Ancient History of the Scottish People

I just happened on a document called the “Declaration of Arbroath.” It’s a declaration of the independence of Scotland from the year 1320.

In there is the following passage:

I’m just wondering how much fact there is to the claims in the first paragraph. Did the Scottish people come from Scythia? (That’s in present day Russia or thereabouts, isn’t it? But then how did they get from there to Scotland “by way of the Pillars of Hurcules”?) Did they reside in Spain? Do tell.

Also, as regards both paragraphs, I am wondering what the source for these stories was.

Also, does the bit about St. Andrew being “First by calling though second or third in rank” make any sense as other than an off-the-cuff made up factoid?

Also, if you’re up for it, I’m curious now about the history of the concept of national freedom. There’s a passage in that declaration which extolls freedom as something a man wouldn’t get up except along with his life. That kind of talk I thought originated much later. But I don’t know anything about it–it’s just the impression I had.

Anyone know when this kind of rhetoric about freedom originates?


This type of rhetoric was common among the nations of that time. England had its own legend, that Britain was founded by the Trojan Brutus and his followers, fleeing Troy after the Greeks sacked it in the Trojan War. (London was styled Troynovant, New Troy, by many writers.)

All Europeans, of course, were influenced by the Roman myth, that the Romans were descended from the Trojan Aeneas and his followers, as told in Virgil’s Aeneid.

No nation in those days could hold its head up without tracing its roots back to classical antiquity, although there wasn’t a word of truth in any of it.

Well, there seems to be some concrete evidence for the Scottish regnal lineage back to Kenneth MacAlpin, who united the Scots and the Picts. How accurate his lineage is, is quite a different story, but it’s clear that the Dal Riada of Ulster became the Dalriada of Galloway, whence the Scottish kings were derived.

But, as aldiboronti notes, any factual data are subsumed in a bombastic claim to historical origins, often connected with Scythia for some reason, that bring in emigré Trojans, tie loosely into the Israelite royal house through an otherwise undocumented relative, link into the Arthurian and Alexandrian stories, and otherwise claim everything but Atlantean wizard-adepts as a part of their ancestry. Any factual basis in that story is probably coincidental.

According to what I dug up in my clan’s museum, at least our clan is descended from Vikings that came over about 300 years before that declaration of independence, so it certainly didn’t represent the entire population.

Er, no. This version of the origin of the Scots hasn’t been taken remotely seriously for at least a couple of centuries now.

The connection with Scythia is now regarded as a piece of backwards rationalisation from the tradition of St. Andrew being associated with Scotland. He never visited, but the legend is that his bones wound up being brought to the east coast of the country and interred at St. Andrews, the cathedral town now best known for its university and as “the home of golf”. There was thus a desire in medieval Scotland to link the history of the nation with the apostle. Eusebius had said that he’d preached to the Scythians, so the idea was that they’d brought his relics on this slightly tortuous journey to the west.

I don’t know the details of quite how that reference in Eusebius is developed into the Scottish legend, but an example of the type of historical narrative that is embodied in the Declaration is the Chronicle of the Scottish Nation by John of Fordun. This incorporates several other traditions that were prevalent in the same period. For example, the idea - from Nennius - that the Scots ultimately derive from an Egyptian princess called Scota. And that the Stone of Destiny is the biblical Jacob’s Pillow.

It’s a reference to Matthew IV, 18: Peter and Andrew are the first two disciples to be summoned. The passage is generally emphasising him as central, while acknowledging that the Pope - to whom the Declaration is addressed - may recognise Peter and Paul as more significant in the Roman tradition.

A touchy subject. Plenty of contemporary Scottish nationalists - and Mel Gibson, in effect - do regard the Declaration as the first expression of the modern concepts of liberty and national freedom. Academic historians see those concepts emerging much later and it expressing a much more medieval set of ideas instead.

By 1320 these ideas were something of a polemical cliché as they had regularly been used by the Scots against the English over the previous thirty years, most notably in the processus compiled by Baldred Bisset in 1301 as an earlier attempt by the Scots to appeal to the pope.

A point which is even more germane than that. It is not just that the Brutus legend is the obvious parallel example of such an origin legend. No, it was that the Brutus legend was the central plank of the English claims to overlordship over Scotland and so had to be countered by the Scots with their own alternative origin legend.

Indeed, there has long been a debate about how far one might argue that the Scottish version had been invented in this period specifically to counter those English arguments. Not that anyone denies that parts of what the Scots were claiming drew on earlier sources. The idea of a Scythian origin (and of a descent from Scota) dates back in Irish traditions at least to the eighth century as it can be found in the Lebor Gabála. But it may well be that it is only with the threat from Edward I that this became centrally important to the Scots. The point about John of Fordun is that, writing a generation later, he then becomes the first historian to incorporate this line of argument into a grand narrative account of Scottish history.

