From Academic Kids

The Picts inhabited Pictavia or Pictland - Caledonia (Scotland), north of the River Forth - prior to the Scotticisation of the area.

The name Pict first appears in a panegyric written by Eumenius in 297 AD. Although Picti is usually assumed to mean painted or tattooed (as in Latin) it may have a Celtic origin. The Goidelic Celts called the Picts cruithne and the Brythonic Celts knew them as prydyn, whence Britain.



Many archaeological remains in the form of buildings and jewelry have survived to give an impression of the society of the Picts, but little in the way of writing has survived. Pictish society seems to have comprised a number small kingdoms which occasionally clashed.

Scholars believe that Pictland comprised all of modern Scotland north of the Forth and Clyde except for Argyll. It appears that two over-kingdoms existed: one north of the Mounth with its core in Moray, the other to the south with the capital at Forteviot. Irish sources recorded that seven ancient Pictish kingdoms existed:

  1. Cait — situated in modern Caithness and Sutherland
  2. Ce — situated in modern Mar and Buchan
  3. Circinn — situated in modern Angus and the Mearns
  4. Fib — situated in the modern Fife and Kinross (Fife remains known to this day as 'the Kingdom of Fife')
  5. Fidach — situated in modern Moray and Ross
  6. Fotla — situated in modern Atholl and Gowrie
  7. Fortriu — situated in modern Strathearn and Menteith (also known as 'Fortrenn' and as the Verturiones to the Romans)

However, good archaeological evidence and some written evidence suggest that a Pictish kingdom also existed in Orkney.

Christian missionaries completed the conversion of Pictland in the 7th century, having converted southern kingdoms in the 5th or 6th centuries. Although the Britons of southern Scotland and then the Northumbrian church played a part in this process, the Celtic church of Saint Columba and his successors proved the most influential in the missionary work. They established strong and enduring links between Pictland and Iona.

Historians now question the idea of Pictland coming under pressure from Dalriadan invaders. No evidence exists of Dalriadan dominance in the 8th or 9th centuries. The Pictish kings Onuist mac Uurgust (fl. 729 - 761) and Caustantin mac Uurgust (fl. 789 - 820) dominated Dalriada. Onuist sacked Dunadd and captured the sons of the King of Dalriada. Caustantin put his son on the throne of Dalriada and his brother, son and nephew succeeded him as Kings of Pictland until Viking invaders defeated the Picts in 839.

In the Viking age Norse invaders conquered much of northern Pictland - Caithness, Sutherland, the Western Isles and Ross. In southern Pictland, wars with the Vikings continued until the reign of Constantine mac Aeda (900 - 942/3), grandson of Kenneth mac Alpin. Constantine reigned as the first King of Alba.

Pictish language

Little definite knowledge survives of the Picts' language, Pictish, its relationships and cognates.

It remains uncertain whether or not we should classify the Picts as Celts, although most available placename evidence tends to support the hypothesis that they spoke a Brythonic language. Placenames often allow us to deduce the existence of historic Pictish settlements in Scotland. Those prefixed with "Aber-", "Lhan-", "Pit-" or "Fin-" indicate regions inhabited by Picts in the past (for example: Aberdeen, Lhanbryde, Pitmedden, Pittodrie, Findochty, etc). In support of this hypothesis, Gaelic tradition sees the Picts as identical with or descended from the Brythonic group which the Gaels called, and still call, the Cruithne. Cruithne has a likely cognate in the Welsh Prydain, in which we can see the standard /k/ to /p/ Goidelic to Brythonic sound correspondence (both sounds come from /kw/). From the Brythonic Celtic Prydain (or rather from its older form Pretani) comes (via Latin) the English word Britain.

However other hypotheses exist. For instance, the scholar of Basque, Federico Krutwig (1921 - 1998), tried to draw a connection between Picts and Basques based on language similarities. According to this theory, the languages of the Picts and the Basques represent remnants of the pre-Indoeuropean population of Europe. However lack of data about the Pictish language makes it difficult to test his hypothesis.

Legends about the Picts also include mention of possible Scythian origins - linking them with another remote pre-literate people. Again, lack of information about the Pictish language makes it difficult evaluate these legends.

The legend of the "Painted People"

Popular etymology has long interpreted the name Pict as if it derived from the Latin the word Picti meaning "painted folk" or possibly "tattooed ones"; and this may relate to the Welsh word Pryd meaning "to mark" or "to draw". Julius Caesar, who never went near Pictland, mentions the British Celtic custom of body painting in Book V of his Gallic Wars, stating Omnes vero se Britanni vitro inficiunt, quod caeruleum efficit colorem, atque hoc horridiores sunt in pugna aspectu; which means: "In fact all Britanni stain themselves with vitrum, which produces a dark blue colour, and by this means they are more terrifying to face in battle;"

Linguists generally translate the Latin word vitro as "with woad". The Latin phrase “vitro inficiunt” could very well have meant “dye themselves with glazes” or “infect themselves with glass”. This could have described a scarification ritual which left dark blue scars, or formed a direct reference to tattooing. Subsequent commentators may have displaced the 1st-century BC southern practices (of the Brittani, a tribe south of the Thames) to the northern peoples in an attempt to explain the name Picti, which came into use only in the 3rd century AD. Julius Caesar himself, commenting in his Gallic Wars on the tribes from the areas where Picts (later) lived, states that they have “designs carved into their faces by iron”. If they used woad, then it probably penetrated under the skin as a tattoo. More likely, the Celts used copper for blue tattoos (they had plenty of it) and soot-ash carbon for black. Further study of bog bodies may provide more information on the specific tattooing techniques (if any) used by the Picts.

See also

External links

eo:Piktoj ga:Na Cruithnigh nl:Picten ja:ピクト人 pl:Piktowie sv:Pikter


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