The Makers of Scotland

Tim Clarkson, The Makers of Scotland: Picts, Romans, Gaels and Vikings. Edinburgh: John Donald, 2012. 224 pg.

In his third book, Tim Clarkson takes on the first thousand years of recorded Scottish history. It’s a huge task, but Tim was more than up to the challenge. I really enjoyed it. I tend to focus so much on my narrow time period that it’s really good to properly put it all in context. For example, I was struck while reading this the parallels between the Anglo-Saxon adventus and the Scandinavian contact and migration to Britain. Both begin as raiders seeking only loot from soft targets (villas vs monasteries), then both are either offered payments or mercenary positions to protect Britain from their fellows, and lastly by military and other permanent migration to the isles.  All food for thought and I do wonder by these parallels aren’t talked about more. By usually constraining most of my reading to the pre-Viking period I can often miss such important contextual associations.

Do the math, to cover a thousand years in 225 pages, you can only expect so much depth. I think Tim covers as much chronological detail as possible in a book this length. He managed to untangle the Scottish and Pictish families and succession clearly and briefly. I wish I could talk him into writing a Men of the North style book on Dál Riata! By choosing not to delve into academic controversies, Tim swept aside discredited theories, replacing them with well received  new paradigms, and sometimes making a choice where the there isn’t consensus. Countless updates and choices brings out the clear and consistent voice of the historian I have gotten to know so well over so many years. Tim doesn’t write much about historical theory but his historical paradigms are deftly woven through The Makers of Scotland, just as with his other books. In some ways his voice has more clarity here because of the expanse of time covered – and that is a good thing!  I highly recommend The Makers of Scotland as an ideal, comfortable read whether you want a contextual refresher  or are coming to Scottish history for the first time.

Tim Clarkson is a generous and accessible author. He can be found at his blog Senchus (highly recommended) and on twitter at @EarlyScotland.

The 300 (or 303)

When you think of ‘the 300’ you probably think of the recent movie on the famous Spartan-Persian battle of antiquity. Considered by historians all around as a pivotal battle in antiquity, the number 300 either spawned a legend that spread all the way to the British Isles or was such a common symbolic number that the Greek numbers are pure legend as well. If you look at the old Welsh legends and literature nearly every famed retinue, accounting of war dead, or size of an army is listed as 300 (or 303). When you look at it in a source like the Welsh Triads it is obvious that it’s a legendary motif (or meme?). If I recall correctly, the famed collection of elegies, Y Gododdin, refers to either an army of 300 or 300 dead (or both).

This all came to mind this afternoon as I continue to read Fraser’s From Caledonia to Pictland (2009) where he writes on the battle of Miathi that

“Here it is said that 303 men were slain in Aidan’s service, which must represent a substantial proportion of his fighting strength. The point of the hagiographical story about this battle was probably to emphasize c. 640 the (former) efficacy of Columba’s patronage and protection of the family of Domnall Brecc, Aidan’s grandson. None the less, that a precise number of casualties was remembered suggests that the battle was famous and widely known to be very bloody. Columba’s hagiographer probably chose it from a list of Aedan’s several battles because a narrow victory illustrated his point best.” (p. 137)

Setting aside the importance of the battle of Miathi and Adomnan’s choice of it for the moment, we can have no confidence in the 303 tally. Whether Adomnan got the account of this battle from the Cummine Find’s collection of Columba’s miracles or directly from oral legends of Aedan, the earliest is could have been written was 30 years later and perhaps nearly a hundred years. What the 303 deaths tell me is that the hagiographical writer, Adomnan or Cummine, got it from oral history. Yes, it must have had the reputation as an important and/or bloody battle. However, probably what made the battle important is that two of Aidan’s sons fell in the victory, and it was a costly victory. Reports of an army of 300 or 300 (303) casualties are worthless. The number 303 does come up elsewhere so this exact number does not give any more confidence than 300. The importance of these numbers goes back to ancient symbolic use of the number 3. I don’t study the meaning given to numbers enough to be able to explain why multiples of 3 are found so often in folklore and mythology but they are.

