Pictish warrior women?

“It is plausible to conclude that, prior to 700, the Picts allowed and/or required women to fight.”  Paul Wagner, Pictish warrior, AD 297-841 (Osprey, 2002), p.63

I find this statement difficult to reconcile with what we know of the Picts. It is based chiefly on Adomnan’s Law of Innocents (AD 697) which established a code of conduct for protecting non-combatants (women, children and monks) from military service and from the ravages of warfare. The code was ratified by nearly every Celtic kingdom in the British Isles and was reinforced by a system of fines. Wagner is not alone in assuming that Adomnan’s plea for women to be exempt from military service means that they were routinely recruited as soldiers prior to 697. Like others before him he supports his view by pointing to Irish legends of female warriors and to historical figures such as Boudicca. He cites no examples from the early medieval period because none exist.

There were, no doubt, many desperate occasions when individual Pictish women took up arms to defend their homes and families against marauders. From here it is a big leap to imagine formal recruitment of weapon-bearing females into the warband of a Pictish king. Neither the Picts nor their neighbours operated egalitarian societies where everyone got involved and did their bit for the wider community. On the contrary, these societies were strictly hierarchical. At the top of the social structure stood a rich aristocracy from whose ranks the king and his family were drawn. These aristocrats also provided an exclusive warrior class and were the only social group permitted to engage in warfare. There was no middle class and – in Celtic society at least – no free, weapon-bearing peasantry akin to the later Anglo-Saxon fyrd. The gulf between nobles and peasants – in terms of wealth and status – was huge and insurmountable.

Early medieval societies were not only unequal but patriarchal as well. They were male-dominated and gave little real authority to women. This is why the Pictish regnal lists show a long line of kings but no queens. It also explains why female Picts are rarely mentioned in contemporary sources such as the Irish annals. In this context it is important to note that Pictish royal matriliny – the selection of a king by his maternal ancestry – is not the same as Pictish matriarchy. Female Picts, even aristocratic ones, were denied access to the upper levels of power and authority. In patriarchal societies women are normally excluded from warfare and are not expected to fight alongside their menfolk except in dire circumstances.

The notion of Pictish female warriors is, in fact, highly implausible. Aristocratic Pictish women were excluded from military service by reasons of gender. Peasant women were excluded by reasons of gender and social class. These exclusions were mirrored across the whole of Europe and were not confined to Northern Britain alone. The same restrictions applied also to Boudicca of the Iceni, though she seemingly bucked the trend and led her people to war. We should nevertheless regard her as an exception to the norm, just as the later Anglo-Saxon warrior queens Aethelburh (who besieged Taunton in 722) and Aethelflaed (the “Lady of the Mercians”) were exceptional in their own times. Whether any of these charismatic and resourceful women ever actually fought in combat is a different matter.

37 comments on “Pictish warrior women?

  1. Neldoreth says:

    What I find interesting about your post is that it is not referenced at all, you state your opinions as facts, and the cornerstone of your argument, which you assume to be true – women were excluded from military service by reasons of gender – is in fact the same thing that you are arguing to defend. Furthermore, there are example in The Tain of female warriors from Alba; I imagine you would discard those as the rantings of a celtic, uncivilized people? You above rant reminds me of Paul the Deacon, who found the celtic histories of the Lombard “silly” and “laughable” in regards to their origin stories and decided to simply ignore them. Your argument is not convincing.


  2. Tim says:

    I regard the Tain as a classic of Celtic heroic literature but it is not a source of social or political history. The main point of my argument is that female warriors are absent from the historical texts (e.g. Bede and the Irish Annals). Their appearance in literary works such as the Tain is not surprising and rather supports my “rant”.

    • The descriptions of armour in Homer’s Iliad were dismissed as literary invention until Troy was found and excavated. The Tain is certainly a work of myth since it includes gods and people transformed into animals, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everything it says is false, any more than everything in The Iliad should be dismissed as made up because parts of it are about Gods intervening on earth. The Tain might contain some historical fact, like the Iliad does, though it’d be hard to know which parts are based on fact.

      If we had a lot of historical sources on the picts then it’d be easier to say one way or the other. Like you i’m sceptical that they had female warriors given the lack of positive evidence that they did. And it seems unlikely that those who fought them wouldn’t have remarked on it in their own records if they had a practice as unusual as having female warriors, but it seems hard to rule it out for definite given how few and sparse written records sabout the Picts survive.

