Llyfr Aneirin online

Gododdin of Aneirin

John Koch’s edition and translation of The Gododdin, published in 1997.


Lisa Spangenberg, who runs the excellent blog Scéla on things medieval and Celtic, recently posted an interesting piece of news: Llyfr Aneirin, the Book of Aneirin, is now available online. This thirteenth-century Welsh manuscript contains Y Gododdin, ‘The Gododdin’, a collection of verses seemingly commemorating the near-massacre of an army of Britons from Edinburgh at a place called Catraeth sometime around AD 600. Two versions of the collection are included in Llyfr Aneirin, each transcribed in a different hand.

It’s the manuscript itself that has been digitised, not an edition or translation, so what we’re seeing is one of the great artifacts of medieval Celtic literature in its original form. Whether any part of the contents – the heroic and enigmatic Gododdin verses – was actually composed in North Britain six centuries earlier is a different matter (and a highly controversial one).

I followed the link given by Lisa and selected a random page from Llyfr Aneirin. It contained one of several verses beginning with the words gwyr a aeth gatraeth (‘Men went to Catraeth’), neatly crafted in an elegant script from 800 years ago.

Lisa has helpfully added other relevant links to her blogpost, including the digitised version of Llyfr Taliesin, the Book of Taliesin. Elsewhere on her site you’ll find links to various useful resources, so I recommend a look around if your interests lean towards Celtic medievalia.

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Notes & links

Check out Lisa’s blogpost The Book of Aneirin digitized and online and her Celtic web resources page.

The National Library of Wales ran its own announcement last week: Warriors went to Catraeth.

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Question: How far does the poetry attributed to Aneirin and Taliesin reflect genuine North British history?
The jury is out, so we’re faced with a choice of answers. These range from wide-eyed enthusiasm (‘it’s all true’) through sensible scepticism (‘some of it might be true’) to sombre pessimism (‘this is poetry, not history’). Help is now at hand for those of us who aren’t specialists in Celtic literature, via the papers in Beyond the Gododdin: Dark Age Scotland in Medieval Wales. This very useful book, edited by Alex Woolf and published by the University of St Andrews in 2013, brings us up to date with current research. Anyone who wants to use the Taliesin poetry or The Gododdin as historical sources should read it. The papers represent a variety of opinions, all of them wise and measured, some more optimistic than others. But the main message is simple: let’s be more cautious when using these Old Welsh poems as ‘history’. Accepting them as authentic chronicles from the sixth or seventh centuries, or as reliable gazetteers of ancient North British place names, is no longer an option.

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Fortunate Fellow

Kings & Warriors, Craftsmen & Priests
Last year, the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland conducted a survey of its Fellowship to gather views on the Society’s activities and to invite suggestions for future developments. The survey, which took the form of an electronic questionnaire, was completed and returned by more than 650 Fellows. An initial report on the data has recently been made available at the Society’s website. It may be of interest to readers of this blog so I’ve posted a link at the end of this post.

Fellows who completed the questionnaire were entered into a prize draw to win a Society publication. By a random stroke of good fortune the lucky winner was none other than Yours Truly. This meant that I had to choose one item from the Society’s mouthwatering catalogue of books on Scottish archaeology and history. But which one? The catalogue bore such an uncanny resemblance to my own wish-list that the choice seemed impossible. After much head-scratching, I managed to trim the candidates down to a manageable two: The Stone of Destiny: Artefact and Icon (a collection of papers edited by Welander, Breeze and Clancy) and Kings and Warriors, Craftsmen and Priests in Northern Britain AD550-850 by Leslie Alcock.

Stone of Destiny: artefact and icon
I eventually chose Alcock’s book, a comprehensive study of the Early Historic period by one of the pioneers of modern Scottish archaeology. Based on his 1989 Rhind Lectures to the Society, the book was published in 2003, three years before Alcock’s death. Its wide scope encompasses the material culture and social organization of peoples such as the Picts, as well as a range of important archaeological sites. Some of the sites had been excavated by Alcock as part of a long-running programme of ‘reconnaissance excavations’, the main objective of which was to examine major centres of power mentioned in the annals and other primary sources.