It should also be noted that the later influence of the Declaration is very uneven. That it had ever existed was soon entirely forgotten and it was only rediscovered when a version of it was published by Sir George Mackenzie in 1680. It then becomes enormously influencial, but not really as an expression of nationalism but as support for those Scottish writers who wished to curtail royal power and who, just as importantly, wished to do so using non-English historical arguments. Paradoxically, these writers were often those most committed to defending this ultra-ancient origin for the Scottish monarchy (a reflection of the continuing influence of George Buchanan) and it was a royalist Jacobite exile, Thomas Innes, who in the 1720s, in order to defend the idea of strict hereditary succession, first debunked John of Fordun and, with him, the entire origin myth up to Kenneth MacAlpin.

It was only later, with the rise of romantic nationalism, that the Declaration of Arbroath came to be seen in purely nationalistic terms. And even then there is a further paradox, as nationalist sentiment in nineteenth-century Scotland was often combined with strong support for the Union. Many Victorians Scots saw no contradiction between thinking that the Wars of Independence had been a Good Things, while thinking exactly the same about the Union. In fact, the assertions of Scottish independence before 1603 and 1707 could be viewed as the necessary preconditions for what was seen as a Union between equals based on agreement rather than conquest. For some academic historians (most obviously Colin Kidd), the real question is actually not why nationalism develops so early in Scotland but rather why it develops so late.

I’m not a historian or an expert, but the Edda says something similar about the Norse migrating from warm areas (Turkey?). As far as I know it’s considered basically accurate. Afterward, there was a significant Norse presence in Scotland.

Just have to say that this stuff is why a bit of Celto-Teutonic-Israelism resides in the back of my brain, in spite of my knowing that the evidence is circumstantial at

Spanihs Roots

Short Answer: The “Scots” are a mix of peoples including large contributions of genes from indigenous people from the Bronze and Iron age, Vikings and Celts. These Celts, theCruithne/Picts and the Irish certainly had continental roots - they migrated across Europe and they may very well have had “Spanish” roots in that it is not impossible that they jumped off from celtic settlements in Spain to the British Isles.

Longer anser (TMI)
The earliest Celts in Scotland were the Picts, a derogatory name that came from the Romans who referred to the ‘painted people’ as Picti. (By ‘Painted’ they probably meant tattooed, although it has been speculated it also might mean warpaint and or painting themselves blue.) Other Celts called the Picts, and they probably called themselves, a variant of “Cruithne”. They were a celtic group appearing throughout the British Isles between about 800 and 500 B.C. and became the dominant culture, although not necessarily the dominant gene pool.

During the ninth and tenth centuries the Pictish kingdom merged with Erainnian tribe of Dal Riada (of Ireleand). The variety of Gaelic language and culture used by Erainnian became dominant certainly at the official level, and how far it sunk in ibelow that is debatable. This was probably because, it was more in line with the rest of the shruken but still extant Gaelic ‘empire’ to the south and west, the Gaelic language spoken by the Dal Riada was more useful and alike then the Picts Gaelic language and customs – which had been more divergent & different than the rest of the Celts. To echo **APB ** The stories about Scythia and Troy etc. probably come from Ireland (the Irish believed it of themselves as well).

I first read of the Milesian origin legends in my grandfather’s copy of The Story of the Irish Race by Seaumas MacManus, a book first printed in 1921, which never claimed to be anything more than a romantic retelling of legends (interspersed with some historical information, where it existed).

The chapters on the Tuatha De Danann and Milesians have no historical basis, so they are made of pure mythology and romantic legend.

The part that intrigued me as a philologist is that the Milesians were in Egypt before they went to Spain, and one of them married Pharaoh’s daughter Scota, who gave her name to the nation. I wondered if an ancient Egyptian name could be the source for it; for example, the name Sekhet fits the same consonants (except for the middle one which must have been changed from a fricative to a stop by the loss of the preceding vowel). This is an example of that old jibe how in etymology the consonants count for little and the vowels count for nothing. :smack:

I wonder if old Irish legends that their ancestors had been in Spain arose from awareness that Galicia, the northwestern corner of the Iberian peninsula, was a historically Celtic area and like Wales is named for a Celtic people, the Gallaeci (or Callaeci or Kallaikoi). The Thistle and Shamrock has had whole programs devoted to Celtic-sounding Galician music.