PEOPLES OF SCOTLAND
Neolithics, Orcadians, Picts,
Gaels, Anglo-Saxons, and Vikings
The earliest recorded evidence of man in Scotland is dated to 8,500BC. By 2,000 BC, Neolithic men from Spain and France, makers of fire and herders of sheep and cattle had made their way to northern Britain.
In very early Scotland, man lived in and around the coasts of the mainland and on the many Isles, including the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Orkneys, Shetlands, and Faroes. To go inland meant forests, mountains, and swamps, and many wild animals. Early colonists would rather face the familiar demons of the sea than tackle unknown wild beasts in the forests.
It is known that early settlers seldom ventured inland for fear of a number of creatures: Wolves, snakes, aurochs (wild cattle), boars, bears and large cats were just some of the animal life of ancient Scotland. Even the giant sabretoothed cats, legend has it were still alive early in the first century A.D. This is where the name of the town of Caithness, (place of the great cat) in the far north of Scotland got its name.
Note: It is now realized that Woolly Mammoths actually hung on in the periphery islands of Svalbard (north of Norway) until 5,000 BC, much longer than anywhere else, and then it is thought they were eliminated by the hand of man. Sabre-toothed Cats have been officially designated as being extinct at the end of the paleothic period, which ended 11,000 years ago.
However, it is entirely possible that a sub-species of sabre-toothed cats could have existed in the relatively safe peripheral lands of northern Scotland for another 8,900 years until man, their only superior, eventually made contact with them.
Stone age men built great circular Cairns to honour their dead. These circular stone monoliths are found in several places - in the Orkneys in the extreme north.
The "Beaker people ,"who came from northern Europe around 3,300BC, were a different sort than the earlier Iberian stock. Their heads were much broader and round. They were relatively tall, pale skinned and some had red hair.
Evidence of contact between these new people and their continental ancestors have been discovered and seem to indicate a flourishing trade between ancient Scotland and Europe.
It is thought by many scholars that a union between these two peoples resulted in the creation of the pre-Celtic stock eventually loosely called "Picti" by the Romans and "Cruithne" by the Celts.
The Orkney Islands became a stone
fortress with its many stone settlements, which gave their name to this culture. By
the time Rome became a world empire, the Orcadians were recognized by Rome as a sea
power. Excavations have determined these people were a slim, swarthy Caucasian race,
with long, narrow heads.
The link these early inhabitants to their Iberian ancestors can be found in the many spiral pattern grooves cut into the rocks and boulders of this northern land and which can also be seen in Spain.
Farming arrived in Scotland about 4,000 BC and replaced the nomadic way of life.
The Greeks sailed out in to the Atlantic and hugged the European coast. They discovered new lands and peoples. They sailed around Britain and called the people in the north "Albiones." The Greek translation means "White people." When the Romans invaded Britain, they called the northern aristocrats who led their "Briton" infantry;"Caledonii."
The first historical reference to the Picts was in 297AD, when they were mentioned as enemies of Rome. Many historians assumed that the Picts were simply another Celtic tribe. Although it is quite probable there was considerable Celtic stock in some of the southern tribes in the loose federation of tribes which eventually made up the Pictish Empire, it is the opinion of many historians that the Picts north of the Firth of Forth were made up mostly from the earlier, pre-Celtic people of northern Britain.
However, when a Roman fleet drove deep into the "Caledonian" homeland in 208 AD, they encountered "Orcadians" who voluntarily allied themselves with Rome against the Caledonii. This local reaction is evidence there was a hierarchical society there where some people considered themselves to be subjugated by the Picts.
The Picts had a tradition that they were descended from Scythians who fled before the Sarmatian onslaught which brought about their destruction as an Empire. The Scythian Empire began about 700BC reached its zenith at 400BC and vanished around 300 BC. The Picts and Scythians had many similarities, so there must have been considerable contact, if not intermingling, between their societies .
The Picts were of short stature and dark complexion. They colonized central and northern Scotland, at about 1000 BC, and entered northern Ireland about 200 AD. They were a fierce disciplined race with formidable military skills.
These were the northern warriors who the Romans fought and called 'Caledonians.' They fought so savagely that the Romans eventually built "Hadrian's Wall" to keep them out, then the Antonnine Wall further north. Eventually the Picts harassed the Romans to the point where they left Britain in 453 AD.
No one knows when the Picts arrived in Scotland, or whether they were there all the time. Some historians claim they arrived in Scotland about 1000 BC, others about 500 BC, which would have been near the peak of Scythian power. It is acknowledged that the Celts flourished in what is now Austria while the Scythians were still forming their Empire on the eastern Steppes, and were greatly influenced by their eastern neighbours.
History records that St. Columba had to use an interpreter to speak to the powerful Pict King Bridei IV (554-584AD), clear evidence that the Picts did not speak the language of the Irish Celts.
