Britannia, by William Camden


Big N NOW, of the other Inhabitants of Britain: And first of the Picts; who, in point of Antiquity, are allow’d by Historians to come next in order to the Britains. Hector Boëtius Boetius derives these people from the Agathyrsi; and Pomponius LætusLaetus , Aventinus, and others, from the Germans. Some fetch them from the Pictones in Gaul, and Bede from the Scythians. It happen’d (says he) that the Picts sailed from Scythia (as the report goes) in some few gallies into Ireland, and having in vain desired of the Scots a settlement there, they went over to Britain by their advice, and fix’d in the north parts of it, about the year 78, according to the receiv’d opinion.

In such (a) a variety of Conjectures, I know not which to adhere to; however to show, as near as I can, how this matter stands, I will deliver my own thoughts of it. And if the Authority of Venerable Bede were not an overbalance to all Conjectures; I should be apt to think that the Picts were not transplanted from any other country, but were originally Britains, I mean those very Britains, who, before the Romans came here, inhabited the north parts of the Island; those who, refusing to be slaves to the Romans (as they are a People most averse to servitude) afterwards join’d them. For as those Britains, who upon the Saxon invasion were loth to part with their liberty, withdrew and retreated to the west parts of the Island, viz. Wales and Cornwall, which are full of steep and craggy hills; so doubtless the Britains, in the Roman war, rather than be brought under slavery (the worst of evils) shifted to these northern parts, which are defended by the inclemency of the air, by rough and craggy mountains, and by the Sea, and the Bogs; where they were secured, not so much by their weapons, as by the sharpness of the air, and, by degrees, grew up with the natives into a populous Country. For Tacitus tells us, that the enemies of the Romans were driven into these parts (as into another Island) by Agricola his father-in-law; and no one questions, but they were Britains who peopled these remote parts of the Island. For can it be imagin’d, that those Britains who were at war with the Romans (an army of 30000 fighting men, led out against Agricola; who also gave Severus such terrible defeats, that in one expedition seventy thousand of his Roman and confederate Troops were cut off,) were every soul of them destroy’d, without one remaining to propagate a Posterity, so as we must needs people the place with foreigners from Scythia or Thrace? I am so far from believing it (though Bede hath said it, upon the credit of others,) that I should sooner affirm them to have been fruitful to such a degree, that their own country was unable to hold and maintain them, and that therefore they were constrain’d to break in upon the Roman Province; as afterwards they certainly did, when the Scots had settled among them. But because Bede says it, according to the common report of those times; I am very apt to believe, that some from Scandia (which was, heretofore, with all that northern tract, call’d Scythia) might arrive among these Northern Britains, by the help of that continu’d set of Islands, lying almost close to one another.

(a) See Bishop Usher’s Antiquitat. Britan. Eccles. cap.15. where their original is fully discussed. Dr. Stillingfleet, Orig. Britan. p.246. proves them to have their original from Scandinavia.

Lest any one should imagin that I suffer my self to be impos’d on by a specious lie; I think, I can shew from the manners, name, and language of the Picts (in all which they will appear to agree with our Britains,) that they were indeed the very Britains themselves.

Without observing, that neither the Picts (according to Bede,) nor the Britains (according to Tacitus) made any distinction of Sex in point of Government, or excluded the Females from the Crown; it is certain, that the fashion of painting, and dawbing themselves with colours, was common to both nations. Thus much we have already observ’d among the Britains; and Claudian will shew us the same among the Picts,

Nec falso nomine Pictos

— In happy war o’ercame
The Picts that differ nothing from their name.


Ferroque notatas
Perlegit exanimes Picto moriente figuras

— And oft survey’d
Pale ir’n-burnt figures on the dying Pict.

Isidorus is no less clear in this matter. The name of the Picts answers their body; because they squeeze out the juice of herbs, and imprint it on their bodies by pricking their skins with a needle; so that the spotted nobility bear these scars in their painted limbs as a badge of honour.