  3. Neldoreth says:

    They wouldn’t have to make laws and write stories encouraging women to stop fighting and act like *good* women in a patriarchy should unless they were fighting, and were not acting like *good* women. Thus the Tain is a great example of how women were fighting and generally *not* acting in line with the patriarchal interests.

    When you talk of Bede and the Irish Annals you talk of history that was written by devoutly patriarchal and sexist men. So, to use that as proof that women didn’t fight is invalid. As I pointed out before, your argument is the same as your conclusion; you ask me to put faith in patriarchal and sexist text to prove your point. If I was willing to put faith into those patriarchal texts then we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place.

    Also, women are mentioned in the Irish Annals. The details around their lives are vague, or not there are all. This is a very good sign that their acts didn’t serve the translators or transcribers agenda, and so were left out. It’s a game of Telephone or Chinese Whispers that was influenced by generations of patriarchs with an interest in maintaining the patriarchy.

    As for Boudicca and Aethelburh being exceptions to patriarchal rule, I will agree there. They were exceptions because their stories were somehow preserved even through generations of patriarchal translations and transcriptions.


    • Problem with that argument is that for later periods where we do have much more historical evidence women rulers are still the exception not the rule, and women warriors or soldiers even more so (e.g no female warriors in Europe in the entire medieval period, except for the odd queen leading an army of men – e.g Matilda. Where women were allowed more freedom than normal in the ancient through to early modern periods – e.g Spartan women allowed to train at sports naked, Scythian women warriors/horsewomen, Viking women given status equal to men, it gets mentioned a lot in the sources, probably because it was so unusual. Seems likely that if Pictish women were usually armed and fought, their enemies would have mentioned it, because it would have been so unusual.

  4. Tim says:

    Good point about Bede and other texts being the products of a patriarchal and chauvinistic society. It would indeed be surprising to see women regularly portrayed in non-traditional roles (e.g. as warriors) in such texts. But surely the Tain and similar examples of Celtic heroic saga originated in the same kind of patriarchal environments as the world of Bede and the Irish annalists? One possible interpretation is that the female warriors depicted in Celtic lore of any time-period might be fictional caricatures of women devised by men, rather than respected professional fighters of equal status to the male soldiers of the royal warbands. This could apply to later Irish monastic texts such as Cain Adamnain as well as to the heroic tales of a more remote past. It would not apply if we had good evidence that gender hierarchies in pre-Christian Ireland differed from those of Adomnan’s time but such evidence has not been found. Unfortunately the tales themselves cannot be taken at face value as sources of pre-Christian social history (this is not my own personal view but reflects the general consensus).

  5. Peta Forward says:

    Hi,I would greatly appreciate being put in contact (give my details to)the person who is arguing for the Pictish Women as I have a very personal family interest in this area. I have been searching for someone to talk to about this to finaly answer questions.
    Kind regards Peta

  6. Tim says:

    I’ve altered one sentence in this post to make the information clearer. It’s the one about references to Pictish women in the Irish annals. The original version highlighted Princess Eithne, whose death in 778 was noted by the annalists. In the amended version Eithne no longer appears and a more general point about female Picts is made. This allows the sentence to implicitly include not only Eithne but women such as Mael Muire (died 913) and Coblaith of Skye (died 689) who may have been ‘half-Picts’ or ‘Picto-Scots’.

    All three women appear elsewhere on this blog, under the following posts:
    Eithne (Two Pictish princesses)
    Mael Muire (A Pictish queen of Tara)
    Coblaith (A Pictish woman of Skye)

  7. Buannan says:

    The narrative of the Tain is highly mythical, the women who feature all serve specific rolls central to the story; otherworldly companionship betrayed by mortal mans weakness/drunkenness and an ensuing curse, sovereignty, a wife fit for a champion (if he can prove himself worthy), prophesy, training in the advanced martial arts (read otherworldly), giver of victory in battle (overtly otherworldly).