Alt Clut Dumbarton

Alt Clut, Dumbarton Rock, was excavated by Alcock in 1974-5 (Photo © B Keeling)


I had already amassed a large collection of Alcock’s publications over the years, but Kings and Warriors had somehow not found a path to my bookshelf. Thanks to a bit of luck it’s sitting there now – a hefty tome which dwarfs a couple of slender neighbours. It looks fittingly like the magnum opus of a great scholar, one whom I was never lucky enough to meet in person but whose published work has often shaped my thoughts.

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Society of Antiquaries of Scotland – Report into the 2012 Fellowship Survey

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Notes

I am grateful to the Society not only for the gift of a book, but also for mentioning my blog and Twitter account in the announcement of the survey report (see link above).

Leslie Alcock’s ‘reconnaissance excavations’ of hillforts and other high-status sites were published in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and are available as full-text PDFs on the Society’s website. A good example of an article in this series is:
L. Alcock L & E.A. Alcock, ‘Reconnaissance excavations on Early Historic fortifications and other royal sites in Scotland, 1974–84; 5: A, Excavations and other fieldwork at Forteviot, Perthshire, 1981; B, Excavations at Urquhart Castle, Inverness-shire, 1983; C, Excavations at Dunnottar, Kincardineshire, 1984′, Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 122 (1992), 215-88.

Kings and Warriors was reviewed by Jonathan Jarrett in 2008, at his blog A Corner Of Tenth-Century Europe.

With no more prize draws on the horizon, I’ll need to scrape a few pennies together to buy The Stone of Destiny from the Society’s website, which is where copies of Kings and Warriors can also be purchased.

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Book news

The Makers of Scotland: Picts, Romans, Gaels and Vikings
Birlinn Books of Edinburgh, the publishers of my books, have now transferred The Picts and The Makers Of Scotland to their main imprint. Both originally appeared under the John Donald subsidiary imprint, which is where Birlinn tend to place most of their scholarly non-fiction titles. My two academic books – The Men Of The North and Columba - will remain at John Donald.

The move has necessitated a format change for Picts and Makers, with both being slightly reduced in size. In the case of Makers, the contents have not been altered, except for tidying up a couple of stray typos. I have, however, made a small change to one part of Picts (in the chapter on Brude, son of Maelchon) to bring it into line with what I’ve written more recently in Columba. Those of you with copies of the original book can pick up the amendment at the end of this post.

Makers has a minor change to the front cover (see image above). The warrior is now looking out from the book rather than gazing over to the right. At the moment, Amazon UK seem to have both versions in stock, which means people have a choice between the original John Donald book (with the warrior’s face in profile) and the slightly smaller reprint (which is cheaper by a few pounds). This will last until copies of the original version run out.

The new versions of both books are available in paper and digital formats. Here are the paperback links on Amazon UK:

The Makers Of Scotland: Picts, Romans, Gaels & Vikings

The Picts: a history

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(A note on the 2013 reprint of Picts)

Tim Clarkson, The Picts: a history (Birlinn). Amendment to the 2010 edition, page 80: new final paragraph in the section ‘Columba and the Picts’.

–> What was Brude likely to gain by allowing a delegation from Iona to enter the heart of his realm? The answer probably lies in an awareness that the old gods of Pictavia now had little to offer. In every corner of the British Isles, paganism was retreating in the face of a sophisticated international religion whose leaders were rapidly gaining influence at the centres of political power. By contrast, the cults of the old gods operated in local contexts which must have seemed small and petty by comparison. To a wise and ambitious king such as Brude, the eventual triumph of Christianity may have seemed inevitable. To a hagiographer like Adomnán, the conflict between the old religion and the new required a more dramatic image. It was presented in the Vita as a face-to-face confrontation between Columba and the high priests of Pictish paganism. These ‘wizards’ or druids were trounced by a few spectacular miracles which proved the superiority of the Christian God. The chief druid was Broichan, Brude’s own foster-father, who continued to resent Columba even after the saint miraculously saved him from death. Broichan’s antipathy was not shared by Brude, for the monks were granted permission to preach throughout the kingdom, and some Picts received Christian baptism from Columba. The actual number of converts is unknown, but Adomnán gives no indication that Brude himself was among them. The king may have remained a pagan to the end of his days, perhaps as a matter of personal choice, or to maintain the goodwill of those among the Pictish elite who felt little enthusiasm for change.

