The Faded Map: The Lost Kingdoms of Scotland

Free The Faded Map: The Lost Kingdoms of Scotland by Alistair Moffat

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Authors: Alistair Moffat
Tags: History, Non-Fiction, Scotland
could not in any place or time or manner be overcome by the barbarians, though long dwelling in Spain amongst the fiercest of them. Coming thence, 1,200 years after the transit of Israel, with many victories and many toils they won that habitation in the west, which though the Britons have been driven out, the Picts effaced, and the Norwegians, Danes and English have often assailed it, they hold now, in freedom from all vassalage; and as the old historians bear witness, have ever so held it. In this kingdoms have reigned 113 kings of their own blood royal, and no man foreign has been among them.
     
    In the early fourteenth century, when Bernard was writing, Scythia was generally understood to be the Bulgarian and Romanian shores of the Black Sea, and while the Tyrrhene Sea may be seen as a slight diversion, the general direction of travel agrees with the findings of language scholars. Although it should be made clear that de Linton was writing not of Pictish history or kings, or of that large part of the north which spoke Continental Celtic, but of the west, of the speakers of Atlantic Celtic and their traditions. Great migrations of peoples have certainly taken place throughout history but both the Irish
Lebor
and the Declaration of Arbroath are much more likely to be describing the journey of a language and those stories and fragments of a culture carried inside it.
    If Agricola and his legions were not the first Mediterranean influence to reach the north of Britain, what can be said about the historical importance of language creolisation over such long distances? Only that contact and knowledge exchanged between cultures was likely to have been much more widespread and active than is currently believed. For good reasons historians place much greater reliance on written records and archaeology than on collective memory and tradition – but it is important to be wary of painting the world of 2,000 ago in stark colours. Simply because no written record of the north, its peoples and their kings survives and that, by contrast, Tacitus’ account of his farther-in-law’s campaigns does, we should not make the lazy comparison between illiterate, primitive and savage Selgovan kings and sophisticated Roman invaders. To twenty-first-century sensibilities, both probably shared shockingly brutal views of human life and suffering but it would be wrong to assume that one was more or less cultured than the other.
    The Romans and the Greeks would not agree. They certainly saw themselves as superior. Barbarians were not simply the speakers of ‘bar-bar’ crude languages – they were also lesser beings. Just at the moment when the empire encountered the peoples of the north of Britain, Tacitus catches the complexities of this group of attitudes brilliantly:
     
Thus [among the British] even our style of dress came into favour and the toga was everywhere to be seen. Gradually too, they went astray into the allurements of evil ways, colonnades and warm baths and elegant banquets. The Britons, who had no experience of this, called it ‘civilisation’, although it was part of their enslavement.
     
    Tacitus’ references were to southern Britain and they suggest how advanced – and subtle – the process of Romanisation hadbecome. But the provincial government was not its only agent. In the first century BC , communities of Belgic Gauls had crossed the Channel to settle in what is now Hampshire, West Sussex and Berkshire. With them they brought a new economics, stimulated by the trade of the empire, and they introduced coinage to Britain and established markets at Silchester, St Albans and Colchester. Native British coins have been found in places below the Severn–Humber line but no further north. It seems that the kings of the Brigantes and those kindreds beyond them would continue to have more in common with those in Wales and Ireland. And throughout the long four centuries of the province of Britannia, the sort of Romanisation

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