    The references in the Tain to Alba which concern women warriors are themselves particularly mythical in nature. Gaining access to a fortress by employing super human abilities, the initiation into martial secrets and use of/granting of a magical weapon, defeating a rival warrior queen by trickery because her martial prowess is more than a match for the story’s super human hero ( is this not really just an other trip to the otherworld, in a similar vein to the adventures of mythical Arthur or Fionn, in an attempt to prepare our red branch hero for the coming task? Especially the slaying of the hero’s son who travels from the north to ireland in his bronze boat, slain by the hero’s own hand because the boy refuses to name himself, which was a specific instruction of his fathers).

    In the folk traditions of the north west highlands of scotland and particularly from a tight geographical area comprising; Skye, the small isles and the adjacent mainland, there exists a tradition of warrior women in local myth.

    The island of Eigg, known as Eilean Ban Mor in gaelic legend, island of the big women (still commemorated in the name of one of the islands lochs). Those same “big women” are traditionally associated with the martyring of Donan, which, in tradition, was ordered by a local queen who’s sheep were being put off their grazing by the chanting of Donan’s monks.

    Dun Scaithach on skye associated with the Tain, the story likely being attached at a later date and woven into local legend, although there is evidence of an earlier Dun/fortification underlying the 12th – 13th century ruin. From this Dun you can see Scaithach’s sister in the landscape to the north east, lying on her back awaiting her lovers return.

    There are also a few veiled women commemorated in local mountain names on the south of skye and stories of a big warrior queen/princess who pulls a chain across the kyle narrows to exact tribute from passing ships, who is herself associated with these hills.

    Is this not a faint memory of warrior women or maybe just a faint glimmer of local warrior goddesses, or perhaps just the expression of fanciful mythical though processes to explain the surroundings, those same mythical though processes that continued until recently and found expression around the the hearths of the local clachan’s & crofts. Eventually finding their way into the narrative collections of well meaning early antiquarians?

  8. Tim says:

    Thank you Buannan for posting these interesting snippets of old folklore. The giant lady exacting tribute from ships off Skye is one I will certainly follow up, having recently written a blogpost about a historical princess of the island.

    I’m no expert on mythology but these look to me like legends about supernatural figures rather than folk-memories of warrior women. You refer to the ‘faint glimmer of local warrior goddesses’ which neatly sums up my thoughts. The localised tales seem to represent a more widespread mythology about Scathach-type martial females. It would however be very interesting to know if any of these legends are rooted in genuine Hebridean history. Saint Donnan’s fatal dispute with a local queen has always seemed to me like a story with a possible factual basis.

  9. Buannan says:

    Thank you Tim for both your reply and for hosting a great site.

    I’m familiar with the chaining of the Kyle narrows in local myth, the rendering of the story is usually brief, sparse in detail;

    Saucy Mary, a viking princess (?), pulls the chain across the narrows to exact shipping tribute and is associated with the nearby ruin of castle moal, where she lived.

    There are confused traditions relating to a viking princess and her handmaid, the latter is reputedly buried under the cairn on top of the Broadford “Beinn a Caileach” with her head pointed to her homeland of norway on account of her home sickness that she never recovered from. Interestingly this cairn is also associated with Fionn & is reputedly the grave of his wife, mother of Oisin, recovered from the wastes of glen affric after being kidnaped and changed into a white hind (deer) by a druid/magician.

    A quick survey of the OS map of the south of skye will tell you that the Broadford “Beinn a Caileach” is the only “Beinn a Caileach” in the area. Not so. The other “Beinn a Caileach” is to be found in the hill behind castle moal rising from the south shore of lochalsh, people on the opposite shore simply refer to the hill as “an caileach”, the old woman, although this is not the name attributed to the hill on the OS map. I dare say the OS surveyors didn’t ask the lochalsh parishioners for their rendering, rather the nearby communities of breakish & broadford on skye. This hill has a very different character when viewed the north shore of lochalsh and can be seen in her most majestic aspect from Balmacara, three miles before Kyle of Lochalsh on the A87.

    The story of Saucy Mary is also connected to the Clan MacKinnon and their founder Findanus. Who is reputed to have married Mary and helped her with the chain, although he’s never mentioned in the local rendition of the story. Dynastic legitimacy springs to mind as is often the way with these foundation myths. Findanus marrying a local deity? Findanus is possibly a historical character from the 10th century.

