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The Lost Kingdom of Pictland: Scotland's Forgotten Legacy

Updated on September 22, 2015

Scotland's Mysterious Origins

There are many mysteries surrounding the early history of Scotland. The identity, language and religion of the original inhabitants as well as the eventual formation as a country are clouded in conflicting historical accounts, myths and legends. And whenever you see history expressed in terms of myth or legend, it suggests a lack of hard evidence. In recent years, a more useful construction of Scotland’s history would be made from verifiable evidence such as anthropology, archeology, linguistics and a handful of written documents including early maps. The very name Scotland is suggested more in anecdotal terms leant from the Roman name, “Scotti” given Gaelic seafaring raiders and pirates of Ireland, whom later settled and helped forge the new Scottish kingdom. The origins of the clans that made up early Scotland seemed to be unclear as either Celtic or some other indo-european migration. The early inhabitants would be known by many names as well to the Romans, Gaelic Scots, Norsemen and the Celtic Britons. This early settlement and Kingdom would be erased from the annals of history altogether by the cultural invasion of others speaking a new language with new religious beliefs - a kingdom once called Pictland.

Roman Era North Celtic Tribes

Roman Occupation of Briton

The tribes North of the Firth of Forth were undoubtedly Celtic tribes. Much of what we know of early Celtic life is handed down by Greco-Roman geographers and historians as the Celts themselves left no literary record. This is true of the Celts of the British Islands whom spoke an insular (isolated) Celtic language similar to modern Cornish and Welsh. The Celtic name itself was used by Greco-Roman writings as the name of a people of the La Tène horizon in the region of the upper Rhine and Danube during the 1st to 6th centuries BC and it appears the Celts had over 600 sites for excavating gold likely explaining the Roman interest in controlling the Celtic settlements. The term Celts however, was never used to describe the people of the British Islands in early times – only after the 17th century. They referred to the group of islands as Brittania and the peoples as Britons as early as 300BC The surviving pre-Roman accounts of Scotland originated with the Greek Pytheas of Massalia, who in sometime around 325 BC may have circumnavigated the nēsoi Brettanikai, i.e. the British Islands, that were called Albion and Hiberni referring respectively to the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. These cartographies were later referenced by the Romans when invasion began in earnest.

  • AD 43, leading to the establishment of the Roman province of Britannia in the south.
  • AD 71 the Roman governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis had launched an invasion of what is now Scotland.

Military historians began documenting incursions into the northern reaches of Brittania in many unsuccessful attempts to control the entirety of the island first setting a border wall ordered by the Emperor Hadrian in 122AD pushing further north with a new border wall, ordered by the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius in 142AD finally withdrawing back again behind Hadrian’s wall for good. Romans, predictably described their Pictish adversaries as barbarians mentioning their wide use of blue paint and tattoos in conflicts leading many to believe this is the source of the Pictish name which means “painted”. However, some historians now believe that the Romans may have misheard the Old Norse ‘Pecht’ or ‘Pect’ as an identification of the peoples in Scotland during Viking raids on the east coast. A likely source for where the Vikings heard this name is the Welsh Peith-wyr literally translating to Pict-men. Ref: The Scottish Review, Volume 18 By William Musham Metcalfe, Ruaraidh Erskine -1891 books.google.com/books?id=yE4cAQAAIAAJ

  • AD98 Tacitus , Roman historian, in his biography of his father-in-law the Roman Governor of Britain, Julius Agricola, De vita et moribus Iulii Agricola, describes a great adversary, Calgacus, leader of the Caledonians who fought against the Romans at the Battle of Mons Graupius in AD84. The term Caledonian most likely refers to the name given the region and not the tribes themselves.
  • AD150, Claudius Ptolemaeus, Greographer, In his ‘Geography’, gives a description of the layout of tribal territories within Britain, and names and coordinates for a number of towns. (see map) reference: http://www.dot-domesday.me.uk/tribes.htm This map shows the approximate location of the major tribes who lived in Britain at the time of the Roman Conquest in the First Century AD. Though Ptolemy was writing in the mid-2nd century, the bulk of his data was considerably older. He drew extensively on the work of Marinus of Tyre, who was probably working in the years about AD70-100.
  • AD400 , Ammianus Marcellinus, historian, first introduces the term Pict as well as the Scotti for the Gaels of northern Ireland whom settled off the west coast of modern Scotland. He wrote: “The Picts, divided into two tribes called Dicalydones and Verturiones are roving at large and causing great devastation.” This was in connection with an attack along Hadrian's Wall, in which the Picts had the help of Irish (Scotti) allies indicating connections across the Irish Sea at an early time. The Irish called the Picts the ‘Cruithne’. Evidence suggests the Romans used ‘Picts’ as a general term that covered many separate tribes. And the Dicalydones were most likely the Caledonians mentioned by Tacitus.
  • AD409 The Roman occupation of southern and central Britain ended, the Picts had emerged as the dominant force in northern Scotland, with the various Brythonic tribes the Romans had first encountered there occupying the southern half of the country