But how can we imagin that these Picts were Germans, who never had any such way of painting among them? or that they were the Agathyrsi of Thrace, a people so very far off;See pag. cxl. and not rather the very Britains, seeing they were in the same Island, and had the very same custom of painting?

Nor are those Barbarians (who so long infested the Romans by sallies out of the Caledonian wood and the most northerly parts thereabouts,) mention’d by any other name in ancient Authors, Dio, Herodian, Vopiscus, &c. than that of Britains. Likewise Tacitus (who gives a full account of the wars of his father-in-law Agricola in these extreme parts of Britain) calls the Inhabitants by no other name than this of Britanni, and è Caledonia Britanni; whereas these new-comers the Picts had been here ten years before, according to our modern writers; which deserves our observation, since Tacitus knew nothing of them in his time. Nor would those Roman Emperors, who carried on the war successfully against them, Commodus, Severus, and Bassianus and Geta his sons, have assum’d the title of Britannici upon the conquest of them, in case they had not been Britains. Without doubt, if the Romans (with whom every thing unknown, was magnificent) had conquered any other nation different from the Britains and unknown before, whether they had been call’d Picts or Scots, they would have had those titles of Picts or Scots in their Coins and Inscriptions. Tacitus conjectures from their red hair and the bigness of their limbs, that they came originally from Germany; but immediately after, he ascribes it more truly to the Climate, which models the bodies of men. Whereupon, Vitruvius: The parts towards the north-pole produce men of huge bulk, taunish colour, and lank red hair. Moreover, that the Caledonians (who without dispute were Britains) were the very same Nation with the Picts, we have another hint in that of the Panegyrist, Caledonum aliorumque Pictorum sylvas, &c. i.e. the words of the Caledonians and other Picts; implying, that the Caledonians were no other than the Picts. And that these Caledonians were a British Nation, Martial intimates in this verse,

Quinte Caledonios Ovidî visure Britannos.

Friend Ovid, who your voyage now design
To Caledonian Britains, &c.—

Ausonius also; who at the same time tells us they were painted, when he compares their colour to green moss mix’d with gravel;

Viridem distinguit glarea muscum
Tota Caledonius talis pictura Britannis

Green moss with yellow sand distinguish’d grows,
Just so the Caledonian Britain shows.

But as these were known for a long time by no other name than that of Britains, and this name was from their painted bodies; so afterwards about the time of Maximinian and Dioclesian (before which, the word Picts is not to be met with in any Writer,) when Britain had been so long a Province that the Inhabitants began to understand the Provincial Latin; these seem first to have been call’d Picts, to distinguish them from those who were confederate with the Romans, and call’d Britains. And what could give occasion for calling them Picts, but that they painted themselves? If any one make it a question, whether our Britains used the Provincial Latin, he has not observ’d, what pains were taken by the Romans to bring the Provinces to speak that language, nor what multitudes of Latin words have crept into the British tongue. Not to urge the authority of Tacitus; who writes, that in Domitian’s time, the Britains affected the very Eloquence of the Roman language. Lib. 4. c.37.But as for this name of Picts, the authority of Flavius Vegetius will clear all doubts concerning it. He shows very plainly, that the Britains us’d the word PictæPictae to express a thing colour’d, in the very same sense that the Romans did. For he says, the Britains call’d your Scout-pinnaces Pictæ, the sails and cables thereof being dy’d blue, and the mariners and soldiers clad in habits of the same colour. Certainly, if the Britains call’d ships from their sails of a blue-dye, Pictæ, there is no reason in the world, why they should not give the name Picti to a people that painted their bodies with several colours, and especially with blue; for that is the dye that woad gives.

It is also to our purpose, that the Northern Picts, who were converted to Christianity by the preaching and example of S. Columbanus, are call’d in the old Saxon Annals (a) Brittas Peohtas, i.e. British Picts.

(a) In all the Copies I have seen, they are simply called Pihtas.