    The story of the chain is fanciful in the extreme, given the 800+ meters and 4 to 5kn tidal rip. To accomplish this with modern equipment would require some fairly hefty tackle. Also the “Saucy” element of Mary’s name, I would speculate, is a polite english rendering of something a little more salacious implying inappropriate lady like behavior, hence the viking connection perhaps (not us we’re catholic).

    Perhaps my favorite lochalsh Caileach connection is related to hill loch fishing advice. In spring trout fishing is not considered viable in the local hill lochs “until the snow has cleared the Caileach”, sage advice I’ve found to be true.

  10. Tim says:

    I’m intrigued by these stories of viking princesses and Caileach hills. Skye is fairly high on my list of topics just now, so a book on the island’s folktales is something I’ll start looking out for. In the meantime I’ll take a look at the map to find the place-names you mentioned. Thanks again for posting this info.

  11. Buannan says:

    Your likely aware of the recent archeological discoveries associated with Uamh an Aird Achadh “high-pasture-cave” (better translation would be the”the high field cave” a field is a field after all) near Torrin on Skye, which looks onto the S/W flank of the Broadford Cailleach as well as the vista of the Clach Glas-Blavan ridge and the hills in between.

    The discovery of late bronze/iron age remains of a woman & infants in the entrance way are really quite intriguing. I’m unable to find information on the over all context of these and the other finds from this site other than outline information posted on the official website. I was wondering if you had an idea where I could direct my enquiries for a more detailed analysis or where to find papers published by the various experts involved?

    As to Skye folklore/folktales; Skye: The Island and Its Legends by Otta Swire.
    ISBN-13: 978-1841584799

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for the Swire book reference, Buannan.

      The cave is slightly too early to be picked up on my radar but it sounds interesting nonetheless. I like the way it’s sometimes referred to as the Entrance to the Underworld. Looks like the recent archaeology was done by Steven Birch whose preliminary findings are cited as forthcoming in the bibliography of Scottish Archaeology Internet Report 39 (November 2009).

      Here’s a link to SAIR 39

  12. Buannan says:

    Thanks for the link to the SAIR site Tim I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

    “The entrance to the underworld” is an evocative description indeed. We’ll have to wait and see.

    Perhaps the Morvern Queen is of a similar cut to the earlier semi historical queens from further south. Cartimandua and Boudica (also the mythical Maev in the Tain) who wielded significant power and led their respective peoples, in the case of Boudica & Maev actually leading combined hosts to (in?) battle. Cartimandua, we are told, takes a new consort to keep in with the romans in an attempt to avoid civil unrest in “her” kingdom as the usurped consort wouldn’t tow the political line . The root of the warrior woman motif in our mythology could be a folk memory of this type of matrilineal authority (and perhaps that of Pictish matrilineal succession).

    The idea forwarded by some who see these semi historical queens as the physical embodiments of the local sovereignty goddess associated with these king/queendoms is indeed an interesting idea. The male consort heading the war band pushing the frontiers of the kingdom in the campaigning season, raiding the cattle of neighbours and, if the body of irish & welsh, native, mythical tradition is anything to go by, perhaps raiding one anothers sacred sites, as a sacred duty and rite in it’s self, a divine struggle between goddesses played out by mortals.

    If the indeed case, the question I would ask is how long did this sort of pagan divine Queen/king-ship continue into the christian era?

    Some anecdotal evidence for the continuation of symbolic marriage between chief & chiefdom can be found in the 12th century book By Gerald of Wales: Topographia Hibernica. But I’m unaware of any reference from mainland britain to this practice.

    • Tim says:

      Your thoughts on the origin of the warrior woman motif pretty much sum up my own.

      I would guess that the image of the queen-goddess and its association with actual royal power remained strong long after the pagan period. Somewhere in the modern literature on folklore there’s probably an article dealing with this.

      The idea of symbolic marriage between chief and chiefdom reminds me of the rituals at Dunadd where a new king put his bare foot in a hollow footprint carved on a rock, presumably to show his physical connection with the land.

      • Buannan says:

        I’ve no doubt that the concept of this sort of divine kingship did continue in it’s more overtly pagan form for much longer than our christian chroniclers would have us believe. There is reference to early “christian” kings maintaining priests and seers under royal patronage at court in Ireland and else where, for a time.

