We mustn’t allow ourselves to think of these early kings as being quaint, couthy characters, similar to the kind of thing we are used to seeing in comic books. That is, wee fat roly-poly men, with a gold crown on their heads and wearing a cloak trimme with ermine. This popular stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth. The kings of Pictland had to be strong, robust, fit individuals, with the sort keen eye and sharp mind that could be relied upon to defend the people in times of war or hardship.
Their identifying mark of royal rank is also unlikely to have been a crown (though the king may have worn some sort of circlet when in council), and there is certainly no evidence in any of the Pictish carved stones of anyone wearing such an ungainly impractical thing. Helmets yes, but crowns, no.
As the years rolled on and times changed however, some form of ceremonial regalia would have been given to the king out of respect for his supreme status within the realm or nation. It is impossible to say with any certainty what sort of regalia was worn by Pictish kings in Dark Age Scotland, yet we may have the answer in several massive silver chains that have been found throughout Pictland; three in the north of the country and seven in the south. All of these chains are double linked and five of them have penannular terminal rings, two of which bear engraved Pictish symbols impregnated with red enamel. Ten of these silver chains have been found so far, and they weigh from 22oz. to 92.5oz. (approx. 1 to 2 .5 kg.) each.
They are of outstanding workmanship and it has been suggested that, as they are only around 18 inches (45 cm.) long, i.e. too small to be worn around the neck with any degree of comfort, they would most likely have been worn across the chest. It may be envisaged that they would extend from shoulder to shoulder, to be held in place at their terminals by large silver pins or possibly cords.
The Pictish Kings were Warlords. Their word was law, and that means that the supreme authority they wielded would have included acting at times of arbitration as both judge and jury. We can imagine our frowning Pictish Overlord, mulling and deliberating in judgement with a glittering sword on his knees, a gold Celtic brooch fastening his long woollen cloak, and one of those huge gleaming silver chains stretched across his chest. Say what you like, but that would have to impress you.
Eat your heart out King Roly-Poly.