestesses who would have some involvement within the Druidic doctrine. The Romans largely wiped out the Druids in their conquered south Britian, the Druids of Alba and Ireland would be around for much longer.
Historically there is only Roman sources to give us some clues as to the events of early 40AD on wards, until about 400AD. Many of the Tribal names on Ptolemy’s map are Latinised which don’t mean or translate into anything of coherent sense for the researcher, weather they are Latin versions of local Celtic names, no one knows for sure. There is one exception with the tribe of the Caledonians (Roman Caledonii), where the Romans imply that they are the largest tribe in Alba and who they eventually come to blows with at the battle of Mons Graupius in 84AD, there is a suggestion that the Celtic Gale was the root of the Latin for Caledonii and therefore they are the nearest tribe to have a Celtic name from the Romans or Ptolemy. Another fact that should be considered is that Ptolemy was a Greek and perhaps some of the tribe names are mistranslated by him with the exception of the Caledonians. Another interesting fact is the Roman historian Tacitus gives a detailed account of the battle of Mons Graupius where he mentions the Caledonii leader as Calgacus and has been interpreted as Celtic “calg-ac-os” which is related to the Gaelic “calgach” possessing a blade, or swordsman. More evidence of Gaelic/ Goidelic language in use during the early Roman occupation. In Part – 1 Exploring Celtic Origins, I have given some information on the Roman conflict between the Caledonii and then their ancestors the Picts, who were mentioned by Eumenius in 297AD (Picti) where I gave in-depth reasons as to why the Romans began to use Picti instead of Caledonii. The one fact I overlooked in part one was the introduction of the Pictish sculptured standing stones from around 290AD with the class 1 stones appearing in various locations mainly east cost of Alba. This may have some bearing on the name Picti giving by the Romans to name the people who made them? There is a lot of unexplained theories as to why the Picts carved their standing stones and the subject deserves further archaeological recognition and research. One possibility could be that the stones began to appear as a show of unity between the Tribes where the ruling family’s through marriage began to marry into larger confederation to sustain more unity in the fight against the Romans and the stones with their symbols where there is paired symbols could be the basis of that lineage carved on stone.
There are three main types of Pictish stone monuments. Class I stones have the symbols cut into stone and are often rough boulders, or crudely-shaped local stones of sandstone or granite. Class II stones also have symbols, but Celtic ornamentation as well, and their designs are in relief. On Class III stones there are figures of men and beasts in relief also very often they a have Christian cross, but no symbols of the kind found on Classes I and II. There are hundreds of these stones, scattered all over the east of Scotland, from Fife and Angus to Aberdeen and the north-east, through Moray and Inverness to Ross, Caithness and Sutherland. There are also symbol stones in Orkney and Shetland, as well as in the Western Isles, and despite the distance between all these stones the symbols are remarkably similar. This would indicate a wide coalition of the many tribes of Iron Age Scotland into an overall combined political military union.
The Foul Hordes are what the Romans called the joint forces of the Picts and Scots who from 367AD – 450AD were raiding with a lot of devastation the northern realms of the Roman empire of Bratina over Hadrian’s wall. This implies a more organised military force and alliance between the Picts and Scots who are either allies or there is an overlord-ship kingship that has been forged between them through royal marriages on either side. The Celts as I have mentioned were not an imperial people and never had a desire for nation hood, that is until the Romans came and tried to conquer and install their imperial ways on the Celts of Alba. After their defeat at Mons Graupius the Celtic Caledonians learnt a hard lesion and began to change both politically and military where we can see the Romans having a hard time against Caledonians, Picts and Scots; to such an extent that the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus dies campaigning against the Caledonians in 211AD; there are number of other references of the devastation the Celts from the north were causing, such as the Roman general who was cut down along with his troops. There is the story of the disappearance of the Roman Ninth Legion, legend has a theory that 5,000 of Rome’s finest soldiers were lost or cut down on their way into Caledonia. The loss of such an elite military unit may have given emperor Hadrian the need to build his wall to keep the Caledonians out and to protect Roman citizens. Military success was becoming more the normal strategies of the Picts and Scots which suggests or implies that these armies were the forerunners of the ‘common army’ consisting mainly of core seasoned warriors who specialising in fighting and enjoying great prestige by giving their loyalty to a warlord or King. From a young age, about seven, Celts both male and female had the skills of being a warrior installed into them by their elders and most would become very skilled in the use of weapons. Some would progress to become the champion of their clan and very often only the champions would fight other rival clans champions, sometimes there would be larger groups of warriors on each side, to settle disputes between rivals often to the death or the last man standing. This form or method of settling disputes between rival tribes would carry on into the clan system of Scotland for many centuries. The Romanized Britons who were having to fend more for themselves against the Picts and Scots, from the middle of the 5th century AD, was mainly because most of the Roman Legions were back defending Roam, therefore they invited in the Saxons to help defend the Romanized Britons from the Picts and Scots. By 410AD Roman rule ends in Britannia and around 450AD many Celts from Romanized Briton migrate to Brittany to escape the Anglo-Saxon invasions, who were now turning against their retainers.
