Chispology 5 : The Picts


chisp cover

Continuing the serialization of

Damian Beeson Bullen’s


In which a few more of the world’s greatest mysteries… are finally solved

Available to buy in book form

Autumn 2018


Over the weekend I watched the extremely compulsive story-viewing that is Netflix’s version of the Unabomber case. As I sat enthralled, I began to experience & identify a great collection of cop-confusing chispers, & also the birth of ‘Forensic Linguistics’ which Chispology makes use of. The greatest of the chispers was the way a woman changed her description of the Unabomber over a period of six years. The first version was accurate, but the second description was actually of the original police sketch artist. The show also explained how the expression ‘have you cake & eat it too’ was actually a modern flippage; the Third Earl of Shaftesbury in 1711 writes, ‘as ridiculous as the way of children, who eat their cake, and afterwards cry for it. They shou’d be told, as children, that they can’t eat their cake, and have it.’ What has all this got to do with the Picts? Very little, but just as the Unabomber was caught by the guy who invented & named Forensic Linguistics, & utilised the brand-new concept of ‘idiolect,’ so hope I to solve certain historical mysteries that have proven as elusive as did the identity of the Unabomber.

Chispology traces the changing phases of fact and phrase from origin to reception, a proper study of which may assume into existence knowledge thought lost forever. One must ask why is the information different, where are the points of diversion, and what happened to the separated strands in the meantime. For this week’s mission we shall move back to my preferred territory, the legends of Dark Age Britain. For over seven years now I have continuously unearthed, analyzed & assembled a number of new clues & thought-strands that shine a series of illuminative candles upon the Matter of Britain. These tales sprung from a period in history when a fermenting Britain would slowly crystallize into the three kingdoms of England, Scotland & Wales. The story is a bloody one, soaking the soil a deep crimson from Cornwall to the Orkneys, as these kingdoms were fought for, & died for, on a series of battlefields thought lost forever. Researching the Matter of Britain has been something of a jigsaw puzzle – all the pieces were there, it was just a case of finding them in the depths of unread manuscripts, analyzing their value, & then assembling them to paint a cohesive picture. Many historians have given these pieces colour, from scanty historical hints found in Dark Age hagiographies, to the vague, uncertain chronicles of the Middle Ages; from medieval Icelandic sagas, to the epic efforts of the 19th century mega-scholar, William Skene. At another most erudite time, up in the National Library of Scotland, I was helped by a charming Classics expert, Dr Ulrike Hogg, who helped me to translate a thorny piece of medieval Latin.

The concentric Herulian shield symbol & the lightning sowilaz rune
The concentric Herulian shield symbol & the lightning sowilaz rune

The British Dark ages begins with the arrival on the islands of the Picts, the first truly documented tribe of Britain. Despite the Celts first coming to Britain c.500 BC, just their grass-topped Iron Age forts & a handful of archeological relics are all we really have to construct their past. The Picts, however, despite being a most mysterious entity, at least left some trails in the historical record. Most of these are in the form of monumental stones scattered across ‘Pictavia,’ full of mysterious symbols. I did propose the Herulian & the Sowilaz symbols being present in the Chisper Effect, but these are two among many, & as yet the rest are undecipher’d. A little more information on the Picts can be discovered here & there. Nennius recorded c.830 AD that the Picts, ‘occupied the Orkney Islands; whence they laid waste many regions, and seized those on the left hand side of Britain, where they still remain, keeping possession of a third part of Britain to this day.’ In the 7th century English historian, venerable Bede, gives us more detail of their first coming to the island;

When the Britons, beginning at the south, had got possession of the greatest part of the island, it happened that the nation of the Picts from Scythia, as is reported, putting to sea in a few long ships, were driven about by the blowing of the winds, and arrived in Ireland, beyond all the confines of Britain, and put in on the northern coasts thereof, where, finding the nation of the Scots, they asked, for themselves, also, a settlement in those parts, but could not obtain it… The Scots answered that the island could not contain them both. “But we can,” said they, “Give you wholesome advice, what you may do. We know there is another island, not far from ours, to the eastward, which we often see at a distance, on clear days. If you will go thither, you can settle there, or, if any should oppose you, you shall have our assistance.”


Several antique histories point to the Pictish homeland originally being Scythia, such as the Pictish Chronicles; ‘the Scythian people are born with white hair due to the continuous snow; and the colour of that same hair gives a name to the people, and hence they are called Albani: from them the Scots and Picts trace their origin. In their eyes, there is a bright, that is coloured, pupil, to such an extent that they can see better at night than by day. Moreover the Albani were neighbours to the Amazons.’ The territories of ancient Scythia correspond roughly to the vast area of south central Russia; from the Ukraine to Kazakhstan & creeping into the steppes of northern Iran. Despite the distance between ancient Scythia & the mountain fastnesses of northern dark age Britain, both cultures are bound by vivid, animal-based art. Some of these symbolic depictions were imprinted in the form of tattoos, a practice given to the Picts by several classical authors, including;

Most of the regions of  {northern} Britain are marshy, since they are flooded continually by the tides of the ocean; the barbarians are accustomed to swimming or wading through these waist-deep marsh pools; since they go about naked, they are unconcerned about muddying their bodies. Strangers to clothing, they wear ornaments of iron at their waists and throats; considering iron a symbol of wealth, they value this metal as other barbarians value gold. They tattoo their bodies with colored designs and drawings of all kinds of animals; for this reason they do not wear clothes, which would conceal the decorations on their bodies. Extremely savage and warlike, they are armed only with a spear and a narrow shield, plus a sword that hangs suspended by a belt from their otherwise naked bodies. They do not use breastplates or helmets, considering them encumbrances in crossing the marshes.  Herodian of Antioch

Barbarians, who from childhood have different pictures of animals skillfully implanted on their bodies, so that as the man grows, so grow the marks painted on him; there is nothing more that they consider as a test of patience than to have their limbs soak up the maximum amount of dye through these permanent scars Solinus

Similar body-tattoos were found on the frozen bodies (including the penis) of both a Scythian chieftan & a twenty-five year old warrior-priestess, discovered in the same region of Siberia. It seems no coincidence that the chieftan still retained a bright red mop of hair, a Pictish trait still retained in 13 percent of Scotland’s population, as compared to only two percent of the world’s population.

