Last time we heard about the arrival of the Picts, which is one of those almost iconic subjects, if I can use that much over used word. Why is everything iconic these days? Anyway, there will of course be much more chance for discussion about Picts and the questions they raise. But now, ladies and gentlemen, there are more well-known players to bring to the stage. Last time I gave a sort of traditional framework of the different peoples who were supposed to make up the Scotland that will emerge; today let’s talk about them. The kingdom of Dal Riada, the Gaels, the Britons of Alt Clut. You might feel the need for maps, btw – and there will be a map on t’internet, at the History of England website. Dot co dot uk and so on.
But before all that, last time we left with the Barbarian conspiracy of 367, with years of mayhem and murder. For the Romano British inhabitants, used to centuries of peace, the period must have been remarkably hideous, fire and sword visited on them as the picti and scoti kiddies were released into the sweet shop. Within 50 years, the Roman Empire would be gone from Britain.
Initially at least, it seemed that the normal order of things had re-asserted itself, and would do so again in the future no doubt. Restoring order did not prove trivial mind; the Romans didn’t just wander in, flutter a couple of Eagles around and all the Picti and scotti scuttle back over the wall; two commanders, Severus and jovinus arrived, couldn’t handle the situation and asked for re-inforcements. So eventually Flavius Theodosius was sent.
Theodosius slowly re-established order; he campaigned against the invaders, offered amnesties to deserters from the Roman army, replaced the count of the Saxon Shore and Dux Brittaniarum. It did his career no end of good, though it didn’t end well personally for him eventually, but his son would become Emperor. During the process of re-establishing order it looks as though Theodosius may have been pretty creative about his approach. I have a vague impression that Rebellions and invasions in Roman times were always put down. The phrase put down has always seemed an odd image, of a heavily booted Roman soldier sort of pushing a hairy native’s face into a patch of mud. But it looks as though Theodosius enlisted the help and support of the natives too. So, there are reports of the mysterious Anacotti serving with roman armies on the continent – which suggests he may have offered the Scotti and Picti also something of a deal. It also looks as though he may have worked with the more enthusiastic Romanisers among the tribes of northern Britain – notably the Votadini; using them to help repress disorder, and giving them some sort of role in the new regime. The Votadini are seriously beginning to look like the teacher’s pet. And we all know what happens to the teacher’s pet if the teacher leaves the classroom do we not?
And the Roman teacher was eventually going to be forced to leave the classroom for good. For all his success, Count Theodosius was unable to fix the fundamental problems of the empire, or even in Britain; and the systems of defence looks as though it was never fully restored.
One of the commanders at Theodosius’s side was one Magnus Maximus. I think it is unlikely that Magnus Maximus ponced around declaring ‘My name is Maximus, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.’ But it’s not impossible. Magnus Maximus was a naughty boy though and no mistake. The trouble in Britain clearly continued, since Magnus Maximus was back in Britain in 383 when he was overcome with naughtiness and launched his usurpation attempt on the Roman Emperor from Britain – taking a bunch of troops back with him. So, it was as Augustus in the West that he was then forced to return to Britain again – genuine peace was still not restored, raids still troubled the province. I like the idea, incidentally of the splitting up of the territory of the Empire – it was Diocletion wasn’t it who had the idea of 2 Augustus and 2 Caesers. I thought I might make myself Augustus of the Sheds of the North or something like that. Dylan the Dog could be Dux Hortensius in charge of poo creation, something for which he has something of a talent. Just a thought.
Anyway, Magnus Maximus, commander of the Armies of the North, father to an acned son and so on, was not finished with Britain; he had to return in 384. The Gallic Chronicle records that
Maximus vigorously overcame the invading Picti and Scoti.
In 1985, in a German village, a late Roman artefact was discovered. It was a dice Tower. The idea of a dice towers was that some of your companions might be very clever at throwing dice and for want of a more sympathetic word, they might be cheating tinkers. So, you chuck the dice in the top of the tower, they come out through a space at the bottom, and everyone is happy. This particular dice tower bears an inscription: PICTOS VICTOS, HOSTIS DELETA, LVDITE SECVRI. Which means loosely, we’ve given the Picts a kicking, we’ve rubbed them out, so play in peace. It is entirely possible that this refers to Maximus’s campaigns. But it was to be a temporary success.