Getting back to the battle of the Maithi in Fraser’s quote above: When Adomnan was writing in c. 700, the Scots had long lost control of Manu/Miathi territory to the Picts and Bernicians, so it was a reminder of territory now lost. Domnall Brecc, whose behavior is credited with loosing  St Columba’s protection, fell near Miathi territory and his death may have been the final Dalriadan effort to control the area. Adomnan may also be saying that St Columba provided Aedan with a victory over the Maithi but Domnall Brecc lost Columba’s protection and his life in territory possibly controlled by the Miathi. I suspect it was the region of Manu/Miathi territory that made this battle Adomnan’s choice rather than because it was a narrow victory. In the Life of Columba, Adomnan narrates Columba’s prediction that Domnall Brecc’s father  Eochiad will succeed King Aedan, and that Eochiad’s  two elders brothers will die before Aedan in the battle against the Maithi. In a later chapter he shows Columba prophecizing that Aedan is about to loose the battle against the Maithi unless they all pray for him, which they do and a costly victory is won.

So Adomnan’s scheme is:

  • Columba’s prayerful intervention gives Aedan victory over the Maithi perhaps consolidating some of his furthest won territory (that gives them a border with both the Picts and Bernicians),
  • Columba prophecizes that two of Aedan’s sons will die before him and they do in this battle
  • prophecizes that Eochaid will succeed, making Domnall’s eventual succession possible.
  • says that Columba’s protection of Aedan (and Eochaid’s) line will last as long as they do not cross Columba’s family in Ireland

We know from Cummine’s information inserted into the Life of Columba that Aedan’s grandson Domnall did make an alliance and fight againt Columba’s kin in Ireland and that since that time Dalriada had been dominated by outsiders. We know from the annals that Domnall died in battle at Strathcarron, which is very near Miathi territory.  Indeed, Fraser places Strathcarron within an enlarged Maithi region. It is possibly within the area that his grandfather Aedan had won control over after his battle against the Miathi. Adomnan ties up Domnall Brecc’s betrayal to the familia of St Columba (monastic and blood family) and its consequences in a nice little package that would have been obvious to anyone who read it at the time. The insertion of Cummine Find’s text into a later copy of the Life of Columba (preserving an otherwise lost text for us) is proof that Adomnan’s contemporaries understood exactly what he was saying and added these notes proof from Cummine’s text.

The Horsemen

Tribes of Northern Roman Britain (Wikipedia Commons)

Tribes of Northern Roman Britain (Wikipedia Commons)

If you look at the map above, there is a tribe named the Epidii in the western isles of Scotland. This tribe as been a bit enigmatic because the name has never appeared on any maps or referred to in any writings after Ptolomy’s survey during the Flavian era. The name Epidii has as its root epos, meaning horse. As it stands it appears to be in the Brythonic language. I’ve always thought that it was strange that the men of Kintyre and the western isles would be known as horsemen, considering that this is unlikely to be good horse country. Although there are Pictish symbol stones with what look like sea horses: horse’s head and foreleg with a fishes tail. There are also many other types of symbol stones in Scotland with horses.  Fraser has recently written that there is continuity in the name for Kintyre.

In Gaelic, the word “reti and later riata, normally denotes a riding horse” (Fraser, p. 148). This is significant because Reti is the root word of Dalriada. (Dal Reti -> Dal Riata -> Dalriada) So Dalriada/Dal Riata reflects the name of the Roman era Epidii.  As Fraser showed in an earlier paper, the progenitor of the 6th-7th century royal family of Dalraida was known as Domangart Reti. (Aedan mac Gabran mac Domangart Reti) I have written before about the use of a regional name attached to a rulers name, such as Constantine Corneu, Maelgwn Gwynedd, Urien Rheged etc. This might suggest that Domangart’s family took control of Kintyre, or at least organized it, during his time. Domangart is the ancestor of Cenel Gabran of Kintyre and Cenel Comgall of Cowal. This does not necessarily mean that the Irish first came to the area in Domangart’s time. Frazer and others have noted that there is no archaeological disruption in the area throughout the era. Before I get away from the name is also worth noting that two ancient genealogical tracts, Cethri primchenela and Miniugud senchasa fher nAlban, that unite all of the kindreds (cenels) of Dalraida do so with an ultimate ancestor named Eochaid, “the Gaelic cognate (in later form) of Epidii” (Fraser, p. 148)