The Celtic ruling structure was a complex system where there was never a divine-right to rule, certainly not a heredity system until many century’s further on, there was a High King elected by lesser sub-kings. These sub-kings were the ri and later called the Mormaors, the High King was the Arid ri or Ard ri. In Alba the Roman threat more than likely brought together the Tribes/Clans where a High King was installed to rule over the early confederations. There , is every possibility that such as structure was in place before the Romans where local tribes were ruled by high chiefs and the ri would be the great chief or king of the overall tribe or clan such as the Caledonians, perhaps Calgacus was the ri of the Caledonians at Mons Graupius, however the advent of an Arid ri (High King) of Alba was more than likely to have been caused by the Romans who had invaded Alba with the intent to conquer and after Mons Graupius the tribes of Alba began to form allegiances as the best way to defeat the Romans. As history has shown despite many attempts the Romans never fully conquered the Caledonians or the Picts of Alba who were now a formidable foe to the Romans and would be right to the end of Roman rule in Briton. The Picts were not a new people they were a new name given to them by the Romans, they are the same peoples who were the Caledonians, there is much speculation as to why the name Pict was given and used by the Romans perhaps the Romans recognised that Caledonians and all the other tribes of Alba had become one confederation or nation thus becoming a political and military entity for Rome to deal with.
In around 300BC, the Greek seafarer Pytheas refers to the mysterious northern Isles as Pretanikai Nasoi meaning “Pretanic Islands”, which is based on a native name (Ynis Prydain); which literally means ‘Picts’ Island. Therefore, the word Picti might be from Priteni or Pritani which are variants of the above Pretanikai or Pretanic, that are both very ancient terms that the earliest Greek and Roman travellers had used when referring to all the inhabitants of the mysterious Isles, both words meant ‘The People of The Designs’. The Romans of Julius Caesar’s time altered Pritani to Britanni and restricted its application to the south of the great wall. Britanni was in turn adopted by the conquered natives of Roman Britain becoming Brittones (Britons) as their own name for themselves. As with the name Cruitnii ( The People Of The Designs) Priteni has the same meaning and could also mean ‘The Painted People’, it is hard not to consider the fact that the Picts had elaborate designs and most likely tattooed themselves. Perhaps the Picts called themselves by a name similar to the term Priteni and to a Roman ear sounded like the Latin Picti.
Unfortunately, we will probably never know for sure why the name Picti was used by the Romans and would be recognised by other cultures and used to name the people and nation as Picts, even by the Picts themselves many centuries further on would embrace the name that was given to them, but even now we still don’t know for sure what they really called themselves, mainly due to the lack of any written evidence from the Picts.
Many scholars have put the Pictish language as a form of P-Celtic (Brittonic) on the basis of a variety of Pictish place names which contain the element Pit as in Pittodrie, Pictcaple, Pictlochry and so on; there is over three hundred examples of Pit names in Scotland. The main reason for ascribing this toponymic generic to a P-Celtic language and not to Gaelic is the initial P-sound. The identity of the Pictish aber and Welsh aber has been used as a close connection between the Welsh P-Celtic and this must mean that the Pictish language can only be P-Celtic.
