A blog that I have kept as short as possible (a hard job I tell you).

The Picts were the people of northern Scotland – defined as a “confederation of tribes brought together to ally against common enemies“. They are first named as “Picts” by the Roman writer, Eumenius in 297 AD, who referred to the tribes of Northern Britain as “Picti” “the painted ones”, because of their habit of painting their bodies with dye/wode. This origin of their name has been contested by modern scholarship, however and it is probable they referred to themselves as some form of “Pecht”, the word for “the ancestors”. They were also referenced earlier by Tacitus who named them “Caledonians”. The Picts exist in the written record from their first mention in 297 AD until c. 900 AD, when no further mention is made of them. According to the Collins Encyclopedia of Scotland, “the Picts did not ‘arrive’ – but had always been there, for they were the descendants of the first people to inhabit what eventually became Scotland”. They originally came MAYBE, from Scythia? (Scandinavia), settled first in Orkney and then migrated south. This claim is further supported by archaeologist and professor at Aberdeen University, Dr. Gordon Noble, who states, “All evidence points to the Picts being indigenous to northern Scotland … carved stone slabs are the only record the Picts left of their history; the rest of their story is told by later Roman, Scottish, and English writers.  Did the Picts build the megalithic structures such as the Ness of Brodgar?  They were made up of families belonging to a single clan which was presided over by a tribal chief – much the same as Scotland later with the Clans. These tribes were known as Caerini, Cornavii, Lugi, Smertae, Decantae, Carnonacae, Caledonii, Selgovae and Votadini. The kin (which comes from the Gaelic word for “children”) would follow and protect their chief, but that chief would obey the warrior all had agreed upon as group leader.

Rome’s first footprints into Britain  by Julius Caesar and under Emperor Claudius. Julius Agricola, the Roman governor of Britain, invaded Scotland and pressed on to a line between the rivers Clyde and Forth. After establishing fortifications, he invaded northern Scotland in 83AD and was met by the Pictish leader Calgacus in battle at Mons Graupius (where – ever that was – subject to much debate). Mons Graupius is an example of the Picts gathering together under a single leader to combat a common enemy. Tacitus records that Calgacus had 30,000 men under his command whom he encouraged prior to the battle – although who counted them we know not. Agricola faced the Picts with 11,000 soldiers of the 9th Legion and we all know what happened to them. The Romans never conquered the region which would become Scotland. The Roman legions had not yet encountered guerilla warfare so were unable to subdue an enemy who lived, the Roman occupation of Scotland contracted and contracted. It probably never consisted of more than the holding of key forts and fortlets and as time went by less and less of them. In 122 AD the emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of his famous wall which ran for 73 miles, sometimes at a height of 15 feet, from coast to coast. In 142 AD, the Antonine Wall was constructed further north (now Glasgow) under the reign of Antoninus Pius. The walls served as a line between the southern lands under Roman domination, which were considered “civilized”, and the barbarian wilderness of the north which was controlled by the Picts.

During the time of the Roman occupation of Britain, the Roman Empire had adopted Christianity – here we start on another story … A former tribal warlord in Ireland, Columba knew how to mobilize and inspire large groups of men and made use of this talent in his conversion of the Picts. By the time Columba died in 597 CE, the Picts were mostly Christianized and had largely left their earlier way of life behind. As late as 617 AD Picts were still resistant to the new religion, as evidenced by the martyrdom of Saint Donnan along with fifty-one of his followers by the Picts on the island of Eigg (where these Eigg Picts the forerunners of the Macleans?). Even in 673 AD some segments of the Pictish population were still resistant to the new faith as evidenced by their burning of a monastery in Tiree.

The rise of the Anglican Kingdom of Northumbria (the Angles were not originally from what is now England by the way), which made regular incursions into Pictish land, Northumbria had the resources and manpower to take large portions of land from tribes such as the Scots, who had arrived from Ireland and settled in Dalriada and Argyll (another of my blogs folks; https://mcleanscotland.com/dalriada-alba-scotland – and the Britons of Strathclyde; both of whom were then subject to the Angles of the Kingdom of Northumbria.