Fraser hypothesizes that the people of Kintyre and surounding islands converted from Brythonic speakers to Gaelic between the Flavian period and when they reappear in the written record as Dalraida.  Again he notes that this linguistic changed occurred when there was no accompanying archaeological change, no change in material culture. At the same time, there was a group of people in northern Ireland known by the name Cruithni, which means “Britons” in Gaelic. At some undated point, these ‘britons’ began speaking Gaelic. So we have Gaelic-speaking Britons in Ireland and people who supposedly came from Ireland converting territory in Britain to Gaelic. It is also worth noting that the Gaelic name for the Picts is Cruithni. So Irish authors used the same word to describe rulers in Ulster as in Pictland.

“The Cruithni may have been British incomers from various parts of the west of outer Brigantia, Argyll, and the Hebrides. Later Gaelic ethnographers distinguished Dal Riata from the Cruithni in racial terms. If we set such pseudo-history aside, we are confronted by two neighboring Early Historic peoples, one based largely in Britain with a small presence in Antrim, and the other based in Ireland but known as ‘Britons’. Together they form a link between Argyll and north-east Ireland that scholars require to explain Gaelic in Argyll. Contrary to the conventional model and early medieval origin mythology, however, the link probably arose from inclusions into Ireland from Britain, and not the other way around. There is nothing at all unlikly about the proposition that the inhabitants of Argyll ‘went Gaelic’ along with the Cruithni in Ireland, even if precisely how, and moreover when, such a process could have taken place remains unclear.” (Fraser, p. 148-149)

Clearly the Early Historic period has much to teach us about linguistic change. It calls to mind how many Irishmen settled in southwestern Britain, in Wales and Dumnonia, only to leave no linguistic trace. Legend claims that the kingdom of Dyfed in Wales has Irish origins related in the tale, the ‘expulsion of the Deisi’, yet they eventually spoke Brythonic/Welsh. There are a few archaeological traces of Irish in Wales, notably ogham writing.

The northern examples of linguistic change in Kintyre and Antrim may be informative for the dominance of English in Bernicia and elsewhere that lacks a lot of early archaeological evidence of Germanic settlement. The archaeological evidence of Germanic settlement is a little more pronounced, but then we would expect Germanic settlement to be more of an abrupt change than from one Celtic culture to another Celtic culture.


James Fraser (2009) From Caledonia to Pictland: Scotland to 795. Edenburgh UP

Pseudo-History and Historicization

After a long wait, From Caledonia to Pictland: Scotland to 795 (New Edinburgh History of Scotland) by James Fraser has been published and arrived in my mailbox this week!  Its out in the UK, and should be soon available in the US. I’ve known about this book for several years so I’m rather eager to see what is here. Expect lots of Scottish blogging in the coming, oh say, months.  I wondered how long it would take before I couldn’t resist blogging and I didn’t get through the introduction. Sigh… it could take me a while to blog through a 434 page book!

So I think James makes a very good point in his discussion of sources when he notes that Bede and Adomnan of Iona (the two biggest sources for Scotland up to 795) as premier biblical scholars knew the value of parables in history. They had the gospel as their guide. In the gospel Jesus uses parables to convey truths.  A parable is a fictional story used to make a point, or a moral, to convey a truth. The fact that the story is fictional does not negate the truth or moral of the story. When previous historians referred to this era as full of fables (in a broad sense), they were partially correct. Much of what is written, particularly in Adomnan’s Life of Columba is parable/fable, but they were wrong to dismiss these sources as useless. An example from Fraser’s book:

“In Vita Columbae, Adomnan told a fable or parable of his own, adopting Jesus’ method of marrying surface fiction to deeper truth….He wrote that a man chased a girl down in Leinster. Fleeing from him, she came upon Columba and his teacher — real historical figures in a real place. The girl hid beneath their robes, but the man was not daunted and killed her with his spear. Adomnan had recently forumalated a law protecting non-combatants* from the scourge of war. Columba’s teacher in this parable, ‘in great distress of mind’ over the killing, represents the distress and sense of powerlessness of the whole Church prior to the introduction of Adomnan’s Law. But Columba, who correctly pronounces that the killer will be struck down immediately by God, speaks with a different voice: that of a Church newly armed with the Law. (p. 4)”

Fraser notes that this kind of story is called pseudo-history by academics. Pseudo-history of course means fake history, a disparaging term. Historians who don’t want to take the time to interpret and untangle historical parables dismiss these accounts as useless. It takes much more effort to understand these stories. At least we should understand that Bede and Adomnan didn’t view history as we do. Of course, neither did William of Malmesbury, Symeon of Durham or any other medieval historian. At least with Adomnan and Bede it should be obvious (though apparently not for earlier generations), where later medieval historians can fool even scholars into thinking that they view history the way we do. For medieval writers history, hagiography and biblical parables are viewed as being similar things. Its important to note though that Bede and Adomnna interpreted history the same way they interpreted the bible. They knew to look beyond the surface. They understood what they were reading, even if we don’t.

Getting back to Fraser… he notes that the Life of Columba is full of parables that tell spiritual or political truths, and the political truths refer to Adomnan’s day, not Columba’s. Indeed, I would add that the Life of Columba is more a collection of parables featuring Columba than a traditional hagiography. The Life of Columba has virtually no continuous narrative so we are left wondering about some very basic facts of Columba’s life.

“An important sub-category of pseudo-history in our sources sacrifices strict historical accuracy (as we might call it today) in the interests of more profound truths that were specifically historical, as monastic scholars understood the nature of history. Men like Bede and Adomnan were taught the great historical books of the Old Testament were, as St Augustine put it, ‘more concerned, or at least not less so, to foretell things to come than to relate things past’. …As top scholars, Bede and Adomnan thus expected history primarily to shed light on the predestined present or future. It is no surprise that they sometimes ‘discovered’ that it did so (and occasionally even helepd it to do so), reanalyzing historical scenarios in order to identify the hand of God at work.” (Fraser, p. 5)

If you think well, perhaps for Adomnan but not Bede, then recall how Bede rewrote the Life of Cuthbert. All hagiographers write history in this way, picking and choosing which tales to include by the moral or ultimate truth they wish to convey. We know from studying the Anonymous Life of Cuthbert and Bede’s Life of Cuthbert, that Bede was not above altering scenes to suit his purposes. He does the same in the Historia, and what else are those little moral stories Bede includes about common people or some nearly nameless monk but parables. Some may be historical and some may not be, almost all that aren’t complete fiction will have been reshaped by Bede to suit his purpose. As Fraser notes this kind of rewriting or reimagining of history is called historicization by academics. Fraser gives another example of historiczing that I think also illustrates the perils of interpreting these accounts:

“To see it in action, we may turn once more to Vita Columbae, this time to Adomnan’s story about a Pictish noble named Tarain, whom Columba assists after he is sent into exile. Did Columba really know a Pict with this name and these troubles? Maybe he did. On the other hand, Adomnna certainly did. Just as he was putting the finishing touches on his Law, a Pictish king called Tarain was cast out of his kingdom. He went into exile in Ireland, passing into obscurity. In Adomnan’s story, Tarain the Pict too finds sanctuary among Gaels. Historicizing of recent events by Adomnan may, therefore, be suspected here; in that event, the events described almost certainly never happened.

