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Article by Lorraine MacDonald mailto: email@example.com
The question of the Picts should be approached as an integral part of
the heritage of Scotland (and Celtic Britain and Europe as a whole) rather
than as some isolated oddity. Early Scotland was populated by various
individual tribes who were ruled by people of Celtic origin. The oldest
recorded language found in Scotland is of Celtic root but what should be
remembered is that there are a number of different Celtic languages.
(Watson: Celtic Place Names of Scotland).
Also present at this time were the people whom the Romans called
the Hiberni. These Hiberni were the Irish of the time. In Southern
Scotland there were also the various tribes of the Britons. Both
the Hiberni and the Britons were of Celtic origin.
To the Romans, the tribes were recognised by the Latin equivalent of their tribal names. However, it was only the tribes which came into contact with the Romans, usually in the form of battles, that were naturally considered by them to be the most powerful and prominent. From this came the Roman habit of calling the land after whoever they saw as being the most powerful tribe.
An early Irish origin myth gives 'Cruithne' as the eponymous ancestor of
the Picts. In this myth it is said that the seven sons of Cruithne gave
their names to the seven divisions of the Pictish kingdom. The names of
the seven sons were Fib, Fidach, Foltlaig, Fortrenn, Caitt, Ce and
Circinn. Fib is equated with Fife, the site of Fidach is uncertain, the
others being Athfotla, Fortriu, Caithness, Aberdeenshire and Angus
respectively. Regardless of the accuracy of the myth, these seven divisions
did exist historically within Pictish territories.
It is interesting to note that Athfotla, ie Atholl, is equated with one
of the sons, Foltlaig. Athfotla means 'new Ireland' and an area
once identified as being occupied by the Picts, Argyll, is omitted
entirely from the divisions of the Pictish Kingdom. So it seems that
this creation myth came at a time when the Dalriada kingdom was
already in place in the Argyll area.
There is also a possibility that the Picts were of Gaulish descent. The
Pictones, sometimes given as Pectones, were a Gaulish tribe to be
found on the Bay of Biscay south of the Loire
The first ever written record of the people known as the Picts came
from Roman sources. In 297 A.D. the orator Eumenius referred to the
Britons as 'already being accustomed to the Picti and Hiberni as
enemies', implying that they had been making their presence felt for
The people we call the Picts never used such a term for themselves.
Scotland at that time was made up of tribal peoples who identified
themselves simply by the name of their tribe. The idea of kings and
kingdoms was only beginning to come into being.
Concerning the tribal identity of the peoples who came to be called
the Picts, one reference came from a Roman in 310 A.D. who mentions
"the Caledones and other Picts". There is some controversy over this
translation,others giving it as "the Caledones, Picts and others".
Depending on which translation you accept, this could either imply
that the Caledonians were Pictish, or that the Caledones and Picts
were only two of several tribes in the area.
Other tribal names of early Scotland, of Celtic root, include:
Caereni, (people of the sheep) Lugi, (of the raven) Smertae (the
'smeared ones') and Decantae (nobles). Besides the Caledonii (the
'hard ones'?) were the Vacomagi and Venicones. Other tribes included
the Epidii on the west coast and the Damnonii, Novantae and Selgovae
further south. In later times a number of these tribes merged to
form what became the 'Pictish kingdom'.
It was not long after this point that the influence of the Picts began to be felt in the north of the country. It is also from this point that confusion can set in. While the Caledonians were the power in the north, the Romans called the country Caledonia. So when the Picts came into power they likewise called the country Pictavia. The people were also then called Picts. At the same time the Irish were still calling them Cruithne. In Watson's own words: "it is important to keep in view that while all Picts were Cruithne, all Cruithne were not Picts".
The Picts were therefore one tribe amongst many others who happened
to gain control over a particular area. They did not gain control
over the areas in Ireland that the Irish Cruithne or non-Gaelic
tribes lived on. Therefore, the Irish Cruithne were not Picts and
should never be called such.
See the series of articles on the Picts and Scotland's Early History
published by Dalriada Celtic Heritage Trust at:
Picts in the Dee and Don valley
"In search of the Picts", by Elizabeth Sutherland, Ed.Constable, London.
"Picts", HMSO press, ISBN 0 11 493491 6
The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland
by J Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson
The Pinkfoot Press, Balgavies, by Forfar Angus DD8 2TH
ISBN 1 874012 03 2 and ISBN 1 874012 04 0
This is a web offset reprint of the 1903 ***Tome***
2 volumes 1000 pages 8-O 8-O
Contains everything which was then known about its subject and is
still very up to date. Strongly recommended.
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