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Further Reading: Kings and Kingship

Kings & Kingship in Early Scotland
This is the first in a new series of blogposts in which I’ll be recommending stuff to read. By ‘stuff’ I mean printed items, things that don’t require some kind of electronic gizmo to unlock their information. If it exists in online format only, then it won’t be listed here.

In the series I’ll be selecting – in no particular order – various books and journal articles regarded by me as useful ‘further reading’ on topics covered at this blog. What these items share in common is the simple fact that I have perused all of them at some point in the last 25 years or so, in most cases more than once. I won’t be highlighting individual authors, either to show my appreciation of their work or to promote their latest book, but rather specific publications that I have found particularly useful. This means I won’t be including stuff suggested by other people but not yet seen by me. Every item showcased here is sitting on my bookshelf, or flickering in the loan history of my library account, or lurking somewhere in my stash of dog-eared offprints. The entire series will be unashamedly subjective, each item being chosen on the basis of nothing more weighty than my own opinion.

What better way to begin than with an acknowledged ‘classic’ from one of the foremost scholars of early Scottish history: Marjorie Anderson’s Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland. First published 40 years ago, with a revision in 1980, Kings and Kingship continues to be cited as a standard text. Its most recent reprint was issued a couple of years ago by Birlinn Books of Edinburgh (the publisher of my own scribblings).

The book’s title is self-explanatory: a study of royal authority and the individuals who wielded it, rather than a collection of royal biographies. One section does provide an excellent overview of political history, but the most useful aspect for many readers is Anderson’s comprehensive survey and analysis of the primary sources. Few scholars of her generation were better equipped to tackle such a complex topic. She was the wife of Alan Orr Anderson, editor of the magisterial Early Sources of Scottish History (which she later revised) and with whom she produced what is still regarded as the definitive edition of Adomnán’s Life of Saint Columba. In Kings and Kingship she closely examined the regnal lists of the Picts and Scots, assessing their usefulness (or otherwise) as repositories of reliable historical information. She had already presented much of this analysis as far back as 1949-50, in three articles for the Scottish Historical Review, but some of her views had changed in the ensuing years. So, in 1973, her earlier findings were reissued, with updates, in a single monograph. As an exercise in how to approach the historical sources with the caution they deserve, rather than with uncritical acceptance of what they appear to say, Kings and Kingship was an exemplary work. It was Marjorie Anderson’s magnum opus and, after four decades, its influence is still felt today.

The 2011 reprint from Birlinn includes an introduction by Nicholas Evans of the University of Glasgow, highlighting the book’s importance. Dr Evans also adds a bibliography of recent publications on the subject. Strangely, given the vast number of times I’ve borrowed Kings and Kingship from the library – often with multiple renewals – it remains a notable absentee from my bookshelf. I should really do something about that.

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Marjorie Ogilvie Anderson, Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland. Published in Edinburgh in 1973; revised 1980; reprinted with new introduction 2011.

Publisher’s webpage for 2011 reprint.

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Additional note

Marjorie Anderson’s contribution to scholarship was acknowledged in a festschrift published two years before her death in 2002:
Simon Taylor (ed.) Kings, clerics and chronicles in Scotland, 500-1297: essays in honour of Marjorie Ogilvie Anderson on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday (Dublin, 2000).
Like so many of her own publications, her festschrift is an invaluable resource in its own right.

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ScARF

ScARF
Very pleased to find a copy of Telling Scotland’s Story in my latest mailing from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. The front cover of this nicely produced booklet is shown above.