Maximus had quite a position in British legend. None of this is really historical, but it maybe tells us something about the way the roman empire ended in Britain, famously completed by 410 of course. In one legend he married a Welsh Princess; another was that he gave a British queen sovereignty over Britain. He appears in Welsh genealogies as the founder of dynasties. Gildas accuses of Maximus of basically stripping Britain of all its soldiers and men of talent – and then handing over responsibility to the local tribes. Essentially leaving and shutting the door firmly behind him.
This is probably not the way it happened; the Romans expected to be back, it might be the Stilicho did actually come back around 400 for a further campaign. But maybe there’s a kernel of truth. Part of both Theodosius and Maximus’s campaigns seemed to have tied in and enlisted the help of the Romanising tribes on the border. We’ve mentioned the Votadini, but there were others; the Damnoni along the forth Clyde line, the Novantae in the South West of Galloway, where it might be expected that Scotti raiders would appear from Ireland. Either way, hate it or loathe it, by 410 no further help would come from Rome. Which is categorically not to say that the Romano British did not hope or even expect that it would come – after all, it always had before. But in the future, they would be unfailingly disappointed.
So, I believe I may have mentioned that this is the dark ages, and things are really dark – let me know if I haven’t mentioned that recently. Well nothing that isn’t actually a warping of the space time continuum could be darker than 4th & 5th century Scotland. For the areas north of Hadrian’s wall the impact of the withdrawal of Rome must have been considerably less dramatic than elsewhere in Britannia; but none the less, and we’ve seen in the last few episodes, it did have an impact. To some degree the peoples north of the Forth Clyde line had allied with each other to oppose the common Roman enemy after the collapse of the Severan system of the 3rd century. From this had come the idea of Pictland, which in the 4th century was no doubt a rather decentralised structure, but none the less, it was one where kings and state structures were beginning to make a halting appearance. As the Roman threat disappeared, there must have been some effect as the old enemy left the stage of history; their absence must have impact on the groupings that appeared in their wake. So let us know explore what those groupings might have begun to look like.
We noted how Pictland saw the hardening of society into more formal elites, accompanied by a warrior class and elites. This must have been a very variable process, depending on where you happened to be. This is a period where the Outer and Inner Hebrides, for example, doesn’t seem to have been particularly politically or culturally influential. That’s a terribly dismissive phrase isn’t it, almost as if I were describing modern Loughborough, sorry, I don’t mean to be insulting, but that’s the way it is, there’s no room for sentiment in history. Out here, the more fluid, socially flatter farmer republics may well have survived longer and later.
Even in Pictland there would have been hierarchies and as one historian put it, ‘relativities of kingship’. You might call yourself a king, and yet be a pimple on the buttock of another more powerful king. The Irish had three levels of king – sub kings, kings, high king; it might well be that many parts of Northern Britain followed this model. Our old, irritable and bile spouting friend Gildas was uncomplimentary of the whole lot of them – ‘wandering thieves who had no taste for war’, who were ‘in perfect accord with their greed for bloodshed’. But Gildas was unhappy; my mother would have guessed at constipation; and so an unreliable commentator.
None the less around the concept of kingship, physical territory began to appear – since these were the areas where kings could extend their protection. And although the textual resources are so light, there is a sort of impression of on outline left on the page of history, like undulations in the sand after a spot of sunbathing.
Over the period new kingdoms appeared to sit alongside those that survived and remained. One is a Brittonic kingdom of Rheged. This is a kingdom we hear about first through Welsh poems. I am told that using a Welsh poem as an historical source is something to be done very carefully; that as you do it, you need to be in a place where salt is freely available. This rings true to me. Let me visualise a warm, lord’s hall in the hills and valleys of Wales, with the winter weather howling outside and the fire filling the hall with smoke. The lord calls on his bard for a song about the glorious British kingdoms of old, I find it difficult to visualise a bard shaking his head firmly and making it clear that he really couldn’t possibly since the facts were not yet clearly established. He’d sing them a good story would he not, and the children would gather in closely – they don’t want to be bothered with historical accuracy. None the less, the very bare bones seem to be verifiable – it’s reasonably certain that by the late 5th century a British kingdom called Rheged came into being in what is now northern England and probably into south western Scotland.
