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History Of The Scottish Nation
Vol 1, Chapter 22 - The Planting of the Scottish Nation


The Scots make their first appearance on the stage of British history in the year A.D. 360. At this date they did not own an acre of land out of Ireland, and they had as yet planted no colony on the Caledonian side of the Channel. Ulster was still the headquarters of their race, and the sway over them was exercised by princes of the renowned line of the Hy Nial. But in the above year we see them crossing the sea, and for the first time, so far as is known to history, setting foot on the shore of their future home, not as colonists, but only in the character of strangers, or rather of military adventurers. On this side the Channel they promise themselves larger scope for the restless and warlike spirit that stirred so strongly within them, The Caledonians are still dwelling amid their old hills, but not they have come to be known by the name of Picts. The new name, however, has wrought in them no change of sentiment towards the Romans, or effaced the remembrance of the cruelties they suffered at their hands. The Picts, that is the Caledonians, still cherish the hatred which the terrible campaigns of Agricola and Severus burned into them, and the growing embarrassments of the empire present at this moment a tempting opportunity of vengeance, of which they are not slow to avail themselves. They welcome, perhaps they invite these hardy fighters, the Scots, to wit, from across the Irish Channel. Store of booty, the excitement of battle, and, after the fight, pleasant allotments in the conquered land, were the inducements, doubtless, held forth by the Caledonians to the Scots of Ulster to join them in a raid upon the enfeebled and dispirited garrisons cantoned along the Roman wall. The whole earth was rising against Rome, the North and the East were in motion. Why should they let the hour pass without calling their old enemy to a reckoning for their fathers’ blood? It was the quarrel of Scot not less than of Pict, for should the tottering empire recover its strength, what could they expect but that Rome would come back upon them with her scheme of universal empire to be set up in the midst of an enslaved earth. The Scots must not promise themselves exemption in the Irish Sea, or think that there they were beyond the reach of this all embracing tyranny. Rome would find them out in their isle, hitherto inviolate, and they should have to wear her chain with the rest of the nations.

Perhaps these considerations of policy were not needed. To the Scot, with his keen spirit and sharp sword, it may be that adventure and battle were inducement enough. But whatever the motive which drew them across the Irish Channel, here are the Scots fighting side by side with the Picts against their common foe, the Romans. The theatre on which we find the allied host slaughtering and burning is the wide district lying betwixt the two walls, that of Antonine on the Forth, and that of Hadrian on the Solway. Inhabitants of that intermediate territory had come to be a mixed race, made up of Briton and Roman, with perhaps a few strangers of Caledonian, that is, Pictish blood, who had stolen down form the region of the Grampians to settle in the pleasant vales of this more fertile and picturesque land. This mongrel population passed under the general name of Meatae, and afterwards when the Scots came to mingle with them, and still farther diversified their blood, they were sometimes spoken of as Attacotti.1 Lying between the Roman and Caledonian provinces of Britain, they were exposed to assaults on both sides. It was from the north that the present storm burst upon them. Besides the grudge which both Scot and Pict bore the men of this district as the subjects of Roman power, the region offered special attractions to the marauder. It had for a long time—with frequent intervals of lapse, however—been in possession of the Romans, and was now redeemed from barrenness. But its blooming cultivation speedily withered beneath the feet of the invaders. We see the allied host of Pict and Scot bursting over the northern wall, never a strong defence, and now weaker than ever—driving away or slaying the natives, and planting themselves down in their fields and dwellings. The success of the spoilers drew them on into the good land beyond. There was neither spirit in the Britons, nor power in their Roman protectors to check the ravages of this wild host. Onward they swept, giving free licence to their swords and full scope to their rapaciousness, till they had reached a line south of London. Here this pitiful work was at length put a stop to for the time. Theodosius, esteemed the best general of his age, and the father of a line of emperors, was dispatched against them from the Continent with an army, A.D. 369.2 On arriving, he found that all that had been left to Rome in Britain was a narrow strip along its southern coast. Homesteads in ashes, fields pillaged, terror everywhere, showed who, for the time, were masters of the country, from the foot of the Grampians to almost the English Channel. Theodosius, on arriving, found Kent swarming with the northern hordes, and had to fight his way to Augusta, "an old town," observes Ammianus Marcellinus, "formerly named London." Roman discipline prevailed over the wild fury of the invading tribes. The northern tempest was driven back to its native birthplace. The Roman dominion was re-established, and the limits of the empire were once more extended as far north as to the Forth. The territory lying between the two walls was erected into a Roman province, and named in honour of the reigning emperor Valenta. It was a short-lived principality, for the Romans retiring from Britain soon after, the name, which was the badge of subjection, fell into disuse when the legions departed. It is curious to mark that the Scots when they first come before us are seen battling with Rome. How often in after years were these two powers fated to come into conflict, though not precisely after the same fashion in which we here behold this little band of vagrant warriors measuring swords with the mistress of the world?

