PICTISH SYMBOLS, PLACENAMES & PERSONAL Names
The name Pict first appears in writings by Eumenius in AD297. Picti was used by Romans to describe the ‘painted’ people living north of the Antonine Wall in the AD2nd century, in conflicts with Roman governor Septimius Severus.
In Cornelius Publius Tacitus‘ time, the Picts were referred to as Caledonians – Caledonii at the time of the famed battle of Mons Graupius, AD83-4, thought to have taken place in the foothills of the Grampian mountains of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire, Caledonian heartland. In Tacitus’s Agricola–a work written to extol the virtues of his father-in-law, the Roman general and erstwhile governor of Britain, he refers to CALGACUS as the leader of the Caledonians and put into his mouth the famous speech which in translation is often quoted:
“They create a desert and call it Peace“:
‘solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant‘
There were no major cultural or volcanic/geologically-induced breaks in colonization of Northern Britain and no signs of a large influx of people into Pictland from the end of the Bronze Age to the Middle Ages. So it is thought Picts developed from existing groups.
The older, non-Celtic influence was strongest in north-eastern Scotland (Aberdeenshire, Banffshire and Moray). One theory is that Iron Age Celts may have moved into Scotland after 500 BC, bringing culture with them. (3, 7).
However Pictish history and myth relates how the black-haired peoples came from Scythia (old northern Persia, modern northern Iran) some time between 8thC BC and AD2ndC.
The Pictish/Brittonic language was widespread. An analysis of Pictish personal and place names suggests that the people spoke a Brittonic P-Celtic language, related to Cumbric and Old Welsh and derived from an earlier (non-Celtic) Indo-European language.
Cumbric was the P-Celtic language spoken by the Britons of Strathclyde (Drumbritton, Dunbarton) and the Brigantes of Brigantia–covering most of Yorkshire and parts of northern English Midlands– were also P-Celtic speakers. It is likely that ‘Lindow Man‘, the Druid Prince found on Merseyside in 1984 was also a P-Celtic speaker.
The same conclusion has been drawn by many authorities: that prior to Scots’ introduction of the Scots-Gaelic language for common usage (early 10thC), all high-born and educated classes spoke Latin or P-Celtic–i.e. Brittonic or Pictish.
It is also likely that the great Queen-warrior-leader of the Iceni, Boudicca spoke Latin and Pictish/Brittonic. Lands of the Iceni stretched from East Anglia on the east through central Britain to the sacred Druidic island of Mona (modern Anglesey) on the West. It was Boudicca’s gold-rich kingdom that the Romans plundered and wiped out in AD60, after twenty years of continuous campaigns.
Ogham inscriptions from the AD8th and 9th century show a strong presence of non-Celtic elements.
Anglian sources (Bede, AD 673-735 et al) confirm that (non-Celtic) Pictish/Brittonic was spoken until a late date. The Votadini of present day Edinburgh and the Lothians had their British stronghold sited on the plateau of Traprain Law, where their massive concealed gold/silver hoard was found 20 centuries after they hid it from acquisitive Roman armies in AD60. Their name has gone down in the history books as the famous Pictish/British tribe celebrated in the heroic poem Gododdin.
Cumbric, Cornish, and Welsh are all Brittonic Celtic languages–as opposed to Goidelic Celtic of Ireland and Dalriada.
Early placenames show the influence of P-Celtic or Brittonic Celtic. Later place names show the influence of Goidelic Celtic, reflecting the Gaelic of Dalriada and Ireland. This suggests that there was a period of bilingualism in Scotland when many people spoke both Pictish and the Gaelic of Dalriada. (3, 6)
The Pictish language is recorded in native sources:
– on ogham stones,
–in insular script, and
–in an unknown script.
The ogham alphabet orginated in Ireland around AD4thC and spread to Pictland via the Church.