In what we had called outer Brigantia, south east Scotland, modern Lothian, the Votadini remained, although their name had become the Gododdin. To the uninitiated, this sounds odd, but the professionals seem to nod wisely and point to various vowels shifts. Nonetheless our Romanising friends do appear to have abandoned the mighty hillfort of Traprain Law by the end of the 5th century. Which is a shame for Traprain Law and all, but good news for the future of festivals and shopping, because the new HQ was probably a place called Din Eidyn, one day to be called Edinburgh. Now I haven’t been to every city in the world, or anything like it, but there can’t be many that can compare for interest and beauty as Edinburgh. I had my first official job interview there, and that led to one of the most agonising days of my life. It is not entirely clear where the Gododdin first set up shop – maybe Castle Rock, or maybe Arthur’s Seat. But from now on, Edinburgh will become a growing part of our story. From Edinburgh the Gododdin controlled Lothian, a patch of south Eastern Scotland.
It’s also quite possible that the southern Votadini carved out the kingdom of Bernicia, in what is now north Eastern England, in Northumbria. Now. I suspect you might cock an ear at this point – oi, you might say, have we wandered into the history of Anglo Saxon England or what? Bernicia will become known as the home of the Angles of course, will be twinned with Deira to become Northumbria, but not yet, my friends, not yet. Many of the names of the centres of English Bernicia have British routes – Bamborough for example, and indeed Bernicia itself, and in these days of the 5th and early 6th century it could indeed be ruled by the Gododdin.
Another of the British tribes of Outer Brigantia also continued into the 5th century; the Dumnonii had inhabited territory north and south of the Forth-Clyde line; their kingdom now began to be known as Alt Clut, or Rock of the Clyde. This is modern Dumbarton rock, a volcanic outcrop on the River Clyde which offered the Dumnonii a base from which to raid and rule, quite possibly including the area previously inhabited by the Maiathai, north of the River Tay. Just to jump ahead, Alt Clut will become the heart of a later kingdom call Strathclyde, a Brittonic kingdom with its own language stretching down into Cumbria, north western England. But this time Alt Clut, probably looked east rather than south, a central belt along the Clyde Forth line. In southern and central Scotland the Gododdin and Alt Clut could slug it out; there seems more than a suggestion that at one point it is one of the Gododdin who rules as king at Alt Clut.
Last time, we described a Pictland that was clearly a very decentralised kingdom, which saw itself and was seen by others as one people, but with very significant divisions within it. While the 7 regions of the seven brothers is dismissed as a historical fiction these days, it reflects at least that in many places and many times power was very local, and leadership moved from place to place. The most important division was that of the high ridge of mountains in the Grampians called the Mounth – once again, there are maps on the website to use and refer to if you can make it there. Into Pictland comes another name, that of Fortriu. Oh goodie, I hear you say – a new name. There are so many – I am sorry. But this will be with us for a while if it’s of any comfort. To start with the nomenclature; Fortriu is the place, it is itself within Pictland. The people who inhabit the region, we shall refer to as the Vertrurians.
There’s been a long and hard debate about where Fortriu actually was. For many years, until reasonably recently, it was thought to be located in Southern Pictland. This is is one of the many revisions over the last 10 years; now the concensus is that Fortriu was north of the Mounth, along the Moray Firth.
This ties in with the ancient Pictish fort of Burghead. It’s clear that the Picts had great expertise at Sea, and Burghead seems to have been a centre of ship building. Yet another debate about the Picts is the idea of a Pictish navy – at once declared to be absolutely certain, and by others utter hogwash. This is a debate into which I will not get stuck, largely since I have no insights to contribute, but for my part a large state controlled and organised organisation implied by the word navy sounds most unlikely. None the less, there seems to be some evidence that navy or not, the Pictish kings could call on significant expertise at sea, with boats smaller than the latter Vikings of maybe 20 seats.