        Gildas hints at this duality among some contemporary british “tyrants” in his writing on the ruin of britain and there are examples from the conversions of pagan english and later viking kings who became nominally “christian” whilst presiding over largely pagan subjects, baptized of not these king seem to have kept a foot in both camps by way of respecting the values and traditions that kept them in power.

        I would think this would have been the norm for quite some time, whilst populations (all be it mainly concerning the conversions of the more powerful elements tied to the ruling elites) were slowly convinced and converted. The general populations seem to have maintained a more traditionally pagan approach to their world view for quite some time, catered for by the church by accommodating “saints cults” and weaving divine pagan origins or divine pagan associations into the genealogies/lifes of real saints (Lot & Kentigern being an example of middle age pseudo historical meddling), by way of breaking down the more stubborn and persistent popular folk religion traditions, which continued down to relatively recent times.

        The image Columba’s biographer paints of Áedán’s inauguration is demonstrative of the continuation of traditional ritual under christian stewardship. Sacrificing to God rather than pagan gods and goddesses being the only real difference for the newly converted. The overtly masculine nature of the inauguration mentioned in Adomnán’s Vita Columbae is however at odds with near contemporary mythical references from similar inaugurations in Ireland, eg Áedán doesn’t snog any ugly hags who turn into beautiful sovereign queens as is a motif associated with Niall (Columba’s own GG Grandfather) and the high kingship of Ireland.

        Which leaves the concept of the goddess queen or the feminine motif of sovereignty shrouded in almost as much battle fog (which I take as a pagan motif rather than a reference to an over heating host on a cold field) as that of warrior women, lol. Perhaps I need to keep reading.

        Something that may be of interest from the cave excavation on Skye is a pictish style double chain found on the site, in bronze rather than silver. You’ll find it at the bottom of the page in the link below. Sorry for the long post.


  13. Tim says:

    There are certainly enough hints in the sources to suggest that some kings were ‘hedging their bets’ when Christian baptism was on offer. They were understandably wary of cutting their ties with the old gods. And the story of Coifi shows how even a pagan priest could waver between the two camps.

    That double-linked chain does look Pictish. If it’s as ancient as the web-report implies, it suggests remarkable artistic continuity.

    • Buannan says:

      “A remarkable artistic continuity”

      And now spread over a wider geographical area than previous finds have implied for the “cultural context” of this style of artifact.

  14. Mak Wilson says:

    Very interesting posts there.

    The one person that I would have thought would mention woman warriors would be Tacitus, and he doesn’t. Of course, that is just one period in time, and we don’t know what he actually witnessed with his own eyes.

    Who knows … well, the makers of the film ‘Centurion’ seem to. They have several Pictish female warriors.


    • Phil says:

      I enjoyed ‘Centurion’ Mak – ‘a western with woad’ was how my wife described it. Interesting that the producers had the Picts speaking Gaelic.

      • Mak Wilson says:

        I found it hard to suspend my disbelief at times. I know those soldiers were tough, but I’m sure they weren’t immuned to hypothermia!

        Yes, strange choice with the language.


  15. Tim says:

    I haven’t seen ‘Centurion’. Probably something I’ll pick up on DVD. It sounds like ‘Gladiator’ with Scottish weather substituted for Mediterranean sunshine.

    Gaelic-speaking Picts in Roman times? I think Welsh would have been a better choice.

  16. Tim says:

    Additional information relevant to this topic… Over at her ‘Women Of History’ blog, Melisende has collected some interesting ancient references to Celtic female warriors, including the much-discussed description of Irish women going into battle in Cain Adamnain.

  17. Kevin Luckham says:

    Every Celtic nation had legend upon legend of Warrior women whose purpose was to teach the men the propper use of ‘arms’ not to mention the innumerable war and death goddesses worshipped by the celts,(the cult of Briga is the source of our modern term Brigade) granted by the fall of paganism, society in the brittish isles had become completely male, but to say the picts NEVER had a culture of warrior women is absurd. I would know I still worship several of these goddesses.

    • Tim says:

      I agree that the Picts must have had their own legends about heroic female warriors and warrior-goddesses. My point is that we have no historical evidence to suggest that female participation in warfare was regarded as normal or acceptable in Pictish society. Celtic warrior goddesses don’t bridge the gap between mythological female soldiers and historical ones.