Rise of the Pictish Kingdom - The First Kingdom of Scotland

The end of the Roman occupation of southern and central Britain at the start of the 5th century left a power vacuum that led to the Picts emerging as the dominant force in northern Scotland, with the various Brythonic tribes the Romans had first encountered there occupying the southern half of the country. Much of what is known about the Pictish Kingdom after the collapse and withdrawal of Roman forces are a handful of other sources of codex's, manuscripts, complied lists and mythological stories about the Pictish Kingdom.

Kings of the Picts are listed both in the Historia Brittonum (hisotry of Britons) written around AD828 and the Irish translation of the same book Lebor Bretnach's (The British Book). Apart from a mythology in the introduction, the writings within these books can be cross referenced to other historical texts which largely lend credibility to their accuracy. The mythical introduction describes the origins of the Cruithne son of Cing, who is reported to be "father of the Picts". The account lists the sons of Cruithne followed by three lists of kings. The fourth list of later kings can be attested by independent sources such as the Pictish Chronicle written sometime between 971 and 995 listing all the Kings of Pictland. Other Irish annals such as the Annals of Ulster and Annals of Innisfallen, refer to some kings as king of Fortriu or king of Alba. The kings listed are thought to represent overkings of the Picts. Another famous document dating to the 14th Century is a codex compiled by Robert of Poppleton, Prior of Hulne, near Alnwick now in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. It contains seven consecutive documents concerning medieval Scotland mostly unique to the manuscript. They include a Pictish King List, part of the Pictish Chroncle largely un-Gaelicized; Chronicle of the Kings of Alba; and a list of Dál Riatan and Scottish monarchs.

The Picts took part in one of the most decisive battles in Scottish history - the Battle of Dun Nechtain (Dunnichen). If the Picts had lost, Scotland might never have existed. For the Angles of Northumbria it was simply a disaster - ending their domination of Scotland. The Battle of Dun Nechtain was fought on Saturday 2nd March 685 AD and is one of the best recorded events in Dark Age Scotland. The Kingdom of the Angles under King Oswyiu had rapidly expanded north, moving their frontier from the River Forth to the River Tay. Since 653 AD many of the major groups of people in Scotland - Britons, Gaels and much of Pictland - had been subject to the overlordship of King Oswui. In 672 AD, after the death of Oswyiu, the Picts rose against their overlords, expelling Drust, their Northumbrian puppet king. The new King of Northumbria, Ecgfrith, wasted no time in wreaking revenge on the Picts. The Picts were massacred at a battle near the town of Grangemouth. According to Northumbrian sources, so many Picts died they could walk dry-shod across both rivers. By AD681 Ecgfrith had founded a church with a new bishop at Abercorn on the southern shore of the Forth - a symbol of Northumbria's secure grip over the Picts. The defeated Picts took Bridei, son of Bili, as the king of a much depleted Pictland. King Bridei was actually the cousin of his mortal enemy, King Ecgfrith of the Angles, but, in true Dark Age fashion, this didn't diminish their mutual desire to destroy each other.

The Chronicle of Holyrood gives us the best account of the battle: "In the year 685 King Ecgfrith rashly led an army to waste the province of the Picts, although many of his friends opposed it and through the enemy's feigning flight he was led into the defiles of inaccessible mountains, and annihilated, with great part of his forces he had brought with him." The Angles were advancing up Strathmore, probably aiming for the Pictish fortress of Dunnottar, when they fell into Bridei's trap. Sighting a Pictish warband, the Angles set off in pursuit, then, as they came over the cleft in Dunnichen Hill, they found themselves confronted by the main body of the Pictish army. Caught between the Picts and the loch below the hill, the Angles bravely faced their doom. The politcal map was altered. The Picts, Gaels and many Britons were freed from Northumbrian overlordship. Gaelic poets as far away as Ireland celebrated the battle's outcome. The Pictish frontier returned to the River Forth near Edinburgh and the Bishop of Abercorn fled, never to return. The Angles never fully recovered as major force in Scotland.