Does the story’s fabulousness render it useless? Not at all. Once we have caught him in the act, it becomes possible to learn more from Adomnan about the exile of King Tarain than any conventional source explicitly records. For example, Adomnan calls his character a mere nobilis or noble, not a rex or king — hinting that he accepted the validity of King Tarain’s deposition. Moreover, that Columba helps Tarain the Pict to find sanctuary hints that Adomnan, abbot of Columba’s monastery, was involved in helping King Tarain. Adomnan’s story ends with treachery: Tarain’s host murders him ‘my a cruel order’, and Columba pronounces that divine punishment will see his treacherous killed descend ‘to the infernal regions’. The underlying message will have been as clear to Adomnan’s contemporaries (assuming they were wise to his historicizing) as it is to you: whoever tries to have Tarain killed in exile ‘by a cruel order’ will earn a one way trip ‘to the infernal regions’.” (Fraser, p. 5-6)

I think it is without much doubt that historicizing went on in both Adomnan and Bede. However, as this story and indeed bibical parables illustrate, interpreting them is not so clear cut.  I might think that Fraser is drawing a bit too much out of this story, maybe you are ok with it. These parables are a double edged sword for the historian. I think its rather unlikely that the people who matter, Tarain’s secular hosts, will ever read or hear of Adomnan’s story. Perhaps this is Adomnan’s way of getting the message out to other monastics that the killer of Tarain is destined for hell. This would mean that either Tarain is already dead or Adomnan expects his death because of the number or power of his enemies. I’m sure Adomnan’s ability to prophecy or interpret contemporary politics within the Life of Columba is part of his superb legacy.


* Adomnan’s law is best known for its protection of women, more so than protection of non-combatants. Yes it protects the church and children, but the Law of the Innocents was famed even in medieval times for giving speical protection to women, especially from men in domestic situtations. So this parable could reflect the churches distress at domestic abuse or dangerous courtship (if you can call it courtship when her choice to to give in or die). See these are the various interpretations of parable, this story sounds more like a guy who can’t take no for an answer than an act of war to me.

The Red Ravagers

Welsh lore often presents a very different version of Arthur than is commonly found in most post-Geoffrey Arthurian literature. I ran across this the other day while browsing Bromwich’s Trioedd Ynys Prydein:

Traid 20 W: Three Red Ravagers of the Isle of Britain

  1. Rhun son of Beli;
  2. and Lle(u) Skilful Hand,
  3. and Morgan(t) the Wealthy,

But there is one how was a Red Ravager greater than than all three: Arthur was his name. For a year neither grass nor plants used to spring up where one of the three would walk; but where Arthur went, not for seven years. (p. 20)

You may be wondering who these other men were? Lleu Skilful hand is the Celtic god Lleu who was historicized into the early medieval period. The mythology of his story is told in the Mabinogion. He was historicized as Lot(h) of Lothian. Not without reason as as early as Y Gododdin, parts of which date to the seventh century, refer to Dun Edyn (Edenburgh) as Lleu’s fortress or Lleu’s rock. Rhun ap Beli is more insecure as both are common names. Morgan(t) the Wealthy is probably intended to be the Morgant who is reputed to have killed Urien Rheged in the Historia Brittonum.

As for the red ravagers, it is worth noting that excessive amounts of blood is toxic to plant life (maybe because of the iron content?). This would have the grizzly consequence of battlefield dead remaining visible for longer than you might imagine if they were left unburied and there was enough blood spilled on the ground.

Triad 54: Three Unrestrained Ravagings of the Isle of Britain:

  1. The first of them (occurred) when Medrawd came to Arthur’s Court at Celliwig in Cornwall,; he left neither food nor drink in the court that he did not consume. And he dragged Gwenhwyfar from her royal chair, and then struck a blow upon her.
  2. The second Unrestrained Ravaging (occurred) when Arthur came to Medrawd’s court. He left neither food nor drink in the court.
  3. (And the third Unrestrained Ravaging (occurred) when Aeddan the Wily came to the court of Rhydderch the Generous at Alclud (= Dumbarton); he left neither food nor drink nor beast alive.) (p. 147).

