A Brief History of the Picts

 Timeline written sources  archaeology
 Stone Age  Iron Age  Romans
 Dalraida  Northumbria  Vikings
 Christianity   Pictish Kings  Scotland

 

An Abbreviated Timeline of Medieval Pictish History, with more to come...

43

Apparent king of the Orkney's sent ambassadors to Claudius during his conquest of Britain. Tribes of native people were thought to be war-like, fought naked in battle, fought between themselves, and were basically barbaric in their culture.

82-90

Agricola leading four Roman legions wages battle with the 'Caledonians" in the battle at Mons Graupius (~Aberdeenshire). The barbarians, led by 'Calgicus', was referred to by the historian Tacitus as "a man of high courage and lineage"

Tacitus (Agricola's son in law) wrote that the Caledonians had "reddish hair and large limbs"

122

Construction of the Hadrian Wall (along the River Fife), the dividing line between modern day Scotland and England, to defend against the unconquered barbarians to the north. A tribute to the tribal bands who, faced with the Roman challenge, became organized into a successful defense

297

Only four Roman writers mention the Picts by name (Picti or Pretanii). The first reference by Eumenius in 297 AD, in a description of travels by Constantius in and to the north coast of Scotland, described 'a nation, still savage and accustomed only to the hitherto semi-naked Picts and Hibernians as their enemies, yielded to Roman arms and standards without difficulty.' This is in reference to the original conflicts between the Picts and Agricola.

Claudius Claudianus writing in the early 5th century wrote of the people of Britain in the female as 'clothed in the skin of the Caledonian beast, her cheeks tattooed, a deep blue cloak sweeping down to her feet' an di another reference 'the legion which had been left to guard far-distant Britain, which had kept the fierce Scots in check and gazed at the strange shapes tattooed on the faces of the dying Picts' in both cases the term tattooed is literally 'iron-marked' suggesting the use of an iron needle rather than body painting.

400-500

Recorded Pictish legend of a great warrior and king. Cruithne, who ruled over Alba (a name which can mean all of Britain or just the lands north of the Hadrian Wall) for 100 years. He had seven sons, and after his death each ruled an area of their father's kingdom. These names give us some rough ideas of how Pictland was divided. The western highlands, for instance were peopled by the Scots, originally from the north of Ireland. In 500 AD under King Fergus the Scots invaded Argyll and established the realm of Dal Riada. Pictland, based upon place names and cultural sites appears to be centered in the north and east of Scotland.

500-600

When the Romans departed Britain in the late 4th century, Christian missionaries in Ireland that remained behind continued to document their life. Perhaps the most famous missionary to the Picts was Saint Columba, a follower of Saint Patrick who, who in 563 AD left Ireland for the island of Iona to establish a monastery that persisted for 250 years. Columba is credited for having written (over saw) the cration of the Book of Kells. In it we gain glimpses of Pictish and Celtic lifestyle. It should be noted that by this time, the Saxons had effectively wiped out the missionaries remain in Britain. Columba traveled up the Great Glen River to the palace of the powerful Pictish King, Bridei (Brude) near Inverness. According to Columba's hagiographer St. Adamnan, he had a magical duel with Brude's chief magician, Broichan, and was of course victorious, and even cowed the fearsome kelpie, or water horse that inhabited the loch Ness.

What is more likely is that Columba's travels became the first exposure of Christianity into Pictland, and the subsequent conversion (or attempted conversion) of the Picts from Paganism to Christianity.

So by this time the major power centers, and struggles, were between the kingdoms of the northern Picts, their southern kinsfolk, the Dalriadan Scots, and the Britons of Strathclyde and Lothian. However by now the lands south of the Hadrian Wall were occupied by Saxons and Angles, and trouble was brewing.


603

King Aedan of Dalraida, alarmed by the expansive aspect of the Angles in Northumbria, built an army of Scots and Picts to invade the Northumbrians at Degastand (south of Strathclyde). The King of the Scots wasn't particularly well liked by Picts, but he had married a Pictish Princess, and the Kings had agreed that the threat of the Angles from the south was too great to ignore. The battle waged and King Aedan was resoundly defeated, his two sons killed, and he disappeared from history.

657-685

Much of southern Pictland is occupied by the Angles, and their bishops, and the Picts attempted numerous rebellions. However a new player emerged who was to become as important in Scotish history as Robert the Bruce, and that was the Pict Bridei, grandson of King Neithon of Strathclyde. During his campaign around 680 AD, Bridei garnered control over the northern Pictish lands, then in 683 AD proceeded to subdue the Scots, including assaulting their capitol at Dunaad in Argyll. His ultimate challenge was achieved when in 685 AD he brought the Northumbrians to battle at Nechtansmere, also known as Dunnichen in Angus. In a decisive military maneuver, Breidei and his Picts slaughtered King Egfrid, defeating the Northumbrians, precipitating their decline of power and eventual absorption into the emerging Kingdom of England.

Bridei's momentous victory is recorded in stone on the beautiful cross slab in Aberlemno churchyard, located a few miles from the battle. SLIDE

So began a period of Pictish ascendancy, united under one ruler. Several rulers followed Bridei after his death in 693.

706-724

Nechtan mac Derile. Rules, and becomes concerned about Irish and Scottish religious influence. He expels the Columban monks. Confusion reigns for a while until he resigns and becomes a monk himself.

731-811

Oengus Mac Fergus rules, he is a violent and energetic man, and captures the throne of Dalriada, thus becoming the first King of both the Picts and the Scots. However, in an attempt to take the kingdom of Strathcldye, he fails, and so limiting his conquests to the north. Following his death in 761, the Scots threw off Pictish Rule under King Aed. But the notion of a united kingdom of Picts and Scots was not forgotten, and 789-820 Constantine mac Fergus ruled Pictland and his son, Donald, became king of Dalriada. On 811, Constantine took over his sons thrown as well

When Constantine died, there were a series of new rulers, some Pictish, some Scottish, and with so much intermarriage, the two Kingdoms were essentially interchangeable by the 820's

839

What started out as a trickle of Norse trader-pirates grew to an annual flood of Viking raiders and settlers. A united army of Picts and Scots were then destroyed by Vikings. With the Picts to the east cut off, and the Dalriada Scots cut off from their cousins in Ireland, the impact of the new Viking threat was undecided. In 842, Kenneth Mac Alpin, King of Dalriada decided to take the opportunity to move his court to the ancient Pictish royal center at Scone. He then took the Stone of Destiny, an ancient artifact used in the inauguration of Scottish Kings, from Dunadd., and legend has it that he invited all the Pictish nobels to a feast and proceeded to massacre them. This was probably untrue, as the Vikings had already decimated them in battle.

Although there was some resistance, by 848 Kenneth Mac Alpin had become the first true King of the Scots. By moving the center of power, his diplomacy, force of personality and arms, and by rallying against the Norseman, he ended the rule of two kingdoms by making them into one.

With a Scottish Court, gaelic became the language of the court and the new ruling class, and with it a resurgence of the Columban church. The Pictish language and culture declined, and they quickly became lost in history, but their legacy in stone is still with us.

 

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