Who were the Picts ?

Who were the Picts ?

Picts , Gaels and Scots ( Foster, SM, 1996)

Who were the Picts ?

Picts , Gaels and Scots ( Foster, SM, 1996)

Classical and later historic sources use a variety of evolving terms to signify the people who inhabited Scotland and /or their territorial divisions prior to the late eighth century. Of these terms Picti , first recorded in 297 and derived from the Picts’ own name for themselves , or possibly a Roman nickname meaning ” the painted ones” , has been the most enduring . Then as in later Classical sources, the Picts were referred to as assailants of the Roman frontier in Britain. Much ink has been spilt over what the ancient writers meant by Picts, but it seems to be a generic term for people living north of the Forth - Clyde isthmus who raided the Roman Empire.
There is a distinction in archaeological remains to north and south of the Forth- Clyde isthmus in the early centuries which would seem to support this definition, although some archaeologists argue that the cultural boundary lay further north , at the River Tay. The Picts seem to have been an amalgam of earlier tribes - as many as twelve were recorded by Ptolemy ( an Alexandrian geographer ) in the second century. Tacitus, the Roman historian, records that some of these tribes combined against the army of his father - in- law, Agricola, in 83 after the battle of Mons Graupius.
There need be no suggestion that they were a nation  or a uniform people, indeed at least two main internal divisions are referred to , the Maeatae and Caledones and other Picts, who had become Verturiones and Dicalydones by the mid - fourth century. We cannot even be sure that these were the sole inhabitants of the country. We also do not know the name the Picts might have used for themselves ( if indeed they recognised the concept ! ) . But we can be confident that they were simply the descendants of the native Iron Age tribes of Scotland , most of whom were never part of the Roman Empire and even when they were , were only affected for short periods of time. The notion of the Picts having existed in Galloway is now recognised as a myth which arose out of a misunderstanding by mediaeval writers.
Therefore in historical terms the term Pictish might be applied to the period between 79, when the Romans advanced beyond the Forth - Clyde isthmus into Caledonia, and 842/900 when the MacAlpin dynasty came to establish itself. In practical terms the Picts ( and indeed Dal Riata ) only become truly recognisable as archaeological and historical entities from the sixth century, and it is on this later period that we shall inevitably concentrate.

  What is left of the Picts in Strathearn ?

 LANGUAGE Picts spoke “ P- Gaelic “ unlike the Scots Gaelic spoken today. More akin to Welsh , Breton and Cornish. Used OGHAM alphabet as seen on inscribed stones. Place names indicating a Pictish presence start with “ Pit “or “ Pett “. Means a parcel of land. Generally not found south of Antonines Wall. In Strathearn : Names include Pittentian, Pittachor, Pett Farm at Muthill , Pitkellony. Other Pictish or “ P- Celtic “ place names are Carden, Lanerc , Pert, Pevr and Aber .  


In Scotland , the stone circles and alignments belong to the third millenium ie 3000 BC This was  a time of change when communal burial replaced by individual burial and new types of pottery and metal working introduced. first copper then bronze. The communal burial took place in a stone chambered cairns or barrows. Stone circles or henges ceremonial and often recorded celestial movement. Single stones possibly tribal boundary markers.  First millenium ie 1000 BC defended settlements and hill forts. 200 BC Brochs appeared .  


These date from the mid 6th century until the mid 9th century. They are divided into three classes .
Class l : Designs which are incised not carved in relief on boulders or on rough dressed stones. No Christian crosses or other recognised attributes. Dating uncertain, possibly 7th ,8th and 9th centuries.  Dessigns are Crescent and V- rod , the notched rectangle and  Z-rod and the arch and horse shoe. Also animal forms like serpents , bulls and boars.

Class ll : Found after Picts  were subjugated by the Scots. Date from 9th century. Christian influence with crosses. Old symbols less pronounced. Carved in relief on one side. 9th and 10th century.

