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Nemo me impune lacessit *
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     From the Romans to the Normans
After the Romans left, Britain became a vacuum that sucked in the surrounding barbarians that long had lusted after the wealth of the island. The Picts lacked the numbers and the inclination to expand their lands but the Scots, Angles, Saxons and Jutes were only too ready to join in and seize the opportunity. From the east and south coasts of England, the Anglo-Saxons spread west and north. From the mid 400’s they slowly advanced and forced the Britons into ever decreasing enclaves centred on Cornwall, Wales and Cumbria. Many sought escape to Britany but most were absorbed into the new society. The northern tribes, also received their share of refugees and by the 600’s the Britons in the north had accumulated into two groups, the Gododdin in the Lothians and the Cumbrians, a loose group of petty kingdoms stretching from the Clyde to the English Lake District. Pressing these remaining British tribes hard from the southeast were the Angles. 
                                                                                     Meanwhile across the Irish sea, the Scots of                                                                                      Dal Riata had long established connections with                                                                                     the Western Islands and west coast of Scotland.                                                                                     The natural trade routes and migration paths                                                                                     were by sea as any glance at a map will tell us                                                                                     (even today travel by land is circuitous and                                                                                      difficult). In all probability the Scots were well                                                                                      established before 500 when Fergus Mor mac Eirc                                                                                      reputedly led his people to cross to Argyll in                                                                                      strength. The reality may be that he merely                                                                                      changed his seat of power to a more central and                                                                                      secure location; Ireland itself was the scene of                                                                                      constant power struggles and war. The balance of power gradually shifted over the next few centuries. By the mid 600s the Angles had supplanted the Gododdin and were firmly entrenched in the Lothians as part of Northumbria. As fortunes turned and the power of the varying component parts of the land waxed and waned, the next few centuries was a period of warfare and struggle for survival. To add further to the mix, by the late 700s the Vikings began to raid and colonise the Hebrides and the north and west of the mainland, intermarrying with the native Scots and Picts. The Angles too had their troubles with the Danes and control over Northumbria switched back and forth between Danish and Anglo-Saxon rulers. What finally broke the stalemate was the ascension of the Scots over the Picts. How this came about cannot be said with any certainty but most accept that the king of the Scoti, Kenneth mac Alpin took the Pictish throne about 840 as the son of a Pictish princess ( the Picts were a matrilineal society). Once Scoti ascendancy was entrenched, Pictish society gave way to Scottish to such an extent that within a century few vestiges of it remained. The welding of the two most northern Celtic nations, despite the depredations of the Vikings, gave the impetus to the conquest of the Lothians and the absorbing of the British kingdom of Strathclyde and Galloway. By 1018, after the victory over the Angles of Northumbria at Carham, the Scots had establish their borders much as they are today. All that remained was to take back Caithness and Sutherland and the northern and western islands from the Vikings and, of course, prevent the English from taking Scotland for its own. By the time of the Norman conquest of England, Scotland was finally becoming a nation. However it wasn’t a nation of one single people, with one single outlook and one single set of values. It was a mixture of Celtic and Germanic nations and even the Celtic portions spoke different languages. What did bring them together was the Christian religion and the struggle against their common enemies, the Vikings and the English.  Like the morning mist in the Highlands that obscures the view of the castle on Loch an Eilean, the picture that comes to us from those days is faint and insubstantial. There is something there to see but we cannot make out the details. We do have contemporary accounts, notably from theViking sagas and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, but those accounts are coloured by their own viewpoints. From Scottish sources the best of the early records, the Scotichronicon was written three hundred years after the end of that age. That work was a compilation of local traditions and legends and no doubt had a kernel of truth but people tend to remember what they want to remember. Often the accounts we do read tend to add confusion with contradictory and incomplete stories. A good example of this is Macbeth. Reading the Orkneyinga Saga, we could wonder if Thorfinn the Mighty                                                                                                        might not be another name for the                                                                                                       Macbeth we know of from the Scottish                                                                                                       histories. Thorfinn we are told                                                                                                       defeated Karl Hundason, king of the                                                                                                       Scots on the very same day, the Feast                                                                                                       of the Assumption in 1040, that                                                                                                       Macbeth defeated King Duncan. Not                                                                                                       only that but both apparently went                                                                                                       on pilgrimage to Rome in 1050. Then to                                                                                                       confuse things further, we have                                                                                                       Shakespeare’s play, based on                                                                                                       Holinshed’s chronicles, which were                                                                                                       heavily slanted by later dynastic (i.e.                                                                                                       political) considerations.                                                                                                        Unlike the view of Loch an Eilean                                                                                                       which is revealed in its full splendour when the sun disperses the morning mist, the mists of history continue to hide more than they reveal. We are left with our imagination to fill in the gaps.  To Return to the Main Scotland Page      To Return to my Home Page
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