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Picts and Pictish Language.
        § 1. Substratum and Its Role in European Languages.
Europe had been inhabited already for hundreds of millenniums when Indo-Europeans came. Homo sapiens, with their culture, their already formed ethnic peculiarities, their languages existed here for thousands of years before the first waves of settlers from Asia brought Indo-European speech here. The history of Europe is far from being complete without the history of those pre-Indo-European peoples, who used to inhabit it. But moreover, the history of European languages is not only the chronology of Indo-European language development, but also the relations of the newcomers with the autochtonic population of the continent. Practically in all languages which began to spread within Europe since the 3rd millennium BC, many elements of clearly non-Indo-European origin are traced, and the more we go deeper into a language the more such elements we find. This is what we call the substratum lexics and substratum grammar - relicts of languages once existing in Europe but further assimilated by the Indo-European family. The substratum left its traces not only in the vocabulary of European tongues, but also in the morphological structure of the speech used by tribes who came to settle to Europe. In recent decades much research has been done by linguists who devoted their works by substratum languages.

The research carried out by the Russian scholar L.Gindin stated there used to be several substratum groups on the Balkan peninsula and the Aegean islands. The Aegean substratum is a mixture of heterogeneous toponimic and onomastic terms, i.e. placenames, names of rivers and hills. Several different groups of substratum languages can be traced in modern Italy and especially in Sicily and Sardinia. In the West Mediterranean region the autochtonic substratum is found, which has many parallels in Caucasus and in Asia Minor. These Caucasian parallelisms are a characteristic feature also for some substratum words discovered in the Lower Danube region. The ultimate West of Europe was inhabited by several different nations and even races before Indo-Europeans came. It looks as if ancient peoples of Britain and Ireland could have some connections with both Mediterranean and Eskimo (Inuit) races.

All those facts are not studies thoroughly yet, and the lack of linguistic material prevent the science to state anything for sure, as well as discoveries made by archaeology and history. All local cultures of Europe were gradually assimilated by Indo-European migrants, but the islands of ancient civilizations remained here for a long time. Their material traces, which are still found in  archaeological sites, include various megalithic and neolithic constructions which are believed to have sacral purposes.

In our issue we will try to follow several such pre-Indo-European civilizations which existed in Europe, analyze everything we know about their languages and research the features the tongues of the Indo-European family may have acquired from them. And the first one we decided to take up for our research is the problem of Picts and Pictish language.

        § 2. The Origin of the Picts.
The British Isles are known as the site where quite a lot of ancient civilization left their signs. People came and stayed here for centuries, and then were conquered by new invaders and disappeared quickly, or were ousted to the outmost mountainous regions of the Isles. The Stonehenge and constructions like it in England, sculptured stones of Scotland, Ogham inscriptions of Scotland and Ireland - they were all left by pre-Indo-Europeans, who managed to leave traces seen even now, after several millenniums of wars, invasions, disasters and changes. Many mysteries can be named around those ancient British, but we are here interested in the facts.

I should warn you that historians and linguists disagree about practically every little thing mentioned here, and theories and versions about Picts have not yet grew into anything sure. That is why we have to state that most of the facts below are just an attempt to gain the truth.

Nobody knows the origin of Picts, a nation who lived since the beginning of the 1st millennium BC until the 9th century AD in Scotland. When Celts came to the British Isles in the 7th and 6th centuries BC, Picts already inhabited the lands north to modern Edinburgh, and when Romans invaded Britain in the 1st century BC and came to Scotland in the next one, they were still there occupying just the same lands. Different authors, from ancient times to our days, present different versions about where from the Picts came to Britain in prehistoric times. The archaeological sources suppose their arrival to Britain took place in about 1000 BC from the continent, and then in 200 BC from Scotland to Ireland. But the original homeland of the Picts in continental Europe is unknown, and that led to different explanations. Medieval authors supported a version that Picts were not Celts, and were a pre-Celtic race who came here from Scythia. A more realistic point of view was invented last century, when scientists tried to prove Pictish homeland is Spain, ancient Iberia from where British Iberians, supposedly Stonehenge creators, arrived here. The reason for this version was a Roman author who described Picts in the early 4th century AD as the people very much alike Iberians whom Rome fought in Hispania.

This version needs comment. It is obvious, that the British Isles and northern Spain had had some special contacts since very early times. First, Iberians in England mentioned above; then many Celtic legends, which call the Irish Celtic nation "Milesians" and trace it back to Milesius, a Celtic king of Iberia. Irish Ogham inscriptions, evidently written in a Celtic tongue, have something in common with Iberian and even especially Basque languages. We will get back to Ogham later below, and now we can only say that Iberia, or maybe South-Western France can be a possible source of Pictish migration to Britain.

