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The Sub-Roman Period

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The second period of upheaval is known to historians as the Dark Ages which lasted from the period of the Roman withdrawal around 410 AD until around the year 800 AD.  This time witnessed an on-going conflict between several different peoples for the control of central Scotland. This conflict involved five different political entities in what is now modern Scotland; each of which had the upper hand at different times during this period. This period has always been incredibly confusing for non-historians but can to some extent be clarified by a brief description of each of these entities involved in the on-going mayhem and how often the Roman slang terms were applied to them by scribes, usually Christian monks in the subsequent centuries. First of all were the Scotti (Latin – ‘raider’) originally from Ireland they had established themselves in what is now Argyll (from the Gaelic for ‘the coast of the Gaels’). Founding the Kingdom of Dalriada in the fifth century AD they had a period of dominance in the early sixth century and in the ninth played a key role in the founding of the new Kingdom of Scotland. Called Alba in the newly dominant language of Gaelic after the foundation of this kingdom in the 840’s AD.

The second group were the Anglo-Saxons (Latin ‘Saxonici’) in the shape of the Northumbrians who were a Germanic people whose dominance became increasingly manifest after they crushed the Welsh Gododdin (‘Votadini’) during the course of the sixth century and took over their territory in south-east Scotland up to the river Forth. The other Welsh (Anglo-Saxon ‘Walha’) kingdom of Strathclyde continued until its destruction by the Vikings in the 870’s. During the course of the century after 550 AD the Northumbrians gradually expanded their territory by defeating the other groups in their turn until by the 680’s they had over-run the important Pictish province of Fife and seemed destined to expand their territory into the heart of the Pictish kingdom itself only to be decisively defeated at the battle of Nectansmere in 685 just north of the river Tay.  Along with Bannockburn one of the truly decisive battles in Scottish history.

The third political entity and in terms of geographical extent by far the largest was the Pictish kingdom. 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 peoples of Dark Age Scotland having left only a few written records in a language which has yet to be deciphered. 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.

 

 

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