The Scythian Chieftan found in 1948
The Scythian Chieftain found in 1948

Common culturalities include the warrior equestrian culture, with T.G.E. Powell noting that Pictish, ‘horse-gear is an elaboration of their predecessors from the east.’  Other links include a sea-goddess image at Meigle in Perthshire which matches Scythian goldwork found in the Ukraine; & a stone figure discovered on Boa, an island in Northern Ireland, is nigh-identical to a Scythian Kurgan Stele from Kyrgyzstan. It should also only take a cursory glance at the Pictish Beast symbol to see it is a match for the Scythian Ibex.

Scythian Ibex
Scythian Ibex
Pictish Beast
Pictish Beast

The Pictish arrival in Britain may be connected to an invasion by the Persian Achaemenid empire of Cyrus the Great of a territory known in antiquity as ‘Albania,’ c.550 B.C. Known to modern historians as Caucasian Albania, its lands correspond to present-day Azerbaijan, on the western shores of the Caspian Sea. After the Persian conquest, King Cyrus began to impose the new religion of Zoroatrianism upon the natives. This combination of foreign rulers & alien faith may have been the driving force behind certain Scythians abandoning their homes & setting off west in search of new territories where their physical & spiritual liberty would not be compromised. Both Walter Bower & Geoffrey of Monmouth place the Picts in Aquitaine/Basque country just before they came to Britain, a region that is linguistically connected to Caucasian Albania by John D Bengston, who states; ‘apart from certain extinct languages, notably Aquitanian, Basque is most closely related to the (North) Caucasic family,’ & gives us several tallies between words;

Basque                                    Dargi
Sasi (thorn)                            Zanzi (prickly)
Be-llar-I (ear)                         Lihi-lahi (ear)
Ondi-iin (misfortune)        Avar-unti (sickness/defect)
Behi (cow)                              Boc’I (cattle)

It is also interesting how the name of the legendary founder of the Caucasian Albanians, said to be Prince Arran by the 10th century Armenian historian Moses Kaghankatvatsi, can be found in the Aran islands off the western coast of Ireland, & the Scottish Isle of Arran, where many Pictish symbols have been found.


Also surviving the rigors of time enough to illuminate our investigations are several versions of what is known as ‘The Pictish King List,’ which I utilised quite heavily in my Arthurian investigations. In them may be found the origin story of the Picts in Britain. Of these, version D relates that they, ‘came from the land of Thracia; that is, they are the children of Gleoin, son of Ercol. Agathirsi was their name. Six brothers of them came at first, viz, Solen, Ulfa, Nechtan, Drostan, Aengus, Leithenn.’ Further gloss can be found in William Skene who relates how the earliest Picts established themselves first on the Orkney Isles, before moving into the northern portions of the mainland.

The children of Gleoin, son of Ercol, took possession of the islands of Orcc, that is, Historend, son of Historrim, son of Agam, son of Agathirsi, and were dispersed again from the islands of Orcc; that is, Cruthne, son of Cinge, son of Luctai, son of Parthai, son of Historech, went and took possession of the north of the island of Britain, and his seven sons divided the land into seven divisions; and Onbecan, son of Caith, son of Cruthne, too the sovereignty of the seven divisions.

There is one name of great import regarding our investigation – Agathirsi. These, ‘painted Agathyrsians,’ as described by Virgil, were given more detail in the 380s by Ammianus-Marcellinus as 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.’ That the Agathyrsian nobility possessed more tattoos is mirrored by the Picts, whose non-native name was, according to Isidore of Seville, ‘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.’ The Agathirsi also appear in the writings of Scotland’s 16th century writer, Hektor Boece’s ‘History & Chronickles of Scotland;’

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.

To summarise the medieval Scots, Boece’s research states that the Picts named their ‘anciant faderis’ as ‘Agathirsanis,’ they were Danish in origin (as opposed to Scythian) & they settled all along Eastern Scotland, from Orkney to as far south as Lothian. It is in Boece’s ‘Agathirsanis’ that we see a name anciently recorded as ‘Agathyrsi,’ by Herodotus. A tribe of mixed Dacian-Scythian origin, Herodotus placed them in the plain of the Maris (Mures), in Romanian Transylvania; ‘from the country of the Agathyrsoi comes down another river, the Maris, which empties itself into the same.’ Herodotus then describes the Agathyrsi as being quite a sexually liberated bunch;

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

As we have seen earlier, the Thracian element was presented in the King List, which stated the Picts, ‘came from the land of Thracia… Agathirsi was their name.’ Herodotus also pontificates on a Pontic Greek myth which states that Agathyrsus was the eldest son of Herakles, & brother to a certain Skythes. Which of the possible men called Herakles in antiquity who fathered Agathyrsus is unknown as of yet, and the Chisper Effect could well be in place, but knowing that Herakles was a Hyksos king, we could suppose that his son, Agathirsi, led the Hyksos conquest of Thrace, c.1500 BC. By the time of Herodotus, this section of the Hyksos diaspora had moved north to Transylvania, near which place Herakles is said to have bathed in the spa at Bailey Herculene. The ‘thyrsus’ element of the name is also interesting, for its connects indirectly to Strabo’s ‘Idanthyrsus the Scythian overran Asia as far as Egypt.’ Agathyrsus & Idanthyrsus seem different men, but speak the same language, ie Scythian.

It may be relevant somewhere that Herakles, according to Pausanius, visited, ‘the land of the Hyperboreans, men living beyond the home of the North Wind,’ & that Tacitus has the Goths of Germania declaring, ‘Hercules, too, once visited them,‘ but we are veering too far from the point of this essay, which concerns the establishment of the Picts in northern Britain. A clue comes with Skythes, the brother of Agathirsi. This name transchispers into Sketis, an island in Ptolemy’s 2nd centry AD ‘Geography’ which appears roughly where the Shetland islands, or the Sketland islands, should be. This is properly calculable by analyzing Ptolemy’s clearly erroneous map of Scotland. Apart from the lands above the firths being tilted 90 degreees, what is also noticeable is that there are four island blocks off the north-east corner of Britain; Dumna, Sketis, the Orcades archipelago & Thule.



