Scots in the Classic Records
Scots in the Classical Records
The term Scots is derived from the word Scoti, Scotti, Scotia, a name used by the Romans to describe Gaelic raiders from Ireland. Its use first appears in the classical records of the Roman and Greek world, and later in the works of Gildas’ De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain) and Bede’s Eccesiatical History of the English People. The origin of the word Scoti or Scotti is unclear, though, it may be associated with the root word skot (darkness), also found in the Greek skotos (darkness, gloom). Philip Rance in his article ‘Epiphanius of Salamis and the Scotti: New Evidence for Late Roman-Irish Relations’, discusses two overlooked Greek references to the name Σκόττοι; (see below) and demonstrates they were late insertions into the post-diluvian portion of the world by lot between Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth in the Book of Genesis.
Paulus Orosius is the first to clearly state that Hibernia and the nearby island of Mevania are inhabited by the Scotti, and if Mevania is the Isle of Man, the Scoti were at least settled on the islands as early as the fifth century, when the Scoti are believed to have been settling Argyllshire in Scotland. It is not certain, however, that the people of the whole of the island of Ireland were known as Scoti, but the name change from Hibernia/Hiberni to Scotia/Scoti in the classical records from the 300s, reflects a new appreciation of these war-like people who raided northern Britain and are usually grouped along with the Picts. Jerome places the territory of the Scotti “near the Britons” (de Britannorum vincinia), but Claudian explicitly states that Ireland (Hiverne) wept at the mounds of dead Scoti slain by the grandfather of the Emperor Honorius, a Roman general called Theodosius Flavius. He was granted the title of Count of the Britains (Comes Britanniarum) for quashing the Barbarian Conspiracy of 367-8.
Gildas is the first to locate the Scoti in the north-west of Britain, which suits the Scots kingdom of Dal Riata. This kingdom crossed both sides of the Irish Sea with the other half located in Co. Antrim in Ireland. It would appear the term Scoti had both a general and specific meaning and if Jermone is correct when he describes the Scoti people as living near the Britons, the geographical context would suit both the Dal Riata in north-east Ireland and Argyllshire in the west of Scotland. In his response to the Roman general Stilicho, who fought a war in Britain c.398, Claudian claims the Scoti roused all Hiverne in response to Stilicho’s campaign in northern Britain, which would seem to imply that by the end of the fourth century, the Scoti were emerging as a distinct and recognisable group of people.
Interestingly, Claudian's claim that Hiverne wept at the mounds of dead Scotti slain by Theodosius Flavius, implies the Romans undertook a campaign against the Scoti in Ireland, and possibly a naval and land war, though this has never been substantiated by modern historians and archaeologists. Such a campaign could have been possible, and if they embarked from Roman Briton in southwest Scotland, which at its narrowest point is only 22 miles in length between Wigtownshire and Co. Down, a landing in east Ulster seems conceivable. Such a campaign had been planned by Agricola, governor of Britain from 77 to 85, and according to Tacitus (chapter 24 of Agricola), Agricola "crossed in the first ship" and defeated peoples unknown to the Romans until then in 81.
The following list is only intended to illustrate the use of the term Scoti, it is doesn't offer a running commentary in relation to each reference.
Nomina provinciarum omnium A.D. c.312
The text is a short list of the provinces of the Roman Empire and appended to this list is a brief section naming forty tribes that were a growing threat to the empire and begins with the Scotti, a name that had come to replace the Irish Hiberni.
‘Barbarian tribes who have increased under the emperors: Scoti, Picts, Caledonians, etc’.
Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis on Cyprus, written in A.D. 373/4
Two overlooked references to the Scotti in the works of Epiphanius’s Ancoratus and Panarion.
From the Ancoratus: To Japheth, the third son, (there were) fifteen children and children’s children up until the actual division of the tongues, [from whom descend]: Medoi, Albanoi, Gargianoi, Armenioi, Arraioi, Amazones, Koloi, Korzenoi, Beneagenoi, Kappodokes, Galatai, Paphlagones, Mariandenoi, Tibarenoi, Chalybes, Mossunoikoi, Kolkoi, Melanchenoi, Sauromatai, Germanoi, Maiotai, Scythai, Tauroi, Thrakes, Basternoi, Illyrioi, Makedones, Hellenes, Libyes, Phryges, Pannonioi, Istroi, Ouennoi, Dauneis, Iapyges, Kalabroi, Hippikoi, Latinoi who are also Romaioi, Turrenoi, Galloi who are Keltoi, Ligustinoi, [Kampanoi], Keltiberes, Iberes, Galloi, Akouitanoi, Illyrianoi, Basantes, Kannoi, Kartanoi, Lusitanoi, Ouakkaioi, Brettanikoi, Skottoi, Spanoi.