The weakness of the empire was too marked, and her British provinces were too tempting to permit the spirit of invasion long to sleep. In A.D. 384, just fifteen years after Theodosius had re-extended the Roman government in north Britain to the old line of Antonine, the Scots and Picts are again seen in arms; again they swarm over the northern wall, an again they rush down like an inundation, carrying slaughter and devastation throughout the ill-starred territory that intervenes betwixt the Roman power on the south, which is waxing feebler every year, and the continually growing mass of warlike barbarism which presses upon them on the north. The intervals that divided the episodes of invasion were becoming shorter, and every new raid was being attended with more calamity and bloodshed than the one that has preceded it. On this occasion, the region itself yielded a contingent to swell the arm of plunderers. The Meatae and Attacotti were becoming disaffected to the Romans; their invaders had sown the seeds of revolt amongst them; and they possibly judged that should they cast in their lots with the Picts and Scots, their condition would be less miserable than if they retained their allegiance to a power which had become unable to defend either their lives or their heritages. They had the alternative of plundering or of being plundered. They did not hesitate. Seizing brand and torch, they threw themselves into the stream of marauders, and went on with them to slay and burn. The few veterans left on the wall of Hadrian looked down with dismay on their multifarious horde, surging at the foot of their feeble rampart. They might as well have thought of keeping out the sea when the tide is coming in, as of preventing their irruption into the province they had been appointed to guard. The hostile tribes scaled the wall and rush down in a torrent, or flood rather, on the rich homes and corn-lands of England. The Romans again came to the help of the afflicted provincials, and driving back the invaders, gave them another short respite from rapine and slaughter.

Rome, which has so long fought for glory, was now fighting for existence, and the overburdened empire would have relieved itself by abandoning Britain, had it not been that it needed its revenue to replenish its exchequer, drained by the numerous armies it was compelled to maintain to quell the insurrections on its frontier. But now the Picts and Scots were gleaning more from Britain than its Roman masters, and the time evidently was near when the province would be left to defend itself. One effort more, however, did the expiring empire make on behalf of its wretched subjects. Again the barbarian host had gathered in augmented numbers and fiercer audacity. Again they were seen dashing over the Roman walls and spreading like an inundation over the territory occupied by the provincial Britons. The torment of the land was great, and its cry for assistance was loud. This induced Stilicho, the vigorous minister of the effeminate Honorius, in A.D. 400, to respond with help. The country was once more cleared by the sword of the legionaries, and the Picts and Scots being driven out, the frontier of the empire, so often effaced and so often traced out anew, was once more drawn along the ancient line of Antoniene’s wall. It was superfluous labour. The hour had almost come when the wall would be levelled, never again to be rebuilt. In anticipation of their near departure from Britain, the Romans repaired the breaches in the rampart, and otherwise strengthened it, and having performed this last friendly office to the Britons, they took leave of them, committing the wall to their keeping, with some friendly advice to the effect that as henceforth they should have to rely upon themselves for protection against their troublesome neighbours, it would be their wisdom to cultivate a little hardihood and courage, and not, lean on an empire which, having now to fight for its seat and capital in Italy, was in no condition to lavish either money or soldiers on the defence of its distant provinces.

