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The history of the Picts can be likened to a mystery story with a few clues and no satisfactory ending. There is no firm explanation either of their origins before the third century AD or their disappearance in the mid-ninth century. Yet that period of over five centuries, too easily cast off as part of the 'Dark Ages', is crucial to any understanding of the mature medieval Scottish kingdom which would evolve after it. The period has, with justice, been called 'an age of migrations' when the different tribal peoples - Picts, Scots, Angles, Britons and Scandinavians - who inhabited the mainland of modern-day Scotland moved, fought, displaced and intermarried with each other. Yet the effort to plot these movements, either on a map or in the mind, is liable to produce too sharply etched a picture of coup and counter-coup, forced marches and counter-marches, and pitched battles with decisive results.

Whatever the Picts were, they are likely, as were other peoples either in post - Roman western Europe or in contemporary Ireland, to have been an amalgam of tribes, headed by a warrior aristocracy which was by nature mobile. Their culture was the culture of that warrior elite rather than of the people as a whole. Inevitably the historian's eye is attracted towards any core of 'facts', however suspect, to explain this mysterious people. Much of their history, as a result, has been written by deduction, either from the point where they first emerge in the annals of chroniclers, such as Bede writing of the sixth Century in his Ecclesiastical History compiled in the 720s, or where they disappear from history, in a conveniently neat palace coup conducted by the Dalriadic king, Kenneth mac Alpin in the 840s. But Bede was writing as the official spokesman of both the Northumbrian Church and royal house. His account was drawn up partly to justify the increasing influence of his own church in Pictland over the previous twenty years and perhaps also he was writing at the point where, with Pictish envoys coming to the Abbey of Jarrow to discuss Roman customs such as the dating of Easter, it was convenient for the reign of Nechtan, King of the Picts, to develop its origin legends. It found them not in the reign of Bridei, son of Maelchon and contemporary of Columba who died c.586, but twenty-eight kings and 943 years earlier in the legendary figure of Cruithne. For Bede himself, Ninian, operating from Whithorn sometime in the fifth century, was a more convenient apostle of the Picts than Columba, working from lona in the next century.

Alternatively, it is tempting to turn to the notion, which was much embellished from the late tenth century onwards, of a hostile take-over of the kingship by Kenneth mac Alpin in 840, followed a few years later by a wholesale and still more mysterious destruction of the Pictish nobility. What is undoubtedly mysterious is the extraordinary disappearance of the culture of the Pictish people within the course of the first two or three generations of mac Alpin kings. The intriguing history of a gens who dominated much of modern-day Scotland for five centuries or more should not he consumed by the story of an obscure intrigue that seemingly produced a genocide, of Pictish customs, law and culture.

The twentieth century has seen produced a number of versions of a case for the defence. Pictish art, Pictish studies and even Pictish politics are in vogue. The 1300th anniversary of the battle at Nechtansmere, celebrated in 1985 by a gathering at its site of Dunnichen Moss in Angus, saw it being hailed as the most decisive battle in Scottish history. Not the least of the many ironies of Scottish history may be that this most celebrated of all Pictish victories was won by a king of Picts whose father was a Dumbarton Briton; it has even been suggested that his opponent, Ecgfrith, King of Northumbria, was a rival external candidate. Defenders of the Picts have often conflicted on the detail, at times with that peculiar acrimoniousness which often marks out scholarly debate of the indeterminate. Most make common cause, however, in their stress on the distinctiveness of Pictish art, culture or customs.

The best evidence is the standing stones of the Picts, which are sprinkled over the whole of the mainland of present-day Scotland from the Cromarty Firth to the Firth of Forth as well as in the Northern Isles and northern parts of the Western Isles. But how distinctive were these products of this enigmatic set of peoples?. The inspiration of these Pictish artists is deeply controversial: similarities between Pictish animal art and animal evangelist symbols in products of Celtic art such as the Book of Durrow have brought argument and counter-argument as to which was the inspiration of the other. The directions in which cultural influence flowed is debatable; the broad common heritage of Irish, Northumbrian and Pictish art, whether pre-Christian or Christian, can more readily be agreed. Pictland was not a self-contained enclave. There must have been regular links, flowing in both directions, between Pictland, Ireland and Northumbria. In each case, it may be permissible to think of a common culture stretching across the Irish Sea as well as north and south of Forth, even if each area had its own highly distinctive variants.

