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Pict is usually taken to mean painted or tattooed in Latin, but the term may have a Celtic origin. The Brythonic Celts (Britons) knew them as prydyn, or the more modern pryd, while ancient Greek sources have them as Prettanike - all agree they tattooed themselves.

Archaeological remains in the form of buildings and jewellery have survived and give an impression of Pictish society, but little in the way of writing has survived. Pictish society had a number of smaller kingdoms which occasionally clashed.

Pictland, or Pictavia, comprised all of modern Scotland north of the Forth and Clyde except for Dalriada (Argyll and other western areas). Brythonic celts (Britons) held the southern territories of the Kingdom of Strathclyde (modern Dunbartonshire plus lands extending as far as Arrochar), and they also held the Manaw Gododdin territory around Stirling. It appears that two Pictish over-kingdoms existed: one north of the Mounth with its core in Moray, the other to the south with the capital at Forteviot.
Seven ancient Pictish kingdoms existed :

  • Cat (Cait) - modern Caithness and Sutherland
  • Fidach - Moray, Nairn and Ross
  • Ce - Banff, Buchan and parts of Aberdeenshire
  • Fotla - modern Atholl and Gowrie
  • Circinn - modern Angus and the Mearns
  • Fortriu - Strathearn and Mentieth.
  • Fib - modern Fife and Kinross.
Archaeological evidence and some written evidence suggest that a Pictish kingdom also existed in Orkney.

Christian missionaries completed the conversion of Pictland in the 7th century, having converted southern kingdoms in the 5th or 6th centuries. Although the Britons of southern Scotland and then the Northumbrian church played a part in this process, the Celtic church of Saint Columba and his successors proved the most influential in the missionary work. They established strong and enduring links between Pictland and Iona.

Historians question the idea of Pictland coming under pressure from Dalriadan invaders. No evidence exists of Dalriadan dominance in the 8th or 9th centuries. The Pictish kings Onuist mac Uurgust ( 729 - 761) and Causantin mac Fergusa (789 - 820) dominated Dalriada. Onuist sacked Dunadd and captured the sons of the King of Dalriada. Causantin put his son on the throne of Dalriada and his brother, son and nephew succeeded him as Kings of Pictland until Viking invaders defeated the Picts in AD 839.

In the Viking age Norse invaders conquered much of northern Pictland - Caithness, Sutherland, the Western Isles and Ross.
In southern Pictland, wars with the Vikings continued until the reign of Constantine mac Aeda (900 - 943), grandson of Kenneth mac Alpin. Constantine reigned as the first King of Alba.

The Pictish regions were taken over by successive powers, but there was no bloodbath and no genocide. The people served new rulers, and accepted migrants in their midst who changed their language and their culture. The genetic footprint of the ancient Picts is still present in Scotland, and these tribes and their regions provide the basis for the later power structures imposed by the new clan chiefs and their territories.

Every clan in Scotland has some Pictish blood. The encient towns and fortresses sit where culture has always sat - on the best sites for habitation and agriculture.