Originally, Pictish ogham alphabet was drawn similiarly to Irish script. As it spread north, ogham alphabet became more ornate—in Pictland, at least—displays on stones give names of contemporary churchmen or peripatetic missionaries (Brandsbutt, Inverurie; Dyce, Aberdeen and Fordoun, Kincardineshire). Most surviving ogham stones date from an 8th century overlay.
The unknown script appears only on one stone—at Newton House in Aberdeenshire—and may be an imitation of Irish majuscule script or a 5th century Continental manuscript hand. Some Latin texts also include Pictish names. (3)
From the time of King Nechtan (706-734), Latin was used as the language of the educated. It was interchangeable with Pictish/Brittonic. When the Scots of Dalriada conquered Pictland, the educated class retreated to monastic settlements and LATIN continued to be the language of international dealings, education and trade.Early Pictish art suggests the presence of a bull cult at Burghead, Moray, a wolf cult on the Black Isle alongside the recognized Pictish symbols for astronomical and calendar icons.
By contrast, within the (feminine) cow cave at Covesea (pronounced “Cow-sea”) there are signs of human sacrifice through drowning or beheading. LINDOW MAN (Druid Prince, above) confirms a cultural royal sacrifice to placate gods, or as a gift for the blessing of avoiding racial annihilation (by Romans).
St. Ninian, who lived during the 4th century, established the foundation of Candida Casa in AD397 at Whithorn and brought Christianity to some of the southern Picts. St. Columba attempted to introduce Christianity to the northern Picts at the court of Bridei mac Maelcon (d.c.AD585). Christianity did not become widespread in Pictish areas until Nechtan’s reign 706-734, although some monasteries existed before then. The monastery of Applecross in Wester Ross was founded by St. Maelrubha from Bangor c. AD673. A small monastery was located on West Burra, Shetland. (3) And recent excavations on the Black Isle confirm a large monastic settlement there. Nechtan’s monastery near Darley (Derilei) was located immediately south of the stronghold at Fyvie (present Fyvie Castle, in the hands of NTS).
The first recorded contact between the Picts and the Romans seems to be in AD43 when a king of the Orkneys sent ambassadors to Claudius during his conquest of Britain. Agricola reached the Forth-Clyde line and set up Roman forts between AD82-90.
Ptolemy, Romano-Greek 2ndC geographer, drew on information of Agricola’s campaigns to describe the Picts—in his day morphing from Caledonii to Picti. He wrote that they were divided into 13 tribes.
PTOLEMY’S ORIGINAL PICTISH TRIBES
They included the Orcades, Orkneys. This tribal name was derived from Orcoi or Orci, meaning ‘Boar People’, which is Celtic. Ptolemy’s Ebudae may be their non-Celtic, i.e Pictish name. Other tribes included the Caereni, Cornavii, and Epidii–all Celtic names.
The Caereni and the Carnonacae lived in northwestern Scotland. The Cornavii and Smertae lived in Sutherland the northeastern tip of Scotland across the Pehtlandfjordr (Pentland, Pictland Firth) from the Orkneys. The Decantae lived in Caithness, north of the Black Isle. The Caledonii were an especially strong tribe who originally lived along Loch Ness. East of the Caledonii and north of the River Dee (ABERDEENSHIRE) were the Vacomagi and the Taexali. The Boresti may have lived south of the Taexali in present Kincardineshire—the ‘Mearns’. South of the River Tay were the Venicones. In the west, the Epidii lived in the Kintyre Peninsula across the Irish Sea from Ireland. The Creones lived between Skye and Loch Linnhe. The Ebudae were the people of the Hebrides.
South of these groups, but north of the Roman wall (and main presence), were the Damnonii, the future Strathclyde Britons. The Damnonii centred on the Clyde and the later city of Glasgow. The Votadini (later Gododdin) lived in the East, centred at Traprain Law and the estuary of the Forth. Their lands included the future city of Edinburgh. The Novantae populated Galloway and Dumfries. Selgovae dominated inland hill country. Their name comes from ‘hunters’. Like the Atecotti, this group may be part of the original pre-Iron Age people.