Telling Scotland’s Story has been issued to accompany the launch of ScARF, the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework, a major new resource based on collaboration between people from different fields. The booklet is available as a free download from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland website, which also gives a neat overview of what ScARF is about:

Experts from a wide range of disciplines are pooling their skills and knowledge in a bid to piece together a comprehensive record of Scotland’s past. Archaeologists, historians, scientists and specialists in climatology and the natural sciences hope that by bringing their research and data together in one place, they’ll be able, eventually, to map out the history of Scotland in its entirety…… Collaborating for the first time through The Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF), this research community expects to uncover new stories of Scotland’s past and solve mysteries that have continued to elude explanation.

These aims are set out more formally in a mission statement:

The Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF) will endeavour:
i) To identify the topics within Scottish archaeology that offer opportunities for the highest quality of research.
ii) To seek the assistance of, and to assist, all sectors of the archaeological community – e.g. academic, governmental, museum-based, commercial and voluntary – to identify and fulfil the research needs essential to the development of Scottish archaeology.
iii) To assist the wider community, including corporate bodies and government, to understand and appreciate the rich opportunities afforded by, and the potential of, Scottish archaeology
.

Read the rest of the ScARF mission statement here.

Telling Scotland’s Story is presented in an eye-catching way, in the style of a graphic novel. It gives vivid snapshots of a small selection of recent archaeological stories, ranging from prehistoric ‘Frankenstein mummies’ in the Outer Hebrides to fifteenth-century Scottish mercenaries in Sweden. It’s a fascinating publication in its own right, as well as being an imaginative introduction to ScARF. Web freebies don’t come much better than this!

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Links:

ScARF: The Scottish Archaeological Research Framework
Telling Scotland’s Story (free download from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland)
Society of Antiquaries of Scotland website

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Going digital

Although I’m not renowned for keeping up with new technology, I’m pleased to report that my books are now available as Kindle editions at Amazon UK and Amazon US. Not having the necessary gizmo means it may be some time before I get to see them :)

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The Heroic Age (issue 15)

The fifteenth issue of The Heroic Age offers high-quality, peer-reviewed articles and useful book reviews. This successful online journal, founded by Michelle Ziegler in the 1990s, goes from strength to strength.

If you’re interested in early medieval Europe (particularly its northwestern parts) you’ll find the journal worth a look. Check out the current contents and browse the archive of earlier issues. If you go back far enough you might even stumble across a couple of things written by me, such as my 2006 article on the Battle of Maserfelth.

Among the contents of Issue 15 is a very useful edition of Annales Cambriae, the Welsh Annals, by Henry Gough-Cooper. Since 2002 we’ve had David Dumville’s parallel edition* of the three principal texts of AC for the years 682-954 but nothing similar for the earlier period. Thanks to Henry’s painstaking scholarship, we now have the ‘missing link’ in the form of a parallel edition starting at the mid-fifth century and joining up with Dumville’s edition at 682. While those of us with Scottish interests might focus on a small number of entries relating to Dál Riata and Northumbria, followers of the ‘Historical Arthur’ debate may be more interested in how the battles of Badon and Camlann were reported in the three texts. It’s this kind of comparative study that makes Henry’s edition so valuable.

Here’s an official announcement from the journal:
‘The editorial staff of The Heroic Age is pleased to announce the release of Issue 15. Issue 15 contains articles on Late Antiquity, Arthuriana, and Folklore, as well as an edition of the Annales Cambriae from the time of St. Patrick through 682. The issue can be found at www.heroicage.org. The editorial staff would like to thank all our contributors, staff, and volunteer copy-editors. We would also like to thank Memorial University of Newfoundland for continuing to host The Heroic Age.’