Class lll : Monuments with Celtic ornament in relief but without the symbols of Classes l and ll. Up to the 12th century.
Whereabouts in Strathearn ?
Abernethy Round Tower : Early 11th Century. Refuge for relics and people in troubled times.
Fowlis Wester (NN 927 240) : Two stones  Complex . A man leading a cow with a bell and two horsemen in two tiers with a beast between them. One with a hawk. Perhaps a man being devoured by a beast. Second found during restoration in the 1930s.Could be Jonah and the whale ? Two Saints possibly St Paul and St Anthony.
The 1837 Statistical account for the Parish of Fowlis Wester refers to the existence of
“Druids “ referring to the stone circle above the village. Quote :

Fowlis appears to have been a favourite seat of the Druids. Several of their clachans have been demolished but there are still four large Druidic stones standing west from the village one of which is a croleach or alter stone, in which there is an artificial cavity where the blood and oil of the sacrifices flowed. On the summit of the hill due north from the same place there is a Druidic circle of stones and a double concentric circle. This is believed to have been the temple of an arch Druid which when erected was probably in the midst of a forest in which were the oak and consecrated grove, the favourite objects of their superstition. The circle consists of sixteen stones between which and the double circle there is a large stone incumbent where the arch druid stood and addressed himself to those around him. The outer precinct of the concentric circle is 18 yards in circumference in which there are 40 stones. Three yards north from it there is a large standing stone which is probably monumental of some illustrious dead as they were then interred around those places, where they worshipped the Supreme Being. To the west of this temple there is a Siun which signifies in Gaelic a mount of peace, near which is a fairy hillock where urns have been found. and which is believed to have been inhabited by an inferior kind of genii called fairies. On the Siuns , the Druids held assizes when it was customary to kindle a large bonfire called Samhin or the fire of peace. on Hallow eve , a druidical festival , these fires are still lighted up in this district and retain the same name. “
The same Account later on mentions the cross and states that there were once chains  where culprits were attached to and exposed to punishment like a pillory. There is a story that up until the turn of the century the old cross was smeared in grease to ward off evil spirits.
Auchterarder (NN 942 097 ) : Pictish symbol stone 2 miles SW of Auchterarder . A Class l near the south side of the road. Incised with a bird with its head turned back ( a goose ? ) and a double sided comb.
Dupplin Cross : Not really Pictish but a ‘ hybrid ‘ monument of Dalriadic design by sculptors trained in the Pictish tradition. Located near Forteviot the old Royal Pictish capital. Renovated and now in Dunning ( 2001 )
Dundurn (NN 707 233) :  Located at the east end of Loch Earn at St Fillans Golf Club. A high terrace  and four lower terraces enclosed by ramparts. A nuclear fort  ie an inner citadel and a series of outworks / ramparts. Dates from about AD 465 to beginning of 7th century. Rebuilt using Roman stones from a ruined fort nearby. According to Professor Alcock’s excavations  there were terraced farming below the fort. Wild cherries, rasps and hazlenuts were grown and bracken was collected for bedding and litter and mosses as an equivalent of lavatory paper. Glass beads found . Imported and melted down and made into beads.  A barrel padlocks found there. According to Annals of Ulster was under siege in 683. Reckoned to have utilised as a fort from about 100 BC .  
Rossie Law ( NN 997 124 ) :  About 2 miles SW of Dunning , this fort is the largest of those which occupy peaks on the north face of the Ochil range overlooking Strathearn from the south. Formedby a single wall measuring 14’ thick in places it encloses an area 600’ x 500’. Traces of timber buildings have been found.
Machany ( NN 902 158 ) : A fort some 3 miles north west of Auchterarder occupying a low ridge 400 metres north of Machany close to the right bank of Machany Water. An oval enclosure 170’ x 115’ within a wall now reduced to stony mound about 15’ thick .Evidence of vitrifie remains.

  Fowlis Wester


  1. Sorry, but having trouble reading the post. The text is going out of the margins of the blog.


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