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The Highlanders of Scotland
Part I - Chapter I

The original Colonisation of Britain – The Picts and Caledonians proved to be the same People – The Dalriadic Scots an Irish Colony of the Sixth Century.

THE original colonization of Britain, as of most countries, is involved in considerable obscurity; but although this obscurity arises in some degree from the distance of time to which we must look back, and the scanty materials which have come down to us, yet much of the uncertainty which has hitherto invested the subject, and of the controversies to which that uncertainty has necessarily given rise, is to be attributed to the want of a proper discrimination of the authorities for the early history of Britain. It is not unusual to find, even in writers of the present day, authors of the third and of the thirteenth centuries quoted as of equal authority, and equal reliance apparently placed upon their statements; while, on the other hand, we see others wholly neglect the authentic historians, and build their theories upon the monkish fables of the middle ages. The authorities upon which the genuine history of Scotland is principally grounded may, with a view to the reliance which we ought to place upon them, and their importance for the earlier history, be divided into three classes. Of these the first class consists of the Roman authors, who wrote while the Romans retained possession of the greater part of Britain; these excellent historians, from their antiquity, the attention and accuracy with which they were accustomed to examine the history and manners of their barbaric foes, and the fidelity of their representations, ought to be ranked as first in importance, and it is exclusively from them that the great leading facts in the early history of the country ought to be taken.

      In the second class we may place the early monkish writers, as Bede, Gildas, Nennius, Adomnan, &c. Much of the error into which former writers have been led, had arisen from an improper use of these authors; they should be consulted exclusively as contemporary historians, – whatever they assert as existing or occurring in their own time, or shortly before it, we may receive as true; but when we consider the perverted learning of that period, and the little information which they appear to have possessed of the traditions of th people around them, we ought to reject their fables and fanciful origins, as altogether undeserving of credit.

      The last class consists of what may be termed the Annalists. These are partly native writers of Scotland, partly the Irish and Welsh annalists, and are of the greatest use for the more detailed history of the country. The native Annals consist of those generally termed the Latin Lists, viz., the Pictish Chronicle, Chronicles of St. Andrew’s, Melrose, Sanctae-crucis, and others, and also of the Albanic Duan, a Gaelic historical poem of the eleventh century. The Irish annals are those of Tighernac, also of the eleventh century, and by far the best and most authentic chronicle we have. The annals of Innisfallen, Buellan, and Ulster, works of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. [Throughout this work reference is made only to the accurate versions of the Albanic Duan and the Irish Annals published by Dr. Charles O’Connor, little credit being due to the inaccurate transcript of Johnston, and still less to the dishonest version of John Pinkerton. Those parts of the Annals which relate to Scotland have been printed by me, with a literal translation, in the Collectanea de Rebus Albanicis, edited by the Iona Club.] The Welsh annals are principally the Triads, written, if we may judge from internal evidence, between the sixth and ninth centuries; and the annals of Carradoc of Nant Garvan, who lived in the thirteenth century. Besides these, much light is thrown upon the history of Scotland during the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries, by the Norse Sagas [reference is here made also to the originals of these very important historians, and the author must in like manner protest against the authority of Torfaeus].

      Proceeding upon the principle of this classification, it is plain, that in order to determine the original colonization of Scotland, and to establish the great leading facts of its early history, we must turn exclusively to the Roman authors; and we shall find that although the information contained in them is scanty, yet that when they are considered without reference to later and less trustworthy authorities, they afford data amply sufficient for this purpose. The earliest authentic notice of the British isles and of their inhabitants which we possess, appears to be the voyage of Hamilcar, the Carthaginian, in the fifth century before the incarnation, as described by Festus Avienus; from that account it may be inferred that at that period the larger island was inhabited by a people called Albiones, while the Gens Hibernorum possessed the smaller island, to which they gave their name [“Ast hinc doubus in sacram – sic insulam, Dixere Prisci – solibus cursus rati est: Haec inter undas multum cespitem jacit, Eamque late gens Hibernorum colit; Propinqua rursus insula Albionum patet.” – Festus Avienus de Oris Maritimis, v. 35]. From this period we meet with little concerning these islands, except the occasional mention of their names, until the arms of Julius Caesar added Britain to the already overgrown empire of the Romans [the oldest notice of the British isles is undoubtedly that contained in a Treatise of the World, generally attributed to Aristotle. In this treatise they are called Albion and Ierne, which appear to be their most ancient appellations]. When Caesar landed upon that island its name had already changed from the more ancient appellation of Albion to that of Britannia; and although he calls the inhabitants indiscriminately Britanni, yet it appears from his account, that they consisted at that time of two races, strongly distinguished from each other by their manners, and the relative state of civilization to which they had advanced. The one race inhabited the interior of the country, and all tradition of their origin seemed to have been lost; while the other race, which inhabited the more maritime parts of the island, were acknowledged to have proceeded from Belgium. From this we may infer, that the inland people were principally the ancient Albiones, while the others were a new people, termed Britanni, who by the conquest of the island had imposed upon it their name [Tacitus in Vita Agricola, 11 – “Proximi Gallis et similes sunt. Sermo haur multum diversus”].

