Origins of the


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The Picts were definitely not Gaels, they spoke a different language and had different customs.    Their origins are unknown, although there are many theories, and the Picts themselves had their myths and traditions which compounded their mystery.  One theory is that they were an earlier form of Celt, others contend they were a hybridization of the beaker people and the earlier aboriginal peoples.  Still others feel they came from Norway, which would account for their pale skin.Pict war chariot with Highland ponies
Another theory is that they were the early "Chaldees" or Galat" of Eastern Asia Minor. Their western elements seem to have retained their title of "Khaltis " or "Galati" or "Gal," when in the Old Stone Age, they penetrated westward into Gaul on the Atlantic and formed there the Kelts or CeltŠ of Gaul, and the Gauls and Gaul are actually called "GalatŠ" and "Galat" by Strabo.

History records; At a later period, the Sarmatians invaded Gaul from the Rhine and Switzerland and drove out the Picts.  The name "Celt" does not appear in the fragmentary surviving history of ancient Britain under that exact spelling, it, nevertheless, is represented in its dialectic variant of "Caled" and "Culdees," coincidently the title of the Pictish mission of Columba.

Recent dna tests have proven the Picts were closely related to the Basques of northern Spain.  If it is determined some day where the Basques came from, then we will know where the Picts came from also.  This relationship had been suspected for some time as it was known that the two groups were uniquely non  Indo-European.  What is in a name? The north of Briton (today's Scotland) was called Caledonia by the Romans.  This name was derived from the Celtic "Caoillaoin", signifying "the men of the forest", a name which was given to the northern inhabitants by their more southerly neighbours, on account of the forest nature of the north.

Later, Scotland was referred to as "Albann."  In Celtic, Al or Alba means high, whereas "Inn" means large island.  The Pictish and later Scottish kings referred to themselves as "Kings of Alba" up until the Norman usurpation of the Scottish throne after MacBeth.

As for the inhabitants, the Romans first called them "Caledonians," then "Picti."  Pict referred to the habit of the Picts to paint themselves in times of battle to present a more fearsome image to their enemies.  When the Romans first ventured to Briton, this painting habit was also widespread amongst the more southern Celts but as they became domiciled into the Roman culture, this cultural activity was extinguished.  It remained prevalent in the north.  The term no doubt means "painted people" in Latin.   Romans reported the Picts called themselves "Kaltis".  When the Picts became Christians, they adopted the Roman term "Pict."

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The Scots, on the other hand, were a branch of the Irish Celts or Gaels.  Ireland was divided between the earlier Cruithne (Picts, who migrated from Scotland around 200AD) and later arriving Goidels (Gaels), who were constantly at each others' throats.  As Ireland never experienced a Roman invasion, it was a safe haven for raiders who plundered Roman provinces in England and Wales.

All Celts in western continental Europe were subdued by the Romans.  However, the Irish branch maintained their cultural development free of the Roman yoke.  After the Romans left Britain in about AD453, the Romanized (subdued) Gaels of England became easy targets for the fierce Scotic sea raiders.   Scotic is related to the term Scythic and was pronounced the same in some areas of Britain.   It is an interesting observation that the German word for both Scottish and Scythian is "Scutten", as the 6th century Saxon invaders of Alba spoke a form of lower German. 

Recent dna tests have proven the Scots are closely related to the Berbers of North Africa, whose own ancestry is still also unknown.     It is theorized that the heartland of the Celts was transalpine area in what is now Austria in the forth and fifth centuries B.C.,  when they achieved their greatest prosperity and expansion across Europe.  They subjugated all those before them from Spain to the eastern Steppes, and certainly enjoyed the more temperate climate of western Europe, compared to the more severe climate of their Asiatic fatherland.

They pillaged Rome, invaded Persia and Macedonia, and developed contacts with Greeks, and have been: officially recorded by many distinguished historians as having originated from westward flowing Scythians, either through merchants or entire clans fleeing the marauding Sarmatians, themselves an eastern fringe element of the Scythian culture.