The Arthur of the Welsh is not much like the courtly Arthur of later romance who works through proxies. He is not even much like Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Arthur. To the Welsh, he is the Red Ravager, the great warlord.

Rachel Bromwich, trans. [1978] Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Adomnan of Iona Bibliography

An updated bibliography from my old website. There will be a permanent link on the Adomnan page in the left margin of Heavenfield.

Primary Sources

Sharpe, Richard. Editor and translator. (1995)Adomnan of Iona: Life of St. Columba. Penguin.

Anderson, A.O. and Anderson, M.O. ed. and trans., Revised by M.O. Anderson. (1991) Adomnan’s Life of Columba Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Anderson, A.O. (1922) Early Sources in Scottish History Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd. (Irish Annals etc)

Bede Ecclesiatical History of the English People. (1994) Edited by Judith McClure and Roger Collins. Oxford University Press.

Carey, John (1998) King of Mysteries: Early Irish Religious Writings Dublin: Four Courts Press. (Fis Adomnain: The Vision of Adomnan, 10-11th century)

Herbert, Maire and Padraig O’Riain (1988) Betha Adamnain: The Irish Life of Adamnan Irish Texts Society.

Macpherson, James R., trans.  (1895)ThePILGRIMAGE OF ARCULFUS IN THEHOLY LAND (ABOUT THE YEAR A.D. 670). Palestine Pilgrim’s Text Society. [Adomnan’s De locis sanctis]

Meehan, Denis, trans., De Locis Sanctis (Scriptores Latini Hiberniae 3. Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1958).

Meyer, Kuno (1905) Cain Adamnain: An Old Irish Treatise on the Law of Adamnan Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Ni Dhonnchadha, Mairin (2001) “The Law of Adomnan: A Translation”, p. 53-68 in Adomnan at Birr, AD 697: Essays in Commemoration of the Law of the Innocents. Thomas O’Louglin, editor. Four Courts Press. (partial translation, sections 28-53)

Secondary Sources

Broun, Dauvit and Thomas Owen Clancy, Editors. (1999) Spaes Scotorum (Hope of the Scots): Saint Columba, Iona and Scotland. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.

Duncan, Archibald A.M. (1981) “Bede, Iona, and the Picts” p. 1-42 in The Writing of History in the Middle Ages: Essays Presented to Richard William Southern Edited by R.H.C. Davis and J.M. Wallace-Hadrill. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Fraser, James E. (2002) The Battle of Dunnichen, 685. Tempus. (King Bridei who won the battle was reputed to have been a friend of Adomnan).

Herbert, Maire (1988) Iona, Kells, and Derry. Oxford.

Herbert, Maire (2001) “The World of Adomnan” p. 33-41 in Adomnan at Birr, AD 697: Essays in Commemoration of the Law of the Innocents. Thomas O’Louglin, editor. Four Courts Press.

MacDonald, Aidan (1997) “Adomnan’s Monastery of Iona” p. 24-44 in Studies in the Cult of Saint Columba Cormac Bourke, Editor. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

MacQueen, John (1989) “The Saint as a Seer: Adomnan’s Account of Columba” p. 37-51 in The Seer in Celtic and Other Traditions. Hilda Ellis Davidson, ed. Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers, Ltd.

Ni Dhonnchadha, Mairin (1982) ‘The Guarantor List of Cain Adomnain, 697′ Peritia 1: 178-215.

Ni Dhonnchadha, Mairin (2001) “Birr and the Law of the Innocents”, p. 13-23 in Adomnan at Birr, AD 697: Essays in Commemoration of the Law of the Innocents. Thomas O’Louglin, editor. Four Courts Press.

O’Loughlin, Thomas. (1992) “The Exegetical Purpose of Adomnan’s De Locis SanctisCambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 24: 37-53.