The haunting images of Pictish art and the intricate details of matrilinear succession, again often argued to be unique in the whole of Europe, have often been devised as answers to a very difficult historical problem - as a unique Pictish solution to the 'problem of the Picts'. Archaeologists in turn debate the aptness of terminology: whether 'Pictish' is appropriate to certain cultural patterns regardless of date or only to a specific historical period, between AD 300 and 850. The underlying uncertainty in this debate can be detected by the currency of a relatively new phrase 'proto-Pictish'. The overall effect has been an odd one: the Picts have become a curiosity rather than a major force in the telling of Scottish history. Their distinctiveness, argued so formidably by Pictish historians, has become the explanation for their disappearance from history. The case mounted on behalf of the Pictish 'world we have lost' has had a peculiar effect: as much as the efforts of those historians of medieval kingship looking for its roots and finding them in the mac Alpin dynasty, it has served to lose or obscure the real history of the Picts and their kings.

Scottish history before1000, as a result, has come to be focused in the work of some recent historians on the question of the 'making of the kingdom', the complex process by which a cluster of different peoples - Britons and even some Scandinavians as well as Picts and Scots - came in the ninth and tenth centuries to owe common allegiance to a single king, 'of Scots'. The question is a legitimate one to ask of a process which was all the more noteworthy because both Ireland and southern England in the ninth century were still made up of a patchwork of fragmented and warring kingdoms. But the same question, in the case of Scotland, may also usefully be asked of the 'Dark Age' which came before the making of a mac Alpin dynasty of kings, for many of the forces which are often thought to have produced this new dynasty in the ninth century had been at work for three centuries or more. Before beginning to think of Scottish history as a series of watersheds, with the making of the mac Alpin kingdom in and after the 840s as one of the most vital, it may be as well to consider an alternative - of the making of a Pictish kingdom before it.

Origins of the Picts

The first mention of the Picts was made by a Roman observer in AD 297. The name itself, even if it simply meant 'painted people', was less a nickname than a nom de guerre, like that given by the Romans to the 'Franks', inhabitants of northern Gaul. Its occurrence at that point, when the main periods of both Roman invasion and occupation of a southern pale were already over, may suggest that the name implied a new power grouping in the north rather than indicating a tribe newly arrived from elsewhere. A hundred years before the name Picti appeared, the eleven or twelve northern tribes which Ptolemy had earlier described were already being subsumed into two great peoples, the Caledoniind the Maeatae, bound together in an alliance against the Romans. The Maeatae, explained Dio Cassius, c.310, 'live clse to the wall that divides the island into two parts' but the Caledonii are 'beyond them'. His dividing line between Roman and hostile territory would have been the Antonine Wall and the likely border between these two cognate peoples was the natural barrier of the Mounth. From this point until the sixth century, it is noticeable that there are consistently said to be two main groups of peoples north of the Forth/Clyde line: in 310 there is a reference to the 'Caledones and other Picts'; by 368 Ammianus Marcellinus describes the Dicalydones (obviously related to the Caledones) and the Verturiones; and Bede, in dealing with the sixth century, distinguishes clearly between 'northern Picts', a pagan people first touched by Columba in his mission up the Great Glen, and the 'southern Picts' who, he asserted, had been converted to Christianity much earlier by Ninian.

It is at this point that interpretation either becomes simpler or collapses into complex confusion under the weight of competing and changing tribal names. For Caledonii had also been one of the names of the dozen tribes described by Ptolemy in the second century AD. And what is to be made of the survey, the De Situ Albanie, which dates probably from the twelfth century, and sorne Pictish king lists which describe seven provinces of Pictland: four south of the Mounth and three to the north of it? Attached, as ever in the history of the Picts, is a legend, of the seven sons of Cruithne who each ruled a province, and each in his turn was overlord of an under-king. The divisions are more significant than the legend, which can be safely ascribed to the ingenuity of anonymous genealogists. South of the Mounth were the 'provinces' of Circenn (Angus and the Mearns), Fotla (Atholl), Fortriu (Strathearn and Menteith) and Fib (Fife). To the north were areas which are more difficult to draw with any precison. Ce covered Mar and Buchan, Fidach can be equated with Moray and Ross, but Cait probably extended beyond modem Caithness into southeast Sutherland.

