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.  One popular (but not very satisfactory) theory relates the Picts to some medieval northern Irish people called Cruithne.
  An alternative hypothesis might point to *pek- ‘to pluck hair, fleece, comb’ and wonder how early the distinctively Scottish woollen-weaving (plaid, tweed, tartan) industry began.  This would require that a word analogous to Old English Peohtas was loaned into the speech of north-east Scotland from another language, such as Latin, rather than descending directly from PIE, because Celtic languages generally lost initial P.  Sheep-breeding is said to have been much advanced in Roman Britain and anthropologists describe how herding peoples beyond the borders of an empire tend to embrace its technologies and trading possibilities, while shunning its taxes.  Pexa, which was the Latin name for a fine woollen tunic, was probably near Falkirk and therefore at the southern limit of Pictish territory.

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.  Regarding the traditional Scottish plaid (blanket), John Lesley wrote in 1578 in De Origine, Moribus, et Rebus Gestis Scotorum that ‘Their clothing was made for use (being chiefly suited for war) and not for ornament. All, both nobles and common people, wore mantles of one sort (except that the nobles preferred those of several colours). These were long and flowing, but capable of being neatly gathered up at pleasure into folds.’

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Last edited 10 May 2020     To main Menu