Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia


Cruthin, Picti, Priteni

The people who lived in Northern Britain in Roman times and in the traditional Arthurian period.

One of the earliest tribes from mainland Europe to invade the British Isles (3000-1000 BC). They settled throughout the islands, but were eventually driven into Ireland, Wales, and Scotland by the invading Celtic tribes, with whom they eventually imerged. During Roman times, the term “Pict” was used to describe all of the barbarian tribes living in Scotland who were never conquered by the Roman empire.

As to the racial identity of the Picts, they were possibly Celtic and called Priteni in their own language, hence the name of Britain. The Irish called them Cruthin and applied this name also to people of the same race in Ireland. Picti, ‘painted folk’, was the name given them by the Romans.

Although they probably preceded the Britons in Britain, the Venerable Bede says they arrived after them and came from Scythia which lies in present-day Ukraine in the southern Russia. Geoffrey asserts that this migration took place under King Sodric who suffered defeat at the hands of the British king, Marius, who bestowed Caithness on them. Mael Mura of Othain, a medieval Irish poet, maintains they came from Thrace.

During the Roman occupation of Britain, the Picts were a frequent headache, leading raids over Hadrian’s Wall and into what is now northern England. When the Romans withdrew from Britain in the early fifth century, leaving a depleted British military, the problem intensified. It appears that in the late 420s or so, a British ruler named Vortigern employed Saxon mercenaries to swell the British ranks and hold back the Pictish invasions. Vortigern’s scheme backfired, and the Saxons, perhaps allied with the Picts they were hired to oppose, became the new enemy.

In the late fifth century, a new wave of British resistance, begun by Aurelianus Ambrosius and probably continued by Arthur, held back both races. In the meantime, the Scots arrived from Ireland and established their own kingdoms in Pictish lands, and in the sixth century, Saint Columba converted the former “barbarians.” After several hundred years of hostilities between the Picts and Scots, the two races joined politically in the ninth century, and the Picts, as such, ceased to exist.

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthur subjugated the Picts in the early days of his reign, after the battles at Moray and Lomond. Contradicting previous chronicles, Hector Boece says that the Picts were Arthur’s allies against the Saxons and that Lot was their king. He also avers that Guenevere died as their captive. In Richard Blackmore’s Prince Arthur, Mordred is represented as their king.

Whatever their origins, the kings of the principal Northern Pict kingdom in Arthur’s time were said to have been Galem I (AD 495), Drust III and Drust IV (AD 510-25, after which Drust III ruled alone), Gartnait III (AD 530) and Cailtram (AD 537 to 538); however, this list should be treated with caution. The Southern Picts were divided into four states – Atholl, Circinn, Fife and Fortrenn.

See also
Cadal | The Legend of King Arthur
Drust | The Legend of King Arthur

Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum | Bede, 731
Historia Regum Britanniae | Geoffrey of Monmouth, c. 1138
Scotorum Historiae | Hector Boece, 1527
Prince Arthur: An Heroick Poem: In Ten Books | Sir Richard Blackmore, 1695