Meanwhile, heavier cares began to press upon Stilicho, the minister who was heroically struggling to uphold a falling empire. Civil war within and barbarian insurrection without, gave token to Rome that the horrors of her overthrow would be great as her territory had been wide, and the darkness of her night deep, as the splendours of her noon had been brilliant. The ancient terror had departed from her name; her legions had lost their old discipline and bravery; one man alone, energetic, upright, and patriotic, strove to redeem from ineffable and universal contempt the venal, debauched, and cowardly crowd that inherited the names and bore the titles, but lacked the virtues of Rome’s ancient patricians. In the distant and unknown regions of Scythia, storm after storm was gathering and rolling up against the empire. The legions on Hadrian’s wall, in the far north, were recalled in this hour of extremity. The garrisons of the Rhine were withdrawn; and the Gothic hordes, swarming across that river, rushed through the passes of the Julian Alps to assail her which had so often sent her legions through the same passes on a like errand. Italy, which now disclosed her fruitful face to their greedy eyes, did but the more inflame the courage of these terrible warriors. The youthful and luxurious Honorius fled in terror from his palace of Milan, at the approach of Alaric. The victory of Stilicho on the bloody field of Pollentia (A.D. 403), only delayed for a short while the catastrophe of the empire. It was the man against nations. No skill, no bravery could suffice against odds so tremendous. The north continued to send forth through its open gates horde after horde. Rome fell: and with her fall darkness descended upon the world. The volume of Holy Writ alone can supply us with adequate imagery to depict the confusions and horrors of that awful time: "The sun became black as sackcloth of hair," "the stars of heaven fell unto the earth," "and the day shone not."

On the extinction of the Roman dominion in Britain it is not surprising that our country should fall back into the darkness in which it had been sunk before the arrival of Julius Caesar. Dissevered from the Western world. Mixing itself in no way with the affairs of the struggling nations around it, it passes out of sight. For a full century it is lost. Did Britain, retired within her four seas, enjoy security and quiet, while the nations of the Continent were enduring the throes of a revolution unexampled before or since in the history of the world? Among the last indications of its condition, just before the curtain drops upon it, is the despairing cry of the aboriginal Britons to the Romans for help against the barbarians. The document to which we refer is the well-known letter of the Britons to Aetius, the Roman governor in Gaul, which has been preserved by Bede. Never was more pathetic supplication addressed to ruler. "To Aetius," say they, "thrice consul, the groans of the Britons. The barbarians drive us to the sea—the sea throws us back on the swords of the barbarians. We have, alas! no choice left us but the wretched one of being drowned or butchered." This lamentable cry leaves us in no doubt what the country’s fate was during this unhistoric century. It was a century full of wretchedness and horror. The Picts, Scots, and Attacotti, and ultimately other tribes from beyond the German Sea, breaking over Hadrian’s wall, on which not a single legionary now kept guard, swept on into the heart of the fair land, hardly encountering any resistance, slaying, spoiling, and burning, in short, enacting within the narrow limits of our island, the same upturnings and cruelties which the Goths, the Huns, and so many other barbarous nations were perpetrating at that time on the wider theatre of Europe.

The truth is, that the government of the Romans, which worked so beneficially at the beginning for Britain, became destructive in the end. The tendency of despotism is to grow ever the more crushing. The Roman tyranny, after a continuance of five centuries, produced a Britain of spiritless men. Denied all local government, and held in serfdom, they had no heart either to cultivate or to fight for a country which was not theirs, but their masters. When the Romans withdrew, they were virtually without a king. There remained neither order nor industry in the land. The consequence of their neglect to plough and sow was a mighty famine. Hunger drove them to resume the pursuits of agriculture. After its rest, the earth brought forth plenteously; but the overflowing harvest brought down upon them their old enemies the Picts, who emptied their barns, as fast as they filled them. It was from the depth of this manifold misery that the Britons uttered their "groan" to Aetius. But the Roman governor could only give them the counsel which had already been tendered them; "Take courage, and fight your own battle." This is one of the few distinct historic incidents of that unrecorded time.