Language of the Picts. The reason why there are not more arguments from the Language of the Picts, is, because there is hardly a syllable of it to be found in any Author: however, it seems to have been the same with the British. Bede tells us, that a Vallum began at a place call’d in the Pictish tongue Penuahel; now Pengual in British expressly signifies the head or the beginning of the Vallum. Moreover, in all that part of the Island which was longest possess’d by the Picts (namely, the East-part of Scotland,) many names of places savour of a British original: for example, Morria, and Marnia, from the British word Mor, because those countries border upon the sea: Aberden, Aberlothnet, Aberdore, Aberneith; that is, the mouth of the Den, of the Lothnet, of the Dore, and of the Neith; from the British Aber, which signifies the mouth of a river. So Strathbolgy, Strathdee, Strathearn, that is, the Vale of Bolgy, of the Dee, and of the Earne; from Strath, which is a vally in British. Nay, the very Metropolis of the Picts has a name that is evidently of British Extraction; I mean Edinburgh (which Ptolemy calls Castrum alatum;) for Aden signifies a wing in British. Nor will I strain it into an argument, that some of the petty Kings of the Picts were called Bridii, that is, in British (as I have often observ’d already) (b) painted.

(b) The true signification of Brith, see before, under the title, Name of Britain; and Somner’s Glossary to the Decem Scriptores, under Britannia.

From what has been said, we may reasonably infer that the language of the Picts was not different from that of the Britains; and therefore that the nations themselves were not different. Bede indeed speaks of the language of the Picts and Britains as different; in which place, he seems to mean the dialects only, by the word Language.

Nor is it strange that the Picts should by their incursions make such a terrible slaughter of their Countrymen the Britains; seeing at this day, in Ireland, those who are subject to the English, have no such malicious and spiteful enemies as their own fellow-natives the Wild-Irish. For, as Paulus Diaconus has it, As the Goths, HyppogothsHypogoths , Gepidians and Vandals, changing their name only, and speaking the self same language, were frequently at wars with one another; just so were the Picts and Britains; especially after the last became Confederate with the Romans. These are the motives that have induc’d or rather forc’d me to think the Picts, a remainder of the Britains. But perhaps the Authority of Bede may overbalance all these; and if the Reader so please, I am content that a Tradition handed by so great a man, and built only upon the report of others, do prevail against these Conjectures.

Stillingf. Orig. Brit. p.239. ⌈And that account which Bede gives, of their coming from Scythia, is prefer’d by a late learned Historian, before the foregoing Opinion, That they were originally Britains. Against which it is urg’d by him, That Eumenius the Panegyrist (the first who mentions the Picts) expressly distinguishes them from the Britains, and supposes them to be Enemies to each other, The Britains, says he, were exercised by the arms of the Picts and Scots: That tho’ Dio sets down the names of distinction then us’d for the Extra-provincial Britains, he divides them into two sorts, Mæatæ,Maeatae and Caledonii; but says nothing of any Picts: That, at that time, Zonaras calls them all by the name of Britains: That, as to the Authority of the Panegyrist, who seems to call the Caledonians (who were undoubtedly Britains) Picts, in that expression, Non dico Caledonum aliorumque Pictorum Sylvas; the reading, as Valesius observes, ought to be, Non Dicaledonum aliorumque Pictorum, agreeably to Ammianus Marcellinus’s Division of the Picts into Dicaledones and Vecturiones: That if it be ask’d, why Tacitus, Dio, Herodian, Vopiscus, &c. take no notice of any Enemy to the Romans in those parts, besides the Britains, if there was another distinct Nation; it may as well be ask’d, why the later Writers do so distinctly mention the Picts, if they were no other than the old Britains ? If they were not, they were painted from the beginning, and whence then came the new name of Picts so long after? and why do the Roman Writers, all of a sudden alter their style, and exchange the name Britains, so famous among the Romans, for that of Picts, which was not heard of before? In favour of Bede’s Opinion, that they came from Scythia (taking Scythia, according to Strabo’s account of the ancient division, for the whole north-part of Europe, as Celtia was the west,) it is alledg’d, That ClaudianAtlant. s.9. makes Thule the country of the Picts, and Olaus Rudbeck hath made it very probable that by Thule, Scandinavia is meant, as best agreeing with the ancient relations concerning Thule: That it appears from the old Gothick Histories, to have been the custom of the Scythians, to make frequent Expeditions to sea, for booty and for new settlements: That Pliny reckons the Agathyrsi among these Scythians, and it appears that the Agathyrsi were remarkable heretofore for painting their Bodies, from that of Virgil, Pictique Agathyrsi, and from what Solinus says of them, “That their Bodies were painted Colore cæruleocaeruleo , just as the old Picts were.” That Tacitus observes of the Arii, a fierce Northern People, that they had tincta corpora, or in other words were Picts; and Virgil saith the same of the Geloni, who were next neighbours to the Agathyrsi. Since therefore, Olaus Rudbeck settles the Agathyrsi upon the Baltick Sea; this may seem to point out to us the proper original of our Picts, or the place from whence they came over into this northpart of Britain.⌉

