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The Picts
By Professor MacAndrew


WITHIN historic times there were three areas inhabited by people who were known by the name of Picts, or by its Gaelic equivalent Cruithne—if, indeed, that word is the Gaelic equivalent of Picti. These were (1), the whole of Scotland north of the Friths of Forth and Clyde; (2), the district of Galloway; and (3), a small part of the north-east of Ireland, forming the counties of Down and Antrim, and which was called Dalaradia.

If these were all divisions of the same race or people, the most important portion were those who dwelt north of the Friths, and whose country was known as Pictavia, Pictland, or Cruithentuath—and was the Pictish kingdom down to the time of Kenneth MacAlpin and his immediate successors. Now, there are certain matters connected with the civil and ecclesiastical history of this portion of the Picts about which historians talk in a very loose and inaccurate way—and in a way calculated to give rise to the impression that they were divided into two distinct races or even kingdoms of Northern and the Southern Picts, separated from each other by the Grampians—while it is constantly and directly stated that the Southern Picts, meaning those dwelling south of the Grampians, were converted to Christianity by St. Ninian in the beginning of the fifth century, and about 150 years before the Mission of Saint Columba. Thus Skene talks of Brude as King of the Northern Picts, and of Columba's Mission to the Northern Picts, while other writers say or suggest that the one division of the Picts consisted of a non-Aryan and the other of a Celtic tribe.

I venture, however, to maintain that we have no ground for supposing that there was any civil, or political, or ecclesiastical, or racial distinction or division between the people living north and south of the Grampians, and that within historic times they always formed one kingdom. Indeed, Skene must have been perfectly aware that there was only one monarchy, for although, as I have said, he calls Brude King of the Northern Picts, he says at another place that the King would appear to have been furnished by the Northern and Southern portions alternately. The inaccuracy has arisen from attaching too much importance to, or misunderstanding certain passages in, Bede. At one place Bede says:- "In the year of our Lord, 565, when Justin, the younger, the successor of Justinian, had the government of the Roman Empire, there came into Britain a famous priest and abbot, a monk by habit and life, whose name was Columba, to preach the Word of God to the provinces of the Northern Picts, who are separated from the Southern parts by steep and rugged mountains; for the Southern Picts who dwell on this side of these mountains had long before, as is reported, forsaken the errors of idolatry and embraced the truth by the preaching of St. Ninian, a most reverend bishop and holy man of the British nation, who had been regularly instructed at Rome in the faith and mysteries of the truth, whose Episcopal See, named after St. Martin the Bishop, and famous for a stately Church (wherein he and many other saints rest in the body) is still in existence among the English nation.

The place belongs to the Province of the Bernicians, and is generally called the White House, because he there built a church of stone, which was not usual among the Britons." It appears to me that in this and other similar passages, when he talks of Southern or Cismontane Picts, Bede either meant the Picts of Galloway, or he himself was misled by a mistaken interpretation of his own authorities. So far as can be learned from Bede's history he knew of no Picts except those living north of the Friths, and in the passage I have quoted he talks of the district where St. Ninian's Church was—that is, the district of Galloway—as belonging to the Province of the Bernicians. But in his life of Saint Cuthbert he tells us that that Saint on one occasion went to the land of the Picts, who are called Niduarii, and Skene ingeniously argues that these could only mean the Picts of the Nid or Nith. I think, however, that this is a curious instance of a straining of an authority on Skene's part. The story of Bede is that St. Cuthbert went from the monastery to Niduaril by sea- -" Navigando"—that because the sea was calm they hoped soon to return; that a storm came on which detained them; that St. Cuthbert prophesied how long the storm was to last; and that at the time foretold the storm abated, and they returned with a fair wind. The whole story is of a journey by sea.

Now, at that time St. Cuthbert was most probably residing in his parent monastery of Abercorn, at any rate he was residing somewhere on the East Coast of Northumberland, which then extended to the Forth, and the idea that he should attempt to go thence to Galloway by sea is not tenable. I incline to think, therefore, that Bede did not know of the Picts of Galloway; but it is quite possible that on some of his journeys St. Cuthbert may have been at a monastery on the southern shores of the Solway Frith, and may have crossed to Galloway by sea, and that, therefore, Skene may be right in supposing that the Picts called Niduarii were the Picts of Galloway. If this is so, then I think that the natural inference from the passage I have quoted and similar passages is that Bede meant these Picts when he spoke of the Southern Picts, and he might very well describe them as separated from the Northern Picts—that is, the Picts north of the Friths—by steep and rugged mountains. On the other hand, if he did not know of the Galloway Picts, it is easy to account for his falling into an error about them. Bede lived from 673 to 735, and his history ends in 731.