The Antonine Wall was built along the Forth-Clyde line in AD142 by Antoninus Pius. The Wall was held until AD161, when he died. The northern border then moved south to Hadrian’s Wall between the Tyne and Solway. Around 180 of the northern tribes crossed the Wall and fought the Romans. At the end of the century, they were paid off by garrisons, not to plunder and raid. By 208, Roman presence in Britain had to appeal to Rome for help. Septimius Severus and his sons came and restored Roman order. Septimius Severus died in 211 in York and his son, Caracalla, returned to Rome to become emperor. Hadrian’s Wall continued to represent the northern border of the Roman Empire, the Romans periodically paying off the Picts with silver coins, from the time of Septimius Severus until the fourth century. Pictish habit was to melt down Roman coinage to make silver ornaments. (3)
By AD3rd century the Picts were divided into two large tribal groups, called by Romans the Caledonii and the Maeatae.
The Maeatae lived around the Antonine Wall and the Caledonii ruled in the North. The Caledonii , first mentioned in the early AD 1stC; the Maeatae c. AD200, had by the time of Roman departure (AD420) become the two predominant Pictish nations north of the Wall: later North Pictland and South Pictland.
Adomnan mentions a people called the Miathi—Ptolemy’s Maeatae.
This division lasted until the 7th century. Bede mentions a northern and southern group of Picts. According to later authors, within historic times, there were seven regions within Pictland.
Fortriu or Fortrenn (genitive), Forteviot: the area around Strathearn and Mentieth, derived from the Verturiones, who were active in the 4th century.
Fib and Fothriff is associated with Fife and Kinross.
Circinn or Circhenn (Kincardine—modern Angus and the Mearns.
Fotla was the region of Atholl—Perthshire. Catt (Caithness).
Ce, Aberdeenshire (Grampian) and
Fidach Moray, Nairn and Rossshire
In AD305-306, Constantius Chlorus battled the ‘Caledonians and other Picts’. Constantine the Great may have fought them in 315. His son, Constans, campaigned against them in 343. An agreement between the Picts and the Romans was broken in 360 when the Picts allied with the Scots of Ireland and attacked. The combined armies of Picts and Scots were defeated by the Romans.
In 364, Ammianus Marcellinus describes the enemies of the British Romans as the Dicalydones, Verturiones, Scots, Attacotti, and Saxons. The Dicalydones represent the Caledonii (split into two) and the Verturiones were by then known as the Southern Picts. The Verturiones lived in Fortriu, and Forteviot is clearly formed from this Latin derivation. The name Atecotti or Attacotti means ‘very old ones’. They may represent the pre-Iron Age Picts.
In 367, the Picts allied with the Scots and the Attacotti and were defeated by Count Theodosius. The Picts again fought the Romans from 382-390; defeated by Magnus Maximus. In 396 to 398, the Picts fought and were defeated by Stilicho. The Picts revolted again in the 420s. This was the last time that the Picts were allied with the Scots of Ireland against the Roman regime. The Scots then returned to Ireland. And Romans evacuated and retreated to Rome.
Pictish events are largely unrecorded in the 5th and 6th centuries. (3, 7)
Bridei mac Maelcon is the first historically known Pictish king. He became king around AD550, d.585. His father may have been Maelgwn, King of Gwynedd. Maelgwn was descended from Cunedda, a leader in the area surrounding the Firth of Forth who then moved to Wales in the 4th/5th century. Bridei reportedly defeated the Scots and ruled the northern and southern Picts. He also had control over the King of Orkney, holding Orcadian hostages in exchange for submission to him by the Orcadian king.
St. Columba visited his court. Bridei is recorded as dying in battle at Asreth in Circinn in 584. Power now shifted to the south. In 603, Aethelfrith of Northumbria defeated Aedan of the Scots and ended the wedge driven by Scots into the south. Scots now turned their attention to rich Pictish landholdings in the east– as did Northumbrian kings. Northumbria Angles conquered part of Dalriada and southern Pictland.