These sources are impressionistic surveys made at a later date, with the advantage of hindsight. It is highly unlikely that these provinces all materialised at the same time, as part of a federal kingdom. There are significant gaps between the first mention of these provinces: Circenn appeared before 600 and Fortriu in 664, and these names may conceal much older divisions, perhaps even older than the Pictish kingdom itself. Fortriu was a later form of Verturiones. By contrast, neighbouring Fotla, which is first mentioned only in 739 as Athfotla ('new Ireland'), does suggest a newly recognised migrant tribe acquiring a territory. If there was a consolidation of a Pictish kingdom between the sixth and ninth centuries, it is unlikey to have taken the form of the amalgamation of neat territorial divisions, with a clear relationship between king and peoples.

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Pictish kings

Three points of reference may help in this search for the nature of the Pictish kingdom. The rediscovery of the Picts as a Celtic people has encouraged closer comparison with practices in contemporary Ireland. Oddly, however, there has been little attempt to place the Picts in the context in which Roman observers must have seen them, of other hostile barbarian tribes on the mainland of western Europe such as the Franks or Goths. The first benchmark rests, however, in Scotland itself. Recent research in Scottish medieval kingship has taught us not to think in terms of its consolidation as the story of the steadily growing power of kings who ruled and to whom subjects automatically rendered obedience. Power was highly devolved, even as late as the sixteenth century; kings may have been formidable and ruthless men, but they relied on the power of their great nobles to extend their writ into the far flung corners of the realm. Pictish kingship should not be judged by impossible standards which few if any kings before James VI would have been likely to have met. Medieval kingship was highly personalised and informal. Pictish kingship was certainly no more than these things and probably a good deal less; early kings cannot be expected to have been administrators or autocrats. They were warlords, whose authority was expressed and acknowledged largely in the receiving of tribute, and of whom were expected military successes and the acquisition of prestige goods, by war, plunder or treaty.

Yet these Pictish warlords had, in some respects, more power than the medieval kings who followed them. It is clear from the one account that exists outlining the social and military structure of early warrior society, the Dalriadic History of the Men of Scotland, or Senchus fer nAlban, that a surprisingly comprehensive fiscal system underpinned the rationale of that society, each of the districts within the kingdom of Dalriada was assessed in terms of the number of its houses. Each house, it seems likely, was treated as a unit on which rent or tribute was payable, to nobles or kings. In addition, military service was also due and it is likely that a far higher proportion of society was mobilised for war before 1000 than after. It is also not surprising to find that in a terrain where most communication was by sea it was called 'galley service'. The Senchus was, in part, a muster list for a war fleet. Such details are not available for the Pictish kingdoms but it would be surprising if similar arrangements had not existed there too. For it is certain that Pictish kings formulas of custom or law. Kings survived by being strong; they succeeded by representing the strongest of the segments of the royal family.

Kings and kingship: the example of Dalriada

But what was a king?. In Ireland, there were three types of king. The rí or rí túaithe was king of a tribe or petty kingdom; the ruirí or 'great king' was, as well as being a tribal king, the overlord of a number of other tribes and tribal kings. And above all of these was the rí ruirech, 'king of overkings'. Until the tenth or eleventh centuries, it is likely that counterparts of each of these grades of kings existed in Scotland. It may be easier to grasp the analogy in an account of the kings of a smaller kingdom, that of Dalriada. The Scots of Dalriada, who had begun to migrate to south-west Argyll from modern day Antrim sometime before their king, Fergus Mór, arrived c.500, were never a single gens, although all for long owed allegiance to him and his successors. From the beginning, the Dalriadic Scots were divided into three or more tribes, each with its rí and its own territory: the Cenél nÓengusa ('kindred of Óengus') occupied the island of Islay; the Cenél Loairn ('kindred of Loarn') held Colonsay as well as present-day Lorne and the northern frontier against the Picts; and the Cenél nGabráin ('kindred of Gabran'), who held the overlordship of the Scots, occupied Kintyre and the territories and islands fringing on the territory of the Britons of Strathclyde, modern-day Cowal, Bute and Arran. The relative importance of each of the three tribes is confirmed by the survey in the Senchus outlining the manpower each could produce: Cenél nGabráin had 560 houses or clients and could muster some 800 men; both Cenél Loairn and Cenél nÓengusa, which had 420 and 430 houses, could probably raise 600 men apiece.