Now, he tells us that in or about 655 Oswy, King of Northumbria, subdued the greater part of the Picts: that in or about 669 Wilfred filled the Bishoprick of York and of all the Northumbrians, and of "the Picts as far as the dominions of King Oswy extended;" that about 685 the Picts regained their liberty and that "Trumwine, who had been made bishop over them, withdrew with his people that were in the monastery of Abercurnaig (Abercorn), seated in the country of the English, but close to the arm of the sea which parts the country of the English and the Picts," We thus see that in Bede's own time there was a temporary political and ecclesiastical separation of the Picts dwelling south of the Grampians—for this must necessarily have been the portion conquered by Oswy—and those dwelling north of these mountains, who remained independent. Bede heard or read of the Southern Picts having been converted by St. Ninian in collecting materials for his history; and he may, if he knew of no other Picts—very naturally, but yet erroneously—have supposed that they were those whom he knew of as for a time separated from the rest of their countrymen by the political and ecclesiastical subjection to Northumbria—that is, those dwelling south of the Grampians. There are many grounds which show that, if this was his meaning, it was an error on his part.

St Ninian lived about 410, and established himself at Whithern, in Galloway, where, we are told, he built a white or stone church in the Roman manner, and converted the Southern Picts. Now, if there was a race of Picts in Galloway then, and we know no reason to suppose that the Galloway Picts settled there at any later time, they would be the people with whom he came in contact, and Whithern would be the natural place to establish a mission to them; whereas it would be a very unsuitable place to establish a mission to a people living beyond the Forth. It is very unlikely, therefore, that Saint Ninian's mission was to the people beyond the Forth, and, although the dedications of churches to him have been appealed to, they really establish nothing. There are in Scotland 21 churches dedicated to him north of the Grampians, 23 between the Grampians and the Friths, and 17 south of. the Friths, while there are many in England.

Be this, as it may, however—Bede himself talks in many places of the kingdom and of the king of the Picts, and nowhere of two kings at the same time—Adamnan, who lived from 624 to 704, always speaks of the province or kingdom of the Picts as one kingdom, and gives no hint of any division either racial or political. There are lists of the kings of the Picts, which, from the time of Columba at least, are historical, and these only give one king at a time, except in one or two instances. In fact it seems, notwithstanding the passages in Bede which I have mentioned to be as certain as anything at that distance of time can be, that, from the time of Columba and previously—as certainly was the case in later times—the Picts north of the Friths were the subjects of one monarchy, and formed one kingdom.
The question naturally arises were the Picts of Galloway and of Ireland of the same race as what may be called the main body living north of the Friths. If we could answer this question satisfactorily, we could answer most of the other questions about the Picts which have so long been discussed without, as yet, any very certain or very satisfactory result—and it appears to me that this question, especially with reference to the Irish Picts, has not been sufficiently examined.

Of the early history of the Picts of Galloway, we know nothing. Unless they were the Niduarii, Bede does not mention them. Adamnan says nothing about them, and we have no mention of them until comparatively recent times. Chalmers states that they came from Ulster and settled in Galloway in the eighth century, but Skene has shown that this statement is founded on a misunderstanding of two passages in the Annals of Ulster. In historical times, and long after the name of Picts, as applied to the people north of the Friths, had disappeared, they were known as Picts, and a body of them is mentioned as forming part of the Scottish army at the battle of the Standard, when they claimed a right to lead the van of the army. All that can be said therefore is that they were called Picts, and that we have no record of their migration into that district. That they spoke Gaelic is undoubted. If therefore they were the same race as the Picts north of the Friths, we might, with some confidence, conclude that Gaelic was the Pictish language.

