The Painted People

Chookie

Ad Honorem
Nov 2007
7,628
Alba
The Picts are often referred to as “The Painted People” this is debatable to say the least. This description comes from a third-century Roman commentator named Eumenius in 297CE and is taken to mean "painted or tattooed people" (from the Latin pingere "to paint"). . However, there little or no evidence for this contention. For a start Isatis tinctoria (Woad), the plant which provided the dyes the Romans saw on the tribes in southern Britannia doesn't grow well in Scotland. While there are other plants which could be utilised for this purpose, they aren't very common. So, painted? I doubt it.


I'm inclined to give more credence to the Irish Annals. These describe the Cruithne (the Irish name for the Picts) as being tattooed. In the Annals of Tighearnach, a description of a visitor from Alba said that he “was tattooed on the face” - this in itself suggests that the Irish version of the Picts (the Cruithne) did not tattoo their faces or maybe that one Pictish visitor did.


Woad has an eerie, almost translucent appearance when applied to the skin. The bright blue seen on the completely historically inaccurate (and really bloody irritating) portrayal of the Scots in Braveheart does not come from a naturally occurring vegetative dye, it's nothing but modern make-up perpetuating the usual Hollywood bullshit (and as for the rest of the film.............).


Lets have a look at the nonsensical statement that the Picts fought naked, I have never found any evidence to support this claim. While it is true that the warriors of a certain Celtic tribe actually did fight in the buff, that tribe was the Gestae who lived in the foothills of Transalpine (or was it Cisalpine?) Gaul. The climate of Scotland is not all that conducive to running around bare-arse naked. There are, naturally, reputable authorities who buy into this theory, but as the reason behind this behaviour is reputedly to show the opposition that after their defeat, the women of the losers would become (very) intimate with the winners (who were advertising their goods). Come on, fighting? In Scotland? In the scud? In our climate? Very much not happening...


I'll grant that fighting in Scotland did happen on the odd occasion, but nakedness was never part of it. Incidentally, the Viking berserkers didn't fight naked either. The term berserk (which can be rendered as either bear-shirt or bare-shirt in English) means they fought without armour. It's possible that the berserks were acquainted with the “magic mushroom”, but this doesn't explain the records of workers in the fields performing exceptional feats. I can however readily accept that they ingested some form of happy-juice before battle, but I can't accept that pre-battle preparations included drinking each others pee. I'm inclined to think that they took it in a tisane. I might be (and probably am) wrong, but show me the evidence – for my contention as well....


Anyways, back to the Picts. The Picts were the successor state to the Caledonian tribes who had been so successful at resisting the Roman advances. I said successor state, but both Caledonians and Picts were tribal federations. While not a lot is known about the organisation of the Pictish state, even less is known about that of the Caledonians. This isn't too surprising as both were pre-literate societies. The Picts, however, left a good few hundred symbol stones (which haven't been deciphered).


The Pictish state comprised most of that area of present-day Scotland which lies to the north of the Forth-Clyde axis. The Irish (or Scottish if you prefer) realm of Dalriada - I'm using that spelling to distinguish Dalriada from Dal Riata which was in Ireland. Pictland was divided into seven divisions, each with it's own king.


Kingship in Pictland was distinguished by a practice which appears strange to other forms of monarchy. This was that the king had an acknowledged successor known as a tanist. The office of tanistry was a sort of apprentice king. The tanist was not, however, guaranteed to be the next king. The king was elected by a derbhfinne (a sort of parliament made up of relations). Many people including myself believe that kingship descended through the female line and that women had a more active role in Pictish life than in the Roman, and later Saxon south.


The Pictish language, which was in all probability, a Brythonic tongue, has disappeared except for wide-spread place-name evidence and a few personal names (usually attached to saints). The same thing happened to the Celtic languages in England – possibly for the same reason – that reason being that it could not be used to communicate with the new rulers (who too civilised to speak the local vernacukar?). In Scotland, for some reason, this is usually used as evidence to prove that the Picts were exterminated.


I disagree with the proponents of the “Pictish extermination” theory. Why? Simply because it's untenable. After all, who did the exterminating? The Picts were far more numerous than the Scots, and were a notable warrior society who preferred deception and sneakiness to just standing there and copping it (ask the Northumbrians about Nechtansmere), both far out-numbered the Vikings (who were just beginning to be problematic at the time the Picts vanish from history).
 
