Picti

AttestedPicti were first mentioned in two Panegyrics dated to AD 297 and 310.  They do not appear in the writings of Tacitus or Ptolemy, nor on any inscription.  In about AD 390, Ammianus described them as divided into two peoples, Verturiones and Dicalydones.  Then came passing mentions by Claudian (about AD 400) and Gildas (about AD 530).  In about AD 730, Bede (book 1, chapter 1) described the Picts as one of five main peoples/languages of Britain, on a par with English, Scottish, British, and Latin.

Where:  The Verturiones are now thought to have lived around the Moray Firth, most likely with a post-Roman capital at Burghead.  The Dicalydones were possibly a variant on Caledonii in the Highlands.  Pictish symbol stones have been found in two clusters, around Inverness and the apex of the Moray Firth, and around the Forfar-Blairgowrie area of Angus.  Place names containing Pit- occur widely across the farmlands of north-east Scotland.

Name origin:  See particularly Nicolaisen (2001: 193-204).  He reckoned that Latin Picti (rationalised by Claudian as ‘painted’, past participle of Latin pingo), spellings such as pihtas and pehtas in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (written around AD 890), and early Norse forms beginning Pett- most likely came from an indigenous (i.e. Pictish) word for a piece of land.  The Pictish language has been much discussed, with majority opinion now inclined to guess that it was in the west-British Celtic dialect continuum whose main survivor is Welsh.

Notes:  Many early peoples had a taste for tattooing.  When Caesar mentioned tattooed ancient Britons he used a word vitrum, whose mistranslation as ‘woad’ has spawned a whole industry of nonsense about blue body paint.  In Caesar’s day, clear glass windows did not yet exist and he was probably referring to small coloured crystals, i.e. vitriol, used to make ink.

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Last Edited: 17 June 2016