Daily Archives: June 9, 2016

Dark Age Candles (IX) : The Agathyrsi

 

Herodotus
Herodotus

A couple of posts back I gave a detailed explanation as to why I thought the Attacotti were the original Pictish tribe who settled in Britain, builders of the brochs which mark their territories – from Caithness & Sutherland, through the Orkneys & on up to the Shetlands. I also postulated that the name Attacotti has a meaning of ‘both acotti,’ but gave a vague suggestion that this would be connected to Gethus & Gothus, Pictish King who settled the Orkneys. In this post I would like to show you my most recent findings on the matter, & as usual it begins with something I missed in my own researches. In his ‘History & Chronickles of Scotland’ Boece writes;

Nocht lang efter, a banist pepill, namit Pichtis, come furth of Denmark, to serche ane dwelling place ; and, efter that thay war inhibit to land baith in France, Britane, and Ireland, thay landit in Albion. Sum authouris sayis, thay come first in Orknay ; and, sone  efter, in Cathues, Ros, Murray, Mernis, Angus, Fiffe, and Louthiane : and expellit all the pepill, that inhabit that region afore thair  cuming. Thir pepill war callit Pichtis, outhir for thair semely personis, or ellis for the variant colour of thair clething ; or ellis thay war namit Pichtis, fra the Pichtis namit Agathirsanis, thair anciant faderis. In probation heirof, Orknay wes calht the auld realme of  Pichtis. Siclike, thee seeis betwix Cathnes and Orknay war namit Pentland Firth ; and all the landis, quhilkis ar now callit Louthiane, war callit than Pentland.

Boece’s Agathirsanis are the anciently recorded’ Agathyrsi,’ mentioned by the father of history himself, Herodotus, in the middle of the 5th century BC. Of course, chispologically the name is a fit to my theory of ‘both acotti’, for acotti & agathy are philologically nigh identical. In addition the ‘gath’ element really does suggest it is behind the names of kings Gethus & Gothus.

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So who were the Agathyrsi? A number of Pictish legends sees the name being used for the ‘Cruithni’ – ie the earliest Picts who came to Britain. So far, so good, for Gethus & Gothus also belonged to this group. The idea, then, is that it the elements of the Agathyrsi somewhere  Herodotus migrated to the far north of Britain. Herodotus tells us that by his time they were of mixed Dacian-Scythian origin, who dwelt in the plain of the Maris (Mures), in Transylvania, Romania.

From the country of the Agathyrsoi comes down another river, the Maris, which empties itself into the same; and from the heights of Haemus descend with a northern course three mighty streams, the Atlas, the Auras, and the Tibisis, and pour their waters into it.

Kaspar Zeuss has suggested that the Hunnish ‘Acatir’ tribe is based on these Agathyrsi, which mirrors my assumption that the Acotti are also based on them.

Herodotus describes the Agathyrsoi as, ‘the most luxurious of men and wear gold ornaments for the most part: also they have promiscuous intercourse with their women, in order that they may be brethren to one another and being all nearly related may not feel envy or malice one against another. In their other customs they have come to resemble the Thracians.’ He also pontificates on a  Pontic Greek myth that describes the Agathyrsi as being named after a legendary ancestor Agathyrsus, the oldest son of Heracles.

Upon this he [Heracles] drew one of his bows (for up to that time Heracles, they say, was wont to carry two) and showed her the girdle, and then he delivered to her both the bow and the girdle, which had at the end of its clasp a golden cup; and having given them he departed. She then, when her sons had been born and had grown to be men, gave them names first, calling one of them Agathyrsos and the next Gelonos and the youngest Skythes; then bearing in mind the charge given to her, she did that which was enjoined. And two of her sons, Agathyrsos and Gelonos, not having proved themselves able to attain to the task set before them, departed from the land, being cast out by her who bore them; but Skythes the youngest of them performed the task and remained in the land: and from Skythes the son of Heracles were descended, they say, the succeeding kings of the Scythians (Skythians): and they say moreover that it is by reason of the cup that the Scythians still even to this day wear cups attached to their girdles: and this alone his mother contrived for Skythes. Such is the story told by the Hellenes who dwell about the Pontus.