      At the same period, too, it would seem that Ireland had received a new race of people, termed Scotti, as in the cosmography attributed to Ęthicus, and said to have been drawn up by the orders of Julius Caesar, we find it mentioned that Ireland was inhabited by Gentibus Scotorum [Coeli solisque temperie magis utilis Hibernia a Scotorum genibus colitur; Menavia insula aeque ac Hibernia Scotorum gentibus habitatur.”]; Sidonius Apollinaris also mentions the Scots as having been among the enemies  of Caesar [“Fuderit et quanquam Scotum.” – Sidon, Apollinar. Car. Vii., 1. 90]. That these Scots are to be distinguished from the more ancient Hiberni, is clear from the lives of St. Patrick, the most ancient notices perhaps which we have of the state of that island [see Innes’s Critical Essay, vol. Ii., for a clear demonstration of this fact]. But even independently of that, we should be led to the same result by analogy, the name of Scotia having gradually superseded that of Hibernia, in the same manner as the name of Britannia had previously superseded that of Albion. It would thus appear, that in the time of Caesar, each of the British isles had received a new race of inhabitant, the Britanni and the Scotti, in addition to the old possessors, the Albiones and the Hiberni.

      The next author from whom we derive any information relative to the inhabitants of Britain is Tacitus, who, from the peculiar sources of information which he possessed, and his general credit as an historian, is the more worthy of attention [Tacitus in Vita Agricola, 11]. From the few remarks which he makes on the different inhabitants of Britain, it would appear that, in the time of Agricola, they were principally distinguished into three races; viz., the Britanni, the Silures, and the inhabitants of Caledonia. Of these, he remarks the resemblance between the Britanni and the inhabitants of Gaul, both in their outward appearance and in their language [Tactitus in Vita Agricola, 11 – “Proximi Gallis et similes sunt. Sermo haud multum diversus.”]; they seem therefore to have been the same people with Caesar’s Britanni, who inhabited the maritime parts of Britain; and they appear during the interval between these two writers to have pushed their conquests in some places even as far as the western sea, and to have obtained possession of the greater part of the island.

      That the Silures and Caledonii were not of the same race, and could not both have been remnants of the Albiones or Britons, who inhabited the interior during the time of Caesar, appears sufficiently plain from the very marked distinction which Tacitus draws between them, and from the different origin which he is consequently disposed to assign to them. But when we consider the fact, that the name of Albion or Albania was afterwards exclusively confined to the northern part of Britain, joined to the constant tradition recorded both by the Welsh and native writers, that its inhabitants were peculiarly entitled to the distinctive appellation of Albani or Albanich; it seems obvious that we must view the inhabitants of Caledonia, which certainly included the whole of the nations inhabiting to the north of the Firths of Forth and Clyde [this appears from the speech which Tacitus puts into the mouth of Galgacus, the Caledonian general, delivered before the battle of the Grampians. In which he distinctly stats that no people lived to the north of them, and that they were the northernmost inhabitant of the island – “sed nulla jam ultra gens, nihil nisi fluctus et saxa.” – Tacit. Vit. Agr., 30], as the sole remaining part of the Albiones or ancient inhabitants of the island.

      The only conclusion to which we can come regarding the Silures is, that they were either a new people who had arrived during the interval between the periods when Caesar and Tacitus wrote, or else that they were a part of the nation of the Scots, who made their appearance in these islands about or shortly after the time of Caesar. Their appearance, situation, and the tradition of a Spanish origin, which they appear to have possessed in common with the Scots of Ireland, would lead us to adopt the latter supposition; but, as an enquiry into the origin of this tribe would be somewhat foreign to the object of the present work, and would lead to considerable digression, we shall proceed to the consideration of the subject more immediately connected with it, namely, the origin of the inhabitants of the northern part of Britain.