Kings of Pictland

Reign
Ruler
Reign
Ruler
Reign
Ruler
312-550
16 Rulers Unverified
706-724
Nechtan son of Der-IIei
839-842
Uurad son of Bargoit
550-555
Galam Cennalath
724-726
Drest
842-843
Bridei son of Uurad
554-584
Bridei son of Maelchon
726-728
Alpin
843
Ciniod son of Ferath
584-595
Gartnait son of Domelch
728-761
Onuist
843-845
Bridei son of Uuthoi
595-616
Nechtan son of Cano
761-763
Bridei son of Fergus
845-848
Drest son of Uurad
616-631
Cinioch son of Luthren
763-775
Ciniod son of Uuredach
848-858
Cináeda MacAilpin
631-635
Gartnait son of Uuid
775-778
Alpin son of Uuroid
858-862
Domnall mac Ailpín Brother of Cináeda
635-641
Bridei son of Uuid
778-782
Talorc son of Drest
862-877
Causantín mac Cináeda
641-653
Talorc son of Foth
782-783
Drest son of Talorgan
877-878
Áed mac Cináeda
653-657
Talorgan son of Eanfrith
783-785
Talorc son of Onuist
878-889
Giric son of daughter of Cinaed
657-663
Gartnait son of Donnel
785-789
Conall son of Tarla
889-900
Domnall mac Causantín
663-672
Drest son of Donnel
789-820
Caustaintin son of Fergus
 
 
672-693
Bridei son of Bili
820-834
Oengus son of Fergus
 
 
693-697
Taran son of Ainflech
834-837
Drest son of Caustantin
 
 
697-706
Bridei son of Der-IIei
837-839
Eogan son of Oengus
 
 

House of Dál Riata

The Independent Galeic Kingdom of Dál Riata

Ireland in the Early Christian period was made up of at least 120 chiefdoms. One of these lesser kingdoms was Dál Riata, which occupied a corner of the island's northeastern most part. Around A.D. 400, people from Dál Riata began to settle across the Irish Sea along the Scottish coast in Argyll. Know to the Romans as "Scotti" they would eventually give their Gaelic language and their name to all of what is now known as Scotland. Settlers from Dál Riata apparently established themselves along the west coast without much opposition. In AD490 the population was large enough that the head of the little kingdom moved the family seat across from Ireland setting up administration from the Hill fort Dunadd. Iona, an island off the coast of Scotland was the site of a highly important monastery founded in 563 by the monk Columba (Colm Cille), who was exiled from Ireland as a result of his involvement in the Battle of Cul Dreimhne. The monastery was hugely successful, and played a crucial role in the conversion to Christianity of the Picts.

Involvement of the Scottish dynasty in Ireland was bound up with conflict between themselves. The Dál Fiatach (Ulaid) on the Down coast, and the Dál nAraide or Cruithne in the interior. The province of Ulster was ruled in turn by each, and conflict between the them appears to have been common. The Dál nAraide and the Dál Riata became close and possibly went into an alliance with each other at least from the end of the sixth century. Political connections between the Scottish Dál Riata and Northern Ireland came to an end at the battle of Magh Rath in 637. A Scottish king of Dál Riata, Domhnall Brecc, backing King Congal (possibly his Nehpew) of the Dál nAraide and Ulster against the Uí Néill highking, Domhnall son of Aed mac Ainmerech, kin of the abbots of Iona, From this time, Scotland and Ireland began to go their separate ways, and it is possible that the Scottish dynasty forsook their claims to territory in Ireland.

Kingdom of Dál Riata under Pictland Control

By the end of the 7th Century the northern kingdoms remained a patchwork of different peoples and languages of Picts, Britons, Gaels (Scotti) and Germanic Angles. A new power struggle would emerge between the now independent kingdom of Dál Riata and growing power of Pictland after their new independence from Angle control.

