Early Inhabitants – Roman Writers – Aristotle – Tacitus – Dion Cassius – Caledonians and Mæatæ – Eumenius – Picts – Dicaledones and Vecturiones – Claudian – Inferences – Ecclesiastical Chroniclers – Their value – Gildas – Adamnan – Northern and Southern Picts – Columba’s “Interpreter” – Bede’s Account of Picts – Pictish Language – Peanfahel – Northern and Southern Picts – Welsh triads – Irish Annals – Evidence from Language – Cymric and Gaelic Theories – Inver and Aber – Innes’s Theory – Conclusion.
THE preceding chapter has been occupied almost entirely with an account of the transactions of the Romans in the north of Scotland, and it is now our duty to go back and narrate what is known of the internal history of the Highlands during the time of the Romans. In doing so we brought face to face with certain much agitated questions which have for centuries engaged the attention of antiquaries, and in the discussion of which many bulky tomes have been written and incredible acrimony displayed. To enter with anything like minuteness into this discussion would occupy more space than can be devoted to the entire history, and, more over, would be out of place in a popular work like the present, and distasteful to most of its readers. The following are some of the much-discussed questions referred to:- Who were original inhabitants of Caledonia? To what race did they belong – were they Gothic or Celtic? and if Celtic, were they Cymric or Gaelic? When did they enter Scotland, and whence did they come – from the opposite continent, or from the south of Britain? Was the whole of Scotland, in the time of Agricola, occupied by one people, or by a mixed race, or by various races? Were the Picts and Caledonians the same people? What is the meaning and origin of Pict, and was Caledonia a native appellation? What were the localities of the Northern and Southern Picts? Who were the Scots? What was the nature of the union of the Scots and Picts under Kenneth MacAlpin?
The notices of the early inhabitants of the Highlands in the contemporary Roman historians are so few, the information given so meagre and indefinite, and the ecclesiastical historians of a later time are so full of miracle, myth, and hearsay, and so little to be depended on, that it appears to us almost impossible, with the materials at present within the historian’s reach, to arrive at anything like a satisfactory answer to the above questions. The impression left after reading much that has been written on various sides, is one of dissatisfaction and bewilderment, – dissatisfaction with the far-fetched and irrelevant arguments frequently adduced, and the unreliable authorities quoted, and bewilderment amid the dust-cloud of words with which any one who enters this debatable land is sure to be enveloped. “It is scarcely necessary to observe, that there are few points of ethnology on which historians and antiquaries have been more at variance with each other, than respecting the real race of those inhabitants of a portion of Caledonia popularly known by the designation of Picts. The difficulty arising from this discrepancy of opinion is increased by the scanty and unsatisfactory nature of the materials now available to those who wish to form an independent judgment. No connected specimen of the Pictish language has been preserved; nor has any ancient author who knew them from personal observation, stated in direct terms that they approximated to one adjoining tribe more than another. They are indeed associated with the Scots or Irish as joint plunderers of the colonial Britons; and the expression of Gildas that they differed in some degree from the Scots in their customs, might seem to imply that they did bear an analogy to that nation in certain respects. Of course, where there is such a lack of direct evidence, there is more scope for conjecture; and the Picts are pronounced by different investigators of their history to have been Germans, Scandinavians, Welsh, Gael, or something distinct from all the four. The advocates of the German hypothesis rest chiefly on Tacitus’s description of their physical conformation. Dr Jamieson, assuming that the present Lowland Scotch dialect was derived from them, sets them down as Scandinavians; Bishop Lloyd and Camden conceive them to have been of Celtic race, probably related to the Britons; Chalmers, the author of ‘Caledonia,’ regards them as nothing more than a tribe of Cambrians or Welsh; while Skene, one of the latest authors on the subject, thinks he has proved that they were the ancestors of the present race of Scottish Highlanders.”1
The earliest known name applied to Britain is found in a treatise on the World ascribed to Aristotle, in which the larger island is called Albinn, and Ireland referred to as Ierne; and it is worthy of notice that at the present day former is the name applied to Scotland by the Highlanders, who call themselves the Gael Albinnich. The first author, however, who gives us any information about the early inhabitants of the north part of Scotland is Tacitus, who, in his Life of Agricola, devotes a few lines, in a parenthetical way, to characterising each of the great divisions of the people who, in the time of that general, inhabited Britain. Tacitus tells us that in his time the inhabitants of Britain differed in the habit and make of their bodies, and from the ruddy locks and large limbs of the Caledonians he inferred that they were of German origin.2 This glimpse is clear enough, but tantalizing in its meagreness and generality. What does Tacitus mean by German – does he use it in the same sense as we do at the present day? Does he mean by Caledonia the whole of the country north of the Forth and Clyde, or does it apply only to that district – Fife, Forfar, the East of Perth, &c. – with the inhabitants of which his father-in-law came in contact? We find Ptolemy the geographer, who flourished about the middle of the 2d century A.D., mentioning the Caledonians as one of the many tribes which in his time inhabited the north of Scotland. The term Caledonians is supposed by some authorities to have been derived from a native word signifying “men of the woods,” or the inhabitants of the woody country; this, however, is mere conjecture.
The next writer who gives any definite information as to the inhabitants of Caledonia is Dion Cassius, who flourished in the early part of the 3d century, and who wrote a history of Rome which has come down to us in a very imperfect state. Of the latter part, containing an account of Britain, we possess only an epitome made by Xiphilinus, an ecclesiastic of the 11th century, and which of course is very meagre in its details. The following are the particulars given by this writer concerning the early inhabitants of north Britain. “Of the Britons the two most ample nations are the Caledonians and the Mæatae; for the names of the rest refer for the most part to these. The Mæatae inhabit very near the wall3 which divides the island into two parts; the Caledonians are after these. Each of them inhabit mountains, very rugged and wanting water, and also desert fields, full of marshes: they have neither castles nor cities, nor dwell in any: they live on milk and by hunting, and maintain themselves by the fruits of the trees: for fishes, of which there is a very great and numberless quantity, they never taste: they dwell naked in tents and without shoes: they use wives in common, and whatever is born to them they bring up. In the popular state they are governed, as for the most part: they rob on the highway most willingly: they war in chariots: horses they have, small and fleet; their infantry, also, are as well most swift at running, as most brave in pitched battle. Their arms are a shield and a short spear, in the upper part whereof is an apple of brass, that, while it is shaken, it may terrify the enemies with the sound: they have likewise daggers. They are able to bear hunger, cold, and all afflictions; for they merge themselves in marshes, and there remain many days, having only their head out of water: and in woods are nourished by the bark and roots of trees. But a certain kind of food they prepare for all occasions, of which if they take as much as ‘the size’ of a single bean, they are in nowise ever wont to hunger or thirst.”4
From this we learn that in the 3d century were two divisions of the inhabitants of the Highlands, known to the Romans as the Caledonians and Mæats or Mæatae, the latter very probably inhabiting the southern part of that territory, next to the wall of Antonine, and the former the district to the north of this. As to whether these were Latinized forms of native names, or names imposed by the Romans themselves, we have no means of judging. The best writers on this subject think that the Caledonians and Mæats were two divisions of the same people, both living to the north of the Forth and Clyde, although Innes,5 and one or two minor writers, are of opinion the Mæats were provincial Britons who inhabited the country between the wall of Hadrian and that of Antonine, known as the province of Valentia. However, with Skene,6 Mr. Joseph Robertson, and other able authorities, we are inclined to think that the evidence is in favour of their being the inhabitants of the southern portion of Caledonia proper.
Herodian,7 who wrote about A.D. 240, tells us that the Caledonians were in the habit marking or painting their bodies with figures of animals, and that they wore no clothes in order that these figures might be preserved and exhibited.