In the case of the Irish Picts, Skene asserts that they were undoubtedly the same as the Scottish Picts, and that they were in fact one people and under one rule till the time of Fiacha Mac Beadan, who was king of Ulster from 589 to 626; and he says further that the whole people of Ulster were Picts until the fall of the kingdom of Emania in or about the year 331. If this could be established, it would be of the utmost importance. The Ultonians were, during the existence of the kingdom of Emania, the most civilized and famous of all the inhabitants of Ireland, and to them belong all the glories of the Red Branch Knights, of Cuchulain, and other heroes, and if Finn was not of their race he was much associated with them. If Skene is right, the common possession of the legends of all these people by the inhabitants of the two countries is explained, and the question of the Pictish language and race would be in a fair way of settlement. It can hardly be said, however, that Skne has established his point. The arguments in favour of his contention are not clearly or concisely stated in any of his writings, but they appear to be these. According to the Irish Annals, the Ultonians were driven out of Emania by the three Collas about A.D. 331; they were driven into the country now forming the counties of Down and Antrim, and O'Curry says that they remained there ever after, and received the name of Dal-Araidhe. Now, this is the district which was inhabited by the people called Cruithne in later times. According to the legendary history of Ireland, there was much intercourse between Ulster and Scotland in the earliest times—Cuchulain and other heroes are mentioned as having learned feats of arms in Skye; the children of Uisneach, when they fled from the King of Ulster, took refuge in Scotland; in one of the Pictish chronicles mention is made of thirty kings of the name of Brude, who reigned over Erin and Alban for 148 years. And the Irish Annals mention some kings of Ulster who were also kings of Alban. On the other hand, the Irish Annals claim the Ultonians as descendants of Ir, one of the sons of Milesius, and therefore Scots. The Irish Annals mention no kings of Ulster bearing the same name as the kings contained in the list of Pictish Kings of Alban. During the famous time of the Ulster kingdom they do not mention the Ultonians as Cruithne, and any mention I have seen of Cruithne, or Cruithentuath, in the Earlier Irish Annals points to the people and the country of Alban. It is remarkable, too, that in mentioning the Irish Picts, Adamnan always calls them Cruithne, while the inhabitants of Alban are called Picti or Pictones. It cannot be said, therefore, that it is established that the Irish and Scottish Picts were of one race; but, as I have said, the question has not received the amount of attention which it deserves. It will not be questioned, I presume, that the Irish Picts were a Celtic, Gaelic- speaking people.

The controversy as to who the Picts were, usually rages round their name, their language, their physical characteristics, and certain peculiar customs which were attributed to them, and on each of these points I will venture to make some remarks.

THE attempt to trace the Picts all over Europe and Asia by their name of Picts always appears to me to be childish. The people of the Northern part of Britain were first called by the name of Picts by Eumenius, who was a professor of rhetoric, and a writer of panygerics in or about the year 297. Previous to that time the inhabitants of Caledonia had been known to the Romans as Caledonians, Dicaledonx and Vecturiones, Meatae, and other names; and Ptolemy, who lived in the second century, and gives a detailed geographical account of Britain, mentions various tribes as inhabiting Scotland, but none with names in the least resembling Picts or Picti, although on the west coast of northern Argyle and Inverness he places two tribes, named respectively Creones and Cerones—names bearing some resemblance to Cruithne as it is pronounced. There is no doubt that very soon after the time of Eumenius the name became the one always used by the Roman writers for the people of Northern Britain, and in the earliest books we have by native Scottish or Irish writers it is the name which they also use when writing in Latin. The fact remains, however, that Picti was a Latin name given to the people in the end of the third century, and not sooner; while it is certain that among themselves and their neighbours, who did not speak Latin, they were known as Cruithne. To connect this people, therefore, with Pictavia and the Pictones in France, known by these names in the time of Julius Caesar, or with places or peoples in Europe or Asia which bore a somewhat similar name, and which could not have been colonised by Scottish Picts after they became known by that name, seems absurd.

The usual assumption is that the Picts were so called by the Romans because they painted themselves, or tattooed themselves, and that the name signified the painted people. There is no end of authority for this; but it is remarkable that, with the exception of Julius Caesar and Herodian, all the writers who talk of the Picts painting or tattooing themselves, write after the name was given, and that for 200 years the Romans were in contact with the people without giving them any such name. Innes accounts for this by saying that all the inhabitants of Britain had at one time painted themselves, that by the end of the third century the inhabitants of the Roman province had given up the practice, and that hence the name was given to the Northern people, who still practised it. This is ingenious; but by the end of the third century the Romans were well acquainted with the Saxons, who are also said to have painted themselves, and also with the Scots from Ireland, who were at least not more civilised than the Picts, and who would probably not differ from their neighbours in a practice of this kind, so that even at that time the peculiarity would not have been confined to the Caledonians. On the other hand, it is said that the name which the people gave themselves in their own language means the same or nearly the same as the Latin word, and if this is so we must assume either that the people had named themselves from a practice which was not peculiar to them in early times, if we are to accept the statements of historians on the point, or that they adopted a Roman nick-name, translated it into their own language, and invented an eponym bearing the name for themselves. Neither of these assumptions is probable; and for myself I cannot help entertaining a suspicion that the Romans translated the word Cruithne into Picti, and that all the stories about painting and tattooing mainly arose round that word. This is clear, that no trace of such a custom remained to historic times, or has left any trace of its existence in native legend or literature; that Tacitus, who had his information from Agricola, does not mention any such custom; and that the writers who tell us about the tattooing also tell us many things which cannot be other than travellers' tales, such as that our mountains were waterless, that our ancestors went about naked, that they passed days in wading up to their waists in rivers and arms of the sea, or immersed in bogs; and even Tacitus tells us that the water of our seas was thick and sluggish, and difficult for the rower, and that it was never disturbed by storms.