The Heroic Age. Issue 15: October 2012

* Dumville, David (ed.) Annales Cambriae, AD 682–954: texts A–C in parallel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

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New book on Saint Columba

Columba
This is my fourth book, a biographical study of Saint Columba, the founder of Iona. Like my previous books it draws on primary and secondary sources to present a narrative history of its subject. In this case the main primary source (Adomnán’s Life of St Columba) is so central to the narrative that its author features almost as prominently as Columba himself. In fact, I’ve used Adomnán as my chief guide. My narrative sticks fairly closely to the Life throughout the first part of the book, which deals with Columba’s career in Ireland and Scotland. The second part looks at Columba’s legacy: the cult that grew around him and the federation of churches that regarded him as their patron.

One aspect of Columba’s story that particularly interests me is his interaction with secular powers, especially with ambitious rulers such as his kinsman Áed mac Ainmerech in Ireland, Áedán mac Gabráin of Dal Riata and the Pictish king Bridei. His relationships with these three, and with other powerful lords, are examined in this book, as are his dealings with folk of lesser social status.

Contents
Introduction: Finding Columba
Chapter 1 – The Sources
Chapter 2 – From Ireland to Iona
Chapter 3 – King Áedán
Chapter 4 – Abbot
Chapter 5 – Iona and her Neighbours
Chapter 6 – The Picts
Chapter 7 – Saint
Chapter 8 – Paruchia and Familia
Chapter 9 – Legacy

Like my second book The Men of the North: the Britons of Southern Scotland, this one has detailed references which are gathered into a Notes section at the rear, with an accompanying bibliography. Illustrations include maps and black-and-white photographs.

Columba is published in Edinburgh by John Donald. It is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

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More Brunanburh links

Athelstan

King Athelstan depicted on a Victorian cigarette card.


The Battle of Brunanburh was a great victory for the English king Athelstan over an alliance of Vikings, Scots and Strathclyde Britons. It took place in 937 but its location has long been a mystery.

This blogpost adds four more links to the two I noted in an earlier post relating to the battle.

In a new paper uploaded to his webspace at Academia, Mick Deakin examines the case for locating the battle near Kirkburn in Yorkshire. Using old chronicles alongside place-name data, Mick reminds us that we should not be too quick to place the battlefield west of the Pennines (as many of us do – including myself). Several pieces of information in this paper were completely new to me, and it has certainly got me thinking about my own westward-leaning view of the campaign.

Those of you who follow the comment thread below my previous ‘Brunanburh links’ blogpost will have seen Damian Bullen’s recent comments supporting the case for Burnley. Damian sets this out in more detail at his blog where, among other things, he looks at possible clues offered by local place-names. Lancashire antiquarians of the 18th and 19th centuries were happy to believe that Athelstan’s great victory was indeed won on the moors above Burnley, just as their Yorkshire counterparts thought that its true location lay in the White Rose county. Whatever our own individual views on the location of Brunanburh, the important point is that neither Burnley nor Kirkburn can be ruled out as long as the site of the battle remains a mystery.

It’s good to see these and other theories being brought into the limelight, not least to keep the debate alive, and to remind everyone that the mystery still persists. At the moment, there’s a real risk of the debate being pushed aside by a growing academic consensus that the battle took place at Bromborough on the Wirral. In the paper cited above, Mick Deakin quotes from the recently published Brunanburh Casebook, a collection of articles dealing with various aspects of the topic. The book’s editor Michael Livingston writes: ‘…put simply, the case for Bromborough is currently so firm that many scholars are engaged not with the question of whether Brunanburh occurred on the Wirral, but where on the peninsula it took place…’. While it is true that Bromborough has a strong case on place-name grounds, its identification as the battlefield of 937 remains unproven, and this uncertainty needs to be acknowledged. Alternative theories should therefore be kept in the foreground, to be studied alongside Bromborough, and with equal scholarly vigour.

My third link is to an item by Kevin Halloran, an expert on 10th-century history and the author of two fascinating studies of the Brunanburh campaign (both published in Scottish Historical Review). In a paper recently uploaded at his Academia webspace, Kevin looks in detail at Athelstan’s invasion of Scotland in 934, a military venture that turned out to be a prelude to Brunanburh. Much of the background to the latter campaign was put in place three years earlier, so Kevin’s paper will be useful to anyone with an interest in the wider political context. Some of you will already be aware that Kevin has made a strong case for identifying Burnswark, a prominent hill in southwest Scotland, as the location of Brunanburh.