It seems that it was Fortriu where the seat of Pictland resided; from there, the hegemony of these early Pictish kings began to extend southwards, into the area south of the Mounth. To where it came up against the territories of the inheritors of the Maiathai and the Dumnonii, the kingdom of Alt Clut.
It used to be that tracing the outlines of Pictland was relatively straightforward – although almost impossible to put a time to its expansion. This was because there were markers; the Pictish stones for example, with their handy divisions into Class I and II could also give a rough idea of earlier and later expansion. And then there was the delight of place names, always a favourite topic. It’s in placenames that hints of the P-Celtic lost Pictish language remain. Some of these are almost certainly signs of Pictish settlement. The prefix aber for example, means river mouth. So Aberdeen of course; Abernethy on the firth of Tay.
Other prefixes derived from Pictish are lanerc, or a clearing; and dol, or meadow. But the big one was the Pictish word Pett, which appears in placenames as the prefix Pit. It mean an estate, or parcel of land, and they are really common in Eastern and North Eastern Scotland, and therefore seemed to describe for us the outline of Pictland. But the trouble with these is that they are almost all twinned with a suffix which is gaelic in character. An example might be Pitenweem in Fife; this seems to be a combination of the Pictish Pit, and a Gaelic word for caves – so, the place of caves. So it seems that Pit placeanmmes like Pitenweem were unlikely to have been created by the Picts in the 3rd to 9th centuries. Instead, it looks as though they were created later, 9th to 11th centuries, as Gaelic culture began to dominate in the kingdom of Alba, or Scotland. Gaelic incomers may have taken the Pictish word they met when they arrived; and then added a word they understood. So it’s not quite so certain that a Pit name was created by the Picts; though it’s a reasonable indicator that there was a Pictish settlement there originally. The latest theory is that they were often ecclesiastical estates sub let to the arriving Gaelic warriors.
What the distribution of stones and Pit names indicate is a heavy settlement all over eastern Scotland down as far as and including Fife; but with very little settlement in Lothian or Atlantic Scotland, or indeed, Argyle. We will debate whether or not Argyle was Pictish in a little while, but there is the odd Pictish placename in north western Scotland, so probably the Pictish kingdoms extended thus far, and in the northern isles.
The point to focus on I guess is this division between north and southern Pictland; north of the Mounth, or south of the Mounth into Angus and even Fife. If you don’t recognise the word Mounth, this is, after advice from a Scot, what I shall now be calling the physical feature previously known as the Moonth! The division between north and south Pictland will be with us for many a year; sometimes a single king will yield authority over both, sometimes not.
The Pictish Chronicles give us a slightly spurious list of the names of kings – into which I plan not to go. However, it is interesting that son almost never follows father; it’s much more commonly the brother. Also, we know that some Pictish kings seem to rule elsewhere – in Alt Clut for example; there seems to be a fluidity of descent and inheritancee. Together they seemed to rather support a suggestion in Bede that the Picts had an exceptional practice of inheritance through the female line. Afterall, we know Bede, he’s an authoritative source, not a sort of borderline madman like Gildas. This is what the Venerable old codger had to say for himself:
“As the Picts had no wives, they asked the Scottis for some, the latter consented to give them women, only on condition that, in all cases of doubt, they should elect their king from the female royal line rather than the male; and it is well known that the custom has been observed among the Picts to this day.”
No this has got everyone proper blazing. For one, it’s pretty exceptional so feeds the enigmatic Pict thing. But also, there were some that kind of assumed that Matriliny equalled matriarchal, that the Picts were some kind of shining example of a modern, enlightened society. It was all terribly exciting.
