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Ancestors of the Picts

By: Celtic Bard Jeff


Before the Picts made their first appearance in history, their territory in what is now Scotland was inhabited by an earlier population. These were the ancestors of the Picts and were the people encountered by Roman armies during the Empire’s attempt to conquer the northern parts of Britain. Theirs was a typical Iron Age society of farmers, fishermen and craftsmen grouped into tribes and ruled by a landowning aristocracy. They spoke a dialect of Brittonic, the Celtic language used in most parts of mainland Britain in pre-Roman times. Like other ancient Celtic peoples, the ancestors of the Picts lived in well-organised communities within a hierarchical society ruled by a minority upper class. Most of the population lived in small settlements scattered across the landscape, owing their primary allegiance to local chiefs who in turn acknowledged the authority of greater chiefs or kings. The economy was based on livestock – sheep, pigs and cattle – and on crops such as oats and barley. Most houses were built of timber, but some were of stone.


Kings and chiefs built fortified residences on prominent hilltops, in valleys or in coastal locations. In some areas prosperous lords constructed large stone towers around which smaller dwellings were clustered. These towers are known today as ‘brochs’ and a few still survive in ruinous form. They are the most visible and impressive reminder of the prehistoric forefathers of the Picts. It was around the time of the broch-builders that the Romans first came to Britain.


The first Roman forays across what is now the English Channel were made by Julius Caesar in 55 and 54 BC. Rome regarded their land as rich in agricultural and mineral resources, but Caesar knew that the warlike inhabitants were unlikely to give up their wealth without a fight. A large-scale military campaign would therefore need to be mounted if Britain was to be brought to heel and drawn within the Empire. Although this was not accomplished in Caesar’s lifetime, it was inevitable that Rome would one day return.


Source: The Picts A History by Tim Clarkson Image: Pict warrioress

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