History loves a mystery. And there have been few things in Scottish history more mysterious than the Picts. Given the name Pictii by the Romans, they remain lodged in our memories as some brutal, painted, naked-warrior-dervishes resisting the invaders like a Caledonian version of Asterix.
Their dramatic disappearance around the 10th century left us with little more than Pictish standing stones and faint written traces of their culture. (And these were written by the Romans who never fully occupied Caledonia and we should perhaps accept a small degree of bias in their writing.)
A New History of the Picts by Stuart McHardy tries to get under the possibly painted skin of these mysterious people to reclaim their history.
McHardy, an unashamed Pictophile, has been pulling the Picts out of the Dark Ages for years. A founding member of the Pictish Arts Society, he helped set up the Pictavia heritage centre in Angus. But it was when he was teaching the history of the Picts at Edinburgh University’s Office of Lifelong Learning, that he realised that someone had to re-visit this important time.
“Scottish history,” he says “is a crock. It is ill-served by us being a junior partner in the Union. A great many parts of it have been badly served by a need to have a British history.”