      I wrote the original post because I have a longstanding interest in the role of women in early medieval warfare. This began after I studied the Law of Innocents (AD 697) while researching for a thesis on military organization among the Picts, Scots, etc. What intrigued me at the time was what the Law said about women, and what it might tell us about how war affected them. Women were a ‘mute’ group in early medieval Britain and Ireland, in the sense that they left no written accounts of their own. I wondered if the Law of Innocents might give them a small voice amid all the male-written texts that form the basis of our view of history. In the end I ran out of time, and had to move on to other topics to keep the thesis on schedule, but my interest in female warriors continued nonetheless. I found only one verifiable ‘warrior woman’ from the period around c.700 and she was an Anglo-Saxon, not a Celt. Her name was Aethelburh and there is little doubt that she commanded a military force. Unfortunately, she has no equivalent in the historical record of the Celtic nations, regardless of how many warrior-goddesses turn up in legends.

  18. Ray Stirton says:

    Im interested in if anyone has any informaion on the name of the Druids the Picts may have used. Or of any rituals and druidic customs of the Picts.

    • Tim says:

      My first thought, Ray, is to direct you to Stuart McHardy’s books. In his New History of the Picts (2010) he mentions the Mother Goddess as a key figure in Pictish paganism and refers to wells, hills and old monuments as sites where sacred rituals were performed. I don’t have his Quest for the Nine Maidens (2003) but it may expand on the Mother Goddess/Druidess theme. Stuart is an expert on legends and folklore so his books are probably a good place to start.

      As far as I know, the only real/historical Pictish ‘druid’ of whom we have any knowledge is Broichan, foster-father of King Brude (Bridei) in the late 6th century. He appears in Adomnan’s Life of St Columba as a pagan adversary of the new religion and its Gaelic-speaking monks. Adomnan, writing in Latin, calls Broichan a magus, a word sometimes translated as ‘druid’. The trouble with ‘druid’ is that it has specific connotations with the groups of holy men whom the Romans identified as an obstacle to their conquest of southern Britain, and also with the Irish term drui from which it derives. The drui of Ireland may have been quite different from the troublesome bunch on Anglesey who got massacred by Roman troops. A more accurate translation of magus is ‘wizard’, in the sense of a wise man regarded as having special powers, or even ‘magician’. These terms liberate Broichan from whatever baggage we attach to the word ‘druid’ and allow us to see him for what he was: a pagan high-priest standing behind the throne of a Pictish king and exerting considerable influence as an adviser. We can only guess at what he called himself and his fellow magi in his own language, which was ‘Pictish-British’ and similar to the ancestor of Welsh. There may be an Old Welsh word, fairly close in meaning to Latin magus, which might point the way to a few possibilities.

      Adomnan doesn’t say much about the rituals of Pictish paganism but he does refer to sacred wells being worshipped. We don’t have much else from the old texts. I think we can assume that the religious practices of pre-Christian Pictland were similar to those in other parts of the Celtic world: veneration of natural phenomena and of landscape features such as lakes, hills, woods and springs. Archaeology sheds a bit of light here and there, as in the example of a wooden figure, probably a goddess, discovered in the peat at Ballachulish. She was probably used in religious rituals c.500 BC, by people who were ancestors of the Picts (if Loch Leven and Glencoe were Pictish areas).

      Final note: even though ‘druid’ is a loaded term, I still think we can talk about ‘druidical practices’ in Pictland without getting too tangled with the pagan religions of Ireland or Gaul or elsewhere. I think it’s only when we start thinking of a druidical ‘order’, like a single institution or priesthood connecting holy men (and women) in various Celtic regions, that we start losing touch with real history.

      I hope this helps. I’m no expert on Scotland’s pre-Christian religions but fortunately there are other folk (such as Stuart McH) who can offer more info.

  19. Ray Stirton says:

    Many, many thanks Tim, that was a wonderful answer, thank you very much. Ive got all Stuarts books so ill have to look them out and have another read. Hes fantastic to listen to if you ever get to hear him.
    Broichan is very interesting to me and I think there was a woman over on the west somewhere, cant remember her name. something like Scathach or something like that….must find some info…But I know some things of Broichan and Columba, and will do more research. But many thanks for such a long answer Tim. I ask all this as someone has contacted us over some Pictish research, this is his email for you to read…….

