Dark Ages is one of the most evocative times in history, where historical
sources are few and fragmented. It was a time when a king's reputation
depended on success in battle, with an obligation to enrich his followers
with the spoils of war.
When the Romans invaded in AD 79, Scotland consisted of warring Iron
Age tribes, yet by the end of the first millennium, one kingdom -
the Gaelic-speaking Kingdom of Alba - dominated, heralding the birth
of the Scottish nation.
defeated the Caledonians at the Battle of Mons
(AD 84), yet withdrew afterwards under the Emperor's orders. Roman
politics could be very fickle. They returned to build two walls to
mark the northern extremity of their Empire - the first was Hadrian's
Wall, the second, more northerly wall was Antonine's. The Romans eventually
left, under constant pressure from uprisings elsewhere in the empire
and political strife at home. The Caledonians remained free.
After the Romans' departure four kingdoms emerged. The Picts, famous
for their carved symbol stones, covered northern Scotland from the
river Forth to Shetland. The Britons who wrote poetry in Old Welsh,
held Dumbarton Rock and the south. The Gaelic-speaking people of Dál
Riata (famed for their metalwork like the Hunterston Brooch) had their
royal fortress at Dunadd in Argyll. Finally there was the Angles,
Germanic invaders who held the Kingdom of Bernicia, or Northumbria,
in the south-east, and who brought with them the Anglo-Saxon tongue
that became the Scots language.
Brooch from around AD 700 shows the Gaels to be a cosmopolitan and
highly artistic culture. The brooch is thought to have been made in the Gaelic
west of Scotland and draws on both Irish and English influences
in metal working.
the early seventh century the Angles took Edinburgh from the Britons
and pushed west to Galloway. In AD 685 they struck north into Pictland
as their power expanded. This reached its climax near the village
of Dunnichen in Angus as the Picts, under King Bridei, massacred
the King of the Angles and his army, tricking them into a surprise
attack. The Battle of Dunnichen, like Bannockburn, ranks as one
of the most decisive in Scottish history - if the Picts had lost,
Scotland as a nation may have never been.
In AD 793 the
ferocious Viking raids began on monasteries like Iona and Lindisfarne,
creating fear and confusion across the kingdoms. Orkney, Shetland
and the Western Isles fell to the Norsemen.
In AD 839 the Vikings wiped out the Pictish royal family. Competitors
emerged for the kingship, and, after a long civil war, Kenneth MacAlpine
(Cináed mac Ailpín), King of the Gaels of Dál
Riata, became undisputed King of the Picts in AD 849. He brought
with him the relics of St Columba from the Island of Iona to Dunkeld
- the saint and his preachings were a powerful symbol of authority
to accompany a Gaelic king to his new kingdom. Pictland hadn't quite
been conquered, but rather the foundations had been set for a new
Gaelic Kingdom, which included the Picts.
It wasn't long
before the Vikings were back, this time to conquer Britain. In AD
867 they seized the Anglian Kingdom of Northumbria; three years
later they stormed the Britons fortress of Dumbarton and conquered
much of England. The Picts and Gaels were encircled.
Then in AD 900
Constantine mac Aed (Constantín mac Áed) became King
of the Picts. Within four years he had defeated the Vikings at Strathcarron,
however, it wasnt the sword but diplomacy that was Constantines
strength. He married off his daughters into the Viking warbands,
bringing them into alliance, and reformed his kingdom along Gaelic
lines - renaming it Alba. Alba was the prototype for the Scottish
nation, and the true founding father of the nation was Constantine
II, grandson of Kenneth MacAlpine.
stone from the 9th century. These wonderful examples of Dark Age
art stop being carved in about AD 900 when Constantine II becomes
King of Alba and Pictish culture is subsumed into Gaelic culture.
The Picts as a distinct group disappear from history at this point.
The tide had
turned against the Vikings. Two powerblocks had survived their onslaught,
Alba and England.
In AD 934 Æthelstan, the Anglo-Saxon King of England, set
about subduing the north of Britain to his will. With a vast army
he besieged Constantine at Dunnottar, but to no avail - the rock
fortress was too strong. Æthelstan retreated whilst Constantine
gathered his allies - Britons, Angles and Vikings - in order to
invade England. Constantine was defeated at the bloody Battle of
Brunanburh, but his diplomacy had left Æthelstans ambitions
lasting achievement was to bring Alba safely through Viking and
Anglo-Saxon onslaughts and to weld the Picts and Gaels into one
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