The Indo-European and Possibly Germanic Origins of the Picts

Over the last 100 years or so there has been much speculation over the nature of the language spoken by the ancient Picts. Some scholars see them as non Indo-Europeans, whilst others view them as being Indo-European. Of those that allign to the second view point they are generally divided into two camps: those that believe they were a Celtic people and those a Germanic. The Pictish Chronicle written in Latin states that the Picts were not aboriginal to Britain as many claim but came from "much further afield" (The Last of the Druids, Iain Forbes ) Candidates for this Urheimat include Thrace and Scythia, suggestive in itself of an Indo-European origin. The Picts apparently originally intended to settle in Ireland but were subsequently persuaded by the Irish king to settle in Scotland and were given Irish wives. Significantly the Scottish kings of the kingdom of Dalriada laid claim to the throne of the Picts via this matrilineal succession. It should be noted that the Scots themselves were not native to Scotland but were colonists from Ireland!

The issue of matrilineal succession was also referred to by the Venerable Bede in his A History of the English Church and People. It is often argued by scholars that because of the matrilinear succession of Pictish kings that this marked them out as a distinctly non Indo-European people but by making this argument they ignore the statement made by Bede that this condition was forced upon the Picts by the Irish king as stated:

"So the Picts crossed into Britain, (WOTANS KRIEGERS NOTE: they crossed from Ireland) and began to settle in the north of the island, since the Britons were in possession of the south. Having no women with them, these Picts asked wives of the Scots, (WOTANS KRIEGER'S NOTE: the 'Scots' here referred to were the Scots from Ireland) who consented on condition that, when any dispute arose, they should choose a king from the female royal line rather than the male. This custom continues among the Picts to this day."

By inisting that the Picts choose their kings from the female line the Irish Scots ensured that they always had a controlling interest in the Picts. There is no evidence that this custom originated with the Picts and thus can not be put forward as an argument to deny that they were Indo-Europeans.

The reference to the Picts having originated in 'Scythia' is a common perception that reaches back to the days of the Roman Empire when it was considered that all barbarians came from Scythia, which was the great land mass to the east of the empire stretching in their eyes from eastern Germania to the Slavic lands and beyond. 'Scythia' in the context of Bede's work may be interpreted as being Scandinavia. It is likely that the colonising Picts were in fact a war band, hence the lack of women aboard their ships. Scandinavia would certainly be a good candidate and this would in all probabilty indicate that not only were the Picts Indo-European but Germanic. Indeed in the late 19th century the Earl of Southesk on studying both Pictish and Scandinavian carvings put forward the theory that they shared a common Germanic origin. (The Origins of Pictish Symbolism). Stephen Oppenheimer seems to also support a Scandinavian identity for Bede's 'Scythia' in his The Origins of the British:

"How they reached the British Isles from Scythia, east of the Mediterranean, Bede does not make clear, but elsewhere in Medieval literature the region of Scythia is sometimes alluded to as the ultimate Norse homeland in the Danish and Icelandic sagas. The longboats might imply the Picts were from Scandinavia, but in any case this story from Bede makes it clear that he did not think that they were British or Irish. His linguistic skill should have been enough to work this one out for himself."

Tony Steele in his The Rites and Rituals of Traditional Witchcraft makes the point that at one time it was considered by scholars that the megalith builders were non Indo-European, a notion that is no longer tenable.

"The archaeologist Colin Renfrew has shown that it is far more likely that Indo-European was introduced to Europe by the original Neolithic settlers, and so the megalithic builders were, in fact, Indo-European. In this connection it is worth pointing out that the territories of the Etruscans and Basques are notable for being devoid of megalithic remains-which is hardly true of the Picts."

Mr Steele makes this point as the Etruscans and Basques were among the minority of peoples in Europe who did not speak an Indo-European language and this helps to further discredit the theory that the megaliths were the product of a non Indo-European culture. Mr Steele also argues the case for Pictish being a Germanic language, partly based on the close proximity of northern Scotland with Scandinavia but concedes that it is "a very archaic and somewhat degenerate form of Germanic." Interestingly as an aside I would like to remind my readers at this point that Old English is now increasingly being considered as a more archaic language than hitherto thought and could be regarded as a separate subset of the Germanic language group. (Oppenheimer)

Professor Renfrew does not argue for a Germanic origin for the Pictish language but he does concede an Indo-European one for it:

"What language was spoken in Scotland, or what languages, is far from clear. We have evidence of personal names, and of place names, as preserved by classical writers and in early medieval sources (including the Pictish Chronicle, a list of kings in a Latin text put together in the middle of the ninth century), and in the place names of more recent times. There is some evidence to be derived from these sources which would not contradict the view that they represent a northern dialect of Brithonic, perhaps not unlike that spoken further south before the dominance of the Romans." (Archaeology & Language. The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins.)

This theory is also referred to by Stephen Oppenheimer:

"Pictish, formerly spoken in northern Scotland, is claimed to have been Brythonic, but whether this claim covers all languages present there in the first millenium AD, apart from Scottish Gaelic, is still disputed by a few." (The Origins of the British)

It is becoming increasingly clear that with the acceptance now that the megalithic builders were Indo-European (including those of Stonehenge), that the Belgic peoples who were present in southern Britain prior to the Roman conquest were Germanic and now the increasing possibility of not only the Indo-European but possibly the Germanic origins of the Picts it is time that the early history of Britain be re-examined in the light of these findings.