This, however, ignores some facts about the Goidelic – Gaelic language. Firstly, Pit element that is attributed to Pictish place names, Pit earlier spellings (pet) or (pett) meaning “portion, share, piece of land”; Welsh ( peth “thing”) Breton (“piece”); all deriving from an earlier (Petia) and was adopted by the Latin of Roman Gaul, as a French loan word gave us English piece. The Gaelic word for piece is “n pios” share, also Pitlurg derives from the Gaelic Peit na Luirg (Portion of the shank [shape of land] ), both could lend itself to the Pit name, also Pitfour may have the Gaelic loan word “pór”. Another fact is most of the Pit names show that the grammar is Gaelic in nature and therefore has a stronger linage than the P-Celtic claim. The identity of the Pictish aber and Welsh aber has to be questioned, the Gaelic term ‘eabar’ (marsh) could be the more likely generic for aber such as Aberdeen. A lot of the aber names in Scotland are not on a river mouth and in many cases were probably on or near marshes which were drained by the industrious Picts over time. Aber or Abar is a compound word, from Ab, an obsolete Gaelic term for water and the Caledonians generally chose marshes as sites of their entrenchments and earthen mound, whether that was for forts or settlements.
W.F. Skene in the 1880s totally rejected the evidence that a Brittonic language was spoken by the Picts. He claimed that the Northern Picts were ‘purely Gaelic in race, culture and language’, also that Brittonic speech south of the Mounth was from British incursions. Probably due to the Romanised Britons who were working for Rome and put in place as administrators, clerks, and even Roman axillaries troops. There could be other influences where some of the southern Celtic Britons had staidly migrated north to escape the Imperial Romans and thus brought their Brittonic tong with them in small clusters mainly into the south of Caledonia, which might have had some minor influence in some small areas of population and settlements.
Gaelic lives today upon the lips of all Scots whether or not they realise it and there is a close link between Gaelic and Scots. There are also for instance more Gaelic place-names in Buchan, N.E Scotland, than there are on Lewis. In 2006 a meticulous survey was published called the Ancient Celtic Place-Names in Europe and Asia Minor by Patrick Sims-William’s. For the first time it allowed all the surviving ancient Celtic place-names to be mapped and the data showed that by far the highest percentages occurred in Iberia, Britain, and north western France. Most of those ancient Celtic names in Scotland are of Goidelic/Gaelic origin, and helps to strengthen the Goidelic and Gaelic claim for the Caledonians and Picts. The Romans often referred to Britannia as two islands the first division being called Britannia Romana, and the other Britannia Barbaria. There may have been a supposition that the Friths on the west and east coasts intersected the country, and the idea of two islands first arose. Also, the erection of the walls across the country from sea to sea would have kept alive the idea of two islands. This over time could have led to the misunderstanding of where Hibernia was actually located, there is some evidence to suggest that Hibernia is not Ireland (Iern), that it is in fact the west coast of Scotland (Argyll) where the Scots hale from. Ireland was called Iern, Iernis, Iris by the most ancient writers, Gaelic Iar-in (western island) and does not appear to have been called Hibernia before the time of Caesar. Etymology, says from Ibh (west) comes Iber, Iberia, applied to those countries situated towards the setting sun. Therefore, Hibernia was never a name for Ireland, was most likely due to a very inaccurate knowledge of these islands, that there has been some misunderstanding as to the location of Hibernia from the Romans, there was certainly no doubt that the Scots were from Hibernia according to the Romans. A land that was located upwards of 600 miles from Gaul according to Rome, where’s Ireland is only 100 miles from the continent. From other Roman sources Hibernia was a very wintry climate located north of Britannia on the boundary of the habitable part of the globe, therefore to the north west (Argyll). More tangible evidence that the Scots were indeed already well established on the west coast of Argyll, and not from Ireland.
Roman rule came to an end in Britannia around 410AD and the resulting power struggle in Britannia would last for many centuries with the Anglo-Saxon invaders playing a large part in the early years. The Picts consolidated their grip on the north over Hadrian’s wall and began to rule most of Alba. Despite the departure of the Romans the Picts would not have it all their own way and in the fifth century new Kingdoms would emerge along the Forth -Clyde isthmus, the people who were the close decedents of the previous Roman Britons who were regarded as close allies and even subjects by Rome, were now taking matters into their own hands along the old Antonine fronter. They were often defeated and plundered by the Picts, but, by the end of the fifth century two kingdoms emerged. To the west, mainly the Clyde Valley, was the kingdom of Strathclyde and their strong hold was Alt Clut ‘Clyde Rock’ (Dumbarton Rock). The kingdom of Gododdin to the west where their strong hold was Din Eidyn (Edinburgh Castle). The inhabitants of both kingdoms were Brittonic speaking people who regarded themselves as distinct from the Picts, and their cultural affinities lay to the south with their fellow Britons over Hadrian’s Wall. The fact that those two new kingdoms were P. Celtic (Brittonic) speaking people may also have some bearing as to why the Picts have been wrongly labelled with the P. Celtic language. Both kingdoms were becoming strong rivals towards the Picts. By 500AD, the communities to the south of the great wall were also emerging from the upheavals of the post-Roman period with kings and kingdoms of their own.