Beyond establishing that the name of Picts can give us no assistance in tracing the history or migrations of the people, we must leave the question of the name in an unsatisfactory condition. If any information is to be derived from the name it must be from the name Cruithne which the people called themselves, and as yet philologists are not agreed on the meaning of this name—some deriving it from a root which means form, and others from a root which means wheat. It would be interesting if we could establish that out ancestors were the first who introduced the cultivation of wheat into Britain.

As to the language, the first question to be settled—and it is yet very far from settlement—is whether the Picts spoke a separate language or not. The case of those who assert that they did rests mainly on the authority of Bede and of Adamnan. The former says:-" This island at present, following the number of the Books in which the Divine law was written, contains five nations, the English, Britons, Scots, Picts, and Latins, each in its own peculiar dialect cultivating the sublime study of Divine truth. The Latin tongue is by the study of the Scriptures become common to all the rest." Now, Bede was a monk, and not free from the conceits and fancies of monkish writers. In this passage he wishes to make the nationalities and languages or dialects in which Divine truth was studied equal to the number of the books of Moses, and to do so he drags in a nationality which did not exist in Britain in his time—viz., the Latin. To make up five languages he required the Pictish, and looking to the object he had in making up the number five, I think it may very safely be held that the passage does not necessarily imply more than that the Picts spoke a dialect different from that of the Britons and the Scots. The authority of Adamnan is not so easily disposed of. He mentions two instances in which St. Columba had to use an interpreter in explaining the word to inhabitants of Albyn. On one occasion the Saint was in Skye, and an old man, named Artbranan, the chief of the Geona Cohors, arrived in a boat, and, being carried tO his feet, was instructed by him through an interpreter and was baptised. The river in which he was baptised was called after him "Dobur Artbranan." There is nothing in the passage to indicate where Artbranan came from, but it can only be assumed, as he was in a dying condition, that he came from some neighbouring part of Skye or the Mainland, and these at the time were undoubtedly inhabited by Picts. In the other instance Columba is said to have been tarrying for some days in the Province of the Picts, when a certain peasant, who, with his whole family, listened to and learned through an interpreter the word of life, was baptised. These passages seem to imply that talking to Picts Columba required an interpreter, but it is argued that, even if he did, a different language is not necessarily implied, and that a different dialect of the same language would equally account for the necessity. On the other hand there are numerous instances mentioned of conversations between Columba and Picts, and of discussions between him and the Pictish Druids without any mention of an interpreter. So far, therefore, as historic authority goes, it does not necessarily or even probably establish a distinct language. And certainly not a non-Celtic language.

The remains of what is said to be the Pictish language are sufficiently meagre. Bede mentions one word, "Peanfahel," the head or end of the wall. O'Curry says there is only one word of the language remaining, viz., "Cartit "—a pin, which is given in Cormac's Glossary. One of the monastic registers gives us "Scollofthes," given in Latin as "Scolasticus," but meaning some inferior monastic grade of persons who devoted themselves to the cultivation of land, and from other sources we have "Ur" and "Diuperr," the latter meaning a rich man. These, and the names of the Pictish kings and a few names of places, are all that remain. As to what these words prove, philologists are not agreed, and the question must be left with them, and I would merely remark that the manner in which some of them dibble Celtic Picts, non-Aryan Picts, Goidels, and Brythons all over the country, on the authority of a chance word or name, appears utterly rash and unscientific. If anything is to be established on philological grounds, every word said on any ground to be Pictish, and every place name in the district inhabited by the people, should be distinctly and separately analysed, and when this is done we shall know whether philology can tell us anything on the subject or not.

To me it always appears that it is vain to contend that the Picts spoke a non-Gaelic language. They composed a separate and organised kingdom from the time of Columba (565) to the time of Kenneth Macalpin (850) at least, and, giving all possible effect to the fact that during that time they had a clergy mainly Scottish, who used the Scottish language as the language of culture and literature, it cannot be supposed that, if in Columba's time they spoke a language of a different family from the Gaelic, it would not have left broad and unmistakable marks in the topography of the country, and in the Gaelic. language which they adopted.