As the most strategically placed as well as having the greatest available manpower, the Cenél nGabráin enjoyed undisputed status as ruirí of the Scots of Dalriada throughout the sixth century and for much of the seventh. Their status could not have been other than greatly enhanced when Aedán mac Gabráin, great grandson of Fergus Mór, was ordained as overking of Dalriada in 573 by Columba, himself son of a royal house, on the explicit instructions, it was said, of an angel from Heaven; the novel overlaying of Christian imagery on the much older rite of inauguration of kings must have conveyed a potent extra symbolism. True to type, Aedán set out to prove himself a great warlord: the poem known as Berchan's Prophecy claims that he fought the Picts for thirteen years without a break. It is known that he waged an apparently successful campaign as far away as Orkney; his warriors certainly penetrated eastwards along the valley of the Forth, drawn no doubt by the crumbling power of the Gododdin kings based on Edinburgh's castle rock. But his ambitious expeditions led to defeats inflicted by the Picts somewhere in Angus and the Mearns and by the Angles of Northumbria in 603 at Degsastán, which has never been satisfactorily identified but was certainly somewhere within Northumbrian territory.

A series of further defeats, in Ireland as well as Pictland, inflicted on Aedán's grandson, Domnall Brec, who was killed in battle with Owain, King of Strathclyde, at Strathcarron in 642, not only ended a period of Dalriadic expansionism but also promoted the kingdom of Strathclyde as the major alternative seat of power in northern Britain. It was almost certainly a direct result of the military failures of successive kings of Cenél nGabráin that their hold on the overkingship of Dalriada formulas of custom or law. Kings survived by being strong; they succeeded by representing the strongest of the segments of the royal family.

Why did the Cenél Loairn suddenly emerge in the later seventh century as a more potent force in Dalriada and slip back less than a hundred years later? The route to power in early Scotland, as with many barbarian peoples elsewhere, is rarely to be found in the conventional working terms of medieval or early early modern historians: consolidation, expansion, hegemony. The Cenél Loairn do not seem to have succeeded to the overkingship of Dalriada as a result of a greater consolidation of their power within their own heartland. On the contrary the Senchus shows that Cenél Loairn, spread out over the rugged country of northern Argyll, had only the same total fighting strength as the tighter-knit Cenél nÓengusa based on Islay. The picture of the dynasty of Cenél Loairn in the early eighth century, under attack on three fronts, was typical of early kingship, in Dalriada and elsewhere in northern Britain. There were also internal feuds, which resulted in Selbach, King of Dalriada, having to lay waste to Dunollie, a stronghold of Cenél Loairn septs, in 701. The overkingship was disputed by the Cenél nGabráin, who briefly gained the upper hand after a naval victory over Selbach waters somewhere in Dalriadic waters in 719; it was the first recorded sea battle in the history of Britain. Most seriously of all, they faced the brunt of a sustained period of aggression waged by Óengus, King of Picts, which culminated in the 'smiting of Dalriada' in 741. The result, it is likely, was the eclipse of Cenél Loairn ambitions. Yet it would be another segment of this divided royal house which; barely a century later, would capture control of Pictland in the person of Kenneth mac Alpin. The chequered history of Dalriadic kings suggests some need for refinement of the historian's conventional tools used to describe the mechanics of displacement of one ruling house by another.

The Consolidation of the Kingdom of Fortriu

The locus of power in the Pictish kingdom is hard to locate Not surprisingly, in a confederation of tribes that was looser and covered a far greater areas than the Scots of Dalriada, power shifted both at the level of the many túatha and in the location of the overking. Separated amongst themselves by the barrier of the Mounth, it is likely that there may long have been two overkings, corresponding to the two sets of Pictish peoples, north and south of it. Yet there are also hints from the sixth century or even before that one was senior. Where might he have located? In the fourth century, the seat of Pictish power seems to have lain in Strathearn and Menteith; the survey in the De Situ Albanie gave premier place to Circenn, in Angus and the Mearns, but at an undisclosed date; by the late sixth century, when Columba visited King Bridei at his court near Inverness, the focus of Pictish powers seems to have lain in the north. Bridei was certainly overlord of the Pictish people to the north of the Mounth, but it may be that the notion of high kingship can be traced to this period. A hundred years later in 685, when Bridei mac Bile defeated Northumbrian invaders at Dunnichen Moss in Angus, there is no doubt that he as acknowledged as high king of all the Picts. By then, however, the centre of Pictish royal power had moved decisively southwards, to Fortriu, where it would remain.