Of course, it was all bound to end in tears, as it has done. Some bright spark, probably many bright sparks, actually, pointed out that matriliny most definitely did not indicate a matriarchal society, and in fact might mean the very opposite. And more recently, the historians have gone to town and now appear to agree that even matriliny is a chimera. To start with, it’s worth noting that Bede has swallowed the myth that the Picts came from Scythia, which does nothing for his historical chops, but let’s put that to one side. The absolutely exceptional nature of matriliny is the first argument – it just doesn’t happen anywhere else in Europe, it’s most unlikely. No other source refers to it. Pictish kings are referred to as sons of their fathers, which would be odd if it was matrilinear descent that mattered.
However, the debate does leave a couple of points to consider. What does appear to happen is that in exceptional circumstances, then the female line might be taken into account. Plus we have to explain the lack of sons in the earlier Pictish king list somehow. It could be that a brother is a better bet – older, more experienced – though the line has to move through the generations at some point. But it could also be that eligibility for kingship is still pretty fluid, that kings could be chosen from outside dynasties. It would explain why at one point a Gael is known to be king of the Picts. In an attack by the Gododdin on Catterick in Yorkshire, they appear to be led by an Angle.
Ok, back to the tour of early historic Scotland then. So we have the Brittonic Pictland dominating most of Scotland north of the Tay; we have Brittonic descendants of the tribes the Romans knew, though gently changing their identifies – the Votadini have become the Gododdin in Lothian and maybe possibly perhaps Berencia; the Damnonii or Brittonic counterparts are inhabiting Alt Clut in the west on the River Clude and over the central belt to Manau, the area north of the Tay where the Maiathai came from.
So where, I hear you ask, where are the Gaels, the Goidelic Celts? And therein lies a story, and it is the story of foundation myths. So here’s the thing about what seems to be increasingly called Pseudo History, for which read fun history. What we know about the period comes from archaeology, which as we know is a bit rubbish for chronology and politics; and from texts from hundreds of years after the 4th and 5th century. By which time they have different reasons for writing the chronicles. No one really wants to say look, our kingdom was descended from some loser who got luck one day; or well, they didn’t back then, they wanted to be descended from a mighty warrior, hung like a baboon, or maybe from a deeply holy man, or maybe, better, from God. So people sort of made things up, or at least extrapolated from spurious wishful thinking, and before you know it you have a glorious history which proves far more attractive that the rather messy truth. As James Fraser puts it, rather nicely I thought, quote,
Medieval origin stories and genealogies were steeped in political significance not historical accuracy.
In the case of the Gaels, we seem to have a few stories; though there is one thing that they agree on – which is where in Scotland the Gaels started to appear. This is in a place called Argyle. For those of you who don’t know it, we are talking sort of north of the Clyde on the western seaboard. A land of islands and peninsulas – Islay, Jura, Kintyre. This is the area that by whatever means the Gaels will make their home.
So, let’s have a few theories then. The bloke nearest to the events we are talking about was our Gildas. Sometimes called Gildas the Wise, though I suspect at the time some of the younger monks probably called him Gildas the grumpy. He was writing in the 6th century, so surely had the best chance of knowing surely. His view was the wiggly worm and the coracles one. By the way I am assuming you know what a coracle is? It’s a very small boat, bit like a wicker basket, often just for one person. Don’t ever go in one is by advice, instant death as far as I can see; step in, over you go, wham bang thank you sam. Though apparently they are in fact pretty unsinkable, still, how you get over 18 miles of seawater fails me.
Anyway, his theory is the wiggly worm one, where two bunches of people come over – the Picts and the Gaels, though he calls the Gaels Scotti – and you can see where that will lead at some point in the future. They come over at the same time, so the Gaels take up home in Argyll and the Picts everywhere else presumably. Fair enough.
Then there’s Bede who’s got far better historical chops; he’s 8th century remember. Bede’s story is that it’s the Irish who come over. The Irish take a fancy to a bit of Pictland, and nip over:
“Under the leader Reuda and won among the Picts, either by league or by iron, the seats that they still possess; from this leader they are still called dalreudini for in their language daal signifies a part”
So you have the origin of the name Dal Riata, the name you probably recognise for the Gaelic kingdom – part of the people of Reuda. Anyway, that’s the story; they are Irish, the land properly belonged to the Picts, but they whipped it. He even places them in Southern Argyll, the part of the kingdom that would be home to the Corcu Reti. The what, I hear you ask? Corcu is an Irish language word for kindred. So the Corcu Reti are essentially the kindred of Reti, and we assume that means the kindred of Reuda.