They left ornate symbol stones and advanced practices of art and culture as well as a formidable military. A cultured people, there can be no doubt, and it is acknowledged they were an older race than either the Irish or the Scots. Unfortunately, their form of the Gaelic language was much different from that of the Scots, Irish, or Welsh, and with no written history, little else is known.
The Saxons in northern England at first kept clear of them, but as they began to drift northwards, the Saxons encountered these northern people and were defeated by them in a major battle in 685 AD. Had the Picts lost, there would be no Scotland today.
Some Scottish Highland clans claim direct descendency from the Picts. The Gregor clan is universally recognized as the senior member of this group.
The term 'Celt' is a generic term encompassing many 'sub races' i.e.: The Celts in France were called Gauls by the Romans; There also were the Veneti of southern Brittany; the Atrebates, the Helvetii from Switzerland and many others. The Celts, ( the word is derived from the Greek word "Keltoi") the name given to these people by the Greeks, were dominant in northern and western Europe during the rise of the Roman Empire.
They were the first race to use the long sword and small shield in Europe. In Scotland, they developed a language with two distinct variants, in the north and in the south, with the firth of Lorne dividing the two.
At about 500 BC, Celtic people first came to Britain from Europe; (mainly form western Germany and northern France). A nomadic people whose culture spread from Eastern Europe to Iberia (Spain). As a warrior culture, it was a Celtic army which nearly destroyed Rome in her early days and thus forever made themselves an unforgivable enemy of Rome.
There were also a race of Celts in Ireland who the Romans called Hibernii. The Romans never invaded "Hibernia" or "Ireland" as they considered the risk of fighting off these ferocious Celts was not worth it. Therefore, they were free to develop and raid Roman provinces in southern Britain.
The various Celtic tribes were bound together by common speech, customs, and religion, rather than by any well defined central governments. The absence of political unity contributed substantially to the extinction of their way of life, making them vulnerable to their enemies. They were being pressured in the east by the Teutonic races who were themselves being pressured by others.
The Celts first fought the disciplined Roman legions, then the ruthless Teutonic tribesmen called "Angles, Belgae, Saxons, Jutes, Franks, Chatti, the Cherusci, the Chauci, and lastly, the giant seafaring Vikings, who raided and plundered northern Europe and Britain.
Their economy was pastoral and agricultural, and they had no real urban way of life. Each tribe was headed by a King, and was divided into classes: priests, warrior nobles, and commoners. Hundreds of years before Christ, the Celts built hill forts all over Britain as tribal warfare became a way of life.
They also built artificial islands
called Crannogs for shelter against wild animals and invaders. These were small
circular huts, built on wood pilings over a pond or other body of water for
protection. They needed the protection as sea raiders (not Vikings yet) raided the
coasts in search for slaves for the Roman Empire a century before Christ. To
better protect themselves, the Celts built fortified towers called Brochs.
Celtic mythology, which included earth gods, various woodland spirits, and sun deities, was particularly rich in elfin demons and tutelaries,beings that still pervade the folklore of peoples of Celtic ancestry.
These 'Gaels' originally came from Spain, and were ambitious, quarrelsome, and cunning, even more so than the Picts. They crossed the narrow channels into Britain, at first in raiding parties known to the Romans as 'Scotti'. When the Romans left in about 453 AD, the Scots formed small communities in Cornwall, North Wales and south-west Scotland.
Scots entered Scotland in large numbers via Ireland about 500 AD. Dal Riata was the ancient Kingdom of the Scots and stretched from east Ireland through the Western Isles to Argyll, in western Scotland. Northern Ireland was in fact called "Scotia" by the Romans.
The Celtic Gaels of the north of Ireland were of the race of Niall (O'Neil). These Gaelic Scots migrated to the Argyll area of south-western Scotland in small numbers around 410 AD. These Gaels gave Scotland its Gaelic language, and many of its older clans claim pure Gaelic descent from the original clan O'Neil. Some Scottish Highland clans claim descent from the original O'Neil rulers of Dalriada, and the servants of Saint Columba, among them, the powerful Clan Chattan confederacy.
The Scots were ambitious, quarrelsome, and fierce fighters. Their association with the Picts was a love-hate relationship; at times they would cooperate to beat off common enemies, at other times they would be at each others' throats.
In 843, Kenneth MacAlpin, 34th king of Dalriada, asserted himself through his mother's line as the first Scottish King of the Picts and Scots. Kenneth united the domains of the two rival races, although he managed to effectively replaced Pictic with Irish Gaelic. He also instituted the use of surnames, further eroding Pictic culture. His conquest was not merely a combination of the Picts and Scots, it was in fact a take-over by the Scots, and Scottish culture became paramount.
The reach of Scotic/Pictic kings at that time did not include the western or northern Islands nor some areas along the western and northern coasts. Those were still in the realm of the Kings of Norway until later in the 12th century, when Norwegian sea power finally began to decline.