When the silent years, with all their untold sufferings, draw to an end, vast political and social changes are seen to have taken place in Scotland. Here, then, at this well-defined epoch of our country’s history, we resume our narrative.

Britain, on again emerging into view, has a settled look, instead of landmarks perpetually shifting, and tribes always on the move, our island has become the dwelling-place of four nations—the Britons, the Picts, the Scots, and the Saxons—each in the main content to abide within definite limits. It will help us to realise the Britain of that age, and the relative position of the four nations that occupied it, if we shall figure to ourselves an oblong area, with a line drawn through its centre from north to south, a second line drawn from east to west, and cutting the former at right angles, and so dividing the area in four compartments. In each of these four distinct and separate compartments is a nation. In the north-eastern division are the Picts, and in the north-western the Scots; in the south-eastern are the Anglo-Saxons, and in the south-western the Britons. This is a rough outline of the Britain of the sixth century. Let us go over the ground a second time, tracing out a little more precisely the boundaries of these four nations.

We stand beside the cradle of a great power: a future, which the boldest imagination would not then have dared to picture, is here just beginning. If the birth-place of great rivers strike the mind with a certain awe, how much more the fountain-heads of nations destined to arrive at imperial sway. The command had now gone forth with regard to Rome, "Remove the diadem!" How astonished would she have been had she been told at this hour, "Here is your successor." Yet so it was eventually to be. The lesson has often been taught the world, but, perhaps, never more strikingly so than in this instance, that "what is destined to be great must begin by being small."

Of the four nations which had partitioned Britain amongst them with their swords, we begin with the Anglo-Saxons. This was a people from the other side of the German Sea. They occupied the lower country lying along the coast of North Germany, beginning at the Rhine. Their original seats were Holstein, Schleswig, Jutland, and the islands at the mouth of the Elbe, and their transference across the sea to the English shore, which was effected in successive bands or expeditions, took place in the middle of the fifth century, and continued during great part of the following one. Gildas and Nennius, the earliest British writers, have recorded their arrival in our country, with substantial truth doubtless, but it may be also with some admixture of fable. They say that they were invited over by the Britons, who beheld with alarm and terror, their Roman defenders being now gone, the Pictish swarms gathering on their northern frontier. The Saxons crossed the sea at the first as allies, but in the end, and mainly as invaders. They had heard tell that the Romans had quitted Britain, or were preparing to do so, and they hoped to serve themselves heirs, with their swords to the fruitful land the legions were leaving. Their own country was penurious and infertile. In order to subsist, they were compelled to betake themselves to the ocean and prey upon its commerce. In these circumstances it was not unnatural that they should wish to possess a country which lay so near to them, and the wealth of which would so well reward the trouble of conquest. The invading host was made up of three tribes, the Angles, the Jutes, and the Frisians, to which is given the general name of Saxons, but all three belonged to a common race, laboured under common disadvantages, and addicted themselves to common pursuits; in short, they were sea-pirates, and, it is unnecessary to add, hardy and adventurous. They are said, by the writers to whom we have referred, to have followed the standard of two famous leaders Hengista and Horsa. They advanced, driving the Britons before them, who would seem to have been much enervated by their long subjection to the Roman power, and unable to make any successful resistance. The vanquished Britons retired into the west and the north-west of England, where we shall find them forming a distinct kingdom by themselves. The boundaries of the Saxons in Britain extended from the Wash south to Portsmouth. Future conquests, as we shall see, enlarged their dominion on the north at one time as far as to the shores of the Firth of Forth, infusing the Anglian element into the shires of Lothian-and Berwick, which is still found in that population.

The new kingdom of the BRITONS lay along the west coast of the island, extending from Cornwall, and running northward by Wales, the counties of Westmoreland and Cumberland, and onwards to the Clyde. The capital of this kingdom was the strongly fortified position on the rock Alcluith, the Dumbarton of today. On the east the forest of Ettrick divided between them and the Angles who dwelt from the Tyne to the Forth. The ancient boundary between these two peoples can still be traced on the face of the country in the remains of the high earthen dyke, known as the Catrail, which beginning near Galashiels, holds on its course over the mountainous land till it ends at Peel hill in the south of Liddesdale. The Britons were of Celtic origin; no history records their arrival in the country; the Romans found them in it when they invaded it. But early as their coming must have been, they were preceded by a still earlier race. So do the sepulchral monuments of England testify.

