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Gaelic British Isles & Ireland

Kingdoms of Caledonia


South Pictland

It would appear to have been the Yellow Plague of 549-552 which fractured Pictland into two clearly-definable kingdoms based around a north-south divide. Previous to that the kings of what became North Pictland seemed dominant, and would be again at the end of this period of division. The plague had hit the island's Britons far harder than it did the Saxon invaders, finally shifting the balance of power in favour of the latter. The disruption possibly also allowed the Bernician Angles to forge a kingdom of their own on Britain's north-east coast - soon to become a deadly opponent of the Picts. Even the Picts themselves lost at least one of their kings to it in the form of Drust mac Munaith, in 552, which seemingly allowed the division to happen at all.

Scone was the capital of the strongest of the southern sub-kingdoms, Fortriu (Verturiones to the Romans, modern Forteviot). The sub-kingdom of Fib, to the east, lives on as Fife and is occasionally still referred to as the kingdom of Fife. The remaining four were Fotla, Fidach, Circind, and Ce. All of these bore names that have been attributed in Gaelic legend to the sons of an ancient Pictish king named Cruithne, son of Cing (from 'An Cruithain', the Gaelic word for 'Pict' which means, naturally, 'painted people'). Cruithne reigned for a hundred years and had seven sons (the number seven being very important to the Picts), who were named for each of the seven provinces of Pictland as detailed in an ancient account of Scotland called De Situ Albanie.

It may be that South Pictland was only independent of the north for short periods, which would explain the relative lack of detail for kings for this region. However, an important Pictish centre at Burghead reached its peak in the eighth century, after the Picts had unified into a single kingdom, and Burghead is firmly within the territory of Fortriu.

The southern Picts were converted to Christianity by St Ninian in the late fourth or early fifth century. He became known as 'the Apostle' to them. His work was carried out before that of St Patrick in Ireland, because the latter mentions the South Picts as being apostates, meaning that they renounced their conversion to Christianity, probably between AD 400-450, and perhaps following the death of a king. The same reversion to paganism after the death of a leader can be seen amongst the East Saxons and Northumbrians. Tradition states that Ninian died in Ireland in 432, which seems early for him to have converted the Picts, so more likely the work was largely carried out in his name by his followers.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from A History of the English Church and People, The Venerable Bede (Leo Sherley-Price translation - revised by R E Latham), from Early Sources of Scottish History AD 500-1286, Volume 1, Alan Orr Anderson (Reprinted with corrections, Paul Watkins, Stamford 1990), from Kings and Warriors, Craftsmen and Priests in Northern Britain AD 550-850, Leslie Alcock (Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2003), from Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD 80-1000, Alfred P Smyth (1984), and from External Links: 'Incredible' find made by archaeologists at elite Pictish power centre, Alison Campsie (Scotsman), and De Situ Albanie (possibly written in the fourteenth century according to F T Wainwright, and discussed in the Oct 1978 Caithness Field Club Bulletin).)

552 - 580

Galam Cennelath

Named in the Annals of Tigernach.

556 - 565

During the reign of Galam Cennelath the south is subjugated to some degree by the powerful Brudei mac Maelcon of North Pictland. It is possible, however, that the South Pict kingdom is less of an independent entity and more of a region that is loosely ruled by the north. The available evidence is too scant for any definitive answer on this question.

578/580 - ?

Galam Cennelath's death is dated to 578 or 580. It could be possible, given the lack of a name for a king of the south, that it is more directly governed by North Pictland. Brudei mac Maelcon is still on the throne at this time, to be succeeded four years later by his son-in-law.

Map of Britain
This generalised map of the British Isles concentrates on the proposed kingdoms and districts of post-Roman Britain, but does include the regions of Pictland which remained important throughout the existence of the Pictish kingdom(s) (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Aedan mac Gabrán of Dal Riada invades the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia and attacks King Æthelfrith at the Battle of Degsastan. By fighting and defeating Dal Riada, Æthelfrith secures an alliance with its enemies, the South Picts. This alliance seems to survive until Æthelfrith's rival, Edwin, gains the throne.

? - 668


Little more than a name in a list. Killed by Northumbrians.


Areas of the south are conquered by the Northumbrian Angles under Oswiu. Clearly the Northumbrians are now hostile to the Picts and Talorn, possible king of the southern lled by them, but it could be this hostility which enforces closer links between Picts and Dal Riada Scots in succeeding generations.


Northumbria establishes a bishopric under Bishop Trumwine amongst the southern Picts at Abercorn. The effort to convert the Picts fails just four years later and is abandoned shortly after the North Picts defeat the Northumbrians at the Battle of Dunnichen.


The North Picts have long held pre-eminence over the southern Picts and by this time - if not before - a single United Pictland is forged under the command of Brude Derelei who now deposes the weak final king of the northern Picts, Taran mac Entifidich.

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