Viewed in retrospect, the growth of the kingdom of Fortriu conveniently summarises the development of Pictish kingship. Kings of Fortriu were probably originally tribal rí, whose power was limited to Strathearn; by the second half of the seventh century, it is likely that they were also acknowledged as overkings of the Picts south of the Mounth. Half a century later they were also high kings of all the Picts. The nomenclature is confusing if the three different grades of kings and the three different usages of the phrase 'King of Fortriu' are not borne in mind. The position, however, was clear to contemporary chroniclers, whether Irish or Northumbrian. Bede certainly viewed Pictland as a single political entity in his own day, in the early eighth century; he describes the kingdom of Nechtan in 710 as embracing all the provinces of the Picts. And the writers of Irish Annals often use the name of Fortriu as synonymous with the Pictish nation as a whole from the reign of Bridei (d. 693) onwards.

It is not surprising that it was shortly after this, during the long reign of Nechtan between 706 and 724, that the genealogists probably got to work on Pictish king lists and polished the origin legends of their royal patron. The contrast of Dalriada and Pictland is informative: Dalriadic kings were middle-ranking kings of an increasingly fissiparous set of peoples located within a small but difficult territory. Pictish kings would come to be described as reges Pictorum, high kings of a far-flung collection of peoples; their new-found status was all the more notable in such a widespread territory. The achievement of the kings of Fortriu in the eighth and ninth centuries was one of the most notable in Scottish history, but its nature is easily mistaken if overlaid with the conventional vocabulary of later, medieval kingship. their success was not to consolidate but to confederate.

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Pictish Kings -The making of a kingdom

The early history of Scotland is seen conventionally as the story of progress towards the 'making of a kingdom', with the decisive steps being taken in the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries. But the story was longer than this and it was a two-stage process. The first stage had begun by the end of the third century with the confederation of a number of loosely related tribes under a common name; by the sixth century they were grouped under two overkings and by c. 700 under one overking. The second stage, which belongs largely to the ninth century, was the consolidation of these peoples during a number of key, lengthy reigns which remain amongst the most obscure in the whole of Scottish history. Later chroniclers of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries would focus their attention on the reign of Kenneth mac Alpin (843-58) as marking the end of centuries of Pictish rule and the beginning of a new dynasty. Yet it makes much more sense to think of a crucial century and a half in which fluctuation and consolidation in the Pictish kingdom went hand in hand. What was happening was what historians of a later period might call a clash of continuity and change; such clashes should not be reserved for seemingly decisive reigns, such as those of David I or James VI - or Kenneth mac Alpin. It is likely that such a clash marked the whole period between the reign of Constantine, son of Fergus (789-820) and Constantine 11(900-43). Viewed in this way the decisive ninth century turns less on the single, fairly brief reign of Kenneth mac Alpin. Perhaps, rather, we should think of a 'long' ninth century belonging to a trio of kings called Constantine.

The mechanics of these processes were complicated and thinking of them in modem terms, of power bloc politics, brings confusion and contradiction to the problem rather than light. It can be argued that the reign of Óengus I, who emerged in 729 as victor in a power struggle after the retiral of Nechtan, marked the beginning of a Pictish take-over of Dalriada; in 736 he himself captured the fortress of Dunadd in the territory of Cenél nGabráin and his brother, Talorcán, routed a Dalriada army a few miles away, at Loch Awe. Yet, even if Óengus won by conquest the overlordship of Dalriada in 741, by 750 he is said in the Annals of Ulster to have lost it, perhaps because of the intervention of Teudubr, King of Strathclyde. By 768 it was a Dalriadic king, Áed Find, who was invading the Pictish heartland of Fortriu, though with what result is unknown.

The crucial eighth and ninth centuries need to be viewed as a three-dimensional picture. There was recurrent jostling for power on the frontiers of neighbouring kingdoms; except where natural physical barriers reinforced them, frontiers were not fixed and in such circumstances migration across them was as natural an instinct as cattle raiding. There was calculated destabilisation of one kingdom by another or the creation of satellite states. But the status of such client kingdoms might range from the simple paying of tribute to outright overlordship. And there was also considerable cultural cross-fertilisation between peoples, whether produced by intermarriage, changing dedications of saints, or the efforts of holy men.