If we tip a map of Scotland 90 degrees on its axis to the east, then we can see how the position of the Orkneys & Shetlands correlate to Ptolemy’s Dumna & Sketis. This suggests that Ptolemy – who never really left the Meditterranean – used two separate travellers accounts for this part of the world, which became superimposed upon each other, creating the four island blocks. This means that the four islands are actually two, that Dumna & the Orcades are the Orkney Isles, & that Sketis & Thule are the Shetlands, & that Ptolemy had performed a rather interesting creochisp.

All very well, but an earnest chispologist will always strain to find support for each specific theory. Thus, in the very centre of the Orkney archipelago there is a small, flat islet called Damsay, whose name we might suggest had derived from Dumna. Further down the babel-chain we arrive at Domnu, the Celtic goddess of the Summer Solstice. She is described as the Mother of Water who absorbs and reflects the rays of the sun as it climbs towards it’s annual zenith. A place so far north as the Orkneys would be a perfect place to celebrate the unbroken sunlight of midsummer. This could explain the submerged constructions found at Damsay, which may have been involved in Domnu-worshi, as described by Caroline Wickham-Jones of Aberdeen University. Speaking to the BBC in 2009, she explained;

We have certainly got a lot of stonework. There are some quite interesting things. You can see voids or entrances… There’s this one feature that is like a stone table – you’ve got a large slab about a metre and a half long and it’s sitting up on four pillars or walls so the next thing we need to do is to get plans and more photographs to try and assess and look for patterns. The quality and condition of some of the stonework is remarkable. Nothing like this has ever been found on the seabed around the UK

That Ptolemy’s Thule was Shetland is supported by both Pliny & Strabo, who made note of a comment by the fourth century BC Greek geographer, Pytheas, that Thule was a six-day voyage north of Britain. In the terms of antiquitial voyaging this seems about right. In 54 BC, for example, it took Ceasar eighteen hours to sail from Boulogne to Dover. More evidence is quite decisively summarised by the sixteenth century historian, William Camden;

But if that of the learned Gaspar Peucerus, in his Book De Terræ Dimensione, be true, that Schetland is by the Seamen call’d Thilensell (and I know no reason to except against his testimony) Thule is undoubtedly discover’d, and the Controversie at an end… Schetland is the same with Thule, we may believeit lies between Scotland and Norway; where Saxo Grammaticus places Thule… And Tacitus says, that the Romans spy’d it afar off, as they sail’d by the Orcades in their voyage round Britain. Lastly, it faces the coast of Bergæ in Norway; and so lay Thule, according to Pomponius Mela

Moving to the settlement of the Picts in Scotland, William Camden gives us some information, recording that at, ‘the time of Reuther King of Scots,’ a battle was fought in which the death of a certain, ‘Gethus King of the Picts… constrain’d the Picts (who perceived themselves unable to resist) to fly, some by land and others by sea, to Orkney, where they abode for a time, and made Gothus, brother of the foresaid Gethus, their King. And after a few years, having left some of their number to people and plant the Countrey, they return’d to Louthian; and having expelled the Britons, settled themselves again in their ancient possessions.’ Here we see that the two main bases of the earliest Picts were the Orkneys & Lothian, the latter being only a philochisp away from Leithenn, one of the six Pictish brothers who first came to settle in Britain. To many, Lothian is named after a 6th century king called Loth who dwelt on Traprain Law, East Lothian. But what is more likely is that this King was named after the region, as in King X of ‘Leithenn.’ What is also fascinating is that in Big Geoff’s History of the Kings of Britain, King Loth was recognised as a king of both Lothian & the Orkneys.

Returning to William Camden’s account, he provides a passage in which the mainland across from the Orkneys – Caithness – seems named after either Gethus or Gothus;

Now Orkney, being a cluster of thirty Isles, separated from one another by little arms of the Sea: they are said in a certain old manuscript to be so call’d from Argat, that is (as it is there explain’d) Above the Getes: But I had rather interpret it, Above the Cat; for it lies over-against Cath, a Country of Scotland, which, from the promontory, is now called Catness; the Inhabitants whereof seem to be falsly called, in Ptolemy, Carini instead of Catini

Whatever ‘certain old manuscript‘ Camden was using, it definitely gave the Caithness region an original name of Getes, with the Orkneys being ‘above them.’ That the G & C are interchangeable can be seen in two historical notices of the Pictish kingdom of Cat. In the Pictish Chronicle, the seven kingdoms of the Picts are given as, ‘Fib, Fidach, Floclaid, Fortrenn, Got, Ce, Circinn,’ while the Irish translation of the Historia Brittonum  states their names are Cait, Ce, Cireach cetach cland, Fib, Fidach, Fotla, Foirtreand.’  What is most relevant here, however, is the phonetic similarity between Argat and Agathyrsi.

According to Scottish historiography, the Scottish king Reuther married the daughter of Gethus. His nephew, Cianus, was taken prisoner in the Orkneys during the Roman invasion of Britain, 43 AD. This means that Gethus lived about a generation earlier, around 10 AD. This date is slap-bang in the middle of a two century period of broch building in the Pictish north. Like stars a darkening night sky, these Pictish roundhouses began springing up across Caithness, the Orkneys & the Shetlands, in the very heartlands of Gethus & co. Among them, on the Shetlands, an island called Mousa is home to the greatest all the Scottish brochs, which has been dated to about 100 BC.