The next reference made by a Roman writer to the inhabitants of Caledonia we find in a panegyric pronounced in his presence on the Emperor Constantius Chlorus, by Eumenius, a professor of rhetoric at Augustodunum (Autun) in Gaul, in the year 296 or 297, who speaks of the Britons, in the time of Cæsar, having been attacked by the half-naked Picts and Irish. To what people the orator meant to apply the term Picts, around which there has clustered so much acrimonious disputation, we learn from another oration pronounced by him on the same emperor, before his son Constantine, in the year 309, in which, recording the actions of Constantius, he speaks of the woods and marshes of the Caledonians and other Picts.
After this no further mention is made of the Caledonians by any Roman writer, but towards the end of the 4th century Ammianus Marcellinus, in his account of the Roman transactions in Britain, speaks of the Picts in conjunction with the Saxons, Scots, and Attacots harassing the provincial Britons about the year 364. Further on he informs us that at this time the Picts were divided into two tribes or nations, the Dicaledones and Vecturiones, remarking, at the same time, that “the Attacots were a warlike race of men, and the Scots a people much given to wandering, and in the habit of ravaging or laying waste the districts into which they came.8
Claudian the poet, writing, about 397, in praise of Honorius, mentions, among other actions of Theodosius, the grandfather of that emperor, his having subdued the Picts, who were fitly so named,9 and makes various other references to this people and the Scots, which show that these two in combination were troubling the Roman provincials not a little.10
Such are most of the scanty details given by the only contemporary-historians who take any notice of the inhabitants of North Britain; and the unprejudiced reader will see that the foundation thus afforded upon which to construct any elaborate theory is so narrow that every such theory must resemble a pyramid standing on its apex, liable at the slightest touch to topple over and be shattered to pieces. It appears to us that all the conclusions which it is safe to draw from the few facts stated by the contemporary Roman historians are, that at the commencement of the Christian era Caledonia proper, or the Highlands, was inhabited by a people or peoples apparently considerable in number, and who in all probability had been settled there for a considerable time, part of whom at least were known to the Romans by the name of Caledonians. That these Caledonians, those of them at any rate with whom Agricola came in contact in the first century, were red or fair haired and large limbed, from which Tacitus inferred that they were of German extraction. In the beginning of the third century there were at least two divisions of the inhabitants of Caledonia, – the Caledonians and Mæats, – the former inhabiting the country to the north of the Grampians, and the latter, in all probability, that to the south and south-east of these mountains. They appear to have been in many respects in a condition little removed from that of savages, although they must have made wonderful attainments in the manufacture of implements of war.
In the latter part of the third century we found the Highlanders spoken of under a new name, Picti, which the Roman historians at least, undoubtedly understood to be the Latin word meaning ‘painted,’11 and which all the best modern writers believe to have been imposed by the Romans themselves, from the fact that the indomitable Caledonians had retained the custom of self-painting after all the Romanized Britons had given it up. There is the strongest probability that the Caledonians spoken of as Picts by Eumenius were the same as the Caledonians of Tacitus, or that the Caledonians and Picts were the same people under different names. The immediate cause for this change of name we have no means of ascertaining. It is in every way improbable that the Picts were a new people, who had come in upon the Caledonians, and supplanted them some time after Agricola’s invasion. The Romans were constantly coming into contact with the Caledonians from the time of Agricola till they abandoned Britain entirely, and had such a supplantation taken place, it certainly could not have been done quietly, and without the cognizance of the Romans. But we find no mention in any contemporary historian of any such commotion, and we know that the inhabitants of the Highlands never ceased to harass the British provincials, showing that they were not much taken up with any internal disturbance. Indeed, writers who adopt the most diverse opinions on other points in connection with the Pictish question are all agreed as to this, that the Caledonians and Picts were the same people.12
We learn further from our authorities, that towards the end of the fourth century the inhabitants of Caledonia were known to the Romans under the names of Dicaledones and Vecturiones, it being conjectured that these correspond to the Caledonians and Mæats of Dio, and the Northern and Southern Picts of a later period. The connection of the latter part of the word Di-caledones with Caledonii is evident, although the significance of the first syllable is doubtful, – some authorities conjecturing that it is the Gaelic word du, meaning “genuine.” It appears at all events to be established that during the early history of the Highlands, whatever other divisions may have existed among the inhabitants, those dwelling to the north and those dwelling to the south of the Grampians were two separate confederacies, and were known by distinct names.
Another not unimportant fact to be learned from the Roman historians in relation to the Picts or Caledonians is, that about the middle of the 4th century they were assisted by the Attacots, Saxons, and Scots. As to who the Attacots were it is now impossible to conjecture with anything like certainty, there being no sufficient reason for believing that they were allied to the Irish Scots. It is well enough known who the Saxons were, but how they came at this early period to be acting in concert with the Picts it is difficult to say. It is possible that numbers of them may have effected a settlement, even at this early period, in North Britain, although it is more likely that they were roving adventurers, who had left their homes, from choice or on compulsion, to try their fortune in Britain. They were probably the first droppings of the abundant shower that overwhelmed South Britain a century later. The Romans at this period had an officer with the title of “Comes litoris Saxonici per Britanniam;” and Claudian, in his praises of Stilicho, introduces Britain, saying –
“Illius effectum curis, ne bella timerem
Scotica, ne Pictum tremerem, ne littore toto
Prospicerem dubiis venturum Saxona ventis.”
It is interesting to notice that this13 is the first mention made of the Scots in connection with what is now Scotland; but whether there were settlements of them at this time among the Picts, or whether they had come over from Ireland for the purpose of assisting the latter to harass the Romans, it is difficult to say. Probably, as was the case with the Saxons, these were the harbingers of the great migration that reached its culmination about a century and a half later. They appear, from what Ammianus says, to have been at this time a set of destructive vagabonds. We shall have more to say about them further on.
From the general tone of these contemporary Roman historians we learn that, whether Celtic or Gothic, these Picts or Caledonians were a hardy, indomitable, determined race, with a strong love of liberty and of the country in which they dwelt, and a resolution never to be subject to the greedy Roman. Comparatively few and barbarous as they were, they caused the Romans far more trouble than all the rest of Britain together; to conquer the latter and Romanize it appears to have been comparatively smooth work, but the Italians acknowledged the Highlanders invincible by building walls and other fortifications, and maintaining extra garrisons to protect the provincials from their fierce and wasting inroads. Whether the present Highlanders are the descendants of these or not, they certainly possess many of their qualities.
It will have been seen that the Roman historians give us almost no clue to what we now deem of most interest and importance, the place of the early inhabitants among the families of men, the time and manner of their arrival, the language they spoke, and their internal history generally. Of course the records of contemporaries stand in the first place of importance as evidences, and although we have other sources, historical, linguistic, and antiquarian, which shed a little light upon the subject, these, for various reasons, must be used with great caution. The only statement approaching to anything like a hint as to the origin of the Caledonians is that of Tacitus, referring to their ruddy locks and large limbs as an evidence of their German origin. There is no reason to doubt that those with whom Agricola came in contact were of this make and complexion, which, at the present day, are generally held to be indicative of a Teutonic origin; whereas the true Celt is popularly believed to be of a small make and dark complexion.14 It may have been, that in Agricola’s time the part of the country into which he penetrated was occupied by considerable numbers of Teutons, who had effected a settlement either by force, or by favour of the prior inhabitants. The statement of Tacitus, however, those who uphold the Celtic theory endeavour to explain away.