The result is a confusing one, not to be explained adequately by a history of coup and counter-coup. The King of Picts whom the Dalriadic king, Áed Find, fought in 768 was called Ciniod or Kenneth, son of Dérile; but that was a Gaelic name, as was that of the Pictish king, Óengus son of Fergus who had devastated Dalriada in the 730s. Both Ciniod and Óengus I almost certainly had at least some blood of the Scots of Dalriada in their veins. The evidence for a successful Pictish assault on Dalriada in the mid-eighth century and for a Dalriadic take-over of Pictland in the mid-ninth century can be assembled, but it is more useful to think of two kingdoms coming more closely together in a process which was often acrimonious and on several occasions hostile. These were the quarrels of an extended family, and all the more bad-tempered as a result.

The century before the 840s saw these important processes at work. They depended, however, on a new set of political circumstances, most important of which was the sharp decline in the influence of the kingdom of Northumbria. For some, that decline can be seen to have begun as a direct result of the defeat of the Northumbrians at Nechtansmere, which put to an end the short-lived career of Bishop Trumwine and the see of Abercorn, to which he had been appointed only four years before, in 681. Yet set-piece battles, if such Nechtansmere was, seldom mark great turning-points. The reign of Nechtan, which began barely thirty years later, had seen the revival of Northumbrian pressure, spearheaded by issues involving the Pictish Church. But Northumbrian violence was as much a weapon as the gentler overtures of Bede and his abbey of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow; the Picts had been heavily defeated by the Northumbrians on the plain of Manaw, probably somewhere in West Lothian, in 711. The period of the writing of Bede's Ecclesiastical History was, however, a high-water mark of Northumbrian power. The end of Nechtan's reign coincided with the beginning of a century or more of steady decline of Northumbrian influence, not only north of the Forth but also in Lothian and the south-east. That steady but obscure slippage in Northumbrian control over its northern frontier was stemmed briefly by Anglian incursions, supported by the Picts, into Strathclyde in 750 and 756 resulting in the adding of the plain of Cyil (or Kyle) and the winning of tribute from the King of Strathclyde in 756. It is difficult, however, to trace Northumbrian influence between that point and the fall of York in the face of Danish attack in 866.

If the eighth century saw the withering of the influence of Pictland's southern neighbour, it may also have seen a new, closer relationship with another, the British kingdom of Strathclyde. For, as we have seen, the Pictish king victorious at Nechtansmere was Bridei mac Bile, who may have had a father who was a Strathclyde Briton. Nechtan, King of Picts between c.600 and 630, may also perhaps have been, it has been argued, a former King of Strathclyde called Neithon before he became overking of the Picts. The power of kings, whether of the Picts or of other peoples, depended as much on their relationships with their neighbours as on the internal strength of their rule. Status and others' perceptions of it were the key to the authority of early kings. The essential contrast between the two periods, of Northumbrian and British influence, is that much is known and perhaps too much made of the first - both by Pictish historians eager to make Nechtansmere the great turning-point it never was and by devotees of Bede who may give the reign of Nechtan a greater centrality than it deserves - and too little is known of the second. The story of the increasing merging of the Scots of Dalriada and the Picts thus, of necessity, has to be told without reference to the impact made on their relations by their mutually closest neighbour, the kingdom of Strathclyde. Here was not a marriage of two peoples, but a ménage à trois, by its nature more complicated and volatile. We can only guess at its intricacies.

There were two sets of processes at work in relations between Dalriada and Pictland. One had been going on for centuries, the Celticisation of parts of the far flung kingdom of the Picts. A Celtic aristocracy has been detected amongst the Caledonians as early as the first or second centuries; these were a warrior élite who must have held in subjugation a native, non-Celtic peasantry. The name of the minor kingdom of Gowne, if it can be associated with Gabráin, father of Aedán, is an indicator in the sixth century of Dalriadic influence in a part of the kingdom of the Picts well to the east of Fortriu. And both a son and two great-grandsons of Aedán may have become kings of Picts in the late sixth century. These points may all be contentious in themselves, but the emergence of the kingdom of Atholl ('new Ireland') by 739 clearly indicates the presence over a long period of time of new settlers from the west. With Celticisation came intermarriage. There was nothing new about intermarriage between Scots and Picts in the ninth century, nor was it unique. There had, it is likely, long been a similar pattern of intermarriage between Picts and Britons. Two seventh-century Pictish kings - Bridei and Nechtan - were probably linked, as we have seen, to the kingdom of Strathclyde.