  • AD729 Reign (729-761) of Óengus mac Fergusa - Dál Riata was very much subject to the Pictish king. Although it had its own kings from the 760s, it appears that Dál Riata did not recover.
  • AD735 Óengus mac Fergusa, King of the Picts, campaigns against Dál Riata, and seizes and burns the royal centre of Dunadd
  • AD736 Battle of Cnoc Coirpi between Fortriu (Pict kingdom) and Dál Riata
  • AD741 Battle of Druimm Cathmail between Fortriu and Dál Riata; the "smiting of Dál Riata", in which Dál Riata is subdued by Óengus mac Fergusa
  • AD793 Reign (793–820) Caustantín (Constantine)mac Fergusa – A Pictish king placed his son Domnall (Donald) on the throne of DálRiata. On 811 Constantine took over Donald’s throne as well.



The Viking Invaders

By this time great change was coming to Dál Riata and Pictland by a new invader, the Viking norsemen and would threaten to destroy the very existence of these kingdoms. The Vikings at first begun smash and raid campaigns years earlier, were now beginning to settle in the islands.

  • AD802 Iona burned by Vikings
  • AD806 The monasteries under Iona are attacked by Vikings, killing 68 monks
  • AD 839 Eóganan mac Óengusa and his brother Bran killed in battle with Vikings, end of dominance of Pictish Kingdom of Fortriu.
  • AD867 The kingdom of Dál Riata was destroyed when a Viking, Ketil Flatnose, is said to have founded the Kingdom of the Isles. Northumbria too succumbed to the Vikings, who founded the Kingdom of York, and the Kingdom of Strathclyde was also greatly affected.
  • AD870 The Vikings stormed the Britons’ fortress of Dumbarton and subsequently conquered much of England except for a reduced Kingdom of Wessex, leaving the new combined Pictish and Gaelic kingdom almost encircled.

The pictish king of Fortriu Eógan mac Óengusa, the king of Dál Riata Áed mac Boanta, and many more, were killed in a major battle against the Vikings in 839. The Pictish kingship was followed by one Urad who reigned for three years. The Dalriadan kingship seems to have been held by Alpín mac Echdach for only one year, 839–40. It is likely enough that he died at the hands of Picts. His famous son, Kenneth, would be credited with the unification of both kingdoms.

The House of Alpin and Kenneth MacAlpin

The most substantial source for Kenneth is the Scottish chronicle, a reign-by-reign narrative from Kenneth to the late tenth century. He held Dalriada, it says, for two years (840–42) before he ‘came to Pictavia’. Having ‘destroyed’ the Picts, he reigned over Pictavia for sixteen years, from 842 to 858.King-lists show that in the year when Kenneth ‘came to Pictavia’ the Pictish Urad ceased to reign, and that Urad's son Bred, who succeeded him, probably died in the same year. Three further Pictish kings are named by one group of lists, with reigns totalling six years (842–8). The last of them, Drust, was ‘killed at Forteviot, or some say at Scone’ (Ref: Anderson, Kings and Kingship, 266). This must refer to the story known in Ireland and Scotland in the twelfth century as ‘the treachery of Scone’, in which Pictish nobles invited by Scots to a council or feast were treacherously killed.

Kenneth's biggest challenge as King was a Viking invasion fleet, 140 ships strong which threatened Dal Riada. The Scots were forced to flee to Kenneth’s new Pictish kingdom. Kenneth was able to face the Viking threat, and used it to bring the Pictish and Scottish people together. He married some of his older offspring to powerful Viking families and accepted the Vikings retaining Dal Riada. Kenneth MacAlpin (Cináed mac Ailpín) died King of the Picts in AD858.

House of Alpin

The New Kingdom of Alba

A series of Kings ruled what was still considered the Kingdom of the Picts as a combined kingdom of Dal Riata and Pictland or what remained of it:

  • AD862 Donald MacAlpin, (Domnall macAilpín) brother of Kenneth died after ruling four years
  • AD 862-877 Constantine MacAlpin (Causantín mac Cináeda) son of Kenneth ruled until death
  • AD 877- 878 Aed MacAlpin (Áed mac Cináeda) son of Kenneth as well ruled until death
  • AD 878-889 Giric mac Dúngail ruled till deposed (killed) probably Kenneth’s daughters son
  • AD 889-900 Donald MacAlpin (Domnall mac Causantín) ruled until death