I have to say that trying to unravel all of this is almost unbelievably complicated, without being an expert, but there was another tradition, which most people would recognise far more quickly than the Bede tradition, this is the legendary Fergus Mor. The legend comes from a number of sources. There is a Gaelic tract called ‘the four principal kindred of Dal Riata’, the 10th century The History of the men of Scotland, the Senchus, and there is also the Song of the Scots of the 12th century. The story is that Fergus was an irish king who came over with his sons. Depending which texts and genealogies you accept, these established 3 or 4 kindreds of Dal Riata, based in different places in Argyll. One was descended from Lorn the Great, and became the Cenél Loairn in north and mid-Argyll. Cebel, as far as and Englishman can work out, appears to be similar to Corcu, but maybe with a greater connotation of nation rather than simply kindred. Then there’s Oengus [Oinyus], and therefore the associated people the Cenél NINusa who lived on the isle of Islay. There is the Cenél nGabráin [NAVRAIN] in Kintyre, and finally the Cenél Comgaill [KOVYAIL] based in east Argyll, who gave their name to the district of Cowal. There are maps, gentle listeners, there are map you-know-where. Also, I am trying to prounce these as well as I can. Written down these anmes appear to be the Ceneel Oengusa, the Cenel NGrabrain, and the Cenel Comgail. But look, I thought I’d try to do it right. Probably to the greater confusion of both you and me, but let us together reach up to the stars, climbs every mountain higher, in the words of a nameless pop group my kiddies used to dance to when small and cute. I can still do the dance, by the way.
Actually it’s a good deal more complicated with than that, with the odd Domangart and Corcu wandering around but that’s the guts of it. What you should take away from this is that there is much less emphasis in this tradition that one of the kindred was the dominant force, as for the Corcu Reti in Bede’s story; that there was always a kind of parity among the different peoples, albeit from time to time one of the kings would acquire a certain pre-eminence. That there was from the start a sort of unity about a kingdom called Dal Riata. But the same origin is assumed as the other stories – the Gaels came from Ireland. The Scots are in fact Irish.
Right, so what are we to make of all of this? What’s the view from the modern day proper historian, and what can an improper historian such as those that live in sheds relate to you?
Bede’s story and the other information Bede gives us about Scotland gives a pretty clear indication that Bede had met a Pict, who had told him a bunch of stories. Note bene that his version of the Gaels has it that this land was owned originally by the Picts, with the pretty clear indication that the Picts might jolly well decide to have it back at some point thank you very much. As far as archaeology is concerned, there is no clear evidence that the Roman Iron age saw a migration to Scotland from Ireland by a single Irish people. There is absolutely zip by way of any sign of an interruption or dramatic change in culture which might explain such a thing. This ihas caused the whole idea to be called into question. Added to this is the revolution in the way texts are read by historians these days; the recognition that the texts we are using reflect the political realities of their day. So one principal source, for example, is the Life of St Colomba, written by the Abbot of the Monastery of Iona, founded by St Colomba from Ireland. It is unsurprising that its author Admonam, favours the role of the Cenel Lorn, in whose territory they lay. At the time the Four Principal Kindred tract was written, it was also true that Dal Riata was dominated by the cenel Lorn, but also that Dal Riata had indeed acquired a level of political unity – and therefore the history they produced also projected unity onto the 5th and early 6th century which could be hogwash, and indeed is likely to be the washing of hogs. The idea of mass migrations for both Picti and Scotti as related by Gildas in 540 has been firmly rejected again on grounds of archaeology; really all we can take firmly from Gildas is that by the time he was writing, around 540, the Gaels and Dal Riata were firmly established in Argyll.