      We have thus seen that the Caledonians, or inhabitants of the country extending to the north of the Firths of Forth and Clyde, were the remains of the Albiones; and that in the time of Tacitus , the only other inhabitants of Britain, besides the Silures, were the Britanni, a people who acknowledged a Gallic origin. The next author from whom we can derive any important information on the subject of their origin is Dio. Cassius, who wrote about A.D. 235. He states that the barbaric Britons consisted of two great nations called Caledonii and Maeatae [Dio, Cass., 1. 76, c. 12], and as provincial Britain unquestionably extended at that time to the Firths of Forth and Clyde, both of these nations must have inhabited the country north of the wall of Antonine. It is equally clear from the words of Dio., that these two nations were but two divisions of the same race; and he adds, that the Maeatae lay next to the wall and the Caledonii beyond them, and that to one or other of these two nations might be referred all the other tribes.

      We can only consider them then as the same people who inhabited Caledonia in the days of Tacitus, and we thus see that no new people or race had arrived in North Britain down to the beginning of the third century, but that it still continued to be inhabited by the same Caledonii who opposed the march of Agricola in the first century, and who, we may infer from the Roman authors, were a part of the ancient nation of the Albiones, the oldest inhabitants of the island. Of the internal state of the Caledonians during this period we know little; in the time of Agricola they appear to have consisted of a number of independent tribes, who, although they acknowledged a common origin, and were known by one national appellation, were in all probability engaged in frequent warfare among themselves, and were only united for the purpose of a general incursion into the territories of the southern Britons. The invasion of the Romans appears to have produced the first general and permanent union among them. The different tribes of Caledonia assembled together, and with many solemnities formed themselves into a general confederacy; one of their chiefs was elected to lead them against the Romans; and Galgacus may thus with reason be called the first king of the Caledonians [Tacitus Vit. Agricol., c. 30]. His authority, in all probability, only continued while the nation was at war, but the system once introduced, seems to have been followed out on after occasions, gradually assuming a more permanent character, until it at length appeared in the shape of the Pictish monarchy.

      In the second century the Caledonians consisted of thirteen tribes, whose names and positions are fortunately preserved to us by the invaluable geographer Ptolemy. In the oldest editions of his work they appear as follows:

Tribes Districts

1. Epidioi Kintyre, Knapdale, Argyll proper, and Lorn.

2. Kreones Lochaber, Morvern, Moidart, Morer, Knodert, and Glenelg.

3. Karnones Wester Ross.

4. Kairinoi Assint, Edderachylis, and Parish of Duriness.

5. Kournaovioi Strathnaver and Kaithness.

6. Kaledonioi Badenoch, Stratherrick, Glengarry, Glenmorison, Glenurquhart, and the Aird, &c., Strathnairn, Strathdearn, and Atholl.

7. Kanteai Easter Ross.

8. Lougoi Parishes of Kildonnan, South Clyne, Golspie, Dornoch and Rogart in Sutherland.

9. Mertai Parishes of Criech and Lairg in Sutherland.

10. Vakomagoi The County of Elgin, Strathspey, Strathavon, Braemar, and Strathardle.

11. Vernicomes Merns, Angus, and Fife.

12. Taixaloi Buchan and Banffshire.

13. Damnonioi Perthshire, except Atholl.

      In this state they may be supposed to have continued with little variation down to the end of the third century.

      Hitherto the only people mentioned by the Roman authors, as inhabiting North Britain, have been the Maeatae and Caledonii, and the Roman writers are after this period altogether silent for some time on this subject, but when they again commence to give us a few scattered notices of the inhabitants of Britain, we find a very remarkable change in their language. The formidable names of Caledonii and Maeatae vanish, and in their place we find the enemies of the provincial Britons appearing under the appellations of Picti, Scotti, Saxones, and Attacotti [Amm. Mar., 1. 26, c. 4]. The history of the Saxons is too well known to require any examination; their attacks upon the Romans and provincial Britons were merely piratical excursions, and they had no settlement in the island till long after this period.