The link of the earlier inhabitants of Scotland to their Iberian ancestors can be found in the many spiral pattern grooves cut into the rocks and boulders of this northern land and which can also be found in Spain, France and Ireland. The design of burial chambers located in the Orkney islands also provide an important link to the Iberian origin of their builders. Farming arrived in these islands around 4000 BC and as it replaced the nomadic way of life, the Orkneys became an island fortress with its many stone brochs. By the time Rome became a world empire, the Orcadians were recognized by Rome as a sea power. From recent excavations, it seems that these Orcadian people were a slim, dark Caucasian race, with long, narrow heads. The great stone circles such as Sunhoney were probably being built around 3300 BC, quite possibly around the same time as the arrival of another nation from Northern and Central Europe. These newcomers were of a different ethnic group from the Iberian stock in northern Britain, as their skulls were much broader and round. Evidence of contact between these new people and their continental ancestors have been discovered in several excavations, and seem to indicate a flourishing trade between ancient Scotland and Europe. And finally in 1000 BC Picts appear here from Europe and gradually mix with autochtonic tribes. It is thought by many scholars that the union of these three or even more peoples resulted in the creation of the pre-Celtic stock called the Picts.

Many say that Picts are just a Celtic tribe with a strong element of earlier nations. But anthropological information we have opposes to that, and so does the linguistic material (see below). We know from Ancient Greek and Latin works that Celts who invaded Italy in the 5th century and Greece in the 3rd, were tall, blue-eyed and fair-haired men. Greeks even thought they were Hyperboreans, northern people, characters of several Greek myths. As for those Picts Romans met in Britain they were short and dark-headed.

Pictish picture1Pictish culture is very special in comparison with continental and insular Celts. Look at several samples of the Pictish art (at this picture of a man's head on the right you see the anthropological type of a Pict - he is not an Eskimo nor an African) and judge for yourself, but bear in mind that the majority of scientists stress the dissimilarity between Celtic and Pictish cultural traditions and material constructions.

That cultural difference can be explained by the way of development of both nations - Pictish and Celtic. Picts came to Britain in the beginning of the 1st millennium BC; Celts began their expansion through Europe only in the 8th century BC (Halstatt culture) and their migration to the Isles started only in the 7th century. Celtic population in Europe in 1000 BC was too small yet to seek new lands in Britain. This blank in time from 1000 to 700 gives us all the reasons to oppose those who consider Picts a Celtic nation.

Pictish ornamentAnd now the most interesting feature of the Picts mentioned in their descriptions by Roman and Celtic authors. Picts were described everywhere as a people painted all over; their face, their hands and bodies were covered with paintings or tattoos, and that's what was so terrible to Roman soldiers who came to Scotland. "This legion, which curbs the savage Scot and studies the designs marked with iron on the face of the dying Pict," these are the words by the Emperor Claudius which give some insight to the appearance of the strange northern people. The origin of this custom of tattooing faces and bodies is not known. The only other information about such a tradition comes from the Britons, who also sometimes went to battle painting their faces and bodies. This can be either a habit borrowed by Celtic Britons from their northern neighbours Picts, or a common cultural custom, which existed only in Britain, but never met among continental Celts or other European nations.

What is the conclusion of the matter? The origin of mysterious Picts remains dark. They certainly have some connections with this or that European culture, but the succession is unknown. Maybe the facts about the Pictish history written below will help you to clarify the question.
        § 3. The History of the Picts.

After coming to Britain in 1000 BC, the Picts could not, obviously, survive on these lands. In the next a few centuries a new wave of migrants from Europe came here. Wary Celtic tribes which since then will be called Britons, pushed Picts north and finally ousted them from what is now England to Scottish highlands and lowlands. At that time the Picts were a powerful nation who settled all through Scotland, had strong tribal armies, powerful fleet and large population. They were in rather good relations with Britons and Irish tribes then, and had trade connections not only with them, but also with overseas regions like North Spain and West France.

In 200 BC Picts began to migrate slowly to Ireland, but did not manage to settle there firmly, mixing with Celtic and other populations of the island. Maybe that was the time of the first conflicts between invading Celts and the Picts. Anyway, Pictish kingdoms in Ireland did not exist, and the main stronghold of the nations remained Scotland. A t that time Picts had a sort of military democracy, with elected kings and probably a people's assembly. Their population was not united under one sovereign, and many tribes obviously had their names, their kings and lands, joining together only for military purposes.