    From: Paul Kittel
    Date: Wed, 10 Aug 2011 12:23:07
    Subject: National Geographic

    Dear Sirs,

    I make a programme for National Geographic called Ancient X Files. Ancient X Files travels around the world to solve some intriguing riddles. Each story is a piece of detective work by an expert trying to make sense of some puzzling ancient artefact, to find the truth behind some extraordinary legend, to discover the origins of a bizarre myth or to establish the authenticity of a venerated religious relic. This series explores the bits of archaeology and history which seem to defy explanation. Our experts are following chains of clues and putting theories to the test, in an effort to explain the unexplained.
    At the moment I am researching a programme about the Picts and wondered if you might be able to help. The programme is about attempts by historians to uncover the Pictish language but I am also interested in learning more about the Picts in the film. I gather that, prior to their conversion to Christianity, Picts were pagans and had a druidical form of worship. Is this something you know about?
    I would be interested to speak to someone who knows about this and how you might potentially form part of the programme. I also wonder if you conduct ceremonies that may be similar to those conducted by the Picts.
    I can be contacted at this email address or on 020 7688 5187 or 07976 511273.

    Best wishes and thanks

    Paul Kittel

    If anyone wants to contact him feel free, we will do our best also got give him some knowledge.

    Kind Regards, Ray.

    • Tim says:

      Sounds like an interesting programme, Ray. Always good to see the Picts getting a bit of attention on TV. If the NG people are looking for info about the Pictish language they need to take a look at the published research of Katherine Forsyth (University of Glasgow) if they haven’t done so already.

      Scathach is a famous character of old Irish legend. She lived on Skye and ran a kind of training school for warriors.

  20. Ray Stirton says:

    thanks again for the info Tim. This site is amazing. And just wonderful people who like to share like your good self, thanks.

  21. […] Esta entrada algo antigua de uno de los blogs sobre temas célticos medievales que merece la pena seguir es un buen ejemplo de cómo hay que tomarse los textos “célticos” -es decir, irlandeses y escoceses- en relación con un asunto taaan fino: ¿mujeres guerreras? […]

  22. jim d says:

    wait a minute- i watched the movie centurion and they had women warriors fighting for the picts- are you saying movies aren’t historically accurate?

  23. jimthemorr says:

    Hi Tim

    I have only just come across this very interesting and ‘different’ post – still digesting it – and the responses!

    This section was interesting to me:
    “These aristocrats also provided an exclusive warrior class and were the only social group permitted to engage in warfare. There was no middle class and – in Celtic society at least – no free, weapon-bearing peasantry akin to the later Anglo-Saxon fyrd. The gulf between nobles and peasants – in terms of wealth and status – was huge and insurmountable.”

    You and I have discussed previously early medieval battles and their consequence and I had wondered about how peoples seemed to bounce back from apparently catastrophic defeats rather quickly (reminds me of Tom in ‘Tom and Jerry’!). I know there is the problem of hyperbole by the writers of the annals, but what if there were two or more groups of aristos at a given time and only one got duffed up in a particular battle? That would clear the way for another bunch.

    I seem to remember a story from the Battle of Flodden where the Douglases had defeated the English opposite them, thought the battle was over and went home. If that could happen in 1513, it could have occurred earlier. Battlefield communications are still problematic even in this technological era!


  24. Tim says:

    Jim – you may be interested in a follow-up post I uploaded in 2013 (maybe you’ve already seen it).

    I think the idea of more than one group of aristocrats is likely to be close to the truth. A big defeat could seriously weaken such folk, depriving them of soldiers and war-leaders and leaving them vulnerable not only to conquest by external enemies but also to rivals at home. A rival group of aristocrats might then seize the chance to take power, stepping into the vacuum and causing what looks like the fast recovery of a recently defeated kingdom. Among the Picts, there seem to have been a number of royal families who competed for (or rotated) the overkingships of northern and southern Pictland. If one family suffered heavy losses in a major defeat, another family was probably waiting in the wings. I imagine something similar may have happened among the Britons and Anglo-Saxons too.

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