Over the years a considerable number of books and articles have been written about the Picts and for the greater part they have been excellent and informative. Almost without exception however, their raison d’etre has been to bring to the attention of the general public the amazing heritage that is Pictish Art. I refer of course, to the magnificent carved standing stones that the Picts left scattered over much of mainland Scotland and the equally stunning examples of their metal work, especially silverware, that grace the display cabinets in many of our museums. Scotland has been lucky enough to fall heir to some of the most outstanding pieces of so-called Dark Age art to be found anywhere in Europe, and the beauty of these pieces is, as anyone who has seen them will surely agree, simply beyond superlatives.
What is not often made accessible for scrutiny though, is the actual history of the Picts and their kings, and the reason for this is not very hard to find. Pictish history as a subject per se practically doesn’t exist. As will become clear within these pages, we have absolutely no written records that were penned by the Picts themselves. Such few records that we do have were made by the historians of other Nations whose opinions on matters concerning the Picts were often quite inimical.
Nevertheless, whatever its source, it is a history of sorts which deserves to be told, and that is the prima facie reason for my little book. The ulterior reason for its existence is that I believe we should be encouraging the Scots of today to learn more of themselves and their cultural roots. Today’s average young Scot is, to be frank, abysmally ignorant of his own country’s accomplishments and the people and culture from which those accomplishments sprang. Place him or her in a situation where general knowledge, science or the arts are put to the test with contestants from other countries and more often than not the result will be, if not an outright win over his or her peers, then an admirable close second. Repeat the test, using this time awareness of one’s own culture, and the results could hardly be more dissimilar. The foreign students will inevitably win hands down.
Intelligence is obviously not a factor to be considered here; the problem is simply that the Scots are not being taught about themselves and we ought, perhaps, to ask why this situation should exist. As to the risks inherent in this lack of knowledge however, let me relate a little story that will hopefully provide a perfect example of how better familiarity with their own cultural roots is so badly needed by many Scots.
Some years ago, I fell into conversation with a mechanic who was repairing my car. When he discovered that I was a traditional stone carver he became quite enlivened and told me that he had in his possession a piece of stone that I might be interested in seeing. It had been found many years ago by his father, now deceased.
The stone was described as being approximately one foot square (300mm. sq.) with unusual carvings on it, and, in the mechanic’s own words, “There are funny looking grooves all along one side; kind of like Roman numerals but not Roman numerals", I couldn’t believe my luck. It looked as if I was going to be shown a piece of stone carved with what, according to the chap’s description, were Pictish symbols and some Ogam script. He had no idea what Ogam script was but became fairly excited when I explained it to him so he invited me along to his house that evening to have a look at the stone and give my opinion as to what it was; Pictish or whatever.