We may safely say then, that with regard to all the most important points that have excited the curiosity of modern enquirers, the only contemporary historians to whom we can appeal, leave us almost entirely in the dark.
The writers, next in order of importance to whom an appeal is made as witnesses in this perplexing case, are the ecclesiastical chroniclers, the chief of whom are Gildas, Adamnan, Bede, Nennius. “Much of the error into which former writers have been led, has arisen from an improper use of these authors; they should be consulted exclusively as contemporary historians – whatever they assert as existing or occurring in their own time, or shortly before it, we may receive as true; but when we consider the perverted learning of that period, and the little information which they appear to have possessed of the traditions of the people around them, we ought to reject their fables or fanciful origins as altogether undeserving of credit.”15 Though this dictum may perhaps be too sweeping, still any one who examines the authors referred to for himself, must admit that it is in the main just. It is well known that these writers exercise little or no discrimination in the composition of their narratives, that tradition, miracle, and observed fact are placed side by side, as all equally worthy of belief. Even Bede, the most reliable and cautious of these early chroniclers, lived as long after some of the events of which he professes to give an account, as we of the present day do the time of the Crusades; almost his sole authority being tradition or hearsay. Moreover, the knowledge which these writers had of the distinction between the various races of mankind was so very hazy, the terms they use are to us so comparatively unintelligible, and the information they do contain on the points in dispute so brief, vague, and parenthetical, that their value as authorities is reduced almost to a minimum.
Whoever was the author of the work De Excidio Britanniæ, one of the latest and most acute writers16 on ethnology has shown that he is almost totally unworthy of credit, the sources of his information being exceedingly suspicious, and his statements proved to be false by comparison with trustworthy contemporary Roman historians. There is every reason to believe that the so-called Gildas – for by Mr. Wright17 he has been reduced to a nominis umbra – lived and wrote about the middle of the 6th century A.D., so that, had he used ordinary diligence and discrimination, he might have been of considerable assistance in enabling us to solve the perplexing mystery of the Pictish question. But indeed we have no right to look for much history in the work of Gildas, as it professes to be merely a complaint “on the general destruction of every thing that is good, and the general growth of evil throughout the land;” it is his purpose, he says, “to relate the deeds of an indolent and slothful race, rather than the exploits of those who have been valiant in the field.”18 So far as the origin and early history of the Picts is concerned, Gildas is of almost no value whatever, the only time he mentions the Picts being incidentally to notice an invasion they had made into the Roman provinces.19 If we can trust him, the Picts and their allies, the Scots, must have been very fierce enemies to deal with. They went about, he tells us, almost entirely destitute of clothes, having their faces covered with bushy hair, and were in the habit of dragging the poor enervated Britons from the top of their protecting wall with hooked weapons, slaughtering them without mercy. Some writers infer from this narrative that, during the Roman occupation, no permanent settlement of Scots had been effected in present Scotland, but that the Scots who assisted the Picts came over from their native Scotland (Ireland) for that purpose; he tells us that the Scots came from the north-west, and the Picts from the north.20 “North-west” here, however, would apply quite as well to Argyle as to Ireland.
The writer next in chronological order from whom we derive any information of consequence concerning the Picts is Adamnan, a member of the early Irish Church, who was born in the county of Donegal about the year 625, elected abbot of Iona in 679, and who died in the year 704. Adamnan wrote a life of his great predecessor St. Columba, in which is contained much information concerning that great missionary’s labours among the Northern Picts; and although he narrates many stories which are palpably incredible, still the book contains much which may with confidence be accepted as fact. In connection with the questions under consideration, we learn that, in the time of Columba and Adamnan, there were – as formerly, in the time of the Roman writers – two divisions of the Picts, known in the 7th century and afterwards as the Northern and Southern Picts. Adamnan informs us that Columba’s mission was to the Northern Picts alone, – the southern division having been converted by St. Ninian in the 5th century. There has been much disputation as to the precise district inhabited by each of these two divisions of the Picts, – some maintaining that the southern division occupied the country to the south of the Forth and Clyde, while the Northern Picts occupied the whole district to the north of these estuaries. The best authorities, however, are of opinion that both divisions dwelt to the north of Antonine’s wall, and were divided from each other by the Grampians.
What more immediately concerns our present purpose is a passage in Adamnan’s work in which he speaks of Columba preaching to the Picts through an interpreter. Now Columba was an Irish Scot, whose native tongue was Gaelic, and it is from this argued that the Picts to whom he preached must have spoken a different language, or at least dialect, and belonged to a different race or tribe from the saint himself. Mr. Skene,21 who ably advocates the Gaelic origin of the Picts, perceiving this difficulty, endeavours to explain away the force of the passage by making it mean that Columba “interpreted or explained the word of God, that is, the Bible, which, being written in Latin, would doubtless require to be interpreted to them.” The passage as quoted by Skene is, “Verbo Dei per interpretorem recepto.” Garnett, however, one of the most competent and candid writers on this question in its philological aspect, and who maintains, with the greatest clearness and ability, the Cymric origin of the Picts, looks at the passage in a different light. The entire passage, he says,22 as it stands in Colganus, is as follows:- “Alio in tempore quo sanctus Columba in Pictorum provincia per aliquot demorabatur dies, quidam cum tota plebeius familia, verbum vitæ per interpretorem, Sancto prædicante viro, audiens credidit, credensque baptizatus est.”23 “Here it will be observed,” continues Garnett, “Adamnan does not say, ‘verbum Dei,’ which might have been construed to mean the Scripture, but ‘verbum vitæ, Sancto prædicante viro,’ which can hardly mean anything but ‘the word of life, as it was preached by the Saint.’ ” Certainly, we think, the unprejudiced reader must admit that, so far as this point is concerned, Mr. Garnett has the best of it. Although at that time the Gaelic and Cymric dialects may have had much more in common than they have at the present day, nevertheless it appears to be beyond a doubt that the difference between the two was so great that a Gael would be unintelligible to a speaker of Cymric.24
The next and most important authority of this class on this quæstio vexata is the Venerable Bede, who, considering the age in which he lived, exercised so much caution and discrimination, that he deserves to be listened to with respect. Bede was born about 673. He was educated in the Monastery of Wearmouth, whence he removed to Jarrow, where he was ordained deacon in his nineteenth year, and priest in his thirtieth, and where he spent the rest of his days, dying in 735. He wrote many works, but the most important is the Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, the materials for which he obtained chiefly from native chronicles and biographies, records and public documents, and oral and written communications from contemporaries.
We shall transcribe most of the passage in which Bede speaks of the ancient inhabitants of Britain; so that our readers may be able to judge for themselves of the nature and value of the testimony borne by this venerable author. It must, however, be kept in mind that Bede does not pretend to give any but the ecclesiastical history of the English nation, every thing else being subsidiary to this.
