Orkney in the Pictish Period
or Pictish subject?
look at the inhabitants of Orkney in the Pictish period, we should
first look at the term "Pict" and its usage in relation to the Northern
Just as the "Pict" is thought to have originated as a Roman nickname, today it remains
a generic term, although used slightly differently. Now "Pict", and"Pictish", has been adopted as a convenient label
for the period and people from about AD300-800.
is undoubtedly useful to describe specific time periods, an unfortunate
side effect is that this has led to a common assumption that Orkney's
population and culture changed or were replaced.
a number of ancient historical accounts suggest the Picts were foreign
invaders, it is now generally accepted that the inhabitants of "Pictish
Orkney" were simply the descendents of the islands' Iron Age broch
By AD565, Orkney had been incorporated into the Pictish
kingdom and thereafter was labelled by under the all-embracing collective
influenced by their Pictish overlords, the people of Orkney continued
to live in and around centuries-old settlements, such as the Broch
of Gurness, in Evie. In their sturdy, stone houses, they lived
relatively comfortable lifestyles as farmers and fishermen.
technically under Pictish rule, the question remains as to the extent
of this Pictish influence.
It seems likely that Orkney's "Picts"
were a small, independent part of a larger political unit. But
just because you're part of the Pictish Kingdom doesn't necessarily
make you Pictish — just as the inhabitants of nineteenth-century
India were technically part of the British Empire, the population
and their culture remained their own.
In a similar vein, in 1468 Orkney
became part of the Kingdom of Scotland. But we know there were
distinct differences in culture, language and tradition, elements
of which remain even today.
Others, such as the Norn
language, survived until the eighteenth century - 300 years after
the islands became technically "Scottish".
Just as post-Norse
Orkney was undoubtedly affected by the influence of the new Scottish
rulers, centuries before it is also likely that the main "Pictish" kingdom
influenced the Orkney kingdom - but although there are clear examples
of distinct Pictish influence in the county, does this necessarily
mean a widespread acceptance of Pictland's culture? The question
is open to debate.
So where we
see the phrases "Orkney's Picts" or "Pictish Orkney", perhaps it
would be better to read "the people of Orkney during the Pictish