Combining literature & archeology, we can see that the earliest Pictish waves hit northern Britain in the century or two before Issa-Jesus. Before the name ‘Picti’ was attributed to this woad-painted peoples by later Roman writers, they were recorded as being ‘Caledonians,’ as in Ptolemy’s list of Scottish tribes;

Next to the Damnoni, but more toward the east near the Epidium promontory are the Epidi and next to these the Cerones; then the Carnonacae, and the Caereni but more toward the east; and in the extreme east dwell the Cornavi; from the Lemannonis bay as far as the Varar estuary are the Caledoni, and above these is the Caledonian forest, from which toward the east are the Decantae, and next to these the Lugi extending to the Cornavi boundary, and above the Lugi are the Smertae

A century on from Ptolemy, Cassius Dio notes that the Caledonians had become the chief tribe in northern Scotland; ‘there are two principal races of the Britons, the Caledonians and the Maeatae, and the names of the others have been merged in these two. The Maeatae live next to the cross-wall which cuts the island in half, and the Caledonians are beyond them.’ Confirmation that the Caledonians were considered to be Picts is first found in the anonymous Panegyric Latine, written c.314, which refers to, ‘the forests and marshes of the Caledonians and other Picts.’ Thus, in his Agricola, when Tacitus describes the, ‘red hair and large limbs of the inhabitants of Caledonia,’ we are given a good match for the red-headed Scythians such as the ‘Gelonusian Scythians,’ who Herodotus depicted as possessing deep blue eyes and bright red hair. There may also be a significant connection between CALE & GELO.

Instead of trying to subdue these half-naked, wild-eyed Caledonian warrior, the Romans erected two great walls across the breadth of Britain to keep them out of the empire. To this day the southern wall, named after Emperor Hadrian, more or less marks the start of Scotland. The northern version – the Antonine Wall – stretches between Edinburgh & Glasgow, & links the the two natural barriers that are the Firths of Forth & Clyde. In between these fortifications lie the Scottish lowlands, while beyond the Antonine Wall stretch the vast & empty Highlands as far as John o’ Groats. Over the ages, both regions developed a separate identity, but still proudly count themselves to be Scottish. It can be assumed that the very essence of modern Scotland was created in the wake of the Roman failure to conquer the Picts. The greatest manifestation of their defiance of Rome came at the Battle of Mons Graupius, 83AD. It was fought several years after the great Roman general Agricola launched his epic attempt to finally subdue the north of Britain. His opponent was Calgacus, who actually appears as the properly dated Gilgidi in the Pictish King Lists, between Brude Urmund & Tharain. In order to challenge the march of Rome, Calgacus unified all the Caledonian tribes into one power bloc, to whose warriors he gave a speech on the eve of battle that would have inspired such mighty leaders as Robert the Bruce & William Wallace. It is recorded in the only literary record of the battle contained in the ‘Agricola,’ with Agricola being the general at Mons Graupius & Tacitus his flattering son-in-law. Calgacus speaks;

download (1)

When I consider the motives we have for fighting and the critical position we are in, I have a strong feeling that the united front you are showing today will mean the dawn of liberty for the whole of Britain. You have mustered to a man, and all of you are free. There are no lands behind us, and even on the sea we are menaced by the Roman fleet. The clash of battle – the hero’s glory – has now actually become the safest refuge for a coward. Battles against Rome have been lost and won before; but hope was never abandoned, since we were always here in reserve. We, the choicest flower of Britain’s manhood, were hidden away in her most secret places. Out of sight of subject shores, we kept even our eyes free from the defilement of tyranny. We, the most distant dwellers upon earth, the last of the free, have been shielded till today by our very remoteness and by the obscurity in which it has shrouded our name. Now, the farthest bounds of Britain lie open to our enemies; and what men know nothing about they always assume to be a valuable prize. But there are no more nations beyond us; nothing is there but waves and rocks, and the Romans more deadly still than these – for in them is an arrogance which no submission or good behaviour can escape. Pillagers of the world, they have exhausted the land by their indiscriminate plunder, and now they ransack the sea. A rich enemy excites their cupidity; poor one, their lust for power. East and West alike have failed to satisfy them. They are the only people on earth to whose covetousness both riches and poverty are equally tempting. To robbery, butchery, and rapine, they give the lying name of “government”; they create a desolation and call it peace.

The location of Mons Graupius has never been satisfactorily identified, & has become quite a touchy subject among historians. But mysteries are there to be solved, & it won’t be the first, nor the last. It is through a detailed analysis of the evidence that I believe the battlefield’s location has been accurately ascertained. We begin with the only evidence we have for a Roman presence beyond the Antonine Wall, being the remains of a dozen-strong chain of  ‘marching forts’ the legions erected as they pressed north with Agricola. To avoid the impassable mountainous terrain of the Cairngorms, the forts were built in a long procession stretching from Dundee to Inverness, along the eastern side of Scotland. Agricola was a shrewd & canny general, & his march maintain’d contact between his fleet & his soldiers, siting many of the camps near the sea. Tacitus records; ‘he explored the harbours with a fleet, which, at first employed by him as an integral part of his force, continued to accompany him. The spectacle of war thus pushed on at once by sea and land was imposing; while often infantry, cavalry, and marines, mingled in the same encampment and joyously sharing the same meals.’

One of these camps has been tentatively proposed as the site of Mons Graupius solely on account of its name, Victoria, being the Latin for victory. Using co-ordinates given by Ptolemy, several sites have been suggested for Camp Victoria, the best candidate being Battledykes, near Fortrose. To my mind, this camp was actually the site of a battle that took place the year before Mons Graupius. Tacitus tells us that the Caledonians;

…with their whole force attacked by night the ninth Legion, as being the weakest, and cutting down the sentries, who were asleep or panic-stricken, they broke into the camp. And now the battle was raging within the camp itself, when Agricola, who had learnt from his scouts the enemy’s line of march and had kept close on his track, ordered the most active soldiers of his cavalry and infantry to attack the rear of the assailants, while the entire army were shortly to raise a shout. Soon his standards glittered in the light of daybreak. A double peril thus alarmed the Britons, while the courage of the Romans revived; and feeling sure of safety, they now fought for glory. In their turn they rushed to the attack, and there was a furious conflict within the narrow passages of the gates till the enemy were routed. Both armies did their utmost, the one for the honour of having given aid, the other for that of not having needed support. Had not the flying enemy been sheltered by marshes and forests, this victory would have ended the war

It makes sense that the Picts would have attacked the Romans at Battledykes, for it lies only ten miles from Dundee/Alectum, the very place in which dwelt, according to Hector Boece, the Pictish King during the Graupius campaign. Topographically, a visitor to the site in 1786, a certain Jameson, describes Battledykes as containing two burial tumuli – the detritus of a significant battle – & that the camp back’d onto a marsh, linking to the ‘marshes and forests’ into which fled the defeated Caledonians.


