Picts and Franks: compare and contrast

What I’m posting here isn’t so much a blogpost as a signpost to somewhere else, in this case the blog of Professor Guy Halsall, a historian at the University of York. I am grateful to Michelle of Heavenfield for bringing this to my attention.

Follow the link below, and take a look at Prof. Halsall’s thoughts on various aspects of Pictish society: burial customs, kingship and state-formation. It’s a detailed, fascinating study and I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in early Scottish history. Whether you prefer your Picts to be Mysterious (or Fairly Un-Mysterious), Mystical & Enigmatic (or Pretty Normal Barbarians After All), it’s a useful lesson in caution. To those of the latter persuasion, such as myself, Prof. Halsall advises us to hold back a bit, to not take the idea of a sophisticated ‘Pictish state’ too far. As he rightly reminds us, political evolution is not necessarily a straightforward linear process. Two steps forward can sometimes mean one step backward. He discusses key topics such as overlordship, the role of local elites and the geographical extent of royal power. Comparisons with the Frankish kingdoms provide useful contrasts and similarities with what Pictish kings might (or might not) have been doing in the 6th to 9th centuries. It’s quite a long blogpost, so be ready to set aside a few minutes of your time.

Guy Halsall: The Woad Less Travelled: the archaeology of earlier Pictish society and politics viewed from Francia

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7 comments on “Picts and Franks: compare and contrast

  1. Melisende says:

    Thanks for the “heads up” Tim.

  2. Phil says:

    Fascinating paper. Interestingly, he makes the point that ‘in late Roman political geography ‘Picts’ start at the Wall, not at the Forth’ – something McHardy also states in his ‘New History of the Picts’.

    • Buannan says:

      “Picts starting at the wall”, perhaps goes some way to explain why a frankish ecclesiastical envoy with papal backing would insist that Northumbrians desisted from “marking” themselves in the fashion of heathens at a comparatively late date in the 8th century.

      A custom borrowed from distant pictish neighbours? Or perhaps still current in the remoter corners of Northumbria and other parts of the north at the time?

      • Tim says:

        The Roman idea of Pictish territory starting at Hadrian’s Wall shows how blurred these ethnic boundaries were in ancient times. Our modern maps, showing Britain neatly divided between the different ethnic groups, begin to look more and more inaccurate.

        The attempt to ban tattooing among the Northumbrians is an interesting topic in itself. I’ve always assumed the fashion arose via contact with Picts in the Fife/Lothian border zone, but maybe there were ‘Picts’ or ‘wannabe Picts’ further south, in Northumbrian lands?

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  4. […] drawn attention to Guy Halsall’s ‘compare and contrast’ approach in an earlier post on the Picts. A link from there takes you to his blog or you can go directly to the text of his Anderson […]

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