The second, parallel process was an almost inevitable consequence of the first: intermarriage between one major dynasty and another or even between the families of minor kings brought about a steady widening of the derbfine. It also increased the likelihood of family squabbles which might lead to tension or violence, either on the frontier or at court. The political purpose of kings of the Picts was clear enough, for by the seventh century they had largely achieved by these means a modus vivendi with their three main neighbours. It is not surprising that by early in the ninth century examples begin to proliferate of kings of Picts who held or had held other kingdoms. More significantly, in the two sons of Fergus, Constantine and Óengus II who ruled between 789 and 820 and between 820 and 834, are to be found the first examples of simultaneous dual kingship of Picts and Scots. Constantine, King of Picts since 789, also became King of Dalriada in 811. His brother, Óengus, who seems to have succeeded him on his death in 820, left as his successor his son, Eóganán, who succeeded to both kingdoms after a short interval during which the two kingships were not combined. Significantly, both Constantine and Óengus were described in the Annals of Ulster at their deaths as 'King of Fortriu'. And in 839 Eóganán met his death leading the 'men of Fortriu' in battle against the Norsemen. Although Skene in his Celtic Scotland argued that the end of the house of Fortriu came in 889, with the death of Giric, who had succeeded the two sons of Kenneth mac Alpin, the date 839 is a more significant one. In 877, when Eochaid, a grandson of Kenneth, disputed the succession, the struggle for the kingship was, as it had often been before, a family quarrel, between the immediate heirs of Kenneth and his brother, Donald I. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The difference between the two periods before and after the mid-ninth century lay not so much in the impact made by a new kind of king, in the person of Kenneth mac Alpin, but in the after-effects of the shattering defeat in 839 when not only Eóganán fell, but also his brother, Bran, 'and others almost without number'. Amongst them, almost certainly, were other prominent members of the derbfine. That defeat ranks amongst the most significant in Scottish history, far more serious than that at Flodden, for here as well as a culling of the major families of the kingdom was effected a decisive shift in the pattern of succession. It was, as we shall see, not quite the beginning of a new dynasty, that of the mac Alpin kings, but it was the effective end of the dynasty of Fortriu, which had ruled with increasing authority since the reign of Bridei, son of Bile, who had been the first to be called 'King of Fortriu' at his death in 692.

The long line of kings of Fortriu deserves a greater place in the process of the making of the Scottish kingdom. By 729 they had clearly been acknowledged as overkings of all the Picts. They left behind them a distinctive and close relationship between King and Church which would lay the foundations for the sons of Malcolm and Margaret in the early twelfth century. They also, probably early in the eighth century, had constructed a mythology of their own past. Frankish kings at about the same date had invented for themselves a Trojan origin; Pictish kings were presented with an equally satisfying Irish one, in the figure of Cruithne, who ruled for no less than fifty years as a 'merciful judge'. By the end of the eighth century, they had also found, in the figure of Constantine, a renewed mythology of kingship which exactly paralleled the revival elsewhere in western Europe in the second half of the eighth century of the idea of a reborn Christian Roman empire of Constantine under a new, more prestigious kind of king. The same process in Gaul would eventually produce a new-style King of Franks, Charles the Great or Charlemagne. In the Pictish kingdom, it produced a series of kings called Constantine, each more closely attached to the Church which cultivated him than the last. The cult of Constantine neatly complemented the cult of St Peter which had been promoted at the Pictish court since the reign of Nechtan, earlier in the same century. Pictish kingship and the Pictish Church, both in a state of slow but profound change in the eighth and ninth centuries, were nourished by each other. It is no accident that the office of 'chief bishop of Fortriu' emerged by 865, in the reign of Constantine I.

But the Constantine who succeeded as King of Picts in 789 was a son of Fergus and elder brother of an Óengus, both obviously Gaelic names. That deliberate choice of names, Constantine and Óengus, made for prospective Pictish kings is as good an example as any, not only of the integrated nature of Pictish society, but also of the wider vision and ambition of the house of Fortriu. A balance was in process of being struck between old and new, between a revived native culture with disparate roots and the importation of a consciously novel western European cult of kingship. Much the same balance between old and new would be struck again, three centuries later, in the reign of David I. The clash of continuity and change lay at the heart of the history of Pictish kingship, fully a century before the reign of Kenneth mac Alpin. By the reign of the first Constantine (789-82O), the process of confederation had brought the peoples of the north to the point where the process of political consolidation might begin. The genres of Picts and Scots had been coming together for a century or more into one people, even if it was, inevitably, a loose confederation. The next stage was for regnum and gens to come together.

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