Friday, March 13, 2009

The Picts and Scots

The Roman Empire in the time of Constantine had the appearance rather than the reality of strength. Its taxation was very heavy, and there was no national enthusiasm to lead men to sacrifice themselves in its defence. Roman citizens became more and more unwilling to become soldiers at all, and the Roman armies were now mostly composed of barbarians. At the same time the barbarians outside the Empire were growing stronger, as the tribes often coalesced into wide confederacies for the purpose of attacking the Empire.

The assailants of Britain on the north and the west were the Picts and Scots. The Picts were the same as the Caledonians of the time of Agricola. We do not know why they had ceased to be called Caledonians. The usual derivation of their name from the Latin Pictus, said to have been given them because they painted their bodies, is inaccurate. Opinions differ whether they were Goidels with a strong Iberian strain, or Iberians with a Goidelic admixture. They were probably Iberians, and at all events they were more savage than the Britons had been before they were influenced by Roman civilisation. The Scots, who afterwards settled in what is now known as Scotland, at that time dwelt in Ireland. Whilst the Picts, therefore, assailed the Roman province by land, and strove, not always unsuccessfully, to break through the walls which defended its northern frontier, the Scots crossed the Irish Sea in light boats to plunder and slay before armed assistance could arrive.

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