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Who were The Picts?

A question that many historians/archeologists/researchers have tried to answer. With the many different theories about their name, their origin, their society, their beliefs that exist it is a hard one to answer and of course the big question where did they go.
This mystery is mainly due to the fact that they left no written records. All we know of them is from second-hand and unreliable evidence, lifted from the various historical writers who recorded their own, possibly biased impressions of the Pictish people.
From these accounts we are told that by the fourth century AD, the predominant people in north east Scotland were referred to as "Picts". The earliest surviving mention of the Picts dates from 297AD. In a poem praising the Roman emperor Constantius Chlorus, the orator Eumenius wrote that the Britons were already accustomed to the semi-naked 'Picti and Hiberni as their enemies'. From Emenius' statement we can see that the Picts were already a major thorn in the side of the Roman Empire.

Although there is little evidence of the Romans being on the offensive – they tended to be defending what they had established in the south from the Picts who were raiders.
The word Pict means "painted people" and may refer to the Picts tattooing their bodies or embellishing themselves with war-paint. But evidence for this is limited as the depictions of the male and female Pictish nobles, hunters, warriors which are found on monumental stones are without obvious tattoos. Perhaps they were in the early days but certainly in their later history there are no mentions of them being painted. What did they do?
Before the Romans arrived in Britain, these northern peoples were probably fragmented tribes who spent much of their time fighting among themselves. The Roman threat from the south, however, appears to have amalgamated them into a Pictish state. This allowed the tribes to resist the continental invaders as well as take advantage of the opportunity for plunder.
This forced co-operation in the face of the Roman invaders developed over time. By the time the Empire abandoned Britannia in the fifth century AD, the northern tribes had begun to form into what would later become the Pictish Kingdoms.
The Picts continued to be a problem for all their neighbours – continually harassing them for centuries after the Roman legions abandoned Britain. They often went on raids of piracy and were said to have a well established shipping fleet.

Where did they go?


The Picts survived until the early 9th century when they suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Vikings in 839 AD. The Norsemen had by that year conquered and settled Shetland, the Outer Hebrides and as far south as the mouth of the Clyde. Additionally, Caithness, Sutherland and even Dalriada were being attacked and harassed by the long boats. The brutalising defeat at the hands of the Vikings in 839 not only killed most of the Pictish nobility, including the King of Picts and Scots Uven Mac Angus II, his brother Bran and "numberless others", but also opened Mac Alpin's claim to the vacant Pictish throne, via his mother, who was a Pictish princess.

As one of the Pictish customs was said to be that of matrilineal succession for the Pictish crown, it is evident that Kenneth Mac Alpin grounded his claims to the Pictish crown from his mother's bloodlines. His claim to the crown of Dalriada came from his father, who was a member of clan Gabhran, which had produced most Scottish kings, such as his ancestors King Eachaidh, King Alpin Mac Eachaidh, King Aed and King Fergus.

Although recent archaeological work in mainland Scotland, continues to shed light on the Picts, many of the theories about their way of life remains educated speculation, with scholars divided on many elements. However, as there are no records of them dying out through natural or unnatural causes or moving elsewhere. It is highly likely that they formed the predominant population within the developing multi-ethnic nation (Scoti, Picts, Britons, Angles) which is now called Scotland.
The Picts have left their legacy in Scotland - place names, standing stones and symbols and perhaps one day we will know more about what they were trying to tell us!


The Glasgow Vikings portray the 9th century Picts – so no tattoos (well maybe some but not Pictish) or painted or half naked warriors!