Deucalidonii & Vecturiones. Ammianus Marcellinus divides the Picts into Dicalidonii and Vecturiones; I should rather read Deucalidonii, and suppose them to have inhabited the West coast of Scotland, where the Deucalidonian Ocean breaks in. Although I formerly imagin’d them to be so called, as if one should say Nigri Caledonii (for Dee signifies black in British;) just as the Irish at this day call the Scotch of that country Duf Allibawn, that is, black Scots; and as the Welch call’d the Pirates who infested them from that coast, Yllu du, the black Army. But it is more probable, that they took that name from their situation. For Deheu Caledonii signifies the Caledonians living on the right hand, that is, to the Westward: as the other Picts dwelling to the left, or the East (which Ninnius calls the left-hand quarter) were term’d Vecturiones, perhaps from the word Chwithic, which signifies the left hand in British; and are fansy’d by some to be corruptly nam’d in Ptolemy, Vernicones.

Primord. p.1021. ⌈But, in opposition to this conjecture, Archbishop Usher proves, that by the right hand and left hand among the Britains, is understood, not the west and the east, but the south and the north; agreeable to Bede’s division of the Picts into northern and southern, by a ridge of Mountains, which was probably the Mons Grampius, and was afterwards the bound between the Scots and the Picts, after the Scots had settled themselves in that part of the Territories of the Picts, which lay next to Ireland.⌉

An old Saxon Fragment seems to express the Picts by the word Pegweorn, for under that name it speaks of a Nation at enmity with the Britains; whereas, the ancient Saxons called the Picts, (a) Pehits, and Peohtas. Hence in Whitkindus, Pehiti is every where instead of Picti.

(a) Pihtas is common in the Saxon; but Pehits I never observed.

Customs and manners of the Picts. The manners and customs of those ancient and barbarous Britains, who afterwards † † See p.xliii. and cxl.went by the name of Picti, are already describ’d from Dio and Herodian. It remains now, that I continue the history of them. Upon the decline of the Empire, when the Romans unwarily rais’d those Troops of Barbarians; some of the Picts were added by HonoriusBlondus. (when there was every where a profound peace) to the standing Army of the Empire, and call’d Honoriaci.Honoriaci. These, in the reign of the tyrant Constantine, (he (b) who was elected for the sake of his name) laid open the passes of the Pyrenees, and let the Barbarians into Spain. And at length (having first by themselves, and after, with the Scots their Allies, exceedingly annoy’d this Province of the Romans) they began to be civiliz’d. Those of the South were converted to ChristianityBede. by Ninia or Ninianus the Britain a most holy man, about the year 430; but those of the North (who were separated from the others by a craggy ridge of high mountains) were converted by Columbanus, an Irish-Scot, and a Monk of extraordinary sanctity, in the year 565. He taught them (wherever he learn’d it) to celebrate the feast of Easter, between the 14th day of March and the 20th, but always upon Sunday; and also, to use another kind of Tonsure than the Romans did, namely, that which resembles a Crown. These points were sharply contested for a long time in the Island, till Naitan, King of the Picts, with much ado brought his Subjects to a conformity with the Roman Church. In this age, many of the Picts, according to the custom of those times, went in Pilgrimage to Rome; and, among others, one of them is recorded in the Antiquities of St. Peter’s Cathedral there, in these words, Asterius, a Count of the Picts.Asterius, Count of the Picts, and Syra with his men, perform’d their Vows. At last, they were so overpower’d by the Scots flowing in upon them from Ireland; that, being defeated in a bloody Engagement about the year 740, they were either quite extinguished, or did slide by little and little into the name and nation of the Scots. Which very thing befel the mighty Kingdom of the Gauls; who, being conquer’d by the Franks, came by degrees under the same name.

