Most researchers claim they are referring to real tattoos, but some maintain that the patterns might be a kind of ceremonial war paintings.
The Roman historians also applied other designations, like Caledonii pertaining to the tribes living north of the Firth of Clyde, and Maetae pertaining to the tribes living in the south by the Antonionian Wall. Another old name for Northern Britain or Scotland is Alba or Albion (today mainly in use in the worlds of football and music).
The trustworthiness of this old legend is rather doubtful, but if we scrutinize it a little closer, it is surprising how many points of similarity that occur between the old Scythian horsemen and the Picts. Another point of resemblance is the women’s strong position in society (matrilineal inheritance vs.
Among other written sources is “The Pictish Chronicle” (Chronica de origine antiquorum pictorum), a collection of texts probably written down during the reign of Kenneth II (971 – 995). Other references to the Picts are found in “The Annals of Ulster”, “Annals of Tigernach”, and in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. When the Norwegian Vikings started their “ravaging attacks” – and eventually settled down in these regions at the end of the 8th Century, there were thus still two separate kingdoms in the area which later should become Scotland – namely Pictland and Dalriada.
A gradual centralization of power took place in Pictland or Pictavia between the 3rd and 5th Century. The Irish “Vikings” – the Scots – had for centuries been attacking and ravaging the western coasts of Britain. The Hebrides is mentioned as early as 70 BC in Plinius’ great work “The History of Nature”.
During the 8th Century hordes of Norwegians arrived on the Islands, some establishing strongholds for further Viking attacks along the coasts of Ireland and Pictland, some permanently settling down as farmers. In my travels in Scotland I have been very impressed with the way the Picts mastered the use of the spiral, in single, double and triple forms. The Hilton of Cadboll stone now in the antiquities section of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. In the Hilton of Cadboll Stone from 800AD there are representational elements, like the mounted hunters in the middle, that feature details of everyday life; like the top one being a woman riding side-saddle! An ancient illustration, depicting another proud female warrior striding forth into battle in her altogether.
As an equestrienne, I was particularly delighted to see many depictions of horses on the stones.The romantic in me loved to see the mermaid, gryphons, manticore and numerous dragons.
A strong and durable indigo dye was at the time extracted from the old cultivated North Atlantic plant woad (isatis tinctoria), for centuries utilized in the dying of woollen fabrics. The term Caledonia has survived as a name for the landscape in Northern Scotland up until this day. The Picts had no tradition for writing, but they left many carved stone monuments throughout the country with intricate patterns, symbols and animal figures.
Neolithic tribes from Spain and France must have found their way to the Islands after the last glacial period.
The Scythians were contemporary neighbours of the Celts when their European Empire was at its largest (around 300 BC). The Picts eventually established a Kingdom in North eastern Scotland from the Firth of Forth to the Pentland Firth. In the Hebrides and the north western parts of Pictland (Caithness, Sutherland & Ross) the old family clan system and their chieftains had a firm grip on society, and were strongly opposed to the overlord ship of Pictland. They had long been “a pain in the neck” for the Romans, and continued being so for the post-Roman Britons and the Picts.
Gaius Plinius Secundas, 23 – 79 BC, died while studying the phenomenon volcanoes during the eruption of Vesuvius in Pompey. The large number of Norwegian place names to day (60 – 80%) bear witness of this great migrations. But it may well have been used as a wound dressing after battles and thus colored the resulting scars, making them even more dramatic souvenirs of bravery.
This people also inhabited the islands north of Scotland – the Orkney and Shetland Islands. Some researchers maintain that these tribes gradually must have mingled with the so called Beaker people from the northern and central parts of Europe. Celtic art and craftsmanship is undoubtedly influenced by the Scythians, so extensible trading contacts must have taken place for centuries. Russian archaeologists have recently discovered deep frozen and well preserved corpses from this period, showing extensive body tattoos.
In 843 AD this Kingdom was united with the Irish-Scottish Dal Riata in the west under Kenneth MacAlpin (Cinaed mac Ailpin). Eventually they broke away from the union, establishing their own Clanship, under the leadership of the legendary Somerled (gno. He married Ragnhild, daughter of the Norwegian chieftain who ruled over the Western Isles at the time – Olaf the Red.
These attacks seem to have been tolerated by the Picts as long as the Romans were a threat to their territories, but before the end of the 5th Century the the Irish Scots had established a firm stronghold in western Pictland, where they founded the Kingdom of Dalriada.
These glimpses of ancient times are mixed with Mysterious Symbols whose meaning can only be guessed at now. Especially before battle, the woad could be applied and have a slightly hallucinogenic "mood fixative" property that would enhance fierceness and frenzy. I know, they may at first glance look like snakes, but I think the artists most loved the play of line and form that could be best accomplished with these slithering creatures. In his great work “Historia” he claims that the Britons originated from the whitehaired Albani people (a Scythian tribe). Speculation arose from the fact that the Christian Q-Celtic speaking monk Colmcille (Columba) relates that he needed an interpreter when missioning among the Picts in the mid 6th Century.
Most researchers claim that this union came about mainly because of the need for large defensive measures against a common enemy – the Vikings. In the year 84 AD a great battle took place at Mons Graupius (Grampian Mountains – west from today’s Aberdeen). The Hebrides came under Celtic control after the Irish’ Scots invasion of western Pictland (Dalriada). At the top are a double disc and z-rod, a crescent and v-rod, two amazingly intricate knotted circles, and at the bottom interlocking triple spirals. His son, Godfred, was conquered by Somerled in a battle two years later, and Somerled was declared Lord of the Isles. The Roman commander Agricola, also Governor of Britain at the time, conquered a united Pictish force under the leadership of Galcagos (the Swordman). Christianity was preached on the Islands by Columba(nus) (521 – 597), who had erected his headquarters on the small Island of Iona. This mixed scotch-irish-norwegian population became known by the name Gallgaels (the Gaelic-speaking strangers). Roman annals relate that more than 10 000 Picts were killed in this battle and only 340 Romans. When I did meet my true relatives, and learn of my Scots heritage, I began making pilgrimages to Scotland to see if I would feel a kinship with the land. The Romans however were not able to consolidate their victory, and already the year after Agricola was recalled back to Rome. I am blessed that now, through the miracle of the internet, clients come to me from all over the world. The story is related in detail by Agricolas son-on-law Tacitus – the famous Roman historian. 550 AD they founded the Kingdom of Bernicia in Northumbria, and a few years later Gododdin was annected. A later Governor of Britain (Quintus Lollius Urbricus) tried to reconquer the northern territories in 140 – 42 AD . When the Vikings ravaged and plundered the monastery of Lindisfarne on the Holy Island in 793 – initiating the Viking Age - this was off the coast of the Anglican Kingdom of Bernicia. He ordered the building of a new defensive wall – the Antoninian Wall – where Pictland was at its most narrow, between the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth, but this defence was overrun by the 180s, and the Romans were forced to withdraw back to Hadrian’s Wall further south.
Hadran’s Wall continued to be the northernmost outpost of the Roman Empire until Britain was finally relinquished in 407 AD.
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