      From Dio.’s account, there can be no doubt that in his time there existed but one nation in the northern or unconquered part of Britain, which was divided into two great tribes of Maeatae and Caledonii; the Picti must therefore either be their descendants or a new colony, who had arrived in the island after the time of Dio. Their antiquity in the country however is evident from Eumenius, the first author who mentions the Picts; and from whom it appears, that they certainly existed in Britain as early as the days of Caesar [Soli Britanni Pictis modo et Hibernis assueta hostibus. – Eumenius, paneg. Constantio]; and their identity with the Caledonii and Maeatae of Dio. rests upon authority equally strong; for besides the inference to be drawn from the mere fact of finding the Picti occupying the territories of the Caledonians at no very distant period after these Caledonians appear in independence and strength, and when there is no hint of their having been overthrown, or subjected to invasion by a foreign people, we have the distinct and positive testimony of Eumenius, who talks of “The Caledonians and other Picts” [Eumenius, paneg. Constantin]; and of Ammianus Marcellinus, who informs us that the Picts were divided into two nations, the Dicaledones and the Vecturiones [Amm. Marc., 1. 27, c. 8]. It appears then that the Picts consisted of two great nations, of which one is identified by Eumenius with the Caledonii; and as the Maeatae were certainly of the same race, and inhabited the same territories with the other division of the Pictish nation, their identity cannot be doubted. We see, therefore, the Caledonii of Tacitus and Dio. presenting, under the name of Picti, the same twofold division of their nation, and continuing the same system of successful resistance and active incursion which had rendered them so formidable in the first two centuries.

      We may therefore hold it established as an incontrovertible fact, that the Picts and Caledonians were the same people, appearing at different times under different appellations, and that they were consequently the sole remaining descendants of the Albiones, the most ancient inhabitants of the island [As an additional proof of this, it will be afterwards shewn that the applications of Caledonii and Picti were not acknowledged by themselves, but were imposed upon them by the Britons and Romans; and that their peculiar and national name was that of Albanich, manifestly the original of the classical name of Albiones.].

      Of the Attacotti, we know less. St. Jerome informs us, that they were a people inhabiting Britain [Jerom., tom. Ii., p. 76]. They appear in independence, and engaged in company with the Picts and Scots in frequent incursions into the Roman province, during the years 364 and 368 [Ammian. Marcellin. Passim.]. After these dates they are not mentioned again, although the Picts and Scots are stated to have ravaged the Roman province in the years 384, 396, and 398 [Ammian. Marcellin. Passim.]  until we find them in the early part of the fifth century as enrolled among the Roman troops; and Orosius styles them certain barbarians, “qui quondam in faedus recepti atque in militiam allecti.” From these notices it is plain, that they inhabited some part of Britain, north of the Firths of Forth and Clyde, and as there certainly existed in Dio.’s time no other nation in North Britain than the Picts or Caledonians, they must have settled there subsequent to his time. The conjecture of Pinkerton is therefore probably correct, that they had arrived from Ireland, and occupied that part of the west coast which afterwards became Dalriada.

      The only nation whose origin it now remains for us to investigate, is that of the Scotti. As they appear in hostility to the Romans after the date of the formation of the province of Valentia, they could not have been a part of the Britons; they must then either have owed their origin, as well as the Picts, to the Caledonians, or else they must have been a foreign people engaged only in a temporary league with them against their common enemy the Romans. The supposition of their having a common origin with the Picts, is rendered exceedingly improbable from the marked line of distinction which is drawn between them by Gildas, Bede, and Nennius, both in respect of their manners, their language, and their traditionary origin. With regard to their manners, Gildas is perfectly distinct, as he describes them to have been “moribus ex parte dissidentes.” [Gildas, c. 15] Their language appears also to have been in some degree different. Bede in enumerating the various dialects into which the gospel was translated, mentions the Pictish and Scottish as different dialects [Bede, b. 1, c. 1], in which Nennius also concurs. Now if the Picts and Scots were both branches of the Caledonians, who were certainly an undivided people in the third century, it is inconceivable that such a difference in language and manners could have existed between them in the fifth. As to the traditionary origin of the two nations, as contained in the monkish writers, although in general we ought to place no reliance whatever upon the accuracy of the origin assigned by them to any nation, yet wherever they assigned the same origin to different nations, we may safely infer that there existed between them a resemblance in manners and language sufficiently strong to justify the assertion. And in the same way the argument applies, that wherever different origins are given by them to different nations, it is to be inferred that there was a considerable dissimilarity between them and that no tradition of a common origin could have existed among them. These writers, however, agree in giving totally different origins to the Picts and Scots. For these reasons, then, we may conclude that the Scots could not have been descended of the Caledonians, but must have been merely a part of the Scots of Ireland, who were at that time in temporary connection only with the Picts, but who afterwards, it would appear, obtained a permanent settlement among them. This conclusion is strongly corroborated by the language constantly used regarding them by Claudian, thus: –

“Ille lrves Mauros nec falso nomine Pictos Edomuit, Scotumque vago mucrone, secutus Fregit Hyperboreas remis audacibus undas.” [Claudian, de III. cons. Honorii.]