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We must now ask ourselves is it a coincidence that in the very place where Boece places the Agathirsanis,we find an island called Sketis (also Ocitis), & that the brother of Agathyrsos is called Skythes.

It makes sense. The Picts were at least part ruled by their druids, & there are several notices in the annals that the Agathyrsi are clearly Pictish:

1 – Virgil tells us the they tattooed their bodies (picti, Aeneid iv. 136), describing ‘Cretans and Dryopes and painted Agathyrsians, mingling around his altars, shouting.’

2 – Aristotle tells us (Problemata, xix. 28), ‘Why are the nomes which are sung so called ?  Is it because before men knew the art of writing they used to sing their laws  in order not to forget them, as  they are still accustomed to do among the Agathyrsi?’ The same method of memory was also used by the Druids, of which number some were attached to the Picts.

3 – In the first century, Pliny alludes to the blue hair of the Agathyrsi : ‘Leaving Taphrae [a town near Crimea], and going along the mainland, we find in the interior the Auchetae, in whose country the Hypanis [the Bug river] has its rise, as also the Neuroe, in whose district the Borysthenes [the Dnieper river] has its source, the Geloni, the Thyssagetae, the Budini, the Basilidae, and the Agathyrsi with their azure-coloured hair. Above them are the Nomades, and then a nation of Anthropophagi or cannibals (Pliny the Elder IV, 26).’ This echoes  the poet Claudian’s description of Britain as being “… clothed in the skin of some Caledonian beast, her cheeks tattooed, and an azure cloak, rivalling the swell of Ocean, sweeping to her feet  (On the Consulship of Stilicho:2)

Ammianus-Marcellinus[1]

4 – In the 380s,  in his Res Gestae Ch. 22, writes;

The Danube, which is greatly increased by other rivers falling into it, passes through the territory of the Sauromatae, which extends as far as the river Don, the boundary between Asia and Europe. On the other side of this river the Alani inhabit the enormous deserts of Scythia, deriving their own name from the mountains around; and they, like the Persians, having gradually subdued all the bordering nations by repeated victories, have united them to themselves, and comprehended them under their own name. Of these other tribes the Neuri inhabit the inland districts, being near the highest mountain chains, which are both precipitous and covered with the everlasting frost of the north. Next to them are the Budini and the Geloni, a race of exceeding ferocity, who flay the enemies they have slain in battle, and make of their skins clothes for themselves and trappings for their horses. Next to the Geloni are the Agathyrsi, who dye both their bodies and their hair of a blue colour, the lower classes using spots few in number and small—the nobles broad spots, close and thick, and of a deeper hue.

Again, that the Agathysi nobility’s  have more tattoes reflects the Picts, whose name, according to Isidore of Seville ‘(Origines, Book XIX Part 23 No. 7) ‘is taken from their bodies, because an artisan, with the tiny point of a pin and the juice squeezed from a native plant, tricks them out with scars to serve as identifying marks, and their nobility are distinguished by their tattooed limbs.’

It is clear that the Picts & the Agathyysi are drawn from the same stock, & there is even a mention of them migrating to Britain made a thousand years before Boece. Roundabout the year 400,  the Roman grammarian Maurus Servius Honoratus was a late fourth-century and early fifth-century grammarian wrote a commentary on the works of Virgil. In it, he relates that in about the year 300 AD the Agathyrsi sent across a contingent over the sea to Scotland, where it became identified with the Picts, the most formidable warriors who would exhaust all who stood against them. It is this slim bit of information that seems to prove everything I have been aiming at. Not long after 300 AD the Attacotti appear in the annals. That means not long before then, one of the two Acotti tribes must have blended with the other. Thus the Agathyrsi arriving among the Picts c.300 AD are these. Simple, but absolutely fascinating.