From Panarion: This lot assigned to Japheth the northern lands. But in the west [Japheth was assigned] from Europe as far as Spain and Britain, including Thrace, Europe, Rhodope and the races who border thereon, the Venetes and Daunii, Iapyges, Calabrii, Latini, Opici [and] Magardes, as far as the inhabitants of Spain and Gaul, and up in the lands of the Scotti and Franks.
Panegyric by Pacatus Drepanius A.D. 389
In the Panegyric, Pacaturs praised Flavis Theodosius, a Roman general and the father of Theodosius I, for his recovery of Britain from the Barbarian Conspiracy of the Saxons, Picts and Scoti in A.D. 367-8.
‘Shall I tell how Britain was worn down by infantry battles? The Saxon defeated in naval battles is an example. Shall I speak of the Scoti driven back to their own swamps?’
Ammianus Marcellinus A.D. 392
Ammianus Marcellinus was a Roman soldier and historian who compiled a major historical work known as the Res Gestae, which chronicled the history of Rome from the accession of the Emperor Nerva in 96 to the death of Valens at the battle of Adrianople in 378. However, only the sections covering the period 353 to 378 survive. His history was written about A.D. c.392.
‘But in Britain during the tenth consulship of Constantius and the third of Julian, raids by savage tribes of Scotti and Picts broke the arranged peace and devastated the frontier regions. Terror filled the provincials, worn down as they were by the frequent calamities of the part’.
‘At that time, as if war trumpets were sounding throughout the whole Roman world, the most savage tribes were roused and poured across the frontiers nearest to them. While the Alamanni were ravaging Gaul and Raetia …. the Picts, Saxons, Scotti, and Attacotti were harassing the Britons with constant troubles’.
‘Suffice it to say, however, that at the time the Picts, divided into two tribes of the Dicalydones and Verturiones, as well as the warlike nation of the Attacotti and the Scotti, were roaming far and wide ravaging many lands’.
Eusebius Hieronymus better known as Jerome A.D. 393-410
Several passages from Jerome’s works mention the Scoti and Atticoti:
From Adversus Jovinianus (393): Why should I speak of other nations when I myself as a young man in Gaul saw the Atticoti, a British people, feeding on human flesh? Moreover, when they come across herds of pigs and cattle in the forests, they frequently cut of the buttocks of the shepherds and their wives, and their nipples, regarding these alone as delicacies. The nation of the Scoti do not have individual wives, but, as if they had read Plato’s Republic or followed the example of Cato, no wife belongs to a particular man, but as each desires, they indulge themselves like beasts.
But in the manner of the Scotti and Atticti, and the Republic of Plato, let them have wives enjoyed by all and children in common.
From the Epistle: God, from Adam to Moses and from Moses to the coming of Christ, allowed all the nations to perish ignorant of the Law and his instructions. For neither Britain, fertile province of tyrants, nor the Scotti, nor any throughout the barbarian nations to the Ocean know Moses and the Prophets.
From Commentary on Jeremiah: Though [Satan] himself is silent, he barks through an Alphine dog, large and fat, who is able to lash out more with his heals than with his teeth. His lineage is of the Scotti people near the Britons.
Panegyric of Claudus Claudianus A.D. 396-398
Four of Claudian’s works mention the Scotti and Ireland. The first two in his speeches of 396 and 398 refer to the actions of Emperor Honorius’s grandfather, Theodosius Flavius several decades earlier.
He conquered the swift Moors and the well-named Picts,
And following the Scotti with his wandering sword,
He broke the Hyperborean waves with his daring oars.
What endless cold, what wintry air, what unknown sea,
Could affect him? The Orkneys were soaked in Saxon gore,
Thule was warned by Pictish blood,
Icy Hiverne wept at the mounds of dead Scotti.
This is the same campaign for the recovery of Britain in 367 noted earlier by Ammianus Marcellinus and Pacatus. The second passage directly connects Ireland (Hiverne) and the Scotti, though, it fall just short of saying, as does Paulus Orosius (see below) that Ireland is the homeland of the Scotti.
In A.D. 400, Claudian composed a panegyric for Honorius’ general and father-in-law Stilicho, the power behind the throne in the western empire for more than a decade:
'Next spake Britain clothed in the skin of some Caledonian beast,
Her cheeks tattooed, and an azure (Blue) cloak,
Rivalling the swell of ocean, sweeping to her feet,
Stilicho gave aid to me also when at the mercy of neighbouring tribes,
When the Scottus roused all Hibernia against me,
And the sea foamed to the beat of hostile oars.
