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Thread: A Consideration Of Pictish Names

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    A Consideration Of Pictish Names

    A Consideration Of Pictish Names

    H.R. Jones


    The first question that must be considered, in any discussion of Pictish names, is, "What do we mean by 'Pict'?" and "What do we mean by 'Pictish'?" The earliest record we have of the word "Pict" being used to describe a group of people in Britain comes from a poem by Eumenius dated A.D. 297, which mentions the "Picti" along with the "Hiberni" as enemies of the "Britanni". (Wainwright p.2) Although this sets up a contrast between Picts and Britons, in the strictest analysis, it need not imply anything more than a Romanized/non-Romanized distinction. The word "picti" is most often (and most straightforwardly) understood as a plural of the Latin participle "pictum" from the verb "pingo" "to paint; to dye or color; to decorate". This is usually interpreted in the light of Julius Caesar's comment "All the 'Britanni' paint themselves with woad which produces a bluish coloring.' Other, later, classical writers repeat this claim, often narrowing the application to inhabitants of the northern part of Britain and making reference to "puncturing" rather than "painting". The popular interpretation that developed might best be summed up by the early 7th century description by Isidore of Seville who says that the Picts take their name "from the fact that their bodies bear designs pricked into their skins by needles". (Wainwright p.1)

    But in interpreting these comments, it must be understood that the classical "anthropological" tradition involved a great deal of repeating and interpreting the claims of earlier writers, and extremely little direct observation and eye-witness report. Another example of this sort of writing is the pseudo-history repeated by Bede which claims a Scythian origin for the Picts, but this seems no more than an attempt to connect them with another people described in classical writings as "Picti". Other pseudo-histories carefully list wanderings and emigrations of "the Picts" that would connect them with every place or ethnic name resembling "pict" (such as the Pictones of Gaul, whose name became modern Poictou) and every mention of skin-painting or tattooing. A great deal of the material repeated by Isidore and Bede and similar writers is demonstrably false. Other parts can be corroborated by archaeological methods. But any use of this sort of material must involve several large grains of salt. Of all the early writers that mention "painting", only Caesar seems to have been an eye-witness, and his observations would have been concerned with the inhabitants of southern Britain, the Celtic peoples that he explicitly calls "Britanni".
    full text:
    http://heatherrosejones.com/names/pictish/

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    Great link, thanks Frans.
    (from someone who only has `Nechtansmere` stuck in her mind re Pictish placenames. )

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