“This island at present, following the number of the books in which the Divine law was written, contains five nations, the English, Britons, Scots, Picts, and Latins, each in its own peculiar dialect cultivating the sublime study of Divine truth. The Latin tongue is, by the study of the Scriptures, become common to all the rest. At first this island had no other inhabitants but the Britons, from whom it derived its name, and who coming over into Britain, as is reported, from Armorica, possessed themselves of the southern parts thereof. When they, beginning at the south, had made themselves master of the greatest part of the island, it happened, that the nation of the Picts coming into the ocean from Scythia, as is reported, in few tall ships, were driven by the winds beyond the shores of Britain and arrived off Ireland, on the northern coasts, where, finding the nation of the Scots, they requested to be allowed to settle among them, but could not succeed in obtaining their request. The Scots answered, that the island could not contain them both; but ‘we can give you good advice,’ said they, ‘what to do; we know there is another island, not far from ours, to the eastward, which we often see at a distance, when the days are clear. If you will repair thither, you may be able to obtain settlements; or if they should oppose you, you may make use of us as auxiliaries.’ The Picts accordingly sailing over into Britain, began to inhabit the northern parts thereof, for the Britons were possessed of the southern. Now the Picts having no wives, and asking them of the Scots, they would not consent to grant them upon any other terms, than that when any difficulty should arise, they should rather choose themselves a king from the female royal race than from the male; which custom, as is well known, has been observed among the Picts to this day. In process of time, Britain, besides the Britons and the Picts, received a third nation, the Scots, who, departing out of Ireland under their leader Reuda, either by fair means, or by force of arms, secured to themselves those settlements among the Picts which they still possess. From the name of their commander, they are to this day called Dalreudins; for in their language Dal signifies a part… It is properly the country of the Scots, who, migrating from thence, as has been said, added a third nation in Britain to the Britons and the Picts. There is a very large gulf of the sea, which formerly divided the nation of the Picts from the Britons; which gulf runs from the west very far into the land, where, to this day, stands the strong city of the Britons, called Alcluith. The Scots arriving on the north side of this bay, settled themselves there.”25
Here then Bede informs us that in his time the common report was that the Picts came into Scotland from Scythia, which, like the Germania of Tacitus, may be taken to mean the northern countries of Europe generally. This is substantially the same statement as that of the author of the Historia Britonum, commonly called Nennius, who lived in the 9th century, and who informs us that the Picts coming to Scotland about 300 B.C., occupied the Orkney Islands, whence issuing, they laid waste many regions, and seized those on the left-hand side, i.e. the north of Britain, where they still remained in the writer’s time, keeping possession of a third part of Britain.26
Supposing that Bede’s report was quite in accordance with truth, still it gives us but small help in coming to a conclusion as to the place of these Picts among the families of men. It is certain that by far the greater part of Europe had at one time a Celtic population who preceded, but ultimately gave way to another wave of emigrants from the east. Now, if we knew the date at which this so-called migration of the Picts took place it might be of considerable assistance to us; but as we cannot now find out whether these emigrants proceeded from a Celtic or a Teutonic stock, the statement of Bede, even if reliable, helps us not at all towards a solution of the question as to the race of the Picts. Innes27 remarks very justly on this point – “Now, supposing that there were any good ground for the opinion of these two writers, which they themselves give only as a conjecture or hearsay, and that we had any certainty of the Caledonians, or Picts, having had their origin from the more northern parts of the European continent, it were an useless, as well as an endless discussion, to examine in particular from which of all the northern nations of the continent the first colony came to Caledonia; because that these nations of the north were almost in perpetual motion, and changing habitations, as Strabo remarks; and he assigns for it two reasons: the one, because of the barrenness of the soil, they tilled not the ground, and built habitations only for a day; the other, because being often overpowered by their neighbours, they were forced to remove. Another reason why it is impossible to know from which of those nations the northern parts of Britain, (supposing they came from thence) were at first peopled, is because we have but very lame accounts of these northern nations from the Greek or Roman writers, (from whom alone we can look for any thing certain in those early times) especially of those of Scandia, to the north of the Baltic sea, as the same Strabo observes. Besides, it appears that Caledonia was peopled long before the inhabitants of these northern parts of the continent were mentioned, or even known by the most ancient writers we have; and perhaps before the first nations mentioned by them were settled in those parts.”
There is, however, another statement made by Bede in the passage quoted, upon which, as it refers to his own time, much more reliance can be placed; it is, that in his time Britain contained five nations, each having its own peculiar dialect, viz., the English, Britons, Scots, Picts, and Latins. We know that the English spoke in the main Saxon; the Britons, i.e., the inhabitants of Wales, Cumbria, &c., Welsh; the Scots, Gaelic; the Latins, we suppose, being the Romanized Britons and ecclesiastics. What language then did the Picts speak? As we know that Bede never travelled, he must have got his information from an informant or by hearsay, which circumstance rather detracts from its value. But supposing take the passage literally as it stands, we learn that in Bede’s time there were five distinct peoples or nations, whose names he gives, sharing among them the island. He does not say there were five distinct tongues, which would have been quite a different statement; he speaks of them not so much in respect of their language as in respect of their being the separate items which composed the inhabitants of Britain. In his time they were all quite distinct, in a measure independent of and at enmity with each other. He does not classify them in respect of the race to which they belonged, but with reference to the particular districts which they inhabited, and perhaps with regard to the time and means of their conversion to Christianity, each having been converted at a different time and by a different saint. The substance then of what he says appears to be, that there were in his time five distinct tribes or congregations of people in Britain, each converted to Christianity, and each having the gospel preached in its own tongue. Supposing that the Picts and Scots, or Picts and Britons, or Picts and English did speak exactly the same tongue, it is not at all likely that Bede, in the present case, would have classed them together as both being one nation. Moreover, suppose we allow that Bede did mean that each of these nations spoke a language quite distinct from all the others, then his statement cuts equally at the Gothic and Celtic theory. The conclusion we are forced to is, that from this passage nothing can be gained to help us out of our difficulty.
There is a statement at the end of the passage quoted to which we would draw the reader’s attention, as being Bede’s way, and no doubt the universal way in his time, of accounting for a peculiar law which appears to have regulated the succession to the Pictish throne, and which ultimately, according to some, was the means of placing on that throne a Scottish monarch; thus accounting to some extent for the sudden disappearance and apparent destruction of the Pictish people and language.
We shall here refer to one other passage in the same historian, which has perhaps given rise to greater and more acrimonious contention than any other point in connection with this wordy discussion. The only word that has come down to us, which, with the exception of the names of the Pictish kings, we can be sure is a remnant of the Pictish language, is the name said by Bede to have been given to the eastern termination of the wall of Antonine. Bede,28 in speaking of the turf wall built by the Britons of Valentia in the beginning of the 5th century, says, “it begins at about two miles distance from the monastery of Abercorn on the west, at a place called in the Pictish language Peanfahel, but in the English tongue Penneltum.” This statement of Bede’s is straightforward and clear enough, and has never been disputed by any writer on any one of the three sides of the question. Nevertheless it has been used by the advocates respectively of the Gothic, Gaelic, and Cymric origin of the Picts, as an undoubted proof of the correctness of each of these theories. Pinkerton, whose dishonesty and acrimoniousness are well known, and must detract considerably from the force of his arguments, claims it as being entirely Gothic or Teutonic. “The Pictish word,” he says,29 is broad Gothic; Paena ‘to extend,’ Ihre; and Vahel, a broad sound of veal, the Gothic for ‘wall,’ or of the Latin vallum, contracted val; hence it means ‘the extent or end of the wall.’ ” This statement of Pinkerton’s may be dismissed as too far-fetched and awkward to merit much consideration, and we may safely regard the word as capable of satisfactory explanation only in Celtic. Innes, who upholds the British, i.e the Cymric, origin of the Picts, says,30 “we nowhere find a clearer proof of the Pictish language being the same as the British [Welsh], than in Bede, where he tells us that Penuahel in Pictish signifies the head of the wall, which is just the signification that the same two words Pen and Uahel have in the British.” In this opinion Chalmers and other advocates of the Cymric theory coincide. Mr. Garnett, who essentially agrees with Innes and Chalmers as to the Cymric origin of the Picts, lays little stress upon this word as furnishing an argument in support of his theory. “Almost the only Pictish word given us by an ancient writer is the well-known Pen val (or as appears in the oldest MSS. of Bede Peann fahel), the name given by the Picts to the Wall’s End, or eastern termination of the Vallum of Antoninus. It is scarcely necessary to say the first part of the word is decidedly Cymric; pen, head, being contrary to all Gaelic analogy. The latter half might be plausibly claimed as the Gaelic fal; gwall being the more common termination in Welsh for a wall or rampart. Fal, however, does occur in Welsh in the sense of inclosure, a signification not very remote.”31
The two most recent and able supporters32 of the Gaelic theory are of much the same mind as Garnett, and appear to regard this tantalizing word as affording no support to either side. Burton33 cannot admit that anything has been made out of this leading to a historical conclusion.