The thing that all of these traditions seem to agree on is that the Dal Riadans came from Ireland. It is also worth noting that they spoke a different language. I think you all know this, but just to make it clear; they are still a Celtic people, with a Celtic language, but the form of Celtic they speak is not Brittonic, it is Goidelic, Q-Celtic as it is known. The difference in the language also seems to re-inforce the idea that this is an Irish invasion.
And yet, and yet…modern historians are in something of a pother about the whole thing. Nobody likes the idea of mass migrations and genocide anywhere anymore; the idea of acculturalisation and gradual movements is simply much more believable. Plus there is just a lack of supporting archaeological evidence for this mass movement. One theory then is of circular migration – in the words of Christie more, we go there and they come here, any one for the last few choc ices now. The idea builds on the fact that we should not see the Irish sea as a divider but as a connector; to make again the point I made a few episodes ago, that in the centuries before reliable roads, the sea on a good day was a darn sight easier to navigate for a 15 mile stretch than a similar distance of land. Some maps I have seen follow the really simple technique of simply turning a map of North East Ireland and South West Scotland on its side, with west as up rather than north. It completely changes your perspective and makes you realise that they are really really close. So the theory says that if you think of Ireland and Argyll as one, forget modern political divisions, the idea of who was where first becomes all a bit irrelevant.
Equally, there is a school of thought that says that the evidence points to a different emphasis on circular migration; that yes it’s circular, back and forth, but actually it starts with migrations in Scotland, in Argyll, and the migration back from Ireland comes later. Let’s finish with this one, so here we go.
The early roman surveys of northern Britain call the inhabitants of Kintyre, the peninsula within Argyll, as the Epidii, in a context that is very much of a Brittonic people. Epidii means horseman.
The theme of horseman runs throughout the languages; so, the Gaelic reti and riata denotes a riding horse. The ultimate ancestor of the Dal Riadans in both the Senchus and the Four Principal kindreds is called Eochaid, a Gaelic name cognate with Epidii. So this would seem to suggest a common heritage that comes from the Britons rather than Gaels, and for cultural continuity through the Roman period. Huh, interesting. However, before we get carried away and declare that this Irish connection is all stuff and nonsense, we have to remember that ooh, hang on a moment, but rather than speaking a Brittonic Celtic, P-Celtic language, the Dal Riadans quite clearly speak a Goidelic Celtic, Q-Celtic language.
At this point, we remember not to panic, that our doctoral thesis is not blown, a busted flush, and a future in actuarial studies awaits us. Not that this would be a bad thing obviously, for all you actuaries out there. So we now remember that in North eastern Ireland is a people called the Cruithini (KROO-EEN-YINI); the name actually means Britons. You may remember the foundation myth of the Picts, and the brothers of Cuithne. There is just the possibility that actually Britons travelled to and lived in North East Ireland, acquired the language there, and then many of them migrated to Argyll.
Which brings us full circle of course. Who knows, who tell; maybe Neil Oliver’s graceful if slightly cowardly cop out is the only possible conclusion at this point; what is not in doubt is that North Eastern Ireland and Argyll and the Scottish Atlantic seaboard were closely connected, and had more to connect them than to divide them.
But if all of that explanation has turned your brain into mush, let me just summarise. The current thinking is that it is just as likely, and probably more likely, that what happened was that Brittonic inhabitants of Argyll migrated to North eastern Ireland; acquired a new version of Celtic language, and then migrated back to Argyll to found communities there. Over time, in the 6th and 7th centuries, these communities would acquire a degree of unity in the kingdom of Dal Riata. This means cultural continuity in all but language in the people of Argyll. It means that the Pict who bent Bede’s ear was wrong – this had not been Pictish land originally that they had the right to take back if they so wished. I hope this is reasonably clear, and that your brain is no longer dribbling out of your ear.
So I think now that most of our peoples at least have joined the stage; we have the Brittonic Picts and Britons, we have the Gaels. But there is more to come – the Angles of Bernicia, and the Brittonic kingdom of Strathclyde and its Cumbric language. But we’ll let them emerge over time. Next time we are going to look at the start of another major movement, and indeed one that for some time will define the difference between the Gaels and Picts – Christianity.