The PICTS, or Caledonians, are the third in order. Speaking generally, they occupied the whole eastern half of Scotland from the Forth to the Pentland Firth. They dwelt within well-defined boundaries, their limits being the German Sea on the east, and on the west the towering ridge of the Argyllshire and Perthshire mountains, a chain of hills to which was given the name of Drumalban. Tacitus describes them as "large limbed and red-haired" They were at first ranged in fourteen independent tribes; latterly they came to be grouped into two great bodies, the Southern and the Northern Picts, so called according as they dwelt on this or on the hither side of that great mountain chain which, running from Lochabar to Stonehave, parted their territories. In the later half of the sixth century they embraced Christianity, and became united into one nation under a powerful king.

Ample and goodly were the territories of the Picts. Theirs were the corn-lands of Fife; theirs was the rich carse of the Tay; theirs was Strathmore, the queen of Scottish plains, which spreads out its ample and fertile bosom between the Sidlaws on the south, and the towering bulwark of the Grampians on the north; theirs were the wooded and picturesque valleys which the Dee and the Don water; theirs was the plain of Moray, blessed with the climate of Devonshire; theirs the rich grassy straths of Ross-shire; theirs the gigantic platform of moorland and mountain, with its not infertile border, which constitutes the counties of Caithness and Sutherland. Rounding Cape Wrath, theirs were the giant headlands, with the islands dispersed at their feet, which nature would seem to have placed here as a bulwark against the great surges of the Atlantic, as they come rolling up before the tempest from the far-off shore of a then undiscovered world. In a word, theirs was nearly all that was worth possessing in Scotland, the Lothians excepted.

We turn last of all to the SCOTS. They were as yet strangers in the land to which they were afterwards to give an imperishable name. Of all the four nations, the possessions of the Scots were the most diminutive and the least fertile. The corner of Scotland which they had appropriated, appeared a mere assemblage of rocky mountains, parted by arms of the sea, liable to be deluged by torrents of rain, and obscured by frequent mists. An inhospitable land it must have seemed, compared with the rich and level country of Ulster, from which they had some. Either they were straitened in their former home, or abridged in their dearly prized independence, or they were inspired by the love of adventure, and cherished the confident hope of becoming in the end of the day the lords of this new land, when, forsaking the green shores of Loch Neah and the fertile plains of Antrim, they chose for their dwelling this region of gloomy hills.

The limits of the Scots were strongly marked. On the south their boundary was the Firth of Clyde. On the east it was the long and lofty mountain chain termed Drumalban, the "dorsal ridge of Britain," as Adamnan the biographer of St. Columba, terms it. These hills are, in fact, the watershed of the district, parting the rivers that flow to the west from those that flow two the east, as at this day they part the counties of Argyll and Peth. At a point in the Drumalban chain—the precise point it is impossible to say, but as far to the northward as to include the Crinan Moss—the boundary line struck westwards through Morvern, and climbing the shoulder of Ben More in Mull, it came out at the Atlantic. So petty was the Scotland of that day. It comprehended Kintyre, Cowall, Lorn, and the islands of Islay, Jura, Colonsay, and Iona—names which remain the ineffaceable imprints of the chiefs who led thither the first Scottish occupants of this soil.