We may safely conclude, then, that this so called Pictish word, or, indeed any information which we find in Bede, affords us no key to the perplexing question of the origin and race of the Picts.
We learn, however, one fact from Bede34 which is so far satisfactory, viz. that in his time there were two divisions of the Picts, known as the Northern and Southern Picts, which were separated from each other by steep and rugged mountains. On reading the passage in Bede, one very naturally supposes that the steep and rugged mountains must be the Grampians, to which the expression applies more aptly than to any other mountain-chain in Scotland. Even this, however, has been made matter of dispute, it being contended by some that the locality of the Southern Picts was in the south-west and south of Scotland, where some writers set up a powerful Pictish, kingdom. Mr. Grub,35 however, has clearly shown that the locality of the Southern Picts was to the north of the Forth and Clyde, and to the south of the Grampians. “The mistake formerly so common in regard to the country of the Southern Picts converted by St. Ninian, was in part owing to the situation of Candida Casa. It was supposed that his see must have been in the country of those whom he converted.” He clearly proves that it was not so in reality, and that there was nothing so unusual in the situation as to justify the conclusion which was drawn from it. “It was, no doubt, the case that the teachers by whom the chief Celtic and Teutonic nations were converted generally fixed their seat among those whom they instructed in the faith. But there was no necessity for this, especially when the residence of the teacher was in the neighbourhood of his converts. St. Columba was primate of all the churches of the Northern Picts, but he did not permanently reside among that nation. St. Ninian had ready access to his Pictish converts, and could govern them as easily from his White Church on the Solway, as Columba could instruct and rule the Northern Picts from his monastery in Iona.”36
Other authorities appealed to by the upholders of each of the Celtic theories are the Welsh traditions, the Irish Annals, the Chronicles of the Picts and Scots, and various legendary documents of more or less value and authenticity. As these are of no greater authority than the writers with whom we have been dealing, and as the partisans of each theory claim the various passages as either confirming, or, at any rate, not contradicting their views, we shall not further trouble the reader with specimens of the manner in which they are dealt with. There is one passage, however, in the Welsh Triads, which the advocates of the Gaelic hypothesis claim as strongly confirmatory of their theory. After referring to the coming in of the Cymry, the Britons, etc., the Triads37 go on to say, “Three tribes came, under protection, into the Island of Britain, and by the consent and permission of the nation of the Cymry, without weapon, without assault. The first was the tribe of the Caledonians in the north. The second was the Gwyddelian Race, which are now in Alban (Scotland). The third were the men of Galedin, who came into the Isle of Wight. Three usurping tribes came into the Island of Britain and never departed out of it. The first were the Coranied, who came from the land of Pwyl. The second were the Gwyddelian Ffichti, who came into Alban over the sea of Llychlyn (Denmark) [Lochlann in Gaelic]. The third were the Saxons.” “The Triads,” says Skene38 in connection with this, “appear distinctly to have been written previous to the Scottish conquest in the ninth century, and they mention among the three usurping tribes of Britain the ‘Gwyddyl Ffichti,’ and add immediately afterwards, ‘and these Gwyddyl Ffichti are in Alban, along the shore of the sea of Llychlyn.’ In another place, among the treacherous tribes of Britain, the same Triads mention the ‘Gwyddyl coch o’r Werddon a ddaethant in Alban,’ that is ‘the Red Gwyddyl from Ireland, who came into Alban,’ plainly alluding to the Dalriads, who were an Irish colony, and who have been acknowledged by all to have been a Gaelic race. It will be observed from these passages that the Welsh Triads, certainly the oldest and most unexceptionable authority on the subject, apply the same term of Gwyddyl to the Picts and to the Dalriads, and consequently they must have been of the same race, and the Picts a Gaelic people. Farther, the Welsh word ‘Gwyddyl,’ by which they distinguish that race, has been declared by all the best authorities to be exactly synonymous with the word Gael, the name by which the Highlanders have at all times been distinguished, and the Welsh words ‘Gwyddyl Ffichti’ cannot be interpreted to mean any thing else than ‘The Gaelic Picts,’ or ‘Pictish Gael.’ ”
The following is the substance of the information given by the Irish writers as to the origin, race, and early history of the Picts. The greater part of it is, of course, mere tradition, accumulating as it grew older, and heightened by the imagination of the writers themselves.39 The Picts were called by the Irish writers Cruithnidh, which O’Brien considers to be the same as Britneigh, or Britons; but according to others the name was derived from Cruthen, who founded the kingdom of the Picts in North Britain, in the first century; others derive the name from Cruit, a harp, hence Cruitneach, the Irish for Pict, also signifies a harper, as they are said to have been celebrated harpers. The ancient Britons are mentioned by Cæsar, and other Roman writers, to have painted their bodies of a blue colour, with the juice of a plant called woad, hence the painted Britons were called by the Romans Picti. The Picts or Cruthneans, according to the Psalter of Cashel, and other ancient annals, came from Thrace, in the reign of the Milesian monarch Heremon, nearly a thousand years before the Christian era, and landed at Inver Slainge, now the Bay of Wexford, under two chief commanders named Gud and Cathluan, but not being permitted to settle in Ireland, they sailed to Albain, or that part of North Britain, now Scotland, their chiefs having been kindly supplied with wives of Irish birth. The Cruthneans became possessed of North Britain, and founded there the kingdom of the Picts. A colony of the Cruthneans, or Picts, from North Britain, settled in Ulster in early times, and are often mentioned from the first to the ninth century; they resided chiefly in Dalaradia and Tir Eogain, or parts of Down, Antrim, and Derry, and became mixed by intermarriages with the old Irish of the Irian race, and were ruled over by their own princes and chiefs; and some of those Picts, also settled in Connaught, in the county of Roscommon. According to the Irish writers, the Picts, in their first progress to Ireland from Thrace, settled a colony in Gaul, and the tribes called Pictones and Pictavi, in that country, were descended from them, and they gave name to Pictavia, or the city of Poictiers, and the province of Poitou; and from these Picts were descended the Vendeans of France. The Caledonians or first inhabitants of Scotland, are considered to have been the same as the Picts, and mixed with Cimbrians or Britons, and some of the Milesian Scots from Ireland.
