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The Mystery of the Picts

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Covering the bulk of the area of modern Scotland  the Picts (Latin Picti ‘ the Painted or tattooed people’) are the most enigmatic of all of the people of Dark Age Scotland having left only a few written records in a language which has yet to be deciphered. Some historians maintain that the actual Latin translation of ‘Picti ‘ means tattooed which is actually confirmed from other sources.  In saying this most scholars belief the Picts spoke a Celtic language related to Welsh.  It was however different enough to require a translator as in the famous case of St Columba’s visit to meet the Pictish king in 597AD.  Some other scholars belief that Pictish was or contained parts of a pre-Indo-European language. The evidence for this is based on the few known carved inscriptions which use a form of the Irish Ogham script which as yet as not been deciphered.It is also believed to be indicated by the fact that Pictish society was one of the very few matrilineal societies of ancient Europe (setting them quite apart from the Irish and Welsh), with kingship conferred through the mother. In 843 AD Kenneth McAlpin, was able to become  first King of the combined Scots and Picts through descent through his mother, a Pictish princess.  However they also left a large number of carved standing stones whose meaning again has yet to be deciphered. All of these factors have led to a whole industry being built up detailing their supposed origins and disappearance. Often described as ‘Pictomania’ this phenomenon has served to disguise their true importance and history over the centuries. Becoming predominant over the other peoples following their decisive victory over the Northumbrians in 685 they were the chief victims of the Viking onslaught in the ninth century AD which culminated in a crushing disaster in the 840’s when most of the Pictish aristocracy were wiped out in a pitched battle by a marauding Viking army. This subsequently led through marriage to the Pictish kingship going to  the Scottish king Kenneth Macalpine who moved the centre of the new Scottish kingdom away from the exposed western seaboard which was so vulnerable to Viking seaborne attack to the richer and more central areas of the former Pictish kingdom. There after the Pictish kingdom was increasingly absorbed in to the new Scottish kingdom under the pressure of the on-going desperate struggle for survival with the Vikings during the course of the tenth century.