Finally, a valuable resource is Jon Ingledew’s Battle of Brunanburh website which summarises the respective arguments for Burnley, Bromborough and Broomridge (in Northumberland). Jon has also gathered the various chronicle references, which makes it easier to see the different names given to the battle by medieval writers.

And so the debate continues……

N.B. You’ll need to be signed up to Academia to download the papers by Kevin and Mick.

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Bits & Pieces

This is a round-up of various types of online information ranging from blogposts to newspaper articles to announcements of books and e-books.

I’ll begin with books that have recently appeared. These relate to Senchus topics and have been written by people who have commented on past blogposts here. In no particular order….

Hot off the press is The Chronicles of Iona: Exile by medievalist and blogger Paula de Fougerolles. Launched last month at The Haven (‘Boston’s first and only Scottish pub’) it tells through the medium of historical fiction the story of St Columba’s dealings with the early Scottish king Áedán mac Gabráin. Back in March in a roundup from the blogosphere I gave advance notice of this book, which is now available in print and electronic formats. The second volume in the Chronicles of Iona series is already in the pipeline. Check out Paula’s blog to keep up to date with her writing, or follow her on Twitter at @PaulaDeFoug

Seventh century Britain is in transition. Small kingdoms are dissolving and merging…..’ This is the volatile world in which a young Anglo-Saxon woman, the future St Hild of Whitby, is set to play an important part. Hild is the subject of Nicola Griffith’s eponymous novel which is due to be published in New York in the autumn of 2013. Nicola has an impressive track record as a prize-winning author so we know the narrative is in safe hands. In addition, I can vouch for her depiction of seventh-century North Britain as meticulously researched and as historically accurate as it’s possible to get. Those of you who use Twitter will find Nicola at @nicolaz or you can follow the progress of Hild via the Gemaecca blog.

Also newly published is The Last of the Druids: the Mystery of the Pictish Symbol Stones by Iain Forbes. This is another book I mentioned as forthcoming back in March, when I posted a link to the striking cover which shows the Hilton of Cadboll cross-slab. Out in the Twittersphere, where Iain is @IainForbesPict, he and I frequently provide our respective followers with links to pictures of Pictish stones and bounce each other’s tweets to and fro. Iain’s blog is also worth a look if you’re interested in the Picts. It currently has a nice post about the stone from Shandwick in Easter Ross.

Badonicus blogger Mak Wilson is working on an e-book about the historical figure behind the legends of ‘King’ Arthur. I’ve borrowed the inverted commas from the title of the book. The subtitle poses the fundamental question at the heart of the debate: Fact? Fiction? or Confusion? As part of the process Mak is re-working some of his blogposts and posting new links to the updated versions. If you’re a frequent visitor to Senchus you’ve probably seen one or more of Mak’s comments in various threads here. Mak’s on Twitter too, as @MakOfShropshire

Richard Denning will be a name familiar to those of you who follow the comment threads on my blogposts dealing with the Battle of Degsastan. At Richard’s website you’ll see information on his historical novel The Amber Treasure which is set in the era of the battle. Here’s a synopsis of the story… 6th Century Northumbria: Cerdic, the nephew of the great warrior Cynric, grows up dreaming of glory in battle and writing his name in the sagas. When war comes for real though, his sister is kidnapped, his family betrayed and his uncle’s legendary sword stolen. It falls to Cerdic to avenge his family’s loss, rescue his sister and return home with the sword.