Hadrian's WallThe Roman invasion took place in the 1st century AD, and in the next hundred years their legions reached Scotland and met with the Picts. The Roman general Agricola describes Picts ar dark-haired and short people reminding Iberians. Romans managed to conquer some southern Pictish lands, and built several forts there. But thirty years later all those forts were destroyed and burnt by Picts invading from the north, and so Emperor Hadrian decided that Scotland did not deserve more legions, but a large wall. The Hadrian Wall was constructed in order to protect Roman Britain from Picts from the north, but it looks as if the wall divided Pictish lands into northern and southern, conquered by Romans, so southern Pictish minority had to become assimilated by Britons since then.

Anyway, Picts never stopped attacking the wall, and Romans needed more and more legions to protect it and to push Picts back north. In 208 BC Emperor Septimius Severus landed in Britain with a large army, and it is noted at that time that the thing Romans were afraid most of all was Pictish fleet - so Picts were great sailors, unlike Scots and other Celtic people. In the 4th century wars were still going on continuously, and Romans now called their enemies "Caledonians and other Picts", meaning that there were several tribes of that nations with whom they had to fight.

And this century was last Romans could conquer Picts. In 409, all Roman legions were called from England, the Empire's power quickly decreased, and Britons were told to defend their lands themselves. At this time Pictish lands, just liberated from Romans, began to suffer the invasions from the east - Celtic Scots landed southern Scotland from Ireland - and from the west - Germanic Saxons and Angles started intrusions in Britain. The Scottish kingdom founded in the 5th century occupied much of Pictish lands, and they had to fight but again had to retreat north. But Picts and Scots sometimes were allies, especially raiding south to plunder Britons, who accepted Christianity at that time. Being such allies, Celtic and Pictish population was mixing with each other, and soon many southern Pictish lands acquired a Celtic language. This was also the time of the first Ogham inscriptions found in Ireland and Scotland. The writing was invented in Britain by some unknown tribe (though medieval scientists thought it was a Dacian or Asian invention), and we doubt it was Celtic, sooner some pre-Celtic population of the islands. Ogham inscriptions (about 500 are found in Ireland, and more than 50 in Scotland) are written both in Archaic Irish and in Pictish languages. We will come to it later, but the fact is that all inscriptions refer to this or that exact language, so the Celts and the Picts did not use the same speech at the time.

It is well known that the Picts were one of Western culture's rare matrilineal societies; that is, bloodlines passed through the mother, and Pictish kings were not succeeded by their sons, but by their brothers or nephews or cousins as traced by the female line in (according to the scholar Anthony Jackson) a complicated series of intermarriages by seven royal houses. At that time, since the 6th century AD, Picts had already two kingdoms, southern and northern, and some scientists state even seven of them, but there was a supreme king, as in Ireland, and it happened that in 834 AD the crown of this highest Pictish king came to a Celtic Scot, the son of a Pictish princess, Kenneth mac Alpin. The relations between royal families of Picts and Celts became more and more unpleasant: before Kenneth, a Pictish king Oengus ruled both over Scots and Picts and might have caused great hatred between the two nations. Therefore Kenneth rebelled against Oengus and in fact started dominating over Picts. In 839, moreover, Picts suffered a great invasion from Vikings and were weakened significantly.

Kenneth managed to massacre all Pictish nobles, royal families, and Pictish lands were conquered by Scottish troops in the east, and Vikings in the West. In a few generations Pictish language, Pictish culture and Picts themselves were forgotten, and Scottish kings made Scone, the last Pictish capital, their main city.
        § 4. The Linguistic Material.
Now let us refer to that little we can find from the language of this Pictish nations. It is represented mostly by personal names, names of tribes and lands, and also by several inscriptions we will give here as well.

The hypothesis about the Celtic origin of the Pictish language is opposed to in several historical sources: St. Columba's biographer clearly stated that the Irish saint needed a translator to preach to the Pictish King Brude, son of Maelchon. Romans always made strict distinction between Britons, Scots and Picts, never calling them the same tribe. In fact, the very name of Picts how they called themselves is unknown; some linguists suppose it was too hard to pronounce by Indo-Europeans, so every nation gave Picts a different name. Celts called them Cruthne or Cruithne; according an ancient legend, this was the name of the first Pictish king who divided his lands among seven sons, so that was the origin of seven Pictish royal domes.