The advocates of the various theories, apparently aware of how little can be made of the meagre and suspicious information afforded by these early histories and chronicles, have latterly made language the principal battle-ground on which to fight out this endless and profitless strife. Most of them take for granted that if the language spoken by any people can be found out, a sure indication is afforded of the race to which that people belonged; and that the topography of a country must necessarily have been imposed by the earliest inhabitants of whom we have record; and that, if so, the limits of their territory must have been co-extensive with the limits of such topography. This, however, is going too far. All the length to which we are permitted in fairness to go, when we find in any district or country an abundance of names of natural objects, as rivers and mountains, which can with certainty be traced to any particular language, is, that at one time or other, a race of people speaking this language must have passed over and dwelt for some time in that particular district or country. We find Celtic names of rivers and mountains scattered all over Europe, in the midst of peoples who are admitted on all hands to have little or none of the Celtic element in them.40 So that an unprejudiced judge must admit that the fact of Cymric and Gaelic words being found in certain districts of the north of Scotland argues only that at one time people speaking these dialects must have dwelt in these districts. It affords no proof by itself that the people whom we first meet with in these districts are the people who spoke these dialects, and who imposed these names; nor indeed, if we could be sure that the people whom we first meet with as inhabitants also spoke the dialect to which such names belong, does it prove that they were the imposers of these names, that the dialect was their native and original tongue, and that they had not acquired it either as conquerors or conquered. Nor can it be adduced as a proof of sameness of race, that the present inhabitants of any particular district speak the same language as those who inhabited that district 1800 years ago or less. “He who trusts to language, and especially to written language, alone, as an index to race, must be prepared to maintain that the Gallic nation emigrated from the seven hills of Rome, and that the Franks came with them; that the Romans extirpated the Celts and Iberians of Spain, and that the Goths and Moors spoke nearly the same language as the Romans; that the Negroes of the United States and Jamaica were exported from England when in their infancy. So would Philology, if left to herself, interpret phenomena, of which we know, from other sources of information, that the causes totally different.”41 “The clearest proof that a mountain or river has a Celtic name, only shows that at some time or other Celts had been there; it does not tell us when they were there. Names, as the experience of the world amply shows, live after the people who bestowed them have long disappeared, and that through successive races of occupants.”42
The materials which have been wrought up into a linguistic argument by the upholders of each of the three Pictish theories, Gothic, Gaelic, and Cymric, are chiefly a list of Pictish kings which, we believe, may be depended on as authentic, and the topography of the country to the east and south-east of the Grampians, together with the single so-called Pictish word Peanfahel, which we have already considered. The theorists differ as much in their interpretation of the significance of what remains of the Pictish language, as we have seen they do in their interpretation of any references to the subject in dispute in ancient chronicles. The names of the kings, and the names of places have been traced by the disputants to Gothic, Gaelic and Cymric roots. As an amusing specimen of the ingenuity displayed in this hunt after roots, we give below a small table from Burton, comparing the different etymologies of names of kings given by Pinkerton, Chalmers, and Jamieson.43
|Chalmers for Celtic,||Pinkerton for Gothic,||Jamieson, “Teutonic Etymons.”|
|Drust||Probably the British name Trwst, which signifies din.||Drust, a common Pikish name, is also Persian, and signifies sincerus… The Persians were the old Sythæ or Goths, from whom the rest sprung.||Su. Goth. troest, dristig. Germ., dreist. Alem. gidrost, daring.|
|Brudi or Bridei||Brudw, which is pronounced Bridw or Bradw, is in the British treacherous.||Brudi is the real Gothic name; Bout is the wounded (Bott ictus Wachter).||Island., Briddi eminebat. verel: breida, to extend; and Sueo-Goth, e, law; 2. one who extends the law, who publishes it.|
For other instances see Burton’s Scotland, i. p. 196.
It is, however, generally admitted at the present day, that so far as language is concerned, the Gothic theory has not the remotest chance; that names of places and of kings are most satisfactorily and straightforwardly explained by Cymric roots. As the Gothic or Teutonic theory cannot stand the test of modern criticism, we shall content ourselves with giving specimens of the manner in which the linguistic, or, more strictly, topographical argument is used by the advocates of the Cymric and Gaelic hypotheses respectively.
The Cymric argument is clearly, ably, and succinctly stated by Mr. Garnett in his essay on “The Relation of the Pict and Gael;” he, however, it must be remembered, looked at the whole question mainly in its philological aspect. In stating the argument we shall use chiefly his own words. “That the Picts were actually Celts, and not of Teutonic race, is proved to a demonstration by the names of their kings; of whom a list, undoubtedly genuine from the fifth century downwards, was published by Innes, from a manuscript in the Colbertine library. Some of those appellations are, as far as we know at present, confined to the Pictish sovereigns; but others are well-known Welsh and Gaelic names. They differ, however, slightly in their forms, from their Cymric equivalents; and more decidedly so from the Gaelic ones; and, as far as they go, lead to the supposition that those who bore them spoke a language bearing a remote analogy to the Irish with its cognates, but a pretty close one to the Welsh.
“In the list furnished by Innes the names Maelcon, Elpin, Taran (i.e. thunder), Uven (Owen), Bargoit, are those of personages well known in British history or tradition. Wrgust, which appears as Fergus in the Irish annals, is the Welsh Gwrgust. Talorg, Talorgan, evidently contain the British word Tal, forehead, a common element in proper names; ex. gr. Talhaiarn, Iron Forehead; Taliesin, splendid forehead, &c. Taleurgain would signify in Welsh golden or splendid front. Three kings are represented as sons of Wid, in the Irish annals of Foit or Foith. In Welsh orthography it would be Gwydd, wild; a common name in Brittany at the present day, under the form of Gwez. The names Drust, Drostan, Wrad, Necton (in Bede Naitan), closely resemble the Welsh Trwst, Trwstan, Gwriad, Nwython. It will be sufficient to compare the entire list with the Irish or Highland genealogies, to be convinced that there must have been a material distinction between the two branches. Most of the Pictish names are totally unknown in Irish or Highland history, and the few that are equivalent, such as Angus and Fergus, generally differ in form. The Irish annalists have rather obscured the matter, by transforming those names according to their national system of orthography; but it is remarkable that a list in the ‘Book of Ballymote,’ partly given by Lynch in his ‘Cambrensis Eversus,’ agrees closely with Innes, even preserving the initial w or u where the Gaelic would require f. The philological inferences to be deduced from this document may be thus briefly summed up:- 1. The names of the Pictish kings are not Gaelic, the majority of them being totally unknown both in the Irish and Highland dialects, while the few which have Gaelic equivalents decidedly differ them in form. Cineod (Kenneth) and Domhnall or Donnel, appear to be the only exceptions. 2. Some of them cannot be identified as Welsh; but the greater number are either identical with or resemble known Cymric names; or approach more nearly to Welsh in structure and orthography than to any other known language. 3. There appears nevertheless to have been a distinction, amounting, at all events, to a difference in dialect. The Pictish names beginning with w would in Welsh have gw, as Gwrgust for Wrgust, and so of the rest. There may have been other differences sufficient to justify Bede’s statement that the Pictish language was distinct from the British, which it might very well be without any impeachment of its claim to be reckoned as closely cognate.”
We have already referred to the use made of the Pictish word Peannfahel, preserved by Bede, and to the phrase in Adamnan concerning Columba’s preaching by means of an interpreter. It is contended by the upholders of the Cymric theory that the ancient topographical appellations of the Pictish territory can in general only be explained by the Cymric dialects, one strong point being the number of local names beginning with the Welsh prefix aber, which, according to Chalmers, was in several instances subsequently changed by the Gael into inver. Skene,44 who felt the force of this argument, tried to get rid of it by contending that aber is essentially a Gaelic word, being compounded of ath, ford, and bior, water. Garnett thinks this explanation utterly gratuitous, and observes that the term may be much more satisfactorily accounted for by a different process. “There are,” he observes,45 “three words in Welsh denoting a meeting of waters – aber, cynver, and ynver, – respectively compounded of the particles a, denoting juxtaposition, cyn (Lat. con), and yn, with the root ber, flowing, preserved in the Breton verb beri, to flow, and all virtually equivalent to our word confluence. Inver is the only term known in any Gaelic dialect, either as an appellative or in proper names; and not a single local appellation with the prefix aber occurs either in Ireland or the Hebrides, or on the west coast of Scotland. Indeed, the fact that inver was substituted for it after the Gaelic occupation of the Pictish territories, is decisive evidence on the point; for, if aber was a term familiar to the Gael, why should they change it?”