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About 750 BC, a warlike Mongoloid people were expelled from their home territory in the north of China and moved westward.  The pressure they exerted on other peoples began a mass movement westwards of scores of tribes.  Much like the waves of the incoming tide pounding on a beach, each tribe arriving in Europe was followed by another, usually more fierce and violent than the one before.

Arriving with dust and thunder, fierce horsemen from the east burst upon the European steppe around 700 BC.  Invincible for four centuries, these proud marauders grew rich on the dividends of conquest, decking even their horses with gold.  Then, mysteriously, they vanished, leaving only tales of their courage and cruelty - and imposing tombs lavishly provisioned for eternity.
These were the Scythians
    In their time, they were invincible.

Scythians storming an enemy settlement, with a female warrior leading the charge

Migrating from eastern Asia, the Scythians were masters of the steppe for 400 years.  They plundered their way across Asia until they settled in the area north of the Black Sea.  Their empire reached from the Danube east across Ukraine all the way to the Don River and the Caucasus Mountains. 

A Scythian aristocratic couple adorned in their favourite gold embroidered clothing.

They introduced Europe to oriental advances in horse equipment and influenced the emerging Celts in many ways not yet understood or appreciated.  They were a pastoral people, not inclined to establish large urban areas.  This feature alone affected the Celts so much that they too developed into a self sufficient pastoral/ agricultural culture.

The Empire and forays of Scythia

The Scythians sold cereals grown by their sedentary non-equestrian subjects to the Greek merchants who had set up shop in strategic locations around the Black Sea.  They soon became the prime source of grains for the Greek city states of the Adriatic.   We know that in the fourth century BC,  the Sarmatians, a later-emerging branch of the Scythian people encroached on the eastern Scythian lands.

It isGilded adversaries clash on the crest of a 2,400 year old comb from a Scythian tomb suggested that in the west, Scythians warred with Macedonians.  Historians disagree why their Empire suddenly collapsed, it is known that for 100 years after they disappeared, their heartland was devoid of any human occupation. It may have been due to a severe climatic change, severe drought, over-grazing, or simply an implosion from within.

Notwithstanding, many of the present day peoples of the Caucasus identify with the Scythians, and maintain many of those ancient tales and myths, also referred to by early Greek historians, such as Jason and the Golden fleece. (It is recorded in both their histories that Jason took a Scythian woman as his wife.)

The Greek historian Strabo, wrote that, at the sunset of their empire, some Scythians migrated to the mouth of the Danube and dispersed with other peoples in that vicinity, which would have been the coincidentally emerging Celts.

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Claims of Ossetians to have been the founding race of Britain 

Note: This section is written from the Ossetian viewpoint of history-

Hundreds of years ago, Ossetians (Sarmatians) roamed all over Western Europe, from the Caucasus to Scotland.  The folk memories of these wanderings have lingered down the centuries, so that it can be hard to tell where myth ends and history begins.

When the nights draw in in the high Caucasus, when the flocks are gathered in the shadow of the ancient stone towers that dot the wooded hillsides, and there is no sound outside but the chattering of the fast streams that run down from Ossetia towards Georgia, there is nothing the people like better than to settle down on the settee to watch an old DVD of Braveheart.

Centuries ago, possibly during the great migrations of the Dark Ages, some of their ancestors went down from the Caucasus and set sail through the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and arrived eventually in a landscape they recognized: Caledonia.

In fact, though, they did not just occupy Scotland. They occupied the whole of Western Europe on their fast horses, spreading the chivalrous respect for women that is originally an Ossetian concept.

And how do we know they reached Britain?  Easy: place names.  London, In Ossetian, London means "standing water".  Belfast, in Ossetian, means "broken spade".  (King) Arthur in Ossetian means "solar fire".  Orleans in France is "stopping place", because the Ossetians stopped there. 

Ossetian children know all about their forefathers' wanderings around Europe and how eventually their territory diminished again to those two little pockets on either side of the great Caucasian watershed.