The Picts response to this stiffening of resolve from the south and the Britons was to demonstrate their sense of nationhood by presenting themselves as a single and unified people. From the many documentary sources their territory is often called Pictavia (Pictland). During the Class I symbols stone era there were Four Pictish Kingdoms described in early accounts. The kingdom of ‘Cat’ covers mainly the Northern and Western Isles, Caithness and Sutherland. ‘Fidach’ covers Ross, Inverness, Moray and Banff, ‘Ce’ is most of the North East Corner of Aberdeenshire. ‘Circind’ is the rest of Aberdeenshire south of the Dee along with Angus Perth, and Fife.
During the Class II symbols era Circind was later subdivided into three further Kingdoms ‘Fotla’, ‘Fib’, and ‘Fortriu’. The Pictish realm of Fortriu was assumed to be located in the southern Pictland in around modern Perthshire. Historian Alex Woolf persuasively argued that Fortriu was actually in northern Pictland, centred on the southern shores of the Moray Firth. Thus, showing that this region was actually the possible core of the Pictish kingdom with three important Pictish centres Burghead, CraigPhadrig, and Rhynie, that have all undergone various excavations in the past and more recent years. Recent excavations by the University of Aberdeen’s (Northern Picts project) at the Tap O’ Noth overlooking the village of Rhynie has revealed that the fort is much younger than previously thought, was believed to be Bronze or early Iron Age, it also potentially one of the largest Pictish settlements of the late and post-Roman periods where it had contained 800 dwellings platforms – housing as many as 4,000 people. The name Rhynie is a form of the Celtic word for “king”, rig – which is more evidence for the Gaelic – Q – Celtic. The Northern Picts project has produced a book (The King In The North – The Pictish Realms of Fortriu and Ce (2019). By Gordon Noble and Nicholas Evans. The book is a very interesting read that covers a wide range of new data on the Picts of northern Scotland.
By the sixth century Pictland (Alba) was a group of provinces or sub-kingdoms that can be identified from the seven regions named in the legend of Cruithne. In the legend Cruithne had seven sons and each region was divided up between his sons who would rule over each sub-kingdom. The names are as follows: Cait (Caithness), Ce (Mar & Buchan), Fotlaig (Atholl), Circinn (Angus), Fib (Fife), Fidach (Ross & Moray), and Fortriu (Strathearn & Menteith). In recent years there has been a rethink by some scholars that Fortriu has been mis-identified with Strathearn and was indeed in the north of Pictland as mentioned above.
The Pictish king- list, and there are a number of manuscripts, makes it difficult to reconstruct the chronology due to some discrepancy’s from all the surviving versions that derive from the lost original list. The legend of Cruithne is one of the versions of the kings list, and names about sixty monarchs, that goes all the way back to Gud and ends with the historical king called Drust in the mid-ninth century. The list ends with Drust because he was ousted by Cinaed (Kenneth) mac Ailpin, the first ruler of the unified kingdom of Picts and Scots. More will be said about the first king of Scots in my next blog.
Only when the name of a king can be linked to a known historical event does the information on the kings list becomes reliable, and the Irish annals associate many Pictish kings with real events and the kings from around early 500 on wards fall into this bracket. Because of the lack of recorded early historical events some say that the first thirty or so names on the kings list are more than likely fictional. However, they could be as easily legendry name that are on the list due to the Celtic oral tradition that was handed down over many centuries, and as time passes many of the early kings are just remembered by name only.
There is a recognition that the nation was divided into two parts, north and south Pictland, this divide was more geographical, the Mounth or Grampian Mountains, rather than human and the Picts maintained a well-defined cultural unity in spite of it. Culturally the Picts were a defined group of people who possessed an artistic tradition that was unique in Northern Iron Age Europe. Many of their distinct symbols are not encountered elsewhere and are probably very ancient in origin, were probably decorations on small objects such as jewellery or even as tattoos that then progressed onto their standing stone over many centuries. By the end of the Roman era the carvings inscribed with great skill on their standing stones are truly unique to the Picts and are found all over Scotland with the abundant numbers in the old heart land of the Picts (Alba). Today in Scotland a visitor can see many of the significant collections of Pictish Sculptures in many Museums all around Scotland, as well as individual sites and monuments that are all worth a visit.
