Pict, Pictland and Pictish

It is useful to draw a distinction between Pict, Pictland and Pictish to set the scene of our exploration into the Symbol Stones which come predominantly from what is now the North East of Scotland. Several relevant texts are mentioned in the Acknowledgements.

Pict” was a label given apparently by Roman invaders in the 3rd century CE to the people who lived, broadly, in what is now called the North East of Scotland. The Latin word Picti first appeared in a speech written by Eumenius in 297 and is considered to mean painted or tattooed people. It is uncertain whether these “locals” gave themselves a specific name, whether they were a single “people” or were a conglomerate of communities. Their geographic origin is uncertain. What is certain is that no-one would have been living in the north of Scotland until about 11,500 years ago – once the ice had substantially cleared. The effects of glaciation would have rendered the inland areas inhospitable to settlers but the coastal areas had the attributes for sustenance – land to cultivate, material for fire for warmth, rivers and seas to fish, animals to hunt for food and clothing, dwelling opportunities (caves, woodland and trees for construction). They were accessible across water, along coastal stretches and, in early (just post-glaciation) settlement times, via land bridges to other parts of what we now call mainland Europe. So descriptors such as indigenous (Latin indigen – original inhabitant) are limited – they may have been original inhabitants of the geographic area but, unlike, a non-glaciated area, their start point is a lot later. They most definitely came from somewhere else.

 “Pictland” is the term generally used in referring to the geographical location where the Picts lived. Mainly the north east of what we now call Scotland but varying in size over time to other parts of Scotland – depending on acquired and enforced boundary changes. Around 1900 Allen and Anderson referred to Pictland as the un-Romanised area north of the Forth.

← The map opposite is a snapshot of what seemingly comprised “Pictland” round about 600CE. For our purposes (around the start of the 3rd Century CE) Pictland is equivalent to modern day Angus, Aberdeen and Moray areas.

Pictish” – to be precise – can be the adjectival or possessive version of “Pict”. It can mean Pictish person, Pictish place, Pictish time period or era, Pictish country, Pictish Symbol Stones, Pictish xxx.

It may be wrong to assume that the only people living in Pictland when the Stones started to be created were the supposedly “indigenous” population. This is where the terms “Pictish Standing Stones” and “Pictish Symbol Stones” can be misleading as it tends to suggest the Stones were put up by the Picts – this may not be the case and is explored later.

← Distribution of Pictish Stones as well as Caves containing Pictish Symbol “graffiti” – attributed to David Lloyd Wikimedia Commons

This distribution shows the predominance of Stones in “Pictland”.