We have traced the narrow boundaries—identical almost with those of the modern county of Argyll—which then enclosed the kingdom and nation of the Scots; this brings us to a more important question. Whence came the people whom we now see planting themselves amid the fiords and rocky promontories of south Argyll? All agree in saying. They came from Ireland. The early chronicler, whose guide is tradition, and the modern historian, who walks by the light of ascertained facts, tested by ethnological and physiological proofs, are at one here. They show us a little band of colonists crossing the narrow strait that divides the north of Ireland from the Mull of Kintyre, in their leathern coracles, under the leadership of Fergus Mor, son of Erc. This was in A.D. 502. From what more remote country they came originally, we have already show. We now join their company where history brings us acquainted with them as a settled people, and that is in that part of Ireland which now forms the county of Antrim. At some remote period, not now ascertainable, a body of wanderers had arrived in the north of Ireland. About the time that Rome was laying the first stone of her capital in the marshes of the Tiber, this people, it may be, were establishing themselves on the shores of Loch Neah, or clustering around the basaltic cliffs of the Giant’s Causway. In course of time one of their number had the influence or the art to make himself be elected king. The name of this chief was Riadha, his sons succeeded him in the government; and those over whom they reigned were called Dalriads, from the name of the founder of the dynasty, and the territory which they occupied came to be known as Dalriads. This is the territory which figures as Scotia in the pages of the chroniclers; for it is always to be remembered that when the early historians speak of Scotland, it is the Irish Dalriada, in other words, the present county of Antrim, which they have in their eye. The name Scotia began to be of more general application, and to be given to the whole of Ireland. It was not till the twelfth century that the name of Scotland was applied to the country on this side the channel, that, is to the Scotland of today.

It was a descendant of this early king of Ulster who, according to the testimony of the oldest Irish chronicler, Abbot Tigherac, led a body of these Dalraids or Scots from Antrim, across the channel, to find for them new homes amid the friths and mountains to the south of Loch Linnhe. The name of this chieftain, we have said, was Fergus Mor. Thus was founded a new Dalriada, and we now behold a Scotia on both sides of the Irish Channel.3 The capital of the new Dalriada, or hither Scotland, was situated at the head of Loch Crinan. In the middle of what is now the great Moss of Crinan rises an isolated hill. On its top are the vestiges of former fortifications of great strength, while the wastes around are strewn with a miscellaneous debris of stones and cairns. These remains are supposed to mark the site of the earliest capital of the early Scotland. It stood on the banks of the Add, a streamlet that still winds through the morass; hence its name Dunadd.

This infant colony carried in its bosom a seed of great power. These Dalriads, whom we see crossing the sea in their modest wherries, were Christians. Their Christianity, we grant, may have been very elementary. It had not been built up into system by the learning of the exegete and the labours of the commentator; it was the simple faith of the early ages, and would not be expected to furnish those bright examples of evangelical virtue which may be looked for where a fuller knowledge is enjoyed, and where, consequently, the influence of the truth is greater. To whom little is given, from him little will be demanded. But between a people under the influence of Christianity though only partially so, and a people sunk in the practices of heathenism, as were the Pictish populations around these new settlers, there will ever be found a mighty intellectual and moral difference. This difference was seen to exist in the present instance. Naturally hardy and brave, with a noble independence of spirit, these settlers brought with them yet higher qualities, even such as are engendered by that living faith which they had embraced. There was henceforth a Divine force acting in Scotland. The seed of the new life, it is true, had been deposited in only a corner of the country. It had been entrusted to the guardianship of but a little community, but it took root in the soil; it germinated, it sprang up, and every year it spread wider through the land. It had a fair spring-time in the ministry of the Culdees. Under the missionaries of Iona, this young vine began to shoot forth its branches so widely, as to touch the Alps on the one side, and the shores of Iceland on the other. But that goodly tree was destined to be visited by furious tempests before attaining its full stature. A winter intervened: its boughs were rifled ; its trunk was stripped bare; but, despite these ravages, its root still remained in the ground. When the sixteenth century came, a plenteous dew from above descended upon it, and awoke into mightier energy than ever the life that lingered in the old trunk. The sapling of the Culdean era became the giant of the Knoxian period.