Child of Loki, Richard’s second novel about sixth-century North Britain, is also available. In addition, Richard gives his views on Degsastan on the website English Historical Fiction Authors. You can follow him on Twitter where he’s easily recognisable as @RichardDenning

The Viking Highlands – The Norse Age in the Highlands by Dave Kelday is an e-book which looks at one of the most turbulent periods in Scottish history. The description at Amazon says that the author “aims to present a coherent, historical, sometimes speculative, narrative of that long era in Highland history when the people, politics and culture of the Norse played such a vital and significant role in the life and development of the nation.” I’m no stranger to weaving a historical narrative from scattered fragments of data, having used the same technique in my own books. In an email conversation Dave told me he used controversial texts such as the Norse sagas and the Manx Chronicle in this way while keeping in mind their limitations as historical sources.

Moving seamlessly from books and e-books to blogposts, online essays and news items…….

Most of you will know by now that Scotland has been given the Disney/Pixar treatment in a new animated feature called Brave. It looks good and is already out in the US. Michelle Ziegler went to see it and has put up a useful review at her Heavenfield blog. I hope to see Brave in the not-too-distant future and will probably review it here.

Do you remember my series of posts on the origins of Clan Galbraith? One contributor to the comment threads was Peter Kincaid who runs the website kyncades.org which explores the history of his surname. Peter has written an interesting paper on King Coroticus, the slave-raiding warlord castigated by St Patrick for capturing young Irish Christians and selling them to the Picts. One Irish tradition associated Coroticus with Aloo, usually interpreted as a garbled Gaelic form of Alt Clut, the Rock of Clyde at Dumbarton. Peter questions this identification and offers an alternative theory which suggests that Aloo might refer not to a place but to a military unit.

What nationality was St Cuthbert? Being interested in matters of ethnicity and identity in early medieval times it’s the kind of question I like to explore. I’m grateful to Liz Roberts for pointing me to a letter on the Telegraph website suggesting that the answer to this question should not necessarily be ‘English’. It is possible that Cuthbert was as much a Scottish saint as an English one, or maybe we should simply call him ‘Northumbrian’. I know from speaking to Liz that she has her own views on the use of ethnic terminology relating to this period. She’s right to be concerned about it. Terms such as ‘Scottish’ and ‘British’ are sometimes bandied about quite casually in reference to the early medieval period, without much thought being given to what they really meant a thousand years ago.

Here’s another question: where did the Picts defeat the Northumbrians on 20 May 685? The vicinity of Dunnichen Hill in Angus is seen by many as the likeliest location, but Dunachton in Badenoch is another candidate. Either or neither of these places could be the hill (or hillfort) called Dun Nechtáin in the Irish annals. The uncertainty means that the best-known event in Pictish history cannot be listed in an official inventory of battlefields. Historic Scotland’s decision to exclude Dunnichen from the list has not gone down too well in Angus, as this news item from The Courier makes clear.

Further west, in the Hebridean seaways, an archaeological excavation has recently commenced on the island of Eigg, its aim being to discover the origins of the ecclesiastical site at Kildonan. This is supposedly where St Donnan established a monastery in the late sixth century. He and his monks suffered martyrdom in 617 when the island was attacked by pirates. Because of the importance of the site I’ll be following the progress of this excavation closely. At some point I hope to run a blogpost about it.

Another excavation is hoping to unravel the mystery of Trusty’s Hill, a site overlooking the Solway Firth, where Pictish symbols are carved on a rock at the summit. Why are these carvings found here, so far away from the Pictish heartlands? Who occupied the fort on top of the hill? This was territory ruled by Britons, not Picts – or so conventional wisdom tells us. Yet the name Trusty seems to relate in some way to Tristan, and both may derive from the Pictish name Drostan, so are we looking at a genuine connection with the Picts?

Finally, but not for the last time, I recommend a visit to Heavenfield where Michelle has recently posted her latest round-up from the medieval blogs as well as the above-mentioned review of Brave. If you’re a ‘tweep’ you can follow Michelle on Twitter where she’s @MZiegler3. I’m a twitterer as well, in two guises: @EarlyScotland and @GovanStones. Speaking of Govan, I’ll be giving an update on what’s been happening there in my next blogpost, which will be published here at Senchus rather than at Heart of the Kingdom.

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