Celts, Picts, Scots, Caledonians, Brittons, Angles, Saxons, etc.

We’ve always seen the word “Celtic” used descriptively for lots of Scottish stuff—language, music, culture, and such. This is a bit misleading, because each of the various peoples in Scotland had all these things, independently, and late arrivals brought still more differences to throw into the mix. It’s just that the Romans, who sat in conquered England and coveted the lands further north, had guys charged with writing reports about what they found, and these “reporters” seem to like the convenience of having a single word under which to lump everything. “Celtic”, for some good and some silly reasons, met this whim. “Caledonia” is another such word coined by the Romans—meaning only an arbitrary geographical segment that they wanted to unify under their control. It’s sort of like the designation “Yugoslavia”, which also can not be meaningfully defined.

CeltsEarly on, Greeks had hung the name “Keltoi” on all the uncivilized folk of central and western Europe—same principal later applied in the Americas, when everybody in the whole hemisphere were called “Indians”. Romans and subsequent old-world hotshots started assigning different names to peoples of different regions. The Keltoi/Celts in Europe became Galli/Gauls, those in the isles got the name of “Britanni”. Since the British Isles had become populated in the first place by folks from the continent, their cultural features were deemed to be Celtic and/or Gallic. These names stuck, even though significant differences in language, art and custom are known to have existed contemporaneously in the various regions of Scotland and England. Not withstanding the Roman name-calling, each tribe never thought of themselves as anything but Picts, or Scots, or Catti, or whatever. To the extent they eventually started using the same language, taking influences from others in art, music and custom, then Celtic and Gallic might be acceptable as generic designations.

PictsSaid to have arrived in northern Scotland from the continent about 1000 BC, Picts dominated most of the country for nearly 2000 years. Their language had no written version, and is now lost, except for a few words retained in translation to neighboring languages. Even so, Pictish art and reputation survive. They did fine jewelry, stone carvings and round buildings, and fought wars with great relish. While the Romans whipped everybody else, the Picts successfully defended their half of Scotland, and wrecked havoc on those occupiers of England. (It was to defend against Pict raids that Romans built the Hadrian and Antonine walls across the island.) This race became united with the Scots, under a single king, in 850 AD. Whatever the case, Pict blood flows still in Highland Scots.

ScotsThese guys resided first in Ireland, but expanded into southern Scotland in the 4th century AD, founding a kingdom called Delriata. Over the next 500 years, Scot and Pict fought a lot, but occasionally gained periods of peace by marrying off a fair maid to the other side. Eventually, the intermarriage produced a king of the Scots, Kenneth MacAlpine, who was also heir to the kingship of the Picts. Both peoples now being under the same king created the single nation of Scotland. “Pictland”, I suppose, seemed the punnier name.

CaledoniansThe Romans hung the name of “Caledonians” on people of the region we know as the British Isles. In spite of the name occasionally appearing in histories, on airplanes, and elsewhere, Caledonia has no useful meaning for our purposes.

Angles and SaxonsAmong the tribes of Germany who enlarged their holdings and power as the Roman empire began to crumble (after the 4th and 5th centuries AD) were the Angles, Jutes and Saxons. Before long, several of these tribes were raiding Brittan, and eventually had control of that part later called England, where the Anglo-Saxons ruled until 1066.

Related topics in this web site:

Catti, tribe of the Keiths