Legends of the early Saints, who mostly arrived from Ireland in the late fifth and early sixth century’s to Pictavia, to convert the heathen Picts to Christianity has been well maintained by the Christian Church. Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that those early missionaries were teaching Christianity under the Celtic Church and not the Roman Catholic Church. The Celtic Church was so much different in many ways from the Roman Catholic Church, it would survive for many centuries in both Scotland and Ireland, before the Roman Catholic Church drove it out to extinction eventually. It was very difficult for the Celtic monks to convert the Picts to Christianity and the old Celtic believes along with the Druids provided a major obstacle to conversion. In my next blog I will give a little more information about the early Celtic monks.
The more research I do the more I am convinced that the Caledonians and Picts are the same people who shared the same culture and language of the Goidelic Celts. The Goidelic Celts came from Iberia and over many centuries BC settled all over the British Isles including Ireland and therefore were the ancestors of the Picts. Both the Irish and Scots have a similar cultural and political root that was developed in the Iberian Peninsula in the region of Galicia, northern Portugal and Spain. The name Galicia means ‘ The land of the Gaelic People’ and we know that both the Irish and Scots language is Gaelic. The Irish legends explain how they moved to the island that would become their homeland. There are hints with in the Irish annuls as to the Scots, unfortunately because of past interference to Scottish historical records by the English, there is no surviving records to compare for the Scots, and the Picts are included in this as well. King Edward of England during his attempts to subdue the Scots reportedly removed most of Scotland’s ancient history including the Pictish Tablets. The Pictish Tablets were some form of Pictish history that have been lost after they were taken by Edward. Christian clergy compiled the annals and chronicles, and these texts are acknowledged as the earliest historical writings produced by the native inhabitants of Britian and Ireland from the sixth century onwards, with this in mind there is no reason that the early Christians Saints who tried to convert the Picts and indeed eventually succeeded had not recorded Pictish history, that was eventually taken or destroyed by Edward Longshanks. However, with various accounts from the Greeks, Romans and other sources along with modern archaeological, linguistics, and genetics we have a better picture into the past and are filling in the missing pieces of the jigsaw.
The most common fingerprint belongs to the Celtic Clan where the Celts are the most dominant in areas of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. DNA data to date is broadly consistent with the archaeological evidence is reassuring. DNA studies are continuing and the complexity of it all will most likely bring new levels of understanding by expanding the data base that will open up more debate.
In 2006 a meticulous survey was published called the Ancient Celtic Place-Names in Europe and Asia Minor by Patrick Sims-William’s. For the first time it allowed all the surviving ancient Celtic place-names to be mapped. The data showed that by far the highest percentages occurred in Iberia, British Isles, and north western France.
A new approach to the linguistic data was introduced in a paper written by Russell Gray and Quentin Atkinson published in the journal Nature in 2003. Using standard vocabularies of the various language families they applied quantitative phylogenetic methods through computer modelling to arrive at new assessments of the shape of the family tree and to provide estimated dates for the formation of the sub-families. According to their analysis the Celtic language group split from the rest of the Indo-European languages of the European peninsular around 4000BC and the split between Q-Celtic and P-Celtic took place much later, around 900BC. The new data presented by the Gray and Atkinson team is entirely consistent with the Celts from the West hypothesis.
I hope that you have enjoyed this story continuing on from part one, maybe even thought provoking to some readers, but , most of all to further inform the reader that our ancestors were indeed the Celts who over many centuries came from Iberia to settle in our land of Scotland bringing with them their Goidelic language and culture. The fact that they intermixed with the indigenous early people and probably other Indo -European people on their journey has an uncanny ring to it. Scotland today is still an outward looking nation that welcomes people from many other cultures all around the world to come and live and make Scotland their home. Yes it can be argued back then the sword ruled over most things. Nevertheless, it is obvious that those early Celtic cultural habits and ways that then became the Highland way of hospitality and culture, is now the world renowned Scottish hospitality and friendship, is still alive in Scotland today and will live on in our children.
Look out for my next blog where I will continue from the early sixth century with the continuing rise of the Picts and the eventual union of the Picts and Scots under Kenneth MacAlpin king of Scots.
Until then stay safe.
Alba gu bràth