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Who Were the Picts?


The Picts

In the dark ages the people who occupied Northern Scotland were what Romans considered to be "savages" otherwise known as the Picts. They were known as the "Picts" or "Picti" by the Romans because in Latin it meant "painted ones". Some scholars think that they referred to themselves as some form of "Pecht", a word meaning "Ancestors". They had much emphasis on family.. They first appeared in written record in 297 A.D. and were lastly mentioned in 900 A.D. They did not disappear. They just blended in with other Scottish people and their history merged as one. The Picts lived in tightly knit communities and built their homes out of wood. Also, they appeared to possess great skill in stone carving. The Picts left no written records. So, although they were considered "savages", they are still shrouded in mystery. The Picts were direct enemies of the Romans.

Invasion of the Romans

The Romans tried to invade the territory inhabited by the Picts on a number of different occasions. What made the Picts of Scotland distinct from other cultures is that they never fell to the invading armies of Rome. It appears that they lived in small communities composed of different families all belonging to the same clan. A tribal chief presided over each clan. The different clans would often raid each other for cattle. However, they banded together when they faced a common enemy. A single chief would be elected to lead a coalition.

"They make a solitude and call it peace."--Tacitus, who wrote a biography of his father in law, the Roman governor of Britain from 77 A.D. to 84 A.D.


Pictish Women

There is much scholarly debate as to how Pictish women were treated. Most think that they did not serve in battle. However, there is evidence that they served in battle before 700 A.D. It was the Abomanan's Law of the Innocents (A.D. 697) that established a code of conduct for protecting non-combatants (women, children, and monks) from military service and from the ravages of war. It was very much a patriarchal society. However, there were grave stones erected for women that were elaborate which is usually an indication that the women had some of the society's wealth. This is indicative that women had a better status than previously thought.

Guerilla Warfare

The Picts lived in tribes. They would quickly move from one location to another. When the Romans invaded, they figured out that there were no central cities to conquer, no crops to burn, and an opponent using guerrilla warfare as a means of fighting them. The Romans were not accustomed to guerrilla warfare. The Romans were used to a head on collision in an open field with their opponent. Since the Picts did not engage them in this manner, the Romans could not conquer them.

Map of the Ancient World


Where the Roman Empire failed to conquer the Picts the Christian church succeeded."--- McHardy, author of A New History of the Picts


Christianity and the Picts

Originally the Picts practiced a religion of tribal paganism involving Goddess worship and a devotion to nature. They appeared to not believe the concept of "sin". When Rome came to occupy Britain, Christianity was adopted as the state religion. In 397 A.D., Christian missionaries started evangelizing the Picts. There were some Pictish people who were in opposition to Christianity as it was noted that they burned down a monastery in Tiree in 673 A.D. However, the Picts soon took on Christianity as their religion.


Dress and Artistry

The Picts were seen as barbarians or "savages" by the Romans. They painted themselves blue and often had blue tattoos. From carvings on stones archaeologists think that the women wore ankle length tunics and the men wore tunics that were of different lengths. They were known for their skill in artistry as they drew birds, wolves, and other animals that other civilizations could not draw at that point in time.

Language and Origins

Before Christianity was introduced, there was not much if anything written about the Picts. Once Christianity was introduced, Church historians began to record the history of the Picts. The most notable work was written by Bede, a monk living South of the Picts. He wrote Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731 A.D. The origin of the Picts before arriving in Northern Scotland is still unknown. Bede recorded that they originally went to Ireland and took Irish wives before settling in Northern Scotland. Their language was not Celtic. It is believed by some to be some form of Gaelic that was altered to an almost different language.

How Much do you Know about the Picts?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. When did the Romans conquer the Picts?
    • 738 A.D.
    • Never
    • 1028 A.D.
  2. Did women serve as soliders in Pictish soceity?
    • No. It was very patriarchial.
    • Not until Chrisitanity was introduced.
    • It is believed they did prior to 700 A.D.
  3. The original religon of the Picts involved:
    • tribal paganism and godess worship
    • worship of the sun
    • a strict moral code distingishing right from wrong
    • worship of warfare
  4. Who is the most notable writer of Pictish history?
    • McHardy
    • Tacitus
    • Constantine
    • Bede
Scroll to Continue

Answer Key

  1. Never
  2. It is believed they did prior to 700 A.D.
  3. tribal paganism and godess worship
  4. Bede


In conclusion, the Picts were seen as "savages" by the Romans and anyone who tried to conquer them at the time of their inhabiting Northern Scotland. They were known as being fierce fighters and had a culture that was distinct from most cultures that existed at that point in time in history. Little is known about them since much of their history was not recorded until the introduction of Christianity. Yet, they still fascinate people today as they were a significant part of world history.


I assessed these sources on Jun 14th and June 15th, 2017.

  • Picts - Ancient History Encyclopedia
    The Picts were a people of northern Scotland who are defined as a "confederation of tribal units whose political motivations derived from a need...


Patrick Deady on October 07, 2019:

Just been notified that I am a Pict according to my DNA. Certainly aware of them but proud to be one of them.


John Hansen from Gondwana Land on July 15, 2017:

This was very interesting. I had never heard of the Picts either. The film looks wonderful.

Ezria Copper (author) on July 15, 2017:

I fixed. the quiz.

Naomi Starlight from Illinois on July 15, 2017:

Interesting article. Is your quiz right though? Because, I think it said "wrong" for the idea that women might have served as soldiers before 700 AD but you did say that?

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on July 15, 2017:

That was really interesting to read. I've never heard of the Picts before. And the film looks really interesting.

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