Pictish Nation-Chapter 2


Albion is the name of Britain preserved by the Greek writers; probably it was taken down from the early shipmasters of the Mediterranean. Ptolemy’s spelling (c. 127) is Alouton, due, very likely, to a copyist’s error. Pliny also gives the name as Albion. The early literary Irish use the forms Alba and Alban, and ultimately apply the name to what is now Scotland, that being the part of Britain with which they had most traffic.

When the Vikings (c. 800) landed on the northern part of Britain they called the country ‘ Pictland.’ This is exactly the name which is applied to that part of the country in the Annals of Ulster (c 866) in the Celtic form “Cruitintuath” where Cruitin stands for Pict, and tuath  for land or nation.

Cruithne, a Pict, comes to us in the spelling of the C-using Gaidheals. It was the name which the Gaidheals of northern Ireland applied to the Picts of Ulster. Adamnan, Abbot of lona, also a Gaidheal, latinizes it into “Cruithnii”  and uses it in referring to the same people.

This short excursus among national names brings us round in a circle to the point from which Britons spelt ‘Cruitin (Pict) as Priten and Pryden. This the Teutonic Angles transformed into Briton. Therefore, Cruithne or Cruitin, on the one hand, and Priten (or Briton) on the other, are one and the
same name, meaning Pict, and taken from two different Celtic dialects.

An early Greek name for the British Isles is Pretanikai Nesoi. This is based on the native name for Britain, ” Ynys Prydain” which means, literally, Picts’ Island. Britain takes its name from the Picts \and the use of this name stamps  the fact in every literature throughout the world.

It is manifest to any patient inquirer that, so  far as Britain is concerned, the Picts who submitted to Imperial Rome, and who took on something of Roman manners and Roman culture, came, through Latin usage, to have the name ‘Britons’ reserved for themselves alone; whereas the Picts who had spurned Roman power and culture, and who had retired, independent, north of the Wall of Antonine, came, through the influence of Gaidhealic writers, to be distinguished as ‘Cruithini” or ‘Cruithnii.’

After the Roman general, Lollius Urbicus, had driven the powerful Pictish tribe known as the Brigantes beyond the Wall of Antonine(c 139) this wall became the southern boundary of Pictland. From this frontier-line, stretching between the Firths of Forth and Clyde, Pictland extended northwards to the remotest island of Shetland; and the Hebrides, outer and inner, were included in the country.

This was the territorial extent of Pictland when S. Ninian led his mission along the whole east coast, and crossed the sea as far as Shetland between 400 and 432 A.D. This also represents the territory over which Brude Mac Maelchon, the Sovereign of Pictland, reigned at his capital in Inverness from 554 to 584 A.D. Cantyre with its colony of Gaidheals or Scots was at this time within the lordship of Mac Maelchon; because A.D. 5 60 this sovereign had expelled many of the encroaching Gaidheals from South Argyll, had shut up a remnant in Cantyre, and after slaying their righ, or king, Gabhran, in battle, had left their new chief with the title of a mere tributary “toiseach” or military magistrate.

It was into the Pictish dominions thus defined,and to this sovereign, Brude Mac Maelchon, that, A.D. 563, SS. Comgall and Cainnech, the Pictish ecclesiastical leaders, introduced S. Columba the Gaidheal, outcast  from the Gaidheals of Ireland who had turned to the Dispersed amongthe Picts of Argyll. Columba was discreetly angry at the broken state of his race-brothers, the colonists in Cantyre; but he restrained him self enough to crave from Brude, the Sovereign, an island in the West, where he could dispense the consolations of Religion to the children of the  captivity who wept among the Isles to the moan of the Atlantic; and where, afar from the supervision of the monarch, he could exercise warily his aggressive diplomatic genius to restore freedom and progress to the conquered Gaidheals.

In the Irish additions to the Historia Britonum the mainland of the Picts is described as ‘ Ochrichat co Foirciu that is, from Caithness to the Forth. Within this stretch of territory Ptolemy of Alexandria places ten tribes or provinces. The Epidioi, Horsemen, inhabited Epidium, Cantyre and South Argyll. The Kerones, Shepherds, occupied the whole West Coast from about Loch Linnhe to Cape Wrath. The Kornavioi people are represented by the present county of Caithness. The Lougoi occupied the arable coast-land of Sutherland between the Ord of Caithness and the Dornoch Firth. A large, chambered burial-cairn on the left bank of the Ilidh within a quarter of a mile of Helmsdale is still called Carn-Lougie. The Smertai, the Quick-people, lived in the interiors of Sutherland and north Ross. One of their surviving burial-cairns is situated on the bank of the eastern Carron, and still bears the name Cam Smeirt.  The Dekantai dwelt on the fertile coastlands that extend from the Dornoch Firth to Moray. The Taezali were on the coasts of Banff and Aberdeen. The Vernikones, or Vernikomes, occupied the plains by the sea, from Kincardine, through Forfar and across the Tay into Fife. As V in Ptolemaic names sometimes represents Celtic Mk I as well as Fk and it is possible that the variant Vernikones contains the antecedent of ‘ Mearns. ‘ Throughout the eastern half of the Pictish midlands from the Tay to Moray were the  Vakomacoi and throughout the western half were the Kaledonioi, whose capital was Dunkeld.

