How the Celtic Speaking Picts and Gaels Became Spirited Scots

Celtic Speaking Picts’ King Kenneth MacAlpin – Early History of Medieval Scotland


The Celtic speaking Picts’ lived in northern and eastern Scotland during the Early Medieval Ages. Scots were Germanic-speaking people who emerged due to the union of two peoples, the Gaels and Picts.

Bretons Celtic People

King Kenneth MacAlpin is one of the most crucial figures in Scottish history. He laid the foundations of the Kingdom of Scotland by unifying the two Celtic speaking tribes, the Picts and Gaels.


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He fought many battles against Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, the other competitors of the crown.

King Kenneth MacAlpin belonged to Picts. The unification of Gaels and Picts gave rise to a new clan, Scots or Scottish people.

Celtic Speaking Picts' and the Great Kingdom of Alba c. 700 - 800historical-buildings-Picts-Celts

Who were Scots?

Scots were the people who founded the Kingdom of Alba or Scotland in the 9th century. Later in the history, the nearby living Cumbrians who spoke Celtic and Germanic-speaking Norse and Anglo-Saxons also became a part of the Scottish nation.

Nowadays, the term Scots or Scottish is used for all people originating from Scotland either linguistically or culturally.

Scots spoke many languages and dialectics such as Norman-French, Pictish, and Norse. As they had Gaelic and Pictