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The Picts inhabited Caledonia (Scotland), north of the River Forth. We owe their name to the Romans: in Latin the word Picti means painted folk or possibly tattooed ones. The Picts spoke a language, Pictish, of which little is known.

Modern scholars believe that seven ancient Pictish Kingdoms existed:

  1. Cait — situated in modern Caithness and Sutherland
  2. Ce — situated in modern Mar and Buchan
  3. Circinn — situated in modern Angus and the Mearns
  4. Fib — situated in the modern Fife and Kinross (Fife is still known as the Kingdom of Fife)
  5. Fidach — situated in modern Moray and Ross
  6. Fotla — situated in modern Atholl and Gowrie
  7. Fortriu — situated in modern Strathearn and Menteith

However, good archaeological evidence and some written evidence suggests that a Pictish kingdom also existed in Orkney.

There are plenty of archaelogical remains in the form of buildings and jewelry to indicate the society of the Picts but little in the way of writing. The society seems to have been made up of small kingdoms which occasionally clashed.

The first written reference to them appears in Tacitus' description of their defeat by the Romans at the battle of Mons Graupius around 83.

From the 6th century AD onwards the Picts came under increasing pressure from the invasions of the Dalriadan Scots in the west and of the Vikings in the east. They defeated the Dalriada militarily, but intermarried repeatedly with the royal house of Dalriada until in AD 843 the Dalriadan heir, Kenneth Mac Alpin, took the throne of a united kingdom of Scotland. Gaelic culture and Scots Gaelic gradually supplanted Pictish culture and the Pictish language.

It remains uncertain whether or not we should classify the Picts as Celts although most available placename evidence tends to support the hypothesis that they were Brythonic Celts. You can often tell where Pictish settlement has taken place in the past (in Scotland) from place names. Those prefixed with "Aber-", "Lhan-", "Pit-" or "Fin-" indicate the region was inhabited by Picts in the past (eg: Aberdeen, Lhanbryde, Pitmedden, Pittodrie, Findochty, etc). Also supporting this hypothesis is the Gaelic tradition that the Picts were identical with or descended from the Brythonic group which the Gaels called, and still call, the Cruithne. When the standard /k/ to /p/ (or /b/) Goidelic to Brythonic sound shift is applied to Cruithne it gives Bruithne, and makes it easy to see a correspondence with the English word Briton, which itself comes, via Latin, from Brythonic Celtic.

However other hypotheses exist. For instance Federico Krutwig tried to draw a connection among Picts and Basques based on language similarities. According to this theory, the languages of the Picts and the Basques would be remnants of the Preindoeuropean population of Europe. However lack of data about the Pictish language makes it difficult to confirm his hypothesis.

See also: Kings of the Picts, mormaor.

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