  • (1994) “The library of Iona in the late seventh century: the evidence of Adomnan’s De locis sanctisEriu 45:33-54.
  • (1995) “Adomnan the illustrious” Innes Review 46:1-14.
  • (1996) “Adomnan and Mira RotunditasEriu 47: 95-99.
  • (1996) “The View for Iona: Adomnan’s mental maps” Peritia 10:98-122.
  • (1997) “Adomnan and Arculf: The Case of an Expert Witness” Journal of Medieval Latini 7:127-146.
  • (1997) “Adomnan’s De Locis Sanctis: A Textual Emendation and an Addition; Source Identification” Eriu 45:37-40.
  • (2000) Celtic Theology: Humanity, World and God in Early Irish Writings. Continuum.
  • (2001) “Adomnan: A Man of Many Parts” p. 41-52 in Adomnan at Birr, AD 697: Essays in Commemoration of the Law of the Innocents. Thomas O’Louglin, editor. Four Courts Press.
  • editor, (2001) in Adomnan at Birr, AD 697: Essays in Commemoration of the Law of the Innocents. Four Courts Press.
  • (2007) Adomnán and the Holy Places: The Perceptions of an Insular Monk on the Location of the Biblical Drama (T. & T. Clark, London).

Picard, Jean-Michel (1982) “The Purpose of Adomnan’s Vita ColumbaePeritia 1:160-77.

  • (1984) “Bede, Adomnan, and the Writing of History” Peritia 3:50-70.
  • (1984) “The Metrical Prose of Adomnan’s Vita Columbae : an Unusual System”, p. 258-271 in Ireland and Europe: The Early Church P. Ni Chathain and M. Richter, eds. Stuttgart: Klett Cotta Verlag.editor.
  • (1991) Ireland and Northern France AD 600-850 Dublin: Four Courts Press.

Richter, Michael. (1999) Ireland and her Neighbors in the Seventh Century New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Sayers, William (1993) “Spiritual Navigation in the Western Sea: Sturlunga Saga and Adomnan’s Hinba” Scripta Islandica 44:30-42.

Sharpe, Richard (2000) “The Thriving of Dalriada” p. 47-61 in Kings, Clerics, and Chronicles in Scotland 500-1297: Essays in honour of Marjorie Ogilvie Anderson on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday Simon Taylor, Editor. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

Smyth, A. (1984) Warlords and Holymen: Scotland AD 80-1000. Edinburgh University Press.

Skene, William F. (1876, Reprint 1971) Celtic Scotland: A History of Ancient Alban Volume I: History and Ethanology. NewYork: Books for Libraries Press.

  • (1877, reprint 1971) Celtic Scotland: A History of Ancient Alban Volume II: Church and Culture. New York: Books for Libraries Press.

Williams, A. , Smyth, A. and Kirby, D.P. (1991) A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain: England, Scotland, and Wales c500-c1050. London: Seaby Publishers.

Wetherill, Jeffrey (2003) “Adomnan, Iona and the Life of Columba: Their Place Among the Continental Saints” The Heroic Age. Issue 6.

Wooding, Jonathan M with R. Aist, T.O. Clancy, & T. O’Loughlin. Eds. (2010). Adomnan of Iona: Theologian, Lawmaker, Peacemaker. Four Courts Press. [Collection of papers from the conference on Adomnan of Iona 704 – 2004]

  • Adomnan and Donegal by Brian Lacey
  • Adomnan at the Court of King Aldfrith by Barbara Yorke
  • Charity with peace: Adomnan and the Easter question by Clare Stancliffe
  • Adomnan and the art of teaching spiritual sons by Jennifer O’Reilly
  • Adomnan and the mortality of war by James Fraser
  • Adomnan in medieval Gaelic literary tradition by Thomas Owen Clancy
  • Adomnan among the bird-hunters: tradition and creativity in ‘Beannachadh Seilg’ by Mary Law
  • The archaeology of writing in the time of Adomnan by Ewan Campbell
  • Adiutor Laborantium – A poem by Adomnan? by Gilbert Markus
  • Adomnan, Arculf, and the source material of De Locis sanctis by Rodney Aist
  • The De Locis sanctus as a litergical text by Thomas O’Loughlin
  • On the circumstances of Adomnan’s composition of the De Locis sanctis by David Woods
  • The structure and purpose of Adomnan’s Vita Columbae by T. M Charles-Edwards
  • Adomnan’s Vita Columbae and the early churches of Tiree by Aidan Mac Donald
  • Adomnan’s voyaging saint: the cult of Cormac Ua Liathain by Dan Tipp and Jonathan Wooding
  • The anti-Pelagian motif of the ‘naturally good’ pagan in Adomnan’s Vita Columbae by Tomas O’Sullivan
  • Heavenly apparitions and heavenly life in Adomnan’s Vita Columbae by Katja Ritari
  • Visions of divine light in the writings of Adomnan and Bede by Stephan Sharman

