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Clans and Families of Ireland and Scotland
IV. The Kingdom of the Picts: Christianity, Paganism and the Making of Gaelic Scotland


the time of the English Civil War in the seventeenth century. This left room for a thousand years of Celtic Christianity. The key ingredients for the making of Gaelic Scotland can be found in the syncretism which occurred between the Gaelic monastic church and Celtic paganism and related social institutions. In the long run, Celtic culture would prove to be relatively tenacious in maintaining its Heroic institutions in the face of outside pressure.

Notwithstanding the unique identity of the Picts and Gaels, a basic Heroic pattern of life was shared by all the Heroic kingdoms in the North. This was partly the result of their common links to late Iron Age Indo-European culture, but more immediately this similarity was the result of mutual cultural leveling after nearly two hundred years of local conflict between these kingdoms. The stakes of war were high, but warfare itself was to some extent conventionalized and even ritualized, with an emphasis on individual combat. The very fact that these four kingdoms were able to remain in "the game" for several hundred years points to similarity in society and military technology. Intermarriage between royal houses and alliances across linguistic boundaries were common, and the evidence from physical anthropology reveals that the people involved basically looked alike, even if they couldn’t understand one another. However, other evidence suggests that the leaders were often bilingual. In any case, British and Pictish were both dialects of P—Celtic, while Gaelic, also a Celtic language, could not be too far removed from its P—Celtic cousins.

The Heroic period began with the departure of the Romans, and ended with the coming of the Norse at the beginning of the ninth century. The economy in the Heroic North was pastoral and to some extent agrarian: It was not based upon cities and towns. There was some coinage, of late Roman influence, but the basic unit of exchange was the cow. The king or chief had his dun, or fort, and his drinking hall, but these were not medieval stone castles by any means. Society was "heroic" in that martial valor was regarded as the principal aristocratic virtue. Society was economically, materially and spiritually directed towards the use and maintenance of the warband. Warfare was the major activity.

The typical tribal kingdom in the North consisted of kindreds, stratified hierarchically, but a limited mobility between castes was aided by fosterage and blood-brother relationships between kindreds. The royal kindred was at the top of the social hierarchy, followed respectively by priests, warriors, freeman-farmers and slaves. In the pagan period, society acted within the limited confines of certain sacred gessa or taboos (restrictions), and these applied especially to the sacral king and to the priests (for instance, in Northumbria, priests could not ride horses). Bloodfeud was common in the earlier period between kindreds within the tribe, but especially between kingdoms. Bloodfeud was reduced in the Christian period, especially within the tribe, by the establishment of a "wergild" or "man-price" for each level of the social hierarchy, so that payment would replace a cycle of vengeance.


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