The remaining southern lands were ruled by Gartnait and then by Drest. Drest attempted to throw off the Northumbrians but he was defeated. His successor, Bridei mac Bili, defeated the army of the Orkneys and then defeated Ecgfrith of the Northumbrians at the famed battle of Nechtansmere on 21st May 685 in Dunnichen Moss, Perthshire.
Bridei reclaimed the land of the Picts from the Northumbrians.
Nechtan son of Derelei (706-734) ended the struggle with the Northumbrians and turned to the Northumbrians for advice in religious matters. He then sent the advisors back to their monastery in Jarrow and established his own version of Christianity, closely allying himself with Rome.It is thought the cleric Fergus– whose foundation at Dyce, Aberdeen holds the Fergus Pictish stones—negotiated with the Pope on Nechtan’s behalf. After a civil war—later in Nechtan’s life, his successor Drust on the Pictish throne—the old king abdicated and retired to the Darley monastery at Fyvie, Aberdeenshire—his matrilineal lands.
His successor, Drust, was deposed by Alpin and finally killed in battle in 739. Alpin was in turn succeeded by Oengus son of Fergus. Oengus conquered the Scots in Dalriada and then allied himself with Wessex and Mercia against the Strathclyde Britons.
The Britons killed Oengus’ brother, Talorcan, in battle. The Britons then defeated Oengus’ army. Oengus died in 761. Dalriada defeated the Picts and regained possession before 778.
The power of the Picts and the Scots of Dalriada fluctuated until Kenneth mac Alpin, King of the Scots, conquered the Picts in 843, using Norse attacks on the Pictish North Coast as a cover for his invasion from the south. While the previous rulers had co-ruled both Dalriada and southern Pictland, macAlpin coveted the northern territories and assumed ‘domination’ over Pictland after his battle 843. Scenes of this takeover are graphically illustrated on the (now enclosed) Sueno’s Stone at Forres, Moray.
Before Kenneth mac Alpin’s takeover, three Scots kings allied themselves with the Picts–through family ties and cross-lineage. The Pictish succession was running short of male parental genes! Some latter day Pictish kings mentioned in the Pictish Chronicle also bear Dalriadic names.Dalriadic ruler Constantine, son of Fergus, was also co-ruler of the Picts through his mother’s Derilean lineage where (in Pictland) he held the name Custantin son of Uurguist . His name is commemorated on the famous cross-stone at Forteviot. (The original cross-stone has now been removed to Edinburgh—along with the precious Forteviot arch from the Pictish palace—and a replica is in place on the Forteviot hillside. Custatin’s son, Oengus II, ruled in Pictland where he was known by his Pictish name Unuist son of Uurguist. His son Eoganan (Euan) was joint ruler of Picts and Scots until his death in 839. Two sons of the Pictish king Oengus were killed in battle against the Vikings in 839. This gave Kenneth mac Alpin the opportunity to take over the lands of the Picts. (3)
It is likely that female Pictish names were derived from matrilineal connections. Th lineage of, e.g. Derilea from Derilei (current Darley in Aberdeenshire). Nechtan of Derilei was the powerful 8thC Pictish King who consolidated his nation and established first STONE Christian churches.
As one source says, there is a “complete lack of Pictish female names”. (4) The same author states that for naming purposes, it would be appropriate for a Pict to have a Celtic name and that many Pictish men did have Celtic names. (5) Thus it may also (late-Pictish times) have been appropriate for a Pictish woman to have a Celtic name.
Note: When an earlier form of the name is mentioned, that form would have been used around the 6th century and the later form refers to names used around the 8th century. Classical names would have been used by classical authors (4).