Romans had another name for them. "Pictus" originated from the Latin verb pingere and means "painted", as Picts were known as painted people. Linguists doubt this could be similar to a self-name. Nevertheless, we know about a tribe who lived on the west shore of France in Aquitany in Roman times and had a name of Pictoni. Aquitanians were not Celtic for sure, neither, many believe, were they Iberians. This can be just a coincidence, but when there is too much coincidences we can't help but build a theory.

The names of Pictish tribes described by Roman, Irish and English authors, can seem non-Celtic to everyone. First of all, we should not forget about the Greek and Roman most ancient name of the island "Britannia", which, as a theory suggests, is a name of a Pictish tribe called Pretani which inhabited south England even before Celts came here. This word has a supposed meaning "People of Designs", and so does the Celtic name for Picts Cruithni. The Roman, Emmenius, gives us the oldest reference for Picti, who he describes as along with the Irish as the enemies of the Britons. As 'pictus' is the Latin for painted it is asked as to whether he was referring to painted or tattooed people or as to whether it was a latin form of an indigenous name. In 600 AD Isadore of Seville makes reference that the Picts took their name from the fact that their bodies had designs pricked into their skin by needles. Maybe this is the key to Pictish self-names.

Other names of the tribes are very numerous, and some of them are really Celtic, some definitely Latin, so we will give some that look like Pictish:

Names of the towns mentioned by the Ptolemeic map, Roman sources and old Irish and English chronicles:
We won't analyse these names, they are so approximate because written by people who could hardly know the language they were pronounced, so we must omit all endings and latinized suffixed from them and leave just a stem for the analysis.
Personal names include many celticized ones because they could be borrowed when Scottish people was already dominating over Picts. Still, these are some of them: Bridei, Gartnait, Nechtan, Irb, Lutrin, Uid, Talorc, Oswiu, Drest, Taran, and many other, even more Celtic in sound. We even do not have a slight idea about how they could sound in Pictish, because no phonetic descriptions survived, but in the very names we can easily see something very far from Celtic.

Ogham AlphabetThe Ogham inscriptions, not very numerous found in Scotland are the only living sign of the real language. Ogham which was invented possibly for the language related to Pictish or even for it itself, was unsuitable for the Irish Celts, who reconstructed it a bit in Ireland. There all Ogham signs can easily be translated and represent the earliest historical form of Irish literature language. Those from Scotland, however, sometimes cannot be translated, though all signs, letters of the Ogham alphabet, are well known. Some of such inscriptions are Pictish, and found in northern Scotland. Here's the list:

nehhtvrobbaccennevv maqqotalluorrh
ammaqqtallv lv bahhrrassudds
vuunon itedovob b
bqi a b
crroscc:nahhtvvddadds:dattr:ann bennises:meqqddrroann
eddarrnonn... tti... gng..
..ehteconmors ...dov ...ddrs
etteca... ..v:dattua ...rtt..
hcsd.t..v.nh.t l....vqrrhmdnhq
ineittemen mats
ttlietrenoiddors ..uhtuoaged...
duv nodnnatmaqqnahhto...
iddarqnnnvorrenn iku(a) iosie
Several notes for better understanding:

1. The word meqq, maqq  is borrowed from Celtic maq "son" and is used in many inscriptions dividing two names, son's and father's. This custom of naming people is purely Celtic and makes translation easier for we can now distinguish names from impersonal words.

2. Personal names mentioned here: Nechtan (nehhton), Talorc (talluorh, tallv), Pidarnoin (eddarrnonn), other are unknown.

3. The most important thing all Celtophiles say Pictish was Celtic is the absence of the letter p in Ogham. That's true, and that may be either an alphabet's lack or the common phonetic feature in Celtic and Pictish (possibly, Celtic influence on Pictish).

4. The thing that cannot yet be explained by anyone: the double consonants so often in these inscriptions. They obviously denoted a phonetic process, maybe firmness of consonants (as in Hittite) or their aspiration. Celtic as we must note had no aspiration at all.

5. In some words vowels are omitted, but they existed maybe in a very short form.

So, that's all about the Pictish language, and the science is waiting for new material and new versions to try to understand after all, what was the language which existed in Britain just 1,200 years ago? Pictish did not influence Celtic languages much, and very few words are supposedly of Pictish origin in Scottish and Irish. But the mysterious initial mutations of Insular Celtic languages can be the influence of Pictish phonetics, as well as other numerous processes known only in Celtic British languages and unknown in continental Indo-European tongues. The more we can learn about languages like Pictish, the more we know about Indo-European languages, too.