Oh dear, I go away for a few days and my favourite bit of Celtic
history pops up.....
The following is a brief outline of my personal opinion, based on
much more research than I am prepared to type in here!!! Tear me down
if you will, but here it is:
The Picts are historically defined the people living north of the
Forth from around 300AD (when they are first mentioned by that name
by the Romans) until they merged with the Scots under Kenneth
MacAlpine, although there are references to Picts in Galloway in the
12th century (more of that later). The main opinions currently are:
a) the Picts were simply descendants of the Caledonian Britons who
remained outside Roman Britain, and were there before 300AD
b) the Picts were non-Celtic aboriginals, or partly that at least
c) the Picts were a "new" people from elsewhere who displaced or
conquered the Caledonians...
1) from Scythia
2) from Scandinavia
3) from Ireland
4) from Gaul
What do we actually know?
Firstly, the Picts were definitely Celts. Thier language was studied
in depth by Kenneth Jackson back in the 50's and he concluded it was
Celtic, Brythonic (not Gaelic!), with elements found in Gaulish but
not in British. He also added there may have been a few bits of
pre-Celtic non-Indoeuropean in it, but this was tentative. There is
no evidence that the Picts spoke "two languages" or were remnants of
the pre-Celtic aboriginal of Britain, as is sometimes claimed.
Currently, the overwhelming academic belief is that the Picts were
simply the Caledonians of old. I blow my nose at this cowardly resort
to Occams razor!!!
I do not think the Picts were Britons. Bede talks unequivocly as
Pictish being a distinct tongue from British, Gaelic, or Anglo-Saxon,
and St Columba, who could converse with the Britons of Strathclyde
fine, neaded a translator to talk to the Picts (this is where I think
the "Gaulish" elements are important). Also, the Pictish king lists
and both Irish and British mythology are of the opinion the Picts
came from across the sea seeking a new home, supposedly from
This leads me to opinion 3), that the Picts were really a new
migrating people, like the Anglo-Saxons (this was a popular theory
many decades ago, and while it's unfashionable now, I can't help but
reach that conclusion). So, who were they?
The clue is, I think, in the fact that even at the time of the Roman
invasion the Caledonian Britons were not the only culture in
Scotland. There were also the people who built the Brochs. Why the
Broch-builders were distinct from the average hill-fort dwelling
Caledonians is a topic in itself, but just to make a few quick
a) At the time of the Roman invasion the Orkneys sent envoys to Rome
submitting to Roman rule and seeking their protection. The Orkneys
is a center of the Broch culture.
b) The Brochs around the Forth were not built until AFTER Agricola's
invasion of Scotland, obviously at Roman invitation
c) The only place the Picts are refered to living south of the Forth
of is in Galloway. There also happen to be Brochs in Galloway.
So I think the Broch-dwellers were the ones who took over the
shattered lands of the Caledonains and became known as the Picts.
Where did they come from? Well, we can discount Scandinavia as we
know they were Celtic. We can discount Scythia, as several Celtic
cultures shared that myth remembering thier dustanct origins. We can
discount Northern Ireland, which is based on a complicated
linguistic arguement over the word "Cruithne", which came to be used
for "Pict", but on closer inspection turns out to be a complete
furphy. I go for Gaul, and in particular a sea-going tribe from the
Biscay peninsula called (wait for it) the Pictones! Again there a
complicated linguistic arguements backing this up, but note that
a) It explains the "Gaulish not British" elements in Pictish
b) The non-Celtic elements, if you believe in them, could be a few
c) There are broch-like dwellings in the lands of the Pictones!
So there you have it. I'll go away now and wait for the barrage of