But the Ossetians, in their glory days of continental mastery, were not known by that name. They were previously called Sarmatians, and sometimes Alans.  Every third Ossetian you meet now seems to be called Alan, and the north Ossetian republic, within Russia, is officially "Alania".

Author's note: 

The above may be a case of popular Ossetian folk-lure, but there certainly was a connection between the Sarmatians and the early Celts.  It was verified by the horse gear of the Celts which was definitely of eastern origin (Scythian/Sarmatian), not western European nor Mediterranean.  There are many other Scythian/Sarmatian influences on Celtic/Pict culture, which are explained in this chapter.

Alan was a popular Cornish/Breton name, meaning "rock".

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The oldest surviving references to the Celts are by Hecataeus and Herodotus, writing in the fifth century BC.  Therein, the Celts were reported to have been established in southern France and around Styria in Austria.  In 390 BC, the Celtic Gauls of present day France invaded Etruscan territory and sacked Rome.  Three Celtic Tribes, called the Galati invaded Asia Minor and settled there.  Another tribe invaded Macedonia.  Contacts were made with the Scythians, Persians, Greeks and Romans.  All these contacts resulted in advances in Celtic culture and sophistication. 

Linguistic similarities between Gaulish (early Celt) and Latin (the parent race of the Romans) exist that prove the Celts and the Romans were the same people 60 generations before the time of Caesar.

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    PICTS Flourish in "Alba"part of the Brodgar Ring in the Orknies

They are recorded to have reached Scotland by the first millennium BC, and chose the best areas for themselves. They called themselves "Kaldis" or "Kaltis." (The later British Celts had to take second best.)  They absorbed the earlier  tribesmen who  were known as Orcades (who were definitely Celtic), and soon dominated the northern half of Scotland. The first to record their existence in Alba were sea-faring Greek merchant, who called them "Albiones" (pale-skinned ones).

When the Romans ventured into their domain, these warrior people were called "Caledonii", then "Picti" (painted or tattooed ones.) They were well organized, fierce warriors, and had several unique characteristics which differentiated them from other Celts, so some historians have not considered them Celts at all.

Bedes reported they recorded their family genealogies along their female lines, similar to the Scythians.  They also included female warriors in their standing armies as did the Scythians, but not the Scottish or Germanic peoples. They were not as quarrelsome amongst themselves as were the Scoti.  They painted their bodies blue for battle, as was the ancient custom of the Celts.  (This practice had died out in the more central areas of Celtic civilization.) They constructed huge hill forts of timber and stone.  Their language was not identical with other Celts and, some scholars believe that the Picts were not Celts at all..

Picts had a tradition  their ancestors were from Scythia.  There are several confirming clues as to this claim:

WB01542_.gif (729 bytes) Relief's of Pictish warriors on Orkney gravestones have a decidedly 'Assyrian' appearance.Oriental bronze bridle found in Celtic settlement in Mindelbeim, Bavaria
WB01542_.gif (729 bytes)  Celtic art drew its inspiration from Scythia, especially about animal representation; i.e. Stylized beasts, abstract geometric decorations.

WB01542_.gif (729 bytes) The Pictish wood-built burial chamber under a barrow was similar to that of the Scythians.

WB01542_.gif (729 bytes)After the Scythians were overwhelmed by the nomadic Sarmatians, many migrated into Hallstatt (early Celtic) territory in Styria in present day Austria.

WB01542_.gif (729 bytes)  Both Scythians and Picts had an extreme equestrian culture, (more so than other Celtic tribes.)

WB01542_.gif (729 bytes)  Trousers and woolen cloaks were worn by Picts and other Celts, which were especially convenient  when riding horses.   They were not derived from the Mediterranean nor from temperate Europe.  They were obviously from horsemen of the cold eastern steppes, probably the Scythians.

WB01542_.gif (729 bytes)  Both Pict and Scythian armies used women warriors, other Celts did not.