One Pictish king was Bridei Mac Billi (better known as Brude Mac Bile) who is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of the Pictish kings for halting the advance of the Angles of Northumbria. The Picts under Brude lured the Angle force deeper and deeper then struck at a place known in English chronicles as Nechtansmere and in Welsh chronicles as Linn Garan; the Annals of Ulster refer to it as Dun Nechtain and this is the name most commonly referenced by historians. The Battle of Dun Nechtain broke Northumbria’s power and secured the borders of the lands of the Picts which later, would become Scotland. It also drove the Christian missionaries of the Angles out of Pictish lands which allowed for the original Columban brand of Christianity to take hold in the highlands instead of the Roman brand. King Constantin united the Picts and the Scots and was the first Scottish ruler to be known as Ard Righ -`High King’ – of the Scots. When he died his brother Angus son of Fergus took the throne. Angus is best known as the ruler who saw the vision of St. Andrew’s cross in the sky, white clouds forming an `X’ against the blue background, which would later come to be known as the Saltire, Scotland’s flag. The Angles were again invading the land of the Scots and Picts and had gathered their forces at Mercia. The night before battle, St. Andrew appeared to Angus in a dream and promised him victory in battle if the king would dedicate a tenth of his riches to the service of God. Angus agreed to this and, the next morning, the white cross appeared in the sky as confirmation of the deal. The Scots-Picts coalition defeated the English under Athelstan and Angus adopted the white `X’ on a blue background as his standard.

Although the Picts and the Scots had been joined under Constantin, history credits this to the later king, Cinaed Mac Alpin, better known as Kenneth Mac Alpin. The original sources name Cinaed Mac Alpin as “king of the Picts”, not of the Scots and his name is Pictish, not Scottish. Kenneth Mac Alpin was descended from King Aed Find of Scottish Dalriada and Constantin son of Fergus of the Picts; he was therefore a good choice as king to both the Scots and the Picts. Mac Alpin had to fend off the increasing raids by Vikings who harassed the coast. He moved the relics of St. Columba from the holy island of Iona to Dunkeld (the new ecclesiastical seat), to secure them from Viking raids and is also credited with setting the Stone of Destiny at Scone as a symbol of national pride and power to inspire his people. Surviving Annals from Ireland tell of repeated raids year on year. The raids continued for much of the century and in time were accompanied by the Vikings settling. While many of the raids were carried out by handfuls of longships with up to a couple of hundred raiders, there were also some years when the Northmen arrived in much greater force. They were successful in taking over most of Scotland north of Inverness, the Hebrides and the northern isles of Orkney and Shetland. The Picts of the ancient world did not disappear nor were they conquered and destroyed; they remained, the indigenous people of northern Scotland, and their ancestors still walk their lands and fields in the present day. We take many of our touring guests to see; Sueno’s Stone – a gigantic Pictish cross-slab 7m tall. Its carvings are ornate and unique. The stone would have once overlooked the marshy floodplains of the rivers Mosse and Findhorn. Unusually, it’s still associated with the place it was first erected, though we know little of its wider context. Carved from local sandstone and standing about 7m tall, Sueno’s Stone is a marvel of late Pictish art. It was carved between the mid AD 800s and early AD 900s. The two faces of the cross show very different images, but it is likely that their stories are linked. One side shows a Christian cross above a scene of a royal inauguration. The other shows a grisly battle scene with numerous beheadings, a number of horsemen, a scene of battle, with combatants on foot, a group of horsemen fleeing from infantry and piles of headless corpses and severed heads. If the battle scene depicted is real, it might represent a victory of Cinaed mac Ailpín (Kenneth MacAlpin) or could also refer to his successor Domnall (Donald I), who consolidated Cinead’s hold on this part of Scotland. But who knows for sure? I don’t.

PAUL MCLEAN after many reference books and hard research!