Fergus Mor, when he crossed from Antrim to what is now the Scottish shore, was accompanied by his two brothers Angus and Loarne. They were the fathers of three tribes, termed "the three powerful of Dalriada," among whom the new Dalriada was partitioned. Cowall and Kintyre fell to the lot of the descendants of the great-grandson of Fergus, Comgall by name, and that name, slightly altered, we can still recognise in the "Cowall" of today. The islands of Jura and Islay formed the possessions of the descendants of Angus. They had the sea for their border; and their territories were neither infertile nor wanting in picturesqueness of landscape, the fine outlines, and the rich purple colourings of the mountains of the former island in particular often tempting the tourists of to-day across the troubled strait that separates it from the mainland. To the descendants of Loarne was assigned the district that still bears the name, scarcely altered, of their ancestors. In a central position, between the territories of Cowall and Lorn, was placed, as we have already said, the capital of the little state, Dunadd.4

Each tribe was subject to the immediate authority of its chief. While owning the limited claims of chieftainship, the tribes recognised at the same time the superior and larger authority of the king, who exercised sway over the whole confederacy. The sovereignty among the early Scots was not confined to a single family, in which it descended as a hereditary possession. Each tribe, in its turn, supplied an occupant for the throne when it became vacant. At first the prerogative of furnishing a king was divided betwixt the tribe of Comgall and the tribe of Fergus, afterwards it came to be shared between the two tribes of Comgall and Loarne. It was in accordance with the Irish law of Tanistry that the sovereign power passed thus alternately from the one tribe to the other. This division into tribes became, in after days, a source of frequent calamity. When these tribes came to be split up into others, and the nation was parted into numerous subdivisions of clans, feuds often sprang up touching the boundaries of their respective territories, and furious battles were fought over the question of who should possess this tract of barren moor, or who should call himself the owner of that mountain, whose rocky soil and steep sides bade defiance to the operations of the plough.

The fortunes of the Scots of Dalriada had their ebb and flow; but though chequered, their affairs were in the main progressive. They lived at peace with their powerful neighbours the Picts, and they reaped the benefit of this wise policy in a century of almost unbroken prosperity and progress. During this, the happiest period of their early annals, they build up their country into a compact and, viewing it in relation to the tribes bordered upon them, powerful state. Set free from the exacting and impoverishing demands of war, they were at liberty to concentrate their energies on bringing their territory under tillage, so far as its mountainous character permitted. The area which their boundaries enclosed was a narrow one, but they strove to augment its fertility with the plough rather than to extend its limits by the sword. Better, they judged a rich though small, than a great but barren domain.

Their petty kingdom was shut in at almost all points by the far ampler possessions of the Picts. The territory of that warlike people ran up along the entire eastern boundary of the Scots, and then sweeping round on the north, it descended along the shore, and partially enclosed them on the west, leaving open only the shot line of the Clyde, and the seaboard looking towards Ireland. Scottish Dalriada lay in the embraces, as it were, of Pictland. The Picts, as the more numerous and the more powerful people, might, if they had a mind, driven the colonists into the sea or across the channel. They did, indeed, soon after their settlement, make some attempts to dislodge them, but whether they thought these new neighbours too few and too insignificant to be at pains to expel them, or whether they deemed their mountains not worth the trouble of subjugating, or whether they encountered a stouter resistance than they had reckoned upon, it is now hard to say; but one thing is certain, the Scots kept their ground, and refused to withdraw or rectify their frontier in presence of the Picts. There would have ensued, in all probability, a series of raids and fights between the two nations, which would have occasioned great effusion of blood, and left no record save the cairns that would have dotted the moors and the hill-sides, but for the occurrence of an event which powerfully influenced the relations of the two peoples, and formed so beneficent a bond between them, that for a hundred years there after never was Pict seen fighting against Scot, nor Scot against Pict, nor did either covet a foot-breadth of the territory of the other, nor was there battle or bloodshed between the two nations.5 Let us turn to that event.


FOOTNOTES

1. Attacotti bellicosa hominum natio – Ammian Marc., xxvii. 8.

2. Ammian Marcell., lib. xxviii. c. 8.

3. Tigh., 502-574. Chron. Picts and Scots, p. 130. Adam., Vit. Colum. (Reeves), App. 2, p. 435. Bed., Eccl. Hist., lib. iii., c. 3.

4. Skene, Celtic Scotland, vol. i. p. 229.

5. Skene, vol. i. 276 


 

 


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