(b) See a more distinct account of his Election and Actions, given by Mr. Camden in the County of Southampton.

Caesar When the Panegyrist intimates, that before Cæsar’s time Britain was haunted by its half-naked Enemies the Picts and Scots, he seems to speak the language of his own age; for * * Pag. cxl.certainly they were not then in Britain, under the name of Picts.

And when Sidonius Apollinaris says, in his Panegyrick to his Father-in-law,

—— Victricia Cæsar
Signa Caledonius transvexit ad usque Britannos,
Fuderit & quantum Scotum, & cum Saxone Pictum

—— Tho’ Cæsar’s conqu’ring arms as far
As Caledonian Britains urg’d the war,
Tho’ Scots and Picts with Saxons he subdu’d.

I cannot but cry out in the words of another Poet,

Sit nulla fides augentibus omnia Musis.

No credit justly should the Muses find,
That soar so high, they leave the truth behind.

Cæsar, who is prodigal enough in his own praises, would never have conceal’d these exploits, if he had done them. But such writers are not unlike some well-meaning Authors of this age, who, in the history of Cæsar, tell us that he conquer’d the French in Gaul, and the English in Britain; whereas, at that time there were no such names in being, neither that of the English here, nor of the French there; for it was many ages after, that these People came into their respective Countries.

⌈But an argument has been rais’d from the foregoing passage of Eumenius the Panegyrist, not only to make the name of the Picts more ancient, but also to prove that they were in Cæsar’s time a distinct Colony dwelling in Britain. The words of the Panegyrist are these, Ad hoc Natio etiam tunc rudis, & soli Britanni Pictis modo & Hibernis assueta hostibus, adhuc seminudis, facile Romanis armis signisque cesserunt, i.e. In Cæsar’s time, an undisciplin’d Nation, the Britains alone, a Nation that knew no Enemy but the Picts and Irish, and a People half-naked, were easily put to flight by the Romans. Trophaea The argumentBuchan, l.2. drawn from hence by a learned Writer of the Scotch Nation, is, that the Panegyrist speaks of the Picts of the British soyle; whereasStillingf. Orig. Brit. p.58. it is evident that he there lays the comparison between the Victories of Cæsar and Constantius in Britain, and gives the advantage to that of Constantius, in this respect among others, that Cæsar had none but the Britains to encounter; but Constantius was to fight also against a Roman Legion, and other foreign soldiers that were drawn over to the side of Carausius and Allectus; as it is set forth in the very next paragraph. And besides, if Eumenius had meant the British soile, he would have said soli Britannici, and not Britanni; in the same manner that he said in the same Oration, Victoria Britannica; and in another, Britannica Trophæa.⌉

caesarPictones. That the Pictones of Gaul were the same nation with our Picts, I dare not, with Johannes Picardus, believe; seeing the name Pictones was very famous in Gaul, even in Cæsar’s time; and these of ours are no where express’d by that name: unless it be in one passage of the Panegyrist, where I know that Pictonum, by a slip of the transcriber, is put for Pictorum.

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06