After securing this power base, Tacitus tells us that the Romans pushed north, a portion by sea & another group led by Agricola, who advanced, ‘with a lightly equipped force, including in its ranks some Britons of remarkable bravery, whose fidelity had been tried through years of peace, as far as the Monte Graupius, which the enemy had already occupied.’ A similar route was taken in 1746 by the Royalist forces under the Duke of Cumberland on their way to fight Bonnie Prince Charlie & his highlanders at the Battle of Culloden. Prior to 83 AD, the Caledonians had rarely faced the Romans in open conflict, preferring instead guerilla warfare or night-attacks on camps. Agricola knew that his legionairres were highly trained soldiers who needed conventional warfare in order to excel. The description of them being lightly equipped indicates a swift march to catch the Caledonians as they were collecting en masse. Evidently successful in the rapid endeavour, Tacitus tells us; ‘30,000 armed men were now to be seen, and still there were pressing in all the youth of the country.’  Eventually, the Caledonian army would swell by another 20,000 warriors, as related by Boece’s, ‘our old annals say that fifty thousand men were in arms.’ The Battle of Mons Graupius was definitely on, but where?


Situated twenty-five miles east of Inverness, nestling salubriously beside the Moray Firth, & a stone’s throw from one of the best fleet-sized harbours in Scotland, lies the charming town of Forres. The ‘mons’ of Mons Graupius would be Cluny Hill, which towers over Forres to the south. A number of iron-age burial barrows also litter the area, sugegsting some possible conflict in an area in which all the topographical clues found in Tacitus coalesce. Assembling these helps us to paint a mental picture of the battlefield, which would have contained, in the following order;


Sea: A significant textual clue given in the speech of Calgacus says that the Romans were; ‘few in number, dismayed by their ignorance, looking around upon a sky, a sea, and forests which are all unfamiliar to them; hemmed in, as it were, and enmeshed, the Gods have delivered them into our hands.’  We have also seen how Agricola preferred to be close to his supply-ferrying fleet.

Camp: The temporary Roman camp at Balnagieth, Forres – Ptolemy’s Pinnata Castra – shows all the hallmarks of Agricola’s strategic mind, of whom, ‘it was noted by experienced officers that no general had ever shown more judgment in choosing suitable positions.‘ On one side Balnageith is protected by the River Findhorn, standing just a couple of miles upstream from a beautiful sea-harbour. The fort is 234 metres long, at least 70 meters wide & surrounded by a 3 metre wide ditch, while,‘it is possible that the camp was possessed of six-post corner-towers and that the front of the rampart was revetted in timber, which would suggest a more permanent encampment. (Britannia xxii (1991) p.226 & fig.4.) Agricola’s presence this far north is suggested by a number of Roman finds in coins in the area, minted in the name of pre-83AD Roman emperors such as a Vespasian (disc. at Garnout) & a Nero (disc. At Fortrose). In the very streets of Forres, GDB Jones records a November 1797 find of several Roman coins & a Roman medallion, while the same streets yielded a Domitian coin (r.81-96AD) in 1844. There was also a coin dated to the narrow reign of Titus (79-81AD) found at Forres, close to a Pictish monument known as Sueno’s Stone.

Plain: The Battle of Mons Graupius was fought, not on a Mons, or peak, but on a largeish plain which seperated the Roman Camp from the hill on which the Caledonians had gathered. Tacitus tells us, ‘the plain between resounded with the noise and with the rapid movements of chariots and cavalry. Agricola, fearing that from the enemy’s superiority of force he would be simultaneously attacked in front and on the flanks, widened his ranks.’ There is such ground to the west of Forres, through which runs the River Findhorn, by which was erected Balnageith, is a very level plain. From heart of Forres rises today’s Cluny’s Hill, which if I am correct was Mons Graupius.

clunyHill : Where Tacitus describes,the enemy, to make a formidable display, had posted himself on high ground; his van was on the plain, while the rest of his army rose in tiers up the slope of a hill,’ the presence of tiers indicates that the ‘mons’ was quite steep. We may also infer from the text that Mons Graupius was not a smooth, single-peaked feature; possessing instead several peaks; ‘those of the Britons who, having as yet taken no part in the engagement, occupied the hill-tops.’ Cluny Hill is also multi-peaked, which today houses the eco-living lovers that are the Findhorn Foundation, & is also home to an impressive Lord Nelson monument. Two millenia ago, it harboured a massed confederacy of Caledonian tribes, all ready to face the alien invaders. It was a defendable spot, for Although absent from modern maps, a nineteenth century O/S map shows that there was once a ‘British Camp’ on Cluny Hill;

Wilderness : To the south of Forres fans a rough & wild landscape, matching Tactius’ description of the fleeing Caledonians, ‘dispersing and avoiding one another, they sought the shelter of distant and pathless wilds.’ The Forres area also contains a match for, ‘the silence of desolation reigned everywhere: the hills were forsaken, houses were smoking in the distance,’ for circular remains of several fire-destroyed Pictish houses were found in a recent dig at Clarckly Hill in Forres.

Forres was clearly an important place in the Pictish consciousness, for in the vicinity can still be seen parts of the oldest Pictish hill-fort at Burghead. It even has what is known as the Roman Well, a deep bath-like cistern hewn out of the solid rock. Burghead harbour was once described as one of the safest, deepest and complete harbours in the North of Scotland. A commentator in the 1840’s remarked ‘that in spite of the best facilities and a harbour that could be used in any wind, there was still room for more boats than the 43 that were based there‘ (Maclean, 1985). Three times larger than any other Pictish hillfort,when Tacitus tells us that at Mons Graupius, ‘the Britons, indeed, in no way cowed by the result of the late engagement, had made up their minds to be either avenged or enslaved, and convinced at length that a common danger must be averted by union, had, by embassies and treaties, summoned forth the whole strength of all their states,’ we can see how Burghead once stood at the centre of the Caledonian world & the perfect rallying point for the meeting of the tribes. Curiously, there is a large Romanesque bath carved at Burghead whose origin has never been explained.