Jul 2009
26
Europe
Lets have a look at the nonsensical statement that the Picts fought naked, I have never found any evidence to support this claim. While it is true that the warriors of a certain Celtic tribe actually did fight in the buff, that tribe was the Gestae who lived in the foothills of Transalpine (or was it Cisalpine?) Gaul.
I believe you're thinking of the Gaesatae. The [Res] Gestae are the deeds, e.g. [ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Res_Gestae_Divi_Augusti"]Res Gestae Divi Augusti[/ame]. :) Transalpine is right. Kind of tricky when they live in the mountains.

The climate of Scotland is not all that conducive to running around bare-arse naked.
Neither are really the Alps - especially the northern Italian plains. And hey, Scotland isn't really that cold.

I wonder, though, what climate really has to do with it. Most theories I've come into contact consider nudity an intimidation technique... and if we trust in, for example, Y Gododdin to portray general local war techniques those northern warriors might have been so drunk by the time actual fighting occurred they wouldn't have cared about the cool winds. :D Yep, Y Gododdin to Picts is a bit of a stretch, especially since there isn't consensus about whether the Picts were a Celtic people per se (material culture vs. history and of course the language debate)... but hey, Celtic history/archaeology (especially the anglophone branch for some reason) is all about the long stretches. ;)

This isn't too surprising as both were pre-literate societies. The Picts, however, left a good few hundred symbol stones (which haven't been deciphered).
At what time are you talking about now? There are Pictish inscriptions from a post-Gaelic invasion period.
 

galteeman

Ad Honorem
Apr 2008
2,198
Sodom and Begorrah
Chookie I have the Tim Clarkson book staring at me from the shelf for the last 6 months and you have just spured me into opening it for the first time.
What is the evidence for the leadership passing throught he female line? I read it somewhere before but I have forgotten.
 

Chookie

Ad Honorem
Nov 2007
7,628
Alba
I believe you're thinking of the Gaesatae. The [Res] Gestae are the deeds, e.g. Res Gestae Divi Augusti. :) Transalpine is right. Kind of tricky when they live in the mountains.
Yup, the very fellas....

I wonder, though, what climate really has to do with it. Most theories I've come into contact consider nudity an intimidation technique...
That's what I said..."as the reason behind this behaviour is reputedly to show the opposition that after their defeat, the women of the losers would become (very) intimate with the winners (who were advertising their goods)"

Emma O W;94303and if we trust in said:
Y Gododdin[/I] to portray general local war techniques those northern warriors might have been so drunk by the time actual fighting occurred they wouldn't have cared about the cool winds.
Being drunk isn't really that sensible if you're going to war.

Emma O W;94303 Y Gododdin to Picts is a bit of a stretch said:
Not really it isn't. Placename evidence (and the Pictish kinglists) suggest that the Picts spoke a Brythonic language. The fact that Y Goddodin is the earliest known document written in any form of Welsh, but wasn't written in Wales, but in the Lothians, suggests also that, before the Irish introduced Gaelic, Brythonic language(s) were the norm in what is now Scotland.
At what time are you talking about now? There are Pictish inscriptions from a post-Gaelic invasion period.[/quote]
The symbol stones haven't been deciphered just described and some have been interpreted (such as the Aberlemno stone).

Chookie I have the Tim Clarkson book staring at me from the shelf for the last 6 months and you have just spured me into opening it for the first time.
What is the evidence for the leadership passing throught he female line? I read it somewhere before but I have forgotten.
I can only give you a couple of sources off the top of my head, but here goes:-

"The Age of the Picts", by W A Cummings and "The Picts and the Scots" by Loyd Laing.

Hope that helps...
 
Jul 2009
26
Europe
That's what I said..."as the reason behind this behaviour is reputedly to show the opposition that after their defeat, the women of the losers would become (very) intimate with the winners (who were advertising their goods)"
I wasn't talking about the reason for the Gaesatae. I was referring to the comment that it was too cold in Scotland (when in fact northern Italy is as cold) for the Picts to go naked.

Being drunk isn't really that sensible if you're going to war.
No, it really isn't. I'm not suggesting it is. I am referring to the content of Y Gododdin.

