English and Its Historical Development, Part 04

(The Romans were apparently never able to conquer the northern Picts)

The Romans were striving to defend themselves from Northern Picts for centuries

The Romans had many battles with the Celts over the years they were in Britain.
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Little is really known about the Picts

Popular etymology has long interpreted the name Pict as if it derived from Latin Picti, "painted people" or possibly "tattooed ones"; and this may relate to the Welsh word Pryd, "to mark" or "to draw".

Julius Caesar, who never went near Pictland, mentions the British Celtic custom of body painting in Book V of his Gallic Wars, stating: Omnes vero se Britanni vitro inficiunt, quod caeruleum efficit colorem, atque hoc horridiores sunt in pugna aspectu. ("In fact all Britanni stain themselves with vitrum, which produces a dark blue colour, and by this means they are more terrifying to face in battle.")

The word picti is most often understood as a plural of the Latin participle pictum from the verb pingo, "to paint", "to dye" or "to color"; "to decorate". This is usually interpreted in the light of Julius Caesar's comment "All the 'Britanni' paint themselves with woad which produces a bluish coloring."

Later classical writers repeat this claim, often narrowing the application to inhabitants of the northern part of Britain and making reference to "puncturing" rather than "painting".

The popular interpretation which developed can be summed up by the early 7th century description by Isidore of Seville who says that the Picts take their name "from the fact that their bodies bear designs pricked into their skins by needles".

Picts were apparently never defeated by the Romans

The Picts were fiercely anti-Roman, and a constant thorn in the sides of the occupying Romans. Although Rome fought the Picts in continuous battles, it never succeeded in subjugating them or their land.

The Romans never penetrated far into the mountains of Wales and Scotland. Eventually they protected their northern boundary with a stone wall stretching across England at approximately the limits of Agricola's permanent conquest.

The famous "Hadrian's Wall", built by Emperor Hadrian was itself an ultimately futile attempt to keep the Picts from their frequent forays against the Romans in the south of Britain. The district south of this line was under Roman rule for more than three hundred years.

Even the southern tribes were difficult for the Romans to control

A serious uprising of the natives occurred in A.D. 61, under Boudicca (Boadicea). Under the leadership of this widow of one of the native chiefs, 70,000 Romans and Romanized Britons are said to have been massacred.

The Roman Governor Agricola (78-85 A.D.) extended the northern frontier to the Solway and the Tyne and the conquest of the southern area is said to have been completed at that time.

Proceed to Part 5, Icenian Queen, Boadicea, attacked the Romans.

INDEX or Table of Contents, English and its historical development.

References: sources of information.