The Picts

The Picts were the early inhabitants of Scotland, so called “barbarian” tribes who often skirmished with the Celtic Britons living to the south of them, sometimes living on the spoils of their attacks. Little historic documentation is available regarding them, as Scotland gradually became Celticized itself. The only text left to us by the Picts is their king-list, which gives the names and the lengths of the reigns of 60 or more Pictish kings. The list ends with Causantin mac Cinaeda, who died in 876. The only other written source from around the “Arthurian” era is Adomnan’s Life of Columba. The terms “Picts” and “Pictland” were used in speaking of the inhabitants and the area up until 900, when the country began to be called “Alba.”

The Picts had a warrior society, “and warlords needed strongholds. When St. Columba visited the Pictish king, Bridei, son of Maelchon, in 565, he went to one of the royal fortresses; it was ‘near the river Ness’ and the most widely accepted identification is Castle Urguhart on Loch Ness… where the medieval castle overlies earlier occupation…” (Nicoll 23) Several Pictish forts have been excavated, revealing that the warlords lived in style, wearing great silver chains and beautiful jewelry. A Pict’s life was not altogether different than that of his southern Celtic neighbors; they all spoke a very similar language, as the Pictish language is convincingly argued to have been Preceltic or Brithonic.

Minimal archaeological evidence exists though some survives in the form of uncovered Pictish treasure hoards. Brooches and dress-pins have been found, as well as small painted stones used as charms. An absence of valuables in Pictish grave sites, may imply that the Picts did not believe in a physical afterlife. Some oral traditions claim that Pictish deities were later mythologized as “Pixies” and faeries and that many Scottish folk traditions derive from Pictish belief. Since there is little physical evidence, it is hard to prove or disprove this line of thought. Most modern day Scots have at least some Pictish blood in them, and it’s very possible that they may carry with them some Pictish wisdom as well.

For more information and speculation, see the following sites:“The Pictish Papers” and “Pictish Nation”.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.