The Picts

The Picts were a fascinating late prehistoric/early Celtic people living in areas of Scotland. They still live there -- they've simply been assimilated by the Scots (from Ireland) who settled there and brought in their own language and many of their own customs.

This is only the preliminary portion of the Pictish Pages here, and is *very* incomplete!

Feedback, comments, and corrections are solicited by Jehana.

Pictish Awareness

I first became aware (more than vaguely academically) of the Picts during a summer vacation spent in Scotland during the summer of '95. I stumbled into Pictish carvings in the museum in Edinburgh which triggered -- something -- in me. A few days later I picked a train destination at random, and spent an uplifting, amazing time in the town of Arbroath. On the outskirts of that town is a collection of Pictish stones, housed unpretentiously and simply near the church upon whose grounds they'd been obtained. Somehow, I felt that I'd made "connection", with that time period, whatever this means. (I'll base some speculations upon that connection, but I won't ever promote such speculations as definitive proof, I promise. I'm a scientist -- I know better.) These sensations and connections persisted throughout my stay, and they revolved around the ancient Picts.

I've been reading and thinking about them ever since. (As far as I know, I have no Pictish nor Scottish blood myself.)

Pictish Names

No one knows what the Picts called themselves. The Irish recorded them as Cruithne, Cruithin, Cruithen, which is probably more accurate than the Roman-derived term, Pict (which the Romans used to refer to all the peoples they didn't conquer in the territories of Scotland...) Cruithne is, however, Q-Celtic -- a few of us were speculating around online one night, and came up with a *possible* P-Celtic variant which the Picts *might* (or might not) have used for themselves: Prythin. It is a name rooted in pure semi-educated speculation. Other possibilities I've come across, which are variants on the same, are Prydain, Pritani, and Pryten, which became Briton when corrupted by the Anglo-Saxon tongue.

Pict seems to mean "Painted Ones" -- it seems logical to assume that the Picts themselves would have found a more self-inspiring reason for whatever it was that they did call themselves than "Painted Ones", which is descriptive of an external, only. (And of an external that may well have only been true in battle -- there is no way currently to know otherwise.) The Welsh, for instance, called their home "Cymru" - "Land of Comrades", whilst the Anglo-Saxons called it "Weahlas" (Wales) - "Land of Foreigners".

Pictish Symbol Stones

Coming Soon!

Pictish Demise

The official end of the Picts came about in the reign of Kenneth MacAlpin. Nice Irish name, that. At any rate, he was able to gain the throne of two kingdoms -- that of the Scots and that of the Picts -- because the Scots were patrilineal and he was of that bloodline. He gained the throne of the Picts because the Picts were matrilineal -- descent was measured through male offspring of the women. He decided to end that custom (not without a bit of conflict), and pass the thrones (which he combined) down through his own sons, not through the women of his lineage.

Pictish Reconstruction

Alas, much direct information about the Picts is forever lost. But we can generate hypotheses, based upon what their neighbors did and thought, these neighbors also being Celts. Granted, from these hypotheses, we cannot generate certitudes. But that's okay. The upshot is that the Pictish way of life can never be reconstructed in the true sense of that word -- and any attempts are likely to remain faltering. But there is nothing wrong with trying to piece together more in a considered manner.

* Scottish folklore, especially that which can be pinpointed to regions of Scotland where Picts predominated, can be evocative clues.

* It is known that the Picts most likely spoke a language largely based on a Brythonic (P-Celtic) linguistic structure. Studying Welsh (Cymraig) or possibly Cornish (Kernewek), other Brythonic languages, may yield clues, as these peoples may be closely related, and may have held other portions of the culture as well as the language in common. A 6th century poet, Aneirin, in what is now southern Scotland, wrote the Y Gododdin in Welsh. It could be worthwhile to study this literature.

* Alas, the Welsh have lost a lot of their history and mythology during the period of Roman occupancy. Not all of it, true, but the occupancy did leave its mark. The Picts share with the Irish the fact that they were never conquered by the Roman invaders. Looking to Ireland for some clues of things which might be general for all Celts could possibly be helpful. Also, the Irish do mention the Cruithne in a few of their writings, which the other Celtic literary fragments do not.

* Inspiration may help -- but such flights of what may mostly be fancy should be clearly labeled as such. Including whatever I encountered and experienced during my stay in Scotland.

Pictish References

I have a list of Pictish and Celtic books tucked in the Celtic Studies book section. Rather than repeating many of the books here, I refer you to that page.

And, whilst the Pictish language is now dead and gone, I refer you to two pages of interest should you choose to help preserve some other Celtic language from that same fate: The Ogmios Celtic Language Project, and this site's own Celtic Language Resources.

Pictish Websites

I have found all of the links below to lead to informative and worthwhile sites. If links break, or if you wish me to consider adding your link to this page, please contact me. I reserve the right to select among sites submitted.

  • A Consideration of Pictish Names.
    This one focuses in on the roots of Pictish names -- the little that is known of their language seems to come from the roots of some placenames, and from the lists of Pictish kings. The site's original intent is to help members of the Society for Creative Anachronism select a Pictish name, along with giving some background. NEW SITE LOCATION !!
  • Dalraida Celtic Heritage Trust.
    Celtic information and research. They publish a journal. There's a great page on the history of linguistics in Scotland, which parallels the physical history of invasions and power struggles. The Picts are topics they consider, although their focus is not just Picts, but all the Celts in that region.
  • The History of the Scots, Picts, and Britons.
    A well-organized history done by chapter.
  • Pict Resource and References Page.
    Interesting Pictish information, as well as a variety of Pictish links.
  • Pictavia.
    A nicely-designed site in regular HTML or Flash versions, which has its own real-life Visitor's Center. Informative.
  • Pictish Art.
    Lithographs of Pictish symbols for sale. Well-done, but they are on newsprint, which causes me to hesitate, as I can't imagine that not yellowing something fierce. Is there such a thing as acid-free newsprint?
  • Pictish Arts Society.
    They also publish a journal. They are working hard promoting the study and discussion of Pictish and early Scottish history, and are actively supporting efforts to find more information.
  • Pictish Nation.
    Claims to be the first Pictish website. Very extensive links. Information on history, naming, and Pictish books.
  • Pictish Ogham Inscriptions.
    A list of all the known inscriptions, and what little has been translated (peoples' names). Unfortunately, no actual depictions of the inscriptions themselves. APPARENTLY SITE IS MIA.
  • Pictish People.
    Info on a forthcoming film, Dunsinane Tae Dundurn, info on art, info on souterrains.
  • Pictish Symbol Stones.
    They give an excellent overview of the three classes of Pictish symbol stones, and include photos (b&w) and line drawings. Guides to the stones, accessibility of stones, and notes on each included at their site are available here.
  • The Picts.
    History, geographical distribution, a general bit on naming the Picts, and their interactions with the Romans. APPARENTLY SITE IS MIA.
  • The Shadowy Painted People?
    Some very good discussion of the Picts -- the author is a Celtic Reconstructionist who believes in doing her homework.

  • On the fifth Monday of each month (that is fortunate enough to have a Fifth Monday), I host a discussion on StarLink for the Summerlands on the Picts, at 9 pm Eastern Time (USA). Check out their calendar for more information.