Thanks to his care I had no need to fear the Scottica (Scottish) arms,
Or tremble at the Pict, or keep watch along all my coasts,
For the Saxon who would come whatever wind might blow'.
Later Claudian describes the withdrawal from Britain of Roman to defend the empire against the Gothic invasion of Italy under Alaric in 402:
Then comes the legion protecting distant Britain,
Which restrains the fierce Scottus and surveyed,
The Strange figures tattooed on the dying Pict.
Pseudo-Hegesippus A.D. 398 or thereafter
The Church historian Hegesippus when speaking of the power of Roman refers to the Scotti set in a context before the 4th century:
‘Why should I mention the Britannic Isles, separated from the whole world by the wide sea, and yet restored to the world by the Romans? Scotia, which owes loyalty to no one, fears them’.
Histories against the Pagans by Paulus Orosius A.D. c.417
The island Hibernia lies between Britain and Hispania, with its greatest length extending from the south-west to the north. It’s near parts stretching into the Cantabric Ocean look toward the city of the Brigantia in Gallaecia from the southwest at a great distance, especially from the promontory where the mouth of the Scena is and the Velabri and Luceni dwell. This island is nearer to Britain, smaller in land area, but more advantageous in the temperateness of its climate and soil. It is inhabited by Scotti. Also near to this is the island of Mevania, itself not small, with favourable soil. The Scotti dwell on this island as well.
St Prosper’s Chronicle of A.D. 431
Refers to Pope Celestine sending St. Palladius to “ad Scotti in Christum”, that is the Irish who believed in Christ.
De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae by Gildas A.D. 540s
In the year 410, after the Roman legions had been withdrawn, Emperor Honorius sent a letter to the Britons telling them he could no longer protect them from the barbarians and instructed them to defend themselves against raiders without further help. In his account on the Ruin and Conquest of Britain, Gildas gives us the first native glimpse of happened following the departure of the Romans and the raids of the Scoti and Picti in the northern frontier, who overrun Hadrian’s Walls.
1. Picts and Scots. De duabus gentibus vastatricibus
After this, Britain is robbed of all her armed soldiery, of her military supplies, of her rulers, cruel though they were, and of her vigorous youth who followed the footsteps of the above-mentioned tyrant and never returned. Completely ignorant of the practice of war, she is, for the first time, open to be trampled upon by two foreign tribes of extreme cruelty, the Scots (Scotorum) from the north-west (a circione), the Picts from the north; and for many years continues stunned and groaning.
2. Third devastation by Picts and Scots
As they were returning home, the terrible hordes of Scots and Picts eagerly come forth out of the tiny craft (cwrwgs) in which they sailed across the sea-valley, as on Ocean's deep, just as, when the sun is high and the heat increasing, dark swarms of worms emerge from the narrow crevices of their holes. Differing partly in their habits, yet alike in one and the same thirst for bloodshed ----in a preference also for covering their villainous faces with hair rather than their nakedness of body with decent clothing----these nations, on learning the departure of our helpers and their refusal to return, became more audacious than ever, and seized the whole northern part of the land as far as the wall, to the exclusion of the inhabitants.
3. The victory over Picts and Scots
Then for the first time, they inflicted upon the enemy, which for many years was pillaging in the land, a severe slaughter: their trust was not in man but in God, as that saying of Philo goes: we must have recourse to divine aid where human fails. The boldness of the enemy quieted for a time, but not the wickedness of our people; the enemy withdrew from our countrymen, but our countrymen withdrew not from their sins.
It was the invariable habit of the race, as it is also now, to be weak in repelling the missiles of enemies, though strong to bear civil strifes and the burdens of sins; weak, I say, to follow ensigns of peace and truth, yet strong for crimes and falsehood. The shameless Irish assassins, therefore, went back to their homes, to return again before long. It was then, for the first time, in the furthermost part of the island, that the Picts commenced their successive settlements, with frequent pillaging and devastation.
4. Deliberation how to oppose the Picts and Scots. The Saxons invited to aid in their repulsion.
In this way the time was drawing nigh when the iniquities of the country, as those of the Amorites of old, would be fulfilled. A council is held, to deliberate what means ought to be determined upon, as the best and safest to repel such fatal and frequent irruptions and plunderings by the nations mentioned above.
At that time all members of the assembly, along with the proud tyrant are blinded; such is the protection they find for their country (it was, in fact, its destruction) that those wild Saxons, of accursed name, hated by God and men, should be admitted into the island, like wolves into folds, in order to repel the northern nations. Nothing more hurtful, certainly, nothing more bitter, happened to the island than this. What utter depth of darkness of soul! What hopeless and cruel dulness of mind! The men whom, when absent, they feared more than death, were invited by them of their own accord, so to say, under the cover of one roof.
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