Not really it isn't. Placename evidence (and the Pictish kinglists) suggest that the Picts spoke a Brythonic language. The fact that Y Goddodin is the earliest known document written in any form of Welsh, but wasn't written in Wales, but in the Lothians, suggests also that, before the Irish introduced Gaelic, Brythonic language(s) were the norm in what is now Scotland.
It is a bit of a stretch in academic, because it wasn't written by a people who identified as Pictish or were identified as Picts. As for the place name evidence, it, sadly, stands against the mostly unintelligible inscriptions (Gaelic borrowed words like mac-meqq aside) of what seems to be neither P- or Q-Celtic.

The symbol stones haven't been deciphered just described and some have been interpreted (such as the Aberlemno stone).
I am not talking about symbol stones, such as the Aberlemno stone. As I said, I am talking about Pictish inscriptions: text. Though, much like with the symbol stones, they remain a bit of a mystery* as only words of Gaelic origin have been deciphered.



* except to the people who every now and then publish something sensationalist about how they deciphered the Pictish language, by changing the meaning of the alphabet or even claiming it's Gaelic written backwards.
 
Jul 2009
27
Falkirk
Hi Emma,

I think that in the context of “Y Gododdin” , the word “mead” stands for everything that is given to the warrior by his lord. In return the warrior is expected to fight to the death for his lord.

It seems that the warriors of the Gododdin were wined and dined for a year by Mynyddog Mwynfawr, and then paid for it with their lives.
 
Jul 2009
26
Europe
That's an interesting take on it, Freddy! Certainly not one that was put forth by my lecturers or recommended reading, but one I'd be more than willing to consider.
 

Toltec

Ad Honorem
Apr 2008
7,923
Hyperborea
The interesting thing I find about Goddodin is there is no mention of the rank and file troops, its generally agreed by scholars that the hundred only mentions the lords, they would have had rank and file too. Prior to the Roman invasion British culture had been tremendously aristocratic, even the very aristocratic Romans were nowhere near as bad, how much their presence interfeared with this culture during the occupation is thought to be nominal. Goddodin backs this up and the aristocratic the culture of the island continued through Roman rule unnabated. One of the marked cultural changes that happened as Britain went from the Romano-British period to the Anglo-Saxon period was the increased plebeianisation of the country the development of anglo-saxon culture brought. I like to think as Goddodin as Britain's very first class war.
 
Jul 2009
27
Falkirk
That's an interesting take on it, Freddy! Certainly not one that was put forth by my lecturers or recommended reading, but one I'd be more than willing to consider.
Hi Emma,
I did not realise that I was stating anything controversial; I though this was the accepted view, but now, I shall have to reconsider.

The first time I read “Y Gododdin” my impression was that some warriors were not actually drunk, but suffering from a hangover from too much drink the night before.

I read it the second time, believing that mead symbolised the generosity of the lord, and everything seem to fit with this.

Skimming through the poem, it seems that most references to mead and wine apply to the year long feasting in the king’s hall in Edinburgh. There are some that apply to the battlefield. I shall have reread the poem again with an open mind.
 

Black Dog

Ad Honorem
Mar 2008
9,990
Damned England
Most Roman comentaries on their enemies or even other peoples must be taken with a pinch of salt. Like later British sailors, they were not above inventing "outlandish" people who did outlandish things- like paint themselves. Romans often did this by way of a joke, or simply to mock others or to make themselves look better and "prove" that other cultures are barbaric. It's very difficult to tell truth from fiction.

It is not known for sure whether the people we call the Picts were even Celtic. Simply because we are not sure (and are becoming less certain, due to advances in DNA science) how many people in the British isles were ever Celtic, Norse, Anglo-Saxon or whatever. Recent studies seem to suggest that despite settlement and invasion patterns, and stories of "ethnic cleansing", most mainland British people, at least, are descended largely from the "native" Neolithic peoples.

However, the whole question of race and culture is a thorny one: how long would it take for someone of Neolithic or Bronze age stock to believe that they are a Celt? What was the actual extent of the Celtic "invasion"? What was here before? Was it an invasion, or a change of ruling class only, or a cultural invasion- or several of these?

I agree, Chookie, that it is likely that the Picts were assimulated into Scots culture. Just like so many Britons must have been swallowed up by Anglo-Saxon culture.

The belief that Pictish culture was matrilineal is popularised by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in part. And this was gleaned from earler accounts from old Welsh annals. However, we shouldn't assume that "Matrilineal" means "matriarchal" or even "more equable towards women". It is almost impossible to know this. Frustrating, isn't it?

Personally, I find it interesting and frustrating to speculate "just who ARE the British and Irish?". I'm pretty sure that we're not who we think we are :)