WB01542_.gif (729 bytes)  Celtic, and Scythian societies were agricultural-pastoral as each tribe was engaged in its own food production.  Therefore no large urban centres were realized.Pictish 'Broch' (hillside fort)

WB01542_.gif (729 bytes)  The Celts achieved a standard in arts and crafts unparalleled amongst the ancient inhabitants of trans/Alpine Europe, rivaled only by their Eurasiatic neighbours and mentors, the Scythians.

WB01542_.gif (729 bytes)  At about 700BC, there appeared in the vicinities of Celtic Hungary, Bavaria, and Austria, bronze horse-bits, and bridle mounts, which were identical to types found in Scythia.

WB01542_.gif (729 bytes)  Who were these early Hallstatt Iron age Chieftains?  Their horse-gear is an elaboration of their predecessors from the east.
(quote from 'The Celts" by T.G.E. Powell).

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Pict Society

The Picts, including the Irish Cruithne, put more emphasis on female ancestry than on the male line, though they did not allow a Queen to rule over them as did the Ikeni and Brigantes of Britain, whose queens were almost demi-goddesses.  The 'practical' Picts realized that a boy's best friend was his mother, and his father sometimes only a very fitful factor.

A great Pict King, Onnist, was fighting the Saxons, who were encroaching on Pict territory, when he had a dream of Saint Andrew bearing his cross in a saltern manner against a blue sky.  The next day he beat the Saxons in a mighty battle and in gratitude proclaimed the Saltern cross (white on a blue background) as his national banner.  It still is the national flag of Scotland. 

Most of the names we now associate with being Scottish were in fact Pictish, i.e. Angus, Bili, Kenneth, Donald, Duncan, Hugh, Malcom,  Ronald, Bryden, and many others which are unpronounceable in English.  The surname Alpin is Pictish and means mountain.  It began as 'Ailphin', then 'Elphin', then 'Alpin.'

Similarly, the "Alps" in Europe were originally named by the Kelts.  In today's English, the term "Alpine" is synonymous to "mountainous".

 The Picts maintained a system of succession whereby the crown was passed down to a brother or a nephew through the mother's line.
The Picts favoured two forms of execution: Drowning was reserved for unwanted Kings.  Beheading was reserved for the most shameful of deaths and was used in a ceremony of retribution.  The Picts compared very favorably with later peoples and their diabolical execution methods.

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Enter the Scots

The 'Scoti' ventured across the north Irish sea to Argyll  in the AD400s and called it "Dalriada" after their Royal House of "Dal Riata" in Ulster.  

They were afterwards referred to derisively by the English as "Irish" for over one thousand years.)   This marked the first time that Gaelic was spoken in what is now Scotland.  The Picts were already established throughout northern Scotland and were not amused with these latecomers.   For the next 400 years, Picts and Scots intermittently mingled and fought it out.

Scottish kings arose in Dalriada where they existed with the tolerance of local Pictish Governors. When threatened by outside forces, the Scots and Picts had no qualms re co-operating to beat off a common foe.

The Picts were better organized, more unified, and had a more powerful army.  The Scots, on the other hand, were unruly, untrustworthy, cunning, but fierce fighters.  When the 'heathen' Norse began pillaging northern Scotland, they hit the Picts harder as they had populated the north, and the western & northern islands, which were the prime targets of Viking plunder.

The Picts outnumbered the Scots and left to their own devices would have eliminated them.  However, devastated by the Giant  Norse raiders, the Picts became susceptible to infiltration by the Scots.

This resulted in many intermarriages and a blurring of racial lines.  In a Scot/Pict marriage, the Pict line went on through the mother and the Scot line was carried on down through the males.  In this way, the Picts were eventually 'married' out of existence, as official government records were patriarchal, the wife considered property of the husband. 

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The Role of the BritonsFourth century movement of Celtic tribes from Ireland into England and Scotland, and from southern England into Brittany

The Romans had developed an effective way of dealing with P-Celts after their horrific wars with the Gauls on the European continent.  The "Britons" of southern Caledonia proved no exception, and the Romans eventually used them as a buffer to keep the Picts at bay.