“In Scotland,” says Isaac Taylor,46 who upholds the Cymric hypothesis, “the invers and abers are distributed in a curious and instructive manner. If we draw a line across the map from a point a little south of Inverary, to one a little north of Aberdeen, we shall find that (with very few exceptions) the invers lie to the north-west of the line, and the abers to the south-east of it. This line nearly coincides with the present southern limit of the Gaelic tongue, and probably also with the ancient division between the Picts and Scots. Hence we may conclude that the Picts, a people belonging to the Cymric branch of the Celtic stock, and whose language has now ceased to be anywhere vernacular, occupied the central and eastern districts of Scotland, as far as the Grampians; while the Gadhelic Scots have retained their language, and have given their name to the whole country. The local names prove, moreover, that in Scotland the Cymry did not encroach on the Gael, but the Gael on the Cymry. The intrusive names are invers, which invaded the land of the abers. Thus on the shore of the Frith of Forth we find a few invers among the abers. The Welsh word uchel, high, may also be adduced to prove the Cymric affinities of the Picts. This word does not exist in either the Erse or the Gaelic languages, and yet it appears in the name of the OCHIL HILLS, in Perthshire. Again, the Erse bally, a town, occurs in 2,000 names in Ireland; and, on the other hand, is entirely absent in Wales and Brittany. In Scotland this most characteristic test-word is found frequently in the inver district, while it never appears among the abers. The evidence of these names makes it impossible to deny that the Celts of the Scottish Lowlands must have belonged to the Cymric branch of the Celtic stock.”
We infer from what Mr. Taylor says, that he is of opinion that at one time the language of the whole of the north of Scotland was Cymric, but that the district in which the Scots obtained a settlement afterwards underwent a change of topography. But it is admitted on all hands that the Scottish Dalriada comprehended no more than the modern Argyleshire, extending no farther north than Loch Leven and Loch Linnhe; and that the Irish Scots had little influence on the people or their language to the north-west of the Grampians. Indeed, Skene47 maintains that this district, in which he places the Northern Picts, was never subjected to the Scots, and that it was only the Southern Picts who latterly came under their sway. Yet we find that the abers are few and far between, or, indeed, any indications of Cymric possession such as we find in the southern district. Is it possible that the Northern and Southern Picts were representatives of the two great divisions of the Celts, – the former claiming a Gaelic origin, and the latter a Cymric? Perhaps after all the Welsh Triads may in course of time be of some help in the solution of this dark problem, as, according to them, there was more than one Celtic settlement in Scotland before the migration of the Scots. The passages above quoted are, to all appearance, much more favourable to the Gaelic than to the Cymric hypothesis, and have been made much of by Skene and other supporters of that side of the question.
The Cymric origin of the Picts, besides Garnett and Taylor, is supported by such names as Innes, Chalmers, Ritson, Whittaker, Grub, and others.
Pinkerton, it is well known, is the great and unscrupulous upholder of the Gothic origin of the Picts; while the Gaelic theory has for its supporters such writers, of undoubted ability and acuteness, as Skene, E. W. Robertson, Forbes-Leslie, &c. Burton48 is of opinion that the Highlanders of the present day are the true representatives of the Dalriadic Scots of the West.
We shall, as we have done in the case of the other side, allow the upholders of the Gaelic hypothesis to state for themselves the Gaelic topographical argument. We shall use the words of Colonel Forbes-Leslie, who, in his invaluable work on the “Early Races of Scotland,”49 says, “The Celtic words Inver and Aber have nearly the same meaning; and the relative position in which they occur in names of places has been employed as if it were a sufficient argument for defining the presence or preponderance of the British or Gaelic Celts in certain districts. In this way Aber, prefixed to names of places, has been urged as adequate proof that the Picts of Caledonia were Celts of the British branch. The value of these and some other words requires examination. Inver is to be found in names of places in Wales. It may possibly be a British word. It certainly is a Gaelic one. Aber, although undoubtedly British, is also Gaelic – compounded of the two words Ath and Bior – and signifying the same as Inver, viz., the confluence of two streams, or the entrance to a river. If the word Aber had been unknown to the Gaelic scholars of modern days, its former existence in that language might have been presumed from the ancient names of places in the districts of Caledonia, where it occurs most frequently, being generally Gaelic and not British.
“Beyond the limits of Caledonia on the south of the Forth and Clyde, but within the boundary of modern Scotland, the word Inver, generally pronounced Inner, is of common occurrence, and bears witness to a Gaelic nomenclature. Thus, Inner or Inverkip, in the county of Renfrew; Innerwell, in the county of Wigton; Innerwick, in the county of Haddington; Innerleithen, in the county of Peebles; Inverleith and Inveresk, in the county of Edinburgh, derive their names from their situation in regard to the rivers Kip, Leithen, Esk, &c. &c.
“From the Moray Frith to the Forth, in the eastern counties of Caledonia, the prefix Inver or Aber is used indiscriminately in contiguous places. At the confluence of lesser streams with the river Dee, in Aberdeenshire, we find Inverey, Abergeldie, Invercauld, Invercanny, Aberdeen. Yet in those counties – viz., Aberdeen, Kincardine, Forfar, Perth, and Fife, in which were situated the capitals, and which were the richest provinces of the southern Picts – the number of names of places beginning with Inver is three times as numerous as those commencing with Aber; there being, in a list taken from land-registers, which do not go farther back than the middle of the sixteenth century, seventy-eight with Inver to twenty-four with Aber. It may, however, be admitted that, although Aber is Gaelic, its use is far more general by Celts of the British tribes; and that the predominance of Inver in the districts north of the Spey, and the intermixture of places the names of which commence with Inver or Aber, not unfrequently used in records of nearly the same date for the same place in the country lying between the Moray and the Solway Friths, is, to a certain extent, evidence of a British element of population extending into Caledonia. The Britons, in earlier times, may have been pressing on to the north by gradual intrusion, and were probably afterwards increased by bodies of exiles escaping from the severity of Roman bondage and the punishment of unsuccessful revolt.
“That names of places containing the words Bal, from Bail, a place or residence, and Ard, a height or rising ground, are so common in Ireland, and comparatively rare, so it is alleged, in Caledonia, has also been used as an argument to prove that the language of the Picts other Caledonians of the southern and eastern districts was British, not Gaelic. But the foundation of the argument has been assumed, and is easily disproved. It is true that of large towns and places that appear in gazetteers, names commencing with Bal and Ard are not numerous. But in fact such names are extremely common. In the lowlands of Aberdeenshire – that is, in the portion of one county, and in the part of Caledonia farthest removed from the settlements of the intrusive Gaels, viz., the Scots from Ireland – registers of land show upwards of fifty places the names of which commence with Bal, and forty which commence with Ard. In the Pictish territory, from the Moray Frith to the Forth, I soon collected upwards of four hundred names of places beginning with Bal, and upwards of one hundred with Ard; and the number might easily be doubled.”
Mr. E. W. Robertson, one of the latest and ablest upholders of this theory, thinks50 there is scarcely sufficient evidence to justify any very decided conclusion as to the pre-existence of a Cymric population; and that, whilst it would be unquestionably erroneous to ascribe a Cymric origin to the Picts, the existence of a Celtic element akin to the Cymri, amongst the population of Alban before the arrival of the Gwyddel Ffichti, must remain to a certain extent an open question.