On the east coast, south of the Forth, were the Otadinoi and still farther south, occupying the country from sea to sea, were the Brigantes. When about A.D. 139 Lollius Urbicus, general of Antoninus Pius, drove the Brigantes and the Otadinoi north of the Roman Wall, there was a fusion of
tribes, and new names appear in the South. From Xiphiline’s summary of Dion Cassius we learn that during the campaign of the Emperor Septimius Severus ( A.D. 211) the two chief tribes of southern Pictland were the Miathi* Midlanders, and the Kaledonioi. The Miathi appear out of the fusion of the unyielding Brigantes with the Otadinoi in the southern territories of the Vakomagoi and Vernikones and they were still surviving as a distinct Pictish clan in the sixth century.

In a reference by Ammianus  to the tragic campaign of the Roman general Fullofaudes, A. D. 365, the Kaledonioi are called ‘ Dicalydones,’ and the fused tribes between the Roman Wall and the Tay are roughly summed up as ‘ Verturiones, that is, Men of Fortrenn (Earn), whose centres were at Dun(d) Earn, Forteviot, and Scone. Beyond these mainland tribes were the Picts of Orkney, the Orkades of Ptolemy and Innis hOrk of the Picts; and, also, the Picts of Sketis (Skye) and of Dumna (Lewis).

Some time before the ninth century the Picts were organized into seven provinces. From an early Gaidhealic pen we learn that these  were ‘Cait, Ce, Cirigh, Fibh, Fidach, Fotla, Fortrenn. ‘  Cait is Caithness proper, that is, including Sutherland. Cirigh is the later Magh-Chircin, the name of the plain along the coasts of Forfar and Kincardine; and ‘Mearns’ is regarded as a surviving corruption of this compound name. Fotla is the later Ath-Fodla, now Atholl. Fib is Fife; and Fortrenn. kingdom of the fused tribes between  Forth and Tay, whose centres were as just stated.

These provinces were governed by chiefs or petty kings; but all were ruled by one ‘high-king’ or sovereign elected from the previous king’s brothers, whom failing, from the sons of the previous king’s sister; and, if these failed, from the sons of the daughters of the previous king. The elected sovereign reigned from the capital of his own clan.

These particulars show that the Picts were not the unorganized hordes of many histories. On the contrary, they were carefully organized as distinct clans in separate provinces enjoying local government under a chief whose rule was patriarchal; and all the clans with their chiefs were federated under one supreme government directed by the sovereign. The Draoidhean, who were seers and orators, were also counsellors of the sovereign; and the clan-chiefs formed the Executive throughout the realm. The people were homogeneous, and united by a true national spirit; because not only did they repel the advance of Imperial Rome as one man; but also the attempted encroachment of the Gaidheals led by Gabhran Mac Domongairt A.D. 560, and under the Pictish sovereign Angus I. Mac Fergus they almost shattered the power of the Gaidheals or Scots.

The effective occupation of all Pictland by the Picts is confirmed by many place-names conferred either by the Gaidheals or Vikings, and still in use. For example, in Shetland there are Pettidale, Picts’ valley; Pettwater, Picts’ Water; Pettgarthsfell, Hill of the Picts’ Walled I nclosure, or Town. At Orkney, the PtttlancFs Fiord is the Firth of Pictland, the ‘ Pentland Firth ‘of common speech. In Stoer on the north-west of Sutherland there is Clais nan Cruitneach, Hollow or Ditch of the Picts, referring either to a boundary between them and Gaidhealic settlers, or to the cuttings from which they dug their fuel. In Abercrossan (‘Applecross’) in Ross, where the Pictish saint Maelrubha established his community of clerics, there is Airigh nan Cruitneachd, that is, The Summer-pasture among the hills, whither the Picts led their cattle and where they sojourned in shielings to make the cheeses for the winter stores. In Kintail, also in Ross, there is Carnan Cruitneacht, that is, The Cairns of the Picts, the reference being to the Cairns in which they buried their dead. doubtless, this name reaches back to the Karnonakai, a section of the Kerones, who in Ptolemy’s time inhabited this very locality. In Moray the Abbots of Kinloss Abbey possessed a thirteenth century charter containing the bounding description, ‘ad rune Pictorum,’ which is explained as Picts’ Fields. Rune is still used colloquially in Moray as ‘Run? meaning a border-stretch of field, or path. In Aberdeenshire, at Turriff, the stretch of land between the haugh and the heights on which the old Pictish Church of S.Comgan stands is Cruithen-righe, that is, Pasture-stretch of the Picts. In Lochaber, Inverness-shire, is Cruithneachan, that is, Picts’ places.