      The Picts mentioned in this passage it will be remarked are only subdued, while the Scots alone are followed across the Hyperborean waves, which can only apply to the Irish sea; because, if it applied to either of the Firths, there would be no reason for the distinction made between the Picts and Scots. Again he says:--

“Maduerunt Saxone fuso Orcades, incaluit Pictorum sanguine Thule Scotorum cumulos flevit glacialis Ierne.” [Claudian, de IV. cons. Honorii.]


“Totam quum Scotus Iernen Movit et infesto spumavit remige Tethys.” [Claudian, 1. 2, in prin con Stilichonis.]

      It has been said that Ierne here does not mean Ireland, but Stratherne, – the glaring improbability of this however must appear, when we consider, First, – That while Ireland was well known under that name, in no other instance do we find any part of Scotland appearing in the works of the Roman writers under any such appellation; even in Ptolemy’s Geography of Scotland, which is so very minute, no such place appears. Secondly, – No tolerable reason can be shewn why Claudian should distinguish such a small portion of Scotland on this occasion. Thirdly, – It does not appear that Strathern formed at any time a part of the Scottish possessions; on the contrary, it appears to have been the very headquarters of the Picts. And lastly, in this passage of Claudian, the Scots are described as crossing Tethys in coming from Ierne to the Roman province; but Tethys, it will appear from the following passage of the same author, can only apply to the sea, and not to either of the Firths of Clyde of Forth.

“Domito quod Saxoni Tethys Mitior aut fracto secura Britannia Picto.” [Claudian, 1. 1, v. 395.]

The subjugation of the Saxon could only render the sea more safe, and therefore Tethys could not apply to a Firth in North Britain.

      The testimony of Gildas is equally distinct upon this point, for he describes the Scots as coming “a circione,” and the Picts “ab aquilone.” [Gildas, c. 11] Now it appears from Vitruvius that circio corresponds pretty nearly to our north-west and by west, while aquilo is the same as our north-east, and consequently the Scots could not have come from North Britain, but from Ireland. In another passage, after describing an irruption of the Picts and Scots, he says “Revertuntur ergo impudentes grassatores Hyberni domum, post non longum temporis reversuri. Picti in extrema parte insulae tunc primum et deinceps requieverunt.” [Gildas, c. 19.] It is thus beyond a doubt that the Scots had no permanent settlement in Britain, as late as the early part of the fifth century, and that Ireland was the habitation of those Scots who joined the Picts in their attacks upon the provincial Britons.

      They appear however from Adomnan and Bede to have been firmly established in the western part of Scotland in the days of St. Columba, and even as late as the time of Bede to have retained the tradition of their Irish origin, although like all Monkish traditions, an appellation for the leader of the colony has been formed out of their generic name of Dalraids. The accession of this colony must have taken place at some period between the time of Gildas and that of St. Columba, and that date has been fixed at the year 503, partly by the direct authority of Tighernac, Flann of Bute, and others, and partly by the calculation of the reigns of their kings, of whom several lists have been preserved.

      Such is a simple statement of the leading facts of the early history of Scotland derived fro the Roman authors; and a strict adherence to them as the best sources of our early history, and an accurate mode of reasoning, from the facts contained in them, have brought us to the following conclusions; viz. – that the Picts are the descendants of the ancient Caledonians; that these Picts or Caledonians remained the only inhabitants of North Britain till the beginning of the sixth century; that a colony of Scots from Ireland effected a settlement in the island about that time, and that they had firmly established themselves there, and possessed considerable extent of territory in the time of St. Columba, or about sixty years later, and continued in the same state down to the time of Bede in the eighth century.

      The great question therefore which we have not to determine is, to which of these two nations the Highlanders of Scotland owe their origin, and this is a question which must depend in a great measure upon the nature and effects of that revolution generally termed the Scottish conquest, which took place in the middle of the ninth century, and which united the various inhabitants of Scotland under the government of one monarch. But of this subject. we shall treat in the next chapter.

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