Through it all, there was considerable intermarriage, more often than not, resulting in the disappearance of the Pictic family lines. The Picts used the matrilineal family lines to establish succession. The Scots used the paternal line. When they meshed, the family took the name of the male line due to the subordinate role of women of the day. Regardless, for many years after the Scots attained the unified Scot/Pict throne, the matrilinear line was utilized for the succession of Royalty.
The Gaelic Britons of Strathclyde would eventually dominate the west of lower Scotland, Wales, and some areas of England. In Scotland, their lands stretched throughout Strathclyde, which includes the present city of Glasgow. They were the ancestors of many Clans, including that of William Wallace (Welshman), Drummond, . Their stronghold rock fortress at Dumbarton was impregnable for hundreds of years. They eventually settled into a partnership with Scotland with control over local affairs. Their language slowly crumbled and disappeared, similar to the fate of the Pictic language.
Note: Similar to the extinct Mammoths and Sabre-toothed cats before them, the Celts melted away under the predation of superior numbers and technology, although the Celts on the periphery in Ireland and northern Britain flourished and outlasted them all.
A Teutonic race from Germany, they arrived in southeast Scotland through England. They imparted their name to England (Angle-land). Warlike, arrogant, ruthless, and very aggressive, they drove out the Britons living near them, and carved out their own 'Lothian' kingdom.
The Anglo-Saxons were the only non-Celtic race of the four main early settler races of Scotland. This would prove to be a major problem for the Celts later on, as they considered the Celtic races inferior and fair game. As a block, they yearned for a union of England and Scotland to 'put the majority Gaels in their place.'
They frequently intermarried with the Norman aristocrats that David I brought into Scotland; their progeny would be called 'Anglo-Norman' and would soon dominate Scotland to the detriment of all the Gaels to the north.
After they usurped the Scottish throne, their Kings never took the trouble to learn Gaelic, although it was the language of the majority in Scotland until the 'Clearances.' They would play a role out of proportion to their numbers. Highlanders derisively referred to these lowlanders as 'Saxons,' and strongly felt they were intruders in Scottish affairs.
In the 8th century (793), the Norse Vikings, or plunderers from Norway, were attracted by the wealth of the Monasteries and the easy treasures to be found within. Silver, gold and precious manuscripts were sources of great booty.
Islands like Iona were frequent targets. In 806, the entire Iona community was murdered and plundered.
The Monks of St. Ninian's Island, Shetland, were also attacked,
and the monks, pre-warned, quickly buried all that was of value. The Monks
hidden hoard, (from the Vikings), of 8th century gold and silver wasn't
discovered until 1958. It is a dazzling display of gold and silver relics in remarkably
good condition that is as impressive today, as it must have been to the treasure
hungry sea raiders in the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries.
By the end of the 9th century the Vikings came to Scotland to raid and settle. In general none of the natives were able in any significant way, to stop the Northmen whatsoever. They appeared unbeatable, even when outnumbered.
However, the Scots seemed to have something in common with the Viking and after a while intermarriages, both common and noble, with established clans took place in north Scotland (Caithness and Sutherland) and extensively throughout the Western Isles of Scotland, called the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Indeed, until the 12th century AD, these areas owed allegiance not to the Scottish King, but to the Norwegian monarch. These clans, the largest of which was Clan MacDonald (Lords of the Isles), were known as 'Norse-Scots.'
The most likely reason for
the massive numbers of Scandinavians looking for new lands was overpopulation in Norway,
Sweden and Denmark, but the truth is we really don't know why the Vikings struck
out. Perhaps it was simply their adventurous spirit.
It is well known that they travelled all over Europe, up the Volga deep into Russia, and down through the Mediterranean and out into the Atlantic as far as Newfoundland; feats which would not be duplicated for nearly a thousand years..
The Norwegian or 'Norse'
Vikings are the specific ethnic Vikings that plundered, then settled in Scotland and parts
of Ireland. In about 800 AD., they settled Jarlshof on the Shetland Islands;
also Lewis, in the Hebrides, where over one hundred villages still have Norse names.
They were derisively referred to by Picts and Scots as 'heathen Norse'
because they were not Christianised yet, while the Picts and Scots were.
From the Scottish Western Isles the Norse-Scots settled large areas of Ireland; Iceland; The Isle of Skye, (next to the Scottish mainland); The Isles of Lewis and Harris (lands the Clan MacLeod of Lewis and Harris respectively that they eventually settled), and many other islands in and around Scotland, Ireland, and England.
Their Longships gave them mastery of the seas. Their fearless style of combat, and pagan belief in glory from death in battle, and their large size for their day, made them nearly invincible foes. Every Viking warrior knew the surest route to Valhalla was to die in battle, so if there was a choice -a Viking would fight every time. Simply put, in a brutal time, they were the most brutish.