Close by Burghead stands the wonderful Sueno’s Stone, whose face depicts an ancient battle scene. At 6.5 meters tall, this Pictish monument is the largest & most impressive piece of stonework ever produced by the Picts. While one side has been adorned with an immaculately carved Christian cross, the other depicts the multi-layered story of a great battle. Scholars have scratched their many heads over which battle it was, but surely the most magnificent piece of Pictish artwork must now be associated with the most important military moment of the Caledonians. One can imagine the King of the Picts commissioning the monument – (which according to Timothy Pont’s Mapp of Murray c 1590 had another obelisk standing beside it) to honour his ancestors on the actual site of the battle. The battle is depicted by four main panels, being.

1 – A badly weathered top panel containing several rows of cavalry.
2 – An upper-central panel showing the Caledonians led by a large, central kilted figure. Below him there is an infantry battle taking place.
3 – A lower-central panel showing decapitatied bodies, musicians & a Pictish broch.
4 – The bottom panel showing mounted warriors, archers and foot-soldiers gathered around a tent.

Analyzing the images in detail leads us to many known features of the battle of Mons Graupius as told by Tacitus;

SC01409220Two separate cavalry forces: Agricola… opposed their advance with four squadrons of cavalry held in reserve by him for any sudden emergencies of battle. Meantime the enemy’s cavalry had fled

Archers: The action began with distant fighting. The Britons with equal steadiness and skill used their huge swords and small shields to avoid or to parry the missiles of our soldiers, while they themselves poured on us a dense shower of darts

Corpses and decapitated heads:The open plain presented an awful and hideous spectacle… Everywhere there lay scattered arms, corpses, and mangled limbs

An infantry battle: Agricola encouraged three Batavian and two Tungrian cohorts to bring matters to the decision of close fighting with swords

Soldiers with small shields & large swords: An enemy armed with small bucklers and unwieldy weapons

Other features depicted on the stone reflect the battle. The stone’s ‘broch’ is clearly the hillfort at Burghead, while the kilted war-leader must surely be Calgacus. In addition, the tent represents the Roman camp, while the three musicians blowing trumpets are marvellously remembered in the area at Culbin Sands just to the north of Forres by Findhorn Bay, for it is there that three Roman trumpet brooches were found. Culbin Bay would have been the watery site of Agricola’s anchorage, at whose shore a silver signet ring used to authenticate Roman documents has been found.

The Sueno Stone’s erection seems dated to the ninth century, for its side panels contain vine patterns filled with men similar to that century’s Book of Kells. This leaves us looking at a wealthy patron of the period with the will & wealth to erect a memorial to the greatest battle of the ancestral Picts. Of these, Donald II was considered to be the very first king of a united Scotland – that is a land of both Scots & Picts – & he is said to have actually died in Forres in c.900 AD. That the town was thus used by the royal court is confirm’d by the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, which states; ‘the oldest notices of the place that exist from contemporary documents are in connection with the castle, which stood on a green mound at the W end of the town, now known as the Castle Hill. A northern bard has declared that;

Forres, in the days of yore,
A name ‘mang Scotia’s cities bore,
And there her judges o’er and o’er
Did Scotland’s laws dispense;
And there the monarchs of the land
In former days held high command.
And ancient architects had planned,
By rules of art in order grand,
The royal residence.

A very old source of Scottish history, the Prophecy of Berchan, declares that Forres was ‘abundant’ during Duncan’s time. All we need to do here for everything to make sense is imagine Duncan erecting those two pillars at Forres to celebrate the great battle of Mons Graupius, the duality of which represented his own dual-monarchy. At first we may presume it strange that Duncan would want to celebrate what the Roman’s called a great victory,  with Agricola even being awarded a triumphal entry into Rome. Yet, as Winston Churchill once declared, ‘history is written by the victors,’ & where Tacitus tells us that, ‘About 10,000 of the enemy were slain; on our side there fell 360 men,’ Hector Boece tells a rather different story; ‘our annals record that twelve thousand Romans died in that unhappy conflict, and about twenty thousand Scots, Picts, and auxiliaries.’  What is true, is that in the wake of the battle of Mons Graupius the Romans hardly ever ventured this far north again, & it is easy to see how the Caledonians would have slowly but surely looked upon Mons Graupius as the moment they dismissed tribal rivalries, bonded as a fighting force & fought to a standstill the might of Rome in open conflict. Just as we moderns erect memorials to great battles of the past, to celebrate their ancestral heroism the Picts erected a fabulous memorial of the day the Romans came to town, Sueno’s Stone.


One final clue that nails the Forres-Graupius connection comes after the battle, when Agricola is said to have, ‘led his army into the territory of the Boresti. He received hostages from them, and then ordered the commander of the fleet to sail round Britain.’The name of this otherwise unrecorded tribe allows us to make the folowing babel chain.

Bar est
Var est
Varar est

It must be noted that the legion which fought at Mons Graupius was the Ninth, which was Spanish in origin. The possibility that Tacitus would hear a ‘b’ when a ‘v’ was intended is made evident in later centuries when Spanish dialetical pronunciation of the Latin language changed v’s to b’s. Elsewhere in Roman Latin, vs & bs were interchangeable, such as the Etruscan town of Volsinii evolving into the Roman Bolsena & of course Ptolemy’s Boderia or Bodotria Aestuarium, which he recorded as the name of the Firth of Forth, was the home-waters of the Votadini tribe. We also have Ptolemy’s River Nabaros, whose modern version is the River Naver in Sutherland. Thus the name ‘Boresti’ philochisps into the Varar Aest placed by Ptolemy on the south shore of the Moray Firth, ie in the very vicinity of Forres; ‘from the Lemannonis Sin as far as the Varar Aest are the Caledoni, and above these is the Caledonian forest.’ This particular babel-chain may be supported by the location of the final camp in the Agricolan chain, in the vicinity of Cawdor Castle.

After spurning the Roman enslavement at Forres, the Picts of Scotland managed to hold on to their identity all the way through the Roman reign of Britain. History tells us that at one point, a certain tribal group affiliated with the Picts known as the Attocotti were fighting in the Roman legions as an auxillary group. Their identity has for a long time been puzzled over, but it is through the Chisper Effect that we may properly ascertain their identity. Our quest begins with Ptolemy’s Geography, & the island of Sketis as seen earlier. It is in alternate versions of Ptolemy that the same island is given the variant name, Ocitis, which contains a clear phonetic match to the ‘Cotti’ of the Attacotti, & also the Agathyrsoi.