The physical characteristics have given also much ground for controversy. The question of broad and long skulls may be dismissed on the ground that, even if this peculiarity indicated a distinction of race—and this is not now held to be entirely established— it proves nothing about the Picts. The authority of Tacitus has been much relied on as proving that the Caledonians who are assumed—and, I think, justly assumed—to be the same as the people afterwards called Picts—were Teutonic. In discussing the question of the origin of the inhabitants of Britain, he says that the temperament of body is various "whence deductions are formed of their different origin"; and thus he says the large limbs and red hair of the Caledonians point to a German origin. This is, however, a mere inference, and in a general survey he says that the probability is that Britain was peopled from Gaul—that the sacred rites and superstitions were similar, and that the language of the two peoples did not greatly differ. We know now that large limbs and red or fair hair were as much characteristics of Celts as of Germans, and we are as well able to draw inferences from the possession of them as Tacitus. In a poem, said to be very ancient, and describing events in the reign of Conaire Mor, who was king of Ireland, and died about the year 30 B.C., three exiles from Cruithentuath are described as great brown men, with round heads of hair of equal length at poll and forehead. These, so far as I have seen, are the only descriptions of the physical characteristics of Picts, and they really prove nothing.

When we come to the customs of the Picts we get on a subject of great interest and difficulty. I dismiss the stories of Roman writers about cannibalism, community of women, children belonging to the tribe and not to the parents, and the pauper King, who was not allowed to have either wife or property, as mere travellers' tales. Tacitus says nothing of any such customs, and in the speech which he puts into the mouth of Galgacus he treats the family relations as thoroughly well established among the Caledonians. In Adamnan there is abundant evidence that marriage was thoroughly recognised among the Picts in Columba's time, and there are frequent mention of wife and family, and of wives as possessing an influential position in the family. And courtesans are frequently mentioned as a disgraceful class. So far there is nothing to show that the Picts were in a different stage of civilisation from the rest of the inhabitants of Britain. They had, however, one custom, the evidence of which is distinct, and which is very singular. Bede gives the legend about the Picts having arrived in Britain without wives, and applying to the Scots for them, who gave them on condition, "that when any difficulty should arise they should choose a king from the female royal race rather than from the male, which custom, as is well known, has been observed among the Picts to this day." And here Bede is corroborated by the lists of Pictish kings in all the chronicles in which a list is given. In no case does a son succeed a father, and in no case does a father of any king himself appear in the list of kings; and yet there is no mention of a female sovereign. In later times we know that foreigners were the fathers of the Scottish kings. Bile, the King of Aiclyde, was father of one of the Brudes. Maelchon, a Welsh leader, was father of another Brude. A brother of one of the kings of Northumberland was father of another Pictish king; and on one occasion two brothers were kings of the Picts and of Dalriada respectively at the same time. There can be little doubt that Kenneth MacAlpin or his father claimed the Pictish throne, in right of succession to a mother of the royal race. It will be seen that this custom is very peculiar. It is not a case of the right of women to succeed and reign, but of men succeeding and reigning in virtue of their being Sons of their mother and not of their father. It is supposed that this custom pointed to a state of society in which there was promiscuous intercourse between the sexes, and there was therefore no certain paternity, and our distinguished townsman, Mr. J. F. Maclennan, has shown in his book on primitive marriage that probably all races passed through such a stage. But it is well established that the Aryan races had passed through this stage and established the institution of marriage before they left their original home in Central Asia. And it is contended therefore that this custom indicated a non-Aryan origin of the Picts. It is to be observed, however, that among them the custom seems to have been confined to the Royal family and to succession to the throne, and that it did not, so far as the list of kings show, or so far as Bede indicates, show any uncertainty as to the paternity of the kings the names of the fathers are always given and not the names of the mothers. Except on the supposition that it was a survival from a time when intercourse was promiscuous and paternity uncertain, it is difficult to account for such a custom, and there is no doubt that it constitutes a difficulty, and the main difficulty in the way of belief in the Picts as an Aryan people. No explanation has yet been given of it.

On the whole, then, and although the question is not free from doubt, it will be seen that the great weight of evidence goes to show the Picts were a Celtic Gaelic-speaking people, and it is probable that they were the earliest immigration of that people into Britain, and came, as their own legends tell, from Scythia, that is North-Germany, which undoubtedly was peopled by Celts before it was peopled by Germans.


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