An interesting footnote takes place explaining the death of Aed MacAlpin in AD878. At this time the Kingdom of Pictland was subjugated to their Norse Viking overlords whom slowly bled the country dry while Aed did little to stop them. Internal strife lead to a relative not in direct line of the throne, Giric to slay the ineffective king and seize power although two direct descendants existed - Constantine, Aed’s son and Donald Aed’s nephew. Young at the time and sent to Ireland to live with an aunt, the cousins and rightful heirs to the Pictish crown later returned to depose and remove Giric. First in line was Donald II whom ruled for the next ten years. When he died as king of the combined kingdom in 900, Donald II was the first man to be called rí Alban (i.e. King of Alba). And at the coronation of Aed’s son Constantine in AD900, he was crowned the King of Alba ruling another 43 years. It's suggested that living in the Gaelic kingdom of North Ireland during the cousin's formative years effectively made the heirs to the throne of Pictland more Gaelic Scottish than Pictish and welcomed the change to the newly forged Kingdom of Alba.

Kingdom of Pictland Lost to History

The change from Pictland to Alba may not have been noticeable at first other than in name. The Picts, along with their language, did not disappear suddenly. The process of gaelicization, which may have begun generations earlier, continued under Constantine and his successors. When the last inhabitants of Alba were fully gaelicized, becoming Scots probably during the eleventh century, the Picts were soon forgotten. Later, they would reappear in myth and legend. Rather than vanishing from history, the Picts had simply fused with the Gaels and rebranded themselves as Alba. Later in history, the term Scotia was increasingly used to describe the kingdom between North of the Forth and Clyde and eventually the entire area controlled by its kings was referred to as Scotland.

References

http://archive.archaeology.org/0107/abstracts/scotland.html

http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/scotlandshistory/caledonianspictsromans/picts/index.asp

eprints.gla.ac.uk/2081/1/languagepictland.pdf by K Forsyth - ‎1997


Books Available on Amazon

The Age of the Picts (History)
The Age of the Picts (History)

The Pictish nation, forged in the shadow of the Roman empire, was the dominant power in northern Britain for more than five hundred years. Those who have tailed to find a satisfactory account of Pictish history will find this book invaluable. It provides a fresh look at the whole Pictish story, placing it firmly in its true historical context and reassessing topics such as the legend of Drust son of Erp and St Columba's mission to the Picts. There are unusual but useful comparisons with contemporary events in Wales and England as well as new and controversial interpretations of Sueno's Stone and Pictish symbols, and a fresh explanation of what happened in 843 when the Scots took over Pictland. Illustrated throughout by over forty maps, photographs and line illustrations, The Age of the Picts is a stimulating survey which will interest not only the student of Dark Age history but also anyone fascinated by the mystery of the Picts.

 

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    • Kelly wallace profile image
      Author

      Kelly Wallace 23 months ago from Boise, Idaho

      Thanks much Anne

    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 23 months ago from Australia

      An impressively detailed hub on such a fascinating time in history. even the language itself is full of music and hidden meaning. Thanks for sharing, and I hope you write more about this time.

    • Kelly wallace profile image
      Author

      Kelly Wallace 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Amen brother. I spent many late nights and exhaustive research to get this as accurate, and more importantly, as relevant to the facts as possible rather than stating opinion or hearsay as fact as so many people have done when discussing the Picts. Its time they got the credit they deserve. I will update the changes as mentioned. Thank you for the reply

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      ... continued (timed out before I could finish)...

      treasure gathered together from his treasury at Bamburgh (Baebbanburh). When the treasures were shared out, most of Penda's allies hot-footed back to their own lands, leaving him to struggle across the river at 'Winwaed' (Leeds area, near the Aire), where Oswy's men caught up with him. Penda was slain, many of his men with him and some of the treasure retrieved. Some of his men managed to cross the river - in flood - and fled back through Mercia to their capital at Tamworth, where they buried the treasure. No-one knows what happened to them. They may have fallen to the Northumbrians' swords.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      This is exhaustive, Kelly. I had planned a piece on the Picts myself, but hadn't yet got as far as the 'skeleton'

      The Aengle name for the battle named here as Dun Nechtain was 'Nechtanesmere'.The king you name as 'Oswui' was 'Oswyiu' or plain Oswy. He had enough on his plate. His brother Oswald had been killed by Penda in Shropshire (although what Oswald could have been doing that far out of his kingdom is beyond most people, considering he was thought of as 'peaceable'). Penda then invaded Bernicia when Oswy's back was turned, getting as far north as Bamburgh. Oswy let him have a large amount of