The name Attacotti turns up in the 4th century, when Ammianus Marcellinus describes as, ‘a warlike race of men’ fighting alongside the Picts & Scots in what is known as the ‘Barbarian Conspiracy’ of the mid 360s.

It will, however, be in place to say, that at that time the Picts, divided into two tribes, called Dicalydones and Verturiones, as well as the Attacotti, a warlike race of men, and the Scots, were ranging widely and causing great devastation; while the Gallic regions, wherever anyone could break in by land or by sea, were harassed by the Franks and their neighbours, the Saxons, with cruel robbery, fire, and the murder of all who were taken prisoners.

Following Count Theodosius’ restoration of Roman order in Britain, the Attacotti were recruited to fight as auxilia palatina in the legions. Evidence for them on the continent comes in the Notitia Digitatum, compiled about 400 AD, which lists four Attacotti auxillary regiments as fighting in the Roman Legions, two of whom, the ‘Honoriani Atecotti seniores’ & the ‘Atecotti iuniores Gallicani,’ were stationed in Gaul. It is members of these units that St Jerome observed getting up to some rather bestial behaviour c.393AD; ‘why should I speak of other nations when I, a youth, in Gaul beheld the Attacotti, a British tribe, eat human flesh, and when they find herds of swine, cattle, and sheep in the woods, they are accustomed to cut off the buttocks of the shepherds, and the paps of the shepherdesses, and to consider them as the only delicacies of food.’

For a long, long time, scholars have speculated on the homelands of the Attacotti, but to no avail. But of course we moderns may utilise chispology, & it is while looking at an Ogham inscription inscribed upon an obscure Pictish stone that I hit paydirt. Etched into what is known as the Lunnasting Stone on the Shetlands, Forsyth in 1996 tells us;

ettecuhetts: ahehhttannn: hccvvevv: nehhtons

Chispologically speaking, Ettecuhetts is a lovely match for Attacotti, especially when we combine two variant spellings in the Notitia; the ‘attecotti’ & ‘attcoetti;


Two of the inscription’s other names can also be knitted together with supporting historical informaton. ‘Ahehhttannn’  could be Aedan, for  in 580 AD the Annals of Ulster describe; ‘The expedition to Innsi Orc by Aedán son of Gabrán. Cennalath, king of the Picts, dies.’ Looking at the ‘Nehhtons’ name, this could be Nechtan son of Canu, of whom the Annals of Ulster tell us died in 620. Both the Irish tale, the Scela Cano meic Gartnain & the Senchus fer n-Alban show how Gartnait’s son was called Cano, which gives us the following approximate genealogy.

Aedan (b.c520) – King of the Scots
Gartnait (b.545) – King of the Picts
Cano (b.570) – Fate unknown
Nechtain (b.595) – King of the Picts

If the inscription’s ‘hccvvevv’ is actually Canu, as in ‘hC-vowel-e=n-vowel,’ then the inscription may translate something like,  ‘Nechtan son of Canu, son (or gandson) of Aedan, of the Attacotti.’

Elsewhere on the Shetlands, at a place called Cunningsburgh, a stone’s throw from the Agathyrsi capital broch on Mousa, another Pictish stone, although weathered, also seems to mention the Attacotti at the start of the inscription.

+TTEC[O^G][–] | [–]A[V^BL]:DATT[V][B!][–] | [–][A!]VVR[–]

The proximity of this inscription to the likely Agathyrsi capital at Mousa supports a possible philochisp between the ‘acotti’ element of Attacotti & the ‘agathy’ of Agathyrsi. In Latin, ‘et’ means both, which would render Attacotti with a translation of  ‘both acotti.’ Historical support may be found in the writings of the Roman grammarian Maurus Servius Honoratus (c.400), whose commentary on the works of Virgil relates how in the 4th century the Agathyrsi sent across a contingent over the sea to Scotland, where it became identified with the Picts. It is as this second wave of Agarthyrsean immigrants joined with the earlier Agarthyrsi/Acotti, that the comblended union would become the dualistic ‘Attacotti.’ It is our very own Big Geoff who seems to have made the most accurate account of their coming, describing how in the mid 4th century – to further the cause of Valentinianus – a Hunnish king called Wanisu & a Pictish king called Melga landed in Scotland.

the Traprain Treasure


In the first segment of this chapter we saw how the Picts left their Lothian possessions on the death of King Gethus, but later on in time returned to their lands in Lothian. What is remarkable is that in the Lothian regions, at Traprain Law, the capital of the Votadini tribe, a silver horde was found in which the shield pattern of the Honoriani Attacotti Seniores seems to have been replicated on a silver plate. This image is a reconstruction by Alice Blackwell of the National Museum of Scotland, based upon fragments found in the horde.


Coinage in the horde determines that it was deposited during the reign of emperor Honorius himself, while to the equasion we must add the presence of King Loth, a 6th century Pictish king, remembered as ruler of both the Lothians & the Orkneys. Historians have often been a tad bemused at this double kingdom, but we can now see that he was in fact the ruler of the ‘Attacotti’ in the 6th century. To this we can also imagine that the etymology of Gododdin – a  version of the Votadini – could also be connected to the ‘Cotti’ of Caithness, etc – where the Pictish chronicle calls them Got.

papil03Looking at the Notitia shield patterns, it is with the ‘Honoiani Atecotti Juniores’ that a real clincher can be found. Their shield carries a curious image of two heads facing each other, with at least one of them seeming to be a bill-beaked bird. An extremely similar image appears on a Pictish stone discovered in 1887 at a pre-Norse Christian site called Papil, West Burra, in the Shetlands. The name Papil comes from papar – a Nordic word for priests – & was removed to the National Museum in Edinburgh, though a replica still stands in the churchyard of St Laurence’s Church, Papil. Kelly A Kilpatrick, in his ‘The iconography of the Papil Stone: sculptural and literary comparisons with a Pictish motif’ (Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 141 (2011), 159–205), writes of the birdmen;