Of all a priori theories that have hitherto been advanced as to how Scotland was likely to have been at first peopled, that of Father Innes, the first writer who investigated the subject thoroughly and critically, appears to us to be the most plausible and natural, although even it is beset with many difficulties. It appears to him more natural and probable that the Caledonian Britons, or Picts, were of the same origin as the Britons of the south; that as these came in originally from the nearest coast of Gaul, as they multiplied in the island, they advanced to the north and settled there, carrying with them the customs and language of the South Britons.51
We have thus endeavoured to lay before the reader, as fully as space permits, and as clearly and unprejudicedly as possible, the materials at present existing by means of which to form an opinion on the Pictish question, and the arguments pro and con, mainly in their own words, urged by the partisans of different theories. It appears to us that the data within reach are far too scanty to justify any one in coming to a settled conclusion, and that we must wait for more light before we can be justified in finally making up minds on this perplexing subject.52
At the present day we find that nearly the whole of the territory said to have been originally occupied by the Picts, is inhabited, and has been for centuries, by a population which in appearance is far more Teutonic than Celtic, and which undoubtedly speaks a broad Teutonic dialect.53 And even in the district where the Gaelic language has been triumphant for ages, it is acknowledged even by the most devoted partisans of the Gaelic theory, that among the population there is a very considerable intermixture of the Teutonic element. Burton thinks, from a general view of the whole question, that the proportion of the Teutonic race that came into the use of the Gaelic, was much greater than the proportion of the Gaelic that came into the use of the Teutonic or Saxon, and that this may account for the contrasts of physical appearance to be seen in the Highlands.
We certainly have not exhausted the statement of the question, have not stated fully and completely all the points in dispute; nor do we pretend to have given with fulness all the arguments pro and con on the various sides. We have, however, given as much as will enable any ordinary reader to form for himself a fair idea of the present state of the Pictish question, and indicated the sources whence more information may be derived, should any one wish to pursue the subject farther. In the words of the latest and greatest Scottish historian “this brief survey of the great Pictish controversy leaves nothing but a melancholy record of wasted labour and defeated ambition. It has been more fruitless than a polemical or a political dispute, for these leave behind them, either for good or evil, their marks upon the conduct and character of the populations among whom they have raged; while here a vast outlay of learning, ingenuity, enthusiasm, and, it must be added, temper, have left no visible monument but a pile of forbidding volumes, in which should any one who has not studied the matter fundamentally expect to find instructive information, he will assuredly be led into a tangled maze of unintelligible pedantry, from which he will come forth with no impression but a nightmare feeling of hopeless struggle with difficulties.”54
1 Garnett’s Philological Essays, p. 196.
2 Agricola xi.
3 The wall of Antonine.
4 Dio L. 76, c. 12, as quoted in Ritson’s Annals, p. 11.
5 Critical Essay, ch. ii.
7 Book iii.
8 “Scotti per diversa vagantes, multa populabantur.” Am. Mar. xxvii. 8.
9 “—– Nec falso nomine Pictos
10 “Venit et extremis legio prætenta Britannis
Quæ Scoto dat fræna truci, ferroque notatas
Perlegit exangues Scoto moriente figuras.” –
De bello Getico, v. 416.
Thus rendered by Ritson:-
The legion came, o’er distant Britains placed,
Which bridles the fierce Scot, and bloodless figures
With iron marked, views in the dying Pict.
11 The name given by the Irish Annalists to the Picts is Cruithne, said by some to mean “variegated.”
12 The only important exception is Ritson, whose arguments, like those of his opponent Pinkerton, consist mostly of virulent language and vehement assertion.
13 In Amm. Mar.
14 It is a curious fact that these latter are, among the peasantry of Scotland, the distinctive characteristics of the Picts or Pechts, who, however, it is not unlikely, may be popularly confounded with the Brownies, especially as, in Perthshire at any rate, they are said always to have done their work while others were asleep.
15 Skene’s Highlanders, vol. i. p. 2.
16 L. O. Pike, The English and their Origin, ch. i.
17 Biographia Britannica Literaria, vol. i.
18 Gildas, 1.
19 Id., 19.
20 Gildas, 14.
21 Highlanders, vol. i. p. 72.
22 Garnett’s Philological Essays, p. 199.
23 Adam. ap. Colganum, l. ii. c. 32.
24 On the subject in question the recently published Book of Deer cannot be said to afford us any information. It gives a short account of the landing of Columba and a companion at Aberdour in the north of Aberdeenshire, and the founding of a monastery at Deer. But although the entries are in Gaelic, they do not tell us what language Columba spoke, nor whether ‘Bede the Pict,’ the mormaer of Buchan, understood without an interpreter. The name of the saint – Drostan – whom Columba left behind him to prosecute the work, is Pictish, at any rate not Irish, so that nothing can be inferred from this. Since much of the first part of this book was written, Mr. Skene has advanced the theory, founded partly on four new Pictish words he has managed to discover, that the language of the Picts was neither pure Gaelic nor Cymric, ‘but a sort of low Gaelic dialect partaking largely of Welsh forms.’ This theory is not new, but was distinctly put forth by Dr. Maclauchlan some years ago in his able and learned work, The Early Scottish Church, p. 29; if true, it would certainly satisfy a great many of the demands which any hypothesis on the subject must do.
25 Bede’s Eccles. Hist., Book I. c. i.
26 Nennius 12, Vatican MS.
27 Critical Essay on Scotland, vol. i. p. 68.
28 Book i., c. 12.
29 Inquiry into the Hist. of Scot., vol. i. p. 357, ed. 1814.
30 Crit. Essay, vol. i. p. 75.
31 Garnett’s Phil. Essays, p. 198.
32 Robertson’s Scotland under her Early Kings, vol. ii. p. 380. Forbes-Leslie’s Early Races of Scotland, vol. i. p. 35.
33 Hist. of Scot., vol. i. p. 187.
34 Book iii. ch. 4.
35 Eccl. Hist. of Scot., vol. i. p. 15, &c.
36 Eccl. Hist. of Scot., vol. i. p. 17.
37 Davies’ Celtic Researches, p. 155.
38 Highlanders of Scotland, vol. i. p. 69.
39 We are indebted for most of the following account to Connellan’s Annals of the Four Masters, p. 367 (note).
40 See Taylor’s Words and Places, ch. ix.
41 Pike’s English and their Origin, ch. ii., which contains some shrewd and valuable remarks on the subject of language.
42 Burton, vol. i. p. 192.
43 Garnett’s Phil. Essays, pp. 197, 198.
45 Phil. Essays, p. 200.
46 Words and Places, p. 246.
48 Scotland, vol. i. p. 207.
49 Vol. i. p. 26.
50 Vol. ii. p. 377.
51 Essay on Scotland, vol. i. p. 70.
52 We have already (p. 22) referred to the Gaelo-Cymric theory broached by Dr. Maclauchlan in his Early Scottish Church, and recently adopted by Dr. Skene. Speaking of the distribution of the topographical nomenclature in the Highlands, Dr. Maclauchlan says it indicates one of two things; “either that the one race overpowered the other in the east, and superinduced a new nomenclature over the old throughout the country, – that we have in fact two successive strata of Celtic names, the Gaelic underlying the British, which is by no means impossible; or, what is more likely, that the Pictish people were a people lying midway between the Gael and the Cymri – more Gaelic than the Cymri, and more Cymric than the Gael. This is precisely the character of the old Pictish topography; it is a mixture of Gaelic and Cymric; and if the language of the people was like their topography, it too was a language neither Gaelic nor Cymric, but occupying a middle space between them, indicating the identity of the races at some distant period, although they afterwards became rivals for the possession of the land.” This we think on the whole the most satisfactory theory yet propounded.
53 We would infer from the recently published Book of Deer, that down at least to the time of David II., the inhabitants were still a Gaelic speaking population; all the entries in that book as to land are in that language.
54 Burton, vol. i. p. 200.