Wherever foreigners crept into Pictland they bore unconscious testimony, in the names which they conferred, to the hold which the Picts had and kept of their own country.

* Latinized as Pictavia, and the people’s name as Picti or Pictones.
There was also Pictland of Erin, namely the east-coast districts of Ireland.
The Gaidheals called these districts Crich-na-Crutihne, that is, Bounds
of the Picts. Cf. Reeves, V. S. Columba, p. 94, note h.

t Whiteland. \ Not tuath meaning north, as Dr. Skene states.

V.S.C. lib. Leap. vii.

* See Place-names of Ross, p. xlvi, where Dr. Watson equates ‘Rune’
with Gaelic Raon, a field, or road,
t The later Celtic form is ruighe.

* Y. Cymmrodor, ix. 179.
t Keltic Researches, E. W. B. Nicholson, pp. 25, 173.

* Conall, Gabhran’s successor, is so termed by the authorities on which
the Four Masters drew.

t S. Columba was exiled from Ireland after 561, the year of the battle
of Cul-Dreimhnc which he provoked.

* ‘ Woe to the Picts to whom he will go East,
He knew the thing that is,
It gave him no pleasure that a Gaidheal
Should reign in the East under the Picts.’

The explanation of S. Columba’s mission in the Prophecy of S, Berchan.
\ This name not only indicates Ptolemy’s accuracy; but the P in the
name indicates one of the distinctive features of the Pictish dialect of Celtic.
Professor Kuno Meyer discovered the form of this name used by the Gaidh-
eals, namely Echidium.

\ The best authorities regard Kreones, A’arini, KarnSnes^ and Karndn-
akais& copyists’ variants of this name.

The writer considers that, as the KarnSnakaivizxz. flanked on both sides
by KeroneS) Karndnakiws, merely a sectional name for a part of the Kerones
who were distinguished by their prominent burial Karns, Celtic Cam.
At the present time ‘ Cclrnan Cruithneachd* is a place-name in the locality
of the Karntinakai.

* With this name Dr. Watson compares the Gaulish Ro-Smcrta, Deep-

t Discovered by Dr. Watson in the parish of Kincardine, Ross-shire.

\ As in Ptolemy’s ‘ Farar,’ which is an attempt to render the Celtic
accusative for the sea.

As in Ptolemy’s Vir-, which is an attempt to’render.the Celtic Fhar- t
over, in the sense of towering over, or projecting over.

|| Compare Ptolemy’s Tarvt- with the old British Taru, Cornish Tarow
which he was striving to represent; and also the first part of his ‘ Vol-sas’
with its Celtic antecedent Oil- in the hybrid, Ullapool. Ullapool is in the
safe anchorage of Loch-Broom, which is believed to be Ptolemy’s ‘ Volsas
sinus.’ Loch-Broom agrees better with Ptolemy’s data than Loch-Alsh,
and the charting of the anchorage of Loch-Broom would be a greater testi-
monial to the Massilian sailors than the charting of treacherous Loch-Alsh
with its incessant squalls and want of sea-room.

In a reference by Ammianus \ to the tragic cam-
paign of the Roman general Fullofaudes, A. D. 365,
the Kaledonioi are called ‘ Dicalydones,’ and the
fused tribes between the Roman Wall and the
Tay are roughly summed up as ‘ Verturionesj\

* Thename occurs in the midlands of the Irish Picts, now Meath. The
word is the Britonic medd, central point; and the Irish med, later meidh.
An old spelling of Meath, in Ireland, is ‘ Midhi.’

f When Aedhan, King of the Gaidheals of Dalriada, fought against them .

t Ammianus Marcellinus, xxvii. 8. i.

Corrected by Rhys from Vecturiones. Initial Fhere equals F

* The islands are put out of true position by Ptolemy’s data.
\ Represented in the Book ofBallymote as the ‘ Sons ofCruithne. ‘

J These names are all in the genitive case.

* The Varangians and the Viking Jerusalem-pilgrims called Constant-
inople the Big Garth.


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