 They have commonly been regarded as a misrepresentation of the Temptation of St Antony, but this theory is debatable and needs to be compared and contrasted within the wider framework of this motif in Irish and Pictish art. Examples of axe-brandishing human and beast-headed figures are, however, found in Pictish sculpture, and are comparable with the imagery on the Papil Stone. Furthermore, the bird-men motif on the Papil Stone has striking parallels with contemporary battlefield demons in early Irish literature… The Papil bird-men have a stronger connection with axe- and weapon-carrying hybrid & monstrous human-like figures in Pictish sculpture. 
A dog-masked man found at Cuningsburgh
There are 10 similar examples in the corpus of Pictish sculpture, three of which, it should be emphasised, have bird-features. They occur as single figures or as single figures associated with an animal or beast, & also as paired figures like the Papil bird-men. They must have had a long currency in Pictish art, for they are found on a variety of monumental media, ranging from simple incised stone boulders to panelled motifs on elaborate cross-slabs and even on a sculpted shrine panel.
Of the BirdManesque artistic tallies mentioned above, the image of a dog-masked man found at Cuningsburgh, Shetland, where there was an inscription to the Attacotti, seems the most important. Also of interest is a stone found at Murthly, Perthsire.  When comparing it with the Juniores shield pattern, we see that to the left is the long-beaked bird & to the right is the stubby-nosed dog or boar.

Whatever is the exact case, that the Attacotti shield-symbol can also be seen in the Pictish iconography of the Shetlands seems absolutely convincing evidence which when placed beside the ettecuhetts inscriptions nail the Attacotti to those windswept, sea-whipped islands. In 2016, on discovering the solution, the Shetland Times printed a rather strange version of my Attacotti theory, which they allowed to be intercepted by the curator of the island’s main museum. ‘Probably not,’ said the local academic Dr Ian Tait without presenting any evidence to the otherwise, the standard response from an academic community who are – in the early 21st century – quite unaware of the possibilities of the Chisper Effect. For them, the Unabomber is still out there.

13007234_1624277921230491_6502203127876165898_n (1)

Where the Picts of Bede & Nennius came from Scythia, according to Hektor Boece, ‘a banist pepill, namit Pichtis, come furth of Denmark.’ In the Chisper Effect I showed how there was a Herulian wave into the Pictish royal line, through whom I would hedge my bets that the symbol stones were introduced across Pictavia. The power-base of the northern Herulians was Scandinavia, which explains why Boece said the Picts came from Denmark, in the same breath as stating they were also part of the Agathyrsi. Here we see a classic example of genduction – ie the reducing of two or more people or peoples into a single entity. In overall conclusion, the Picts came to Britain in three waves; the initial Agathyrsi from Scythia c.200 BC, a second wave from the same area c.300 AD, who became known as the Attacotti; and the Herulian wave c.500. There were other Pictish blocks of course; but each & every one of them would have acknowledged their Scythian origins.

Distribution of Class I and Class II stones, as well as caves holding Pictish symbol graffiti
Distribution of Class I and Class II stones, as well as caves holding Pictish symbol graffiti

To end this post I would like to make an attempt at solving the riddle of the Pictish symbols. I shall offer a logical train of thought. We begin with the description of 19th century antiquarians of the stones being ‘Danish.’ From here we are led to the Herulian influx into the Pictish King List with Galan Erilch, c.500 AD, the very period in which many scholars presume the stones first originated (Class I). Three centuries later, the Pictish stones were emblazon’d with intricate Christian artistry (Class II), thus we may assume they were rudimentary churches. In between let us present the hyperbasis of the earlier symbol stones ALSO being sacred sites of worship. ‘The Germans,‘ wrote Tacitus, of whom we may include under the Nordic influence, or perhaps influenced by, ‘do not consider it consistent with the grandeur of celestial beings to confine the gods within walls, or to liken them to the form of any human countenance.’ The natural conclusion is that the Pictish symbols represent gods of the Scandinavian pantheon.

Pictish_Symbols picts 1 IMG_20180222_123355552

Odin’s triple horns seems present in the Pictish symbols; second column from the left, 5th symbol from the bottom…

The symbols generally appear in pairs, which completely correlates to the Norse understanding of dualism in religion, a trait shared by many ancient pagan faiths. This duality differs from the Zoroastrian premise of good versus evil, but is more of the essence order & chaos, sometimes competing sometimes coalescing on the same divine experience. Of the Pictish symbols, the animals all at least have a correspondence with the Norse gods;  In Norse mythology, the ancient Germans sacrificed geese to Odin at the autumnal equinox; Fenrir is the wolf; Gefjon, goddess of ploughing, would be the bull; Hræsvelgr is the eagle;  Níðhöggr & Jörmungandr are prime candidates for the serpent; the Ibex would be Thor’s goat, Heidrun; while Eikthyrnir is the stag. Some of the other symbols are more obscure, perhaps the mirror & comb represents Freya, the wife of Odin. Yet others may connect to the Scythian origins of the Picts & Herulians. There is also a trinity of symbols which have the Nordic sowilaz lightning symbol running through them, which may relate to the three main deities of Norse mythology, Thor, Odin & Loki. It is early days in this particular investigation, but a start, I believe, has been made…


Next Wednesday, 28/02/18

Chapter 6:  Brunanburh


chisp cover


Chapter 1: The Exodus
Chapter 2: The Aryan Invasion
Chapter 3: The Mahabharata
Chapter 4: Agastya
Chapter 5: The Picts
Chapter 6: Brunanburh
Chapter 7: The Young Shakespeare
Chapter 8: Shakespeare’s Blossom
Chapter 9: The Badon Babel Tree
Chapter 10: The Saxon Advent



chisper_effectChapter 1: Chispology 
Chapter 2: Princess Scota
Chapter 3: The Ithica Frage
Chapter 4: The Jesus Jigsaw
Chapter 5: Asvaghosha
Chapter 6: Dux Bellorum
Chapter 7: Dux Pictorum
Chapter 8: The Holy Grail
Chapter 9: The Mandylion
Chapter 10: Shakespeare’s Grand Tour
Chapter 11: The Dark Lady
Chapter 12: The Ripper Gang

3 thoughts on “Chispology 5 : The Picts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>