Monday, 20 August 2012

Pictish studies

The idea of a Pictish post was first suggested by Kath, and although it got completely and utterly sidelined when my asthma went haywire, I haven't forgotten it.  This will be a little taster. For illustrations you will have to follow the links, because my scanner isn't working. For the text, I am referring to my Dissertation on the Equine Iconography of the 8th-10th Century Pictish Sculptured Monuments (1999).

Who were the Picts?  They were not a single Scottish tribe, but a political confederation of northern tribes.  South-West of Caithness were several tribes including the Epidii - this translates as "horse-breeders" (or horse-trainers) and Kintyre is the MacEachern clanland whose name means "children of the horse-lord."  The distribution of these tribes within Scotland covered an area north of the Forth-Clyde valley, from around AD 300 to AD843. The Romans called them the 'Picti' to the earlier Roman Britons they were known as the Priteni.  To the Irish they were the Cruithni - People of the Designs. No-one knows what they called themselves.  They had their own language, which required translation to people such as St Ninian (400s)and St Columba (AD 565) who tried to preach the Christian gospel to them.

Lists of the Pictish High Kings were kept in the Ulster and Tighernac monasteries in Ireland, and considered reasonably accurate from about AD 550 when Brude was on the throne.

The Picts were subsequently conquered/absorbed when Kenneth McAlpin(e), already king of Dal Riata, on the western side of Scotland, pronounced himself king of the Picts as his mother was of royal Pictish descent  although he sealed it beyond all doubt when he invited Drest (surviving son of  the former Pictish king Drest) and slew him at Scone.

The Picts live on - doubtless genetically in modern Scotsmen and women today - but also in the intriguing symbol stones which survived the millennia.  They can be divided into three groups - Class I, which are purely Pictish symbols; Class II, which incorporate Christian symbolism with the Pictish symbols, and Class III which are purely Christian in decoration. 

There are more than 50 individual and eclectic designs incised on probably commemorative stones, of which there are more than 200 examples (and others are still turning up) .  A discrete corpus were found on cave walls or rock outcrops - appearing to be working drawings for the "real thing", and there are yet more found and silver jewellery and miscellaneous items recovered from various hoards such as the Norrie's Law hoard, Fife; St Ninian's Isle treasure, Shetland and Broch of Burgar hoard, Orkney. 

More later - if you are interested.


  1. You do know that you can insert pictures by using their URL, don't you? (If you don't know how to get a picture's url you right click and then click 'properties'.

  2. Thanks AJ - It's finding the ones that I don't infringe copyright rules over. I did try Creative Commons earlier. Must go back and check again, as this really needs to be picture-heavy!

  3. How interesting- I'm so glad you put this post together.

  4. Thank you BB. A concise and interesting introduction to the Picts. Please give us some more!

  5. Thank you for this BB. A concise and interesting introduction to the Picts. Please give us some more when you have the time and energy!xx

  6. VERY interested; looking forward to the next one. Where does your extensive knowledge come from?

  7. Em - it was my "starter for 10" when I was at Uni (I read Archaeology) and I just fell hook, line and sinker for the Picts and their sculptures.

    Off to search for usable pics now.

  8. Yes, more please on the Picts, my knowledge of their art is absymal,
    there again my geographic knowledge of Scotland is pretty bad to;) but would like to go to Kilmartin, prehistoric rock art round there is pretty fantastic....