Allcallorred – Personal name appearing on an ogham stone (3)
Alpin/Elpin – Name of a Pictish king. Elpin is the Pictish form. Alpinos would have been the form of the name used by classical authors. (2, 3, 4)
Breth – (2)
Broichan – A magus or pagan priest in the court of Bridei mac Maelcon (3)
Bridei/Breidei/Brude – A common royal Pictish name. Brude may be the earlier form and Bredei the later form (1, 2, 3, 4)
Caltram/Gailtram/Cailtarni – (2)
Carvorst/Crautreic – (2)
Cimoiod – (2)
Cinioch/Ciniath – (2)
Ciniod – A name of a Pictish king (3)
Constantin/Castantin – Ruler of the Picts and the Scots of Dalriada. Castantin is the Pictish form of the name. (2, 3)
Denbecan/Aenbecan – (2)
Deocilunon/Deocillimon – (2)
Deoord/Deort – (2)
Domelch/Domech – (2)
Drest – Pictish king (1, 3)
Drosten – Pictish personal name on an ogham stone. It is the ancestral form of the Pictish name, Tristan. A later form of the name might have been Druisten. Classical authors would have used the name Drustagnos (3, 4)
Drust – Pictish king. Drust is an earlier form of Drest (2, 3, 4)
Eddarrnonn – Pictish personal name on an ogham stone (3)
Eoganan/Uven/Unen – Ruler of both the Picts and the Scots of Dalriada (2, 3)
Forcus – Personal name on an ogham stone. The name is Irish in origin. (3)
Galam/Galan/Galanan – (2)
Gartnait/Gartnaith/Gartnaich – A common royal Pictish name (1, 2, 3, 4)
Gede – (2)
Gest – (2)
Irb – (1)
Lutrin – (1)
Maelchon/Mailcon/Melcon – (1)
Morleo – (2)
Nechtan/Nehhton – A popular Pictish personal name. Also the name of a Pictish king. The earlier form of the name may have been Nechtan and the later form Naiton. Classical authors may have used the form Nectanos. (1, 3, 4)
Oengus/Onnist/Onuist/Onuis/Unuist/Angus – Pictish ruler (1, 2, 3)
Oswiu – Northumbrian king (1)
Pidarnoin/Eddarrnonn – (1)
Talorc/Talorcan/Talorgen/Talluorh/Talore – The name of Pictish kings and a brother of Oengus. The earlier form of the name is Talorcan and the later form is Talorgen. Classical authors might have used the form Talorcagnos. (1, 2, 3, 4)
Taran – (1)
Tharain/Tarain – (2)
Uid/Wid – (1) & (2)
Uist – (2)
Uoret – Pictish personal name on an ogham stone (3)
Uvan – Personal name on an ogham stone (3)
Wroid/Uuroid – (2)
Vocabulary from Ogham
crroscc – from Gaelic for “cross” (3)
dattrr – from Norse for “daughter” (3)
meqq – genitive of Gaelic “mac” or “son of” (3)
(1) Cyril Babaev, Picts and Pictish Language
(2) Rulers of Scotland
(3) The Picts and the Scots, Lloyd and Jenny Laing, London: Sutton Publishing, 1993, 1996.
(4) A Consideration of Pictish Names – Analyzing and Using the Data, Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn (Heather Rose Jones), ©1996, A Consideration of Pictish Names – Analyzing and Using the Data
(5) A Consideration of Pictish Names – The Material, Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn (Heather Rose Jones), ©1996, A Consideration of Pictish Names – The Material
(6) A Consideration of Pictish Names – Introduction – What Do We Mean By “Pictish” With Respect to Names?, Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn (Heather Rose Jones), ©1996, A Consideration of Pictish Names – Introduction – What Do We Mean By “Pictish” With Respect to Names?
(7) Celtic Britain, Charles Thomas, New York: Thames & Hudson, 1986, 1997.
(8) Lost Kingdoms: Celtic Scotland and the Middle Ages, John L. Roberts, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997, 1999.