Woods, David. (2002) “Arculf’s Luggage: The Sources for Adomnán’s De Locis Sanctis Ériu 52: 25-52.

  • (2002) “Four Notes on Adomnan’s Vita ColumbaePeritia 16: 40-67.

Bernicia from the South

What I would like to explore today is the hypothesis that the early Bernicians were viewed as outsiders by the southern English, including in Deira and Lindsey.

The Bernician heartland outside of the former Roman province may have also made them seem more barbarian to even the Anglo-Saxons. Was there a long held suspicion that these English were more of an Anglo-British mixture than the southern English? They may have been more distinctive. The northern British would have been less Romanized, so even if the southern English did intermarry more than we have evidence for, the upper-level Britons of the south would have been far more Romanized and may have considered themselves Romans, more than Britons. Recall that Patrick addressed his British audience as fellow Romans. As in Gaul, it may have been Roman ancestry that conferred status rather than native ancestry. After 400 years of Roman Britain, this would have only been natural in the most Romanized areas.   Bernician adoption of British hillforts, like Bamburgh and Dunbar, would may have reinforced the idea that they were not as civilized.

While the Bernicians appear to have taken more British culture like use of the hillforts (and perhaps cavalry), and we know there was some intermarriage, it may have been their relationships with the Picts and Scots that really made them stand out. In the early 5th century, Geramanus of Auxerre was involved in repelling an attack by “Picts and Saxons”, which could be a coordinated attack by Bernicians and Picts. This would make more sense that a coordinated attack by Picts and continental Saxons. Britons called all the English (Angles, Saxon, Jutes, etc) Saxons. The Picts would have been natural allies of the Bernicians against local Britons as long as there were Britons between them. Their British neighbors would have been their continual enemies simply because they were continually taking land from them.

Peaceful ties between the Bernicians, Scots and Picts prior to the early seventh century can be seen in two sets of Bernician exiles taking refuge among the Scots and Picts in c. 600 and again in the 620s. Its likely that these were not the first exiles or hostages exchanged between these peoples. Indeed in times when Scottish or Pictish kings were extremely powerful, Bernician nobles may have been hostages in their courts.  This would have fostered intermarriage and ties between Scottish, Pictish, and Bernician kings. Pre-Christian kings were polygamous and bride exchanges would have been common. The Bernicians may not have been powerful enough to resist giving hostages to more powerful neighbors before Æthelfrith.

Not until Ecgfrith with his half-Kentish mother and his East Anglian bride (and then perhaps another southern bride) did the Northumbrians become really integrated as part of the English. His reign is the first to embrace Canterbury throughout. As far as that goes, Ecgfrith is the first that we know to enforce his northern hegemony by war. It is possible that Oswald and Oswiu fought battles to bring them into line, but it wasn’t recorded. We know that Æthelfrith fought against the Scots, but this was a rebellion of a minor king against the major (Scottish) king. Oswald and Oswiu appear to have gained and maintained their northern hegemony more by political manouverings than by war. This is not to say that they didn’t fight key battles, but they maximized their hegemony and its maintence by politics. From Ecgfrith on, northern hegemonies were gained and maintained only by force. Ecgfrith brought the Bernicians/Northumbrians into the mainstream of English culture and politics but at a high price.