Despite this arrangement, the Antonnine Wall was abandoned as a line to far, and a retreat was ordered back to the Hadrian Wall, leaving the Britons exposed to Pict reprisals.  The Britons continued for a time to be Roman allies, but could not contain the Picts in their thirst for revenge on the Romans.

In this degenerating situation, some Britons were susceptible to an ingenious Roman manoeuvre. 

The Romans had earlier developed an effective countermeasure to external threats to their empire, by transferring loyal subjects of one area to a threatened area to defend it from assault.  They implemented this extraordinary measure about 200 AD by the wholesale voluntary movement of loyal Britons in southern Scotland, called the "Goddodin", to the territory of the "Gwynedd", modern "Wales." 

This mass movement created a new elite in Gwynedd, since the previous Druids were ruthlessly annihilated by the Romans as part of their strategy to break the back of any possible future insurrection.  This favoured new elite implanted their unique Briton language on the "Welsh", which remains in a somewhat modified version today.

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Picts Win The Battles But - Lose The War

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During the AD800s, the Picts constituted about 90% of the population of northern  Scotland, (the Scots only about 10%).   However they were constantly harried The Pict Empire, before its demise.  Alba, then Scotland, maintained the trappings of Empire even after large sections in the west and north were seized by the Norse Vikings. and were under heavy pressure by Norse in the north, Scots in the south-west, and by Germanic tribes of Angles in the south.  In battle after battle, they succeeded in repulsing all antagonists.

This land was defended many times after Rome's departure.  The Picts fought invasions by the Irish-Gaelic Scots in the west, the Welsh Britons in the southwest, and German Saxons in the southeast, and the sea borne Norse and Danish Vikings in the north, northwest, and northeast.

They sometimes lost great battles and huge chunks of land, only to regain them later through perseverance in the vicious warfare of the dark ages.

In the 7th century, Scots pushed their frontier far north, and a victorious Gaelic army came within a half-day march of the Pict capital of Inverness before it was crushed.  In the south, the Saxons marched their Teutonic armies north and held Pict lands for 30 years before they were butchered and sent fleeing south by an avenging Pict army.Pictic warrior painted for battle

However, in AD837, the Picts suffered their most devastating military defeat - by the Norsemen.  They lost their King and most of their leaders.  This one event marked the beginning of the end of Pict domination of Alban.

Their western and northern territories, including their island empire of the Hebridies, Orkneys, Shetland, and Faroes gone, they lost control of their own people and fell into a long period of civil wars and anarchy, and became fatally infiltrated by the Scots.  As in a dying fire, they flickered back to life briefly through the 11 year rule of the last Pictish King of Alba, Grig the Great, Conqueror of all Alba, Hibernia (Ireland), Anglia (Lothian), and Northumbria.  But by AD1000, their culture was gone, replaced through assimilation by the Scots, much of it through inter-marriage, from slave raids by the Vikings, and the rest through a state-sponsored genocide, much similar to the fate later designated for the Clan Gregor.

Historical records of that time tell of large Viking centres in Ireland such as Dublin and Belfast, that owed their existence to the trade in vast numbers of Pict slaves taken from Scotland, who, due to their white skin, knowledge of Latin, and their long history of Christianization,  were in great demand by the Romans.

Derided inaccurately by many historians as "aboriginals", they established a hierarchal society, an island Empire, defeated the best Roman Legions, and sent them scurrying south behind "Hadrian's Wall", fought off successive invaders from all corners of their country, and traded extensively with mainland Europe.

Thus a sad end came to a magnificent people (and their beloved ponies) on the fringe of north-western Europe, a people who had become a shining light of Christianity, sent missionaries into a hostile northern Europe for 500 years, and helped prepare the groundwork for the Lutheran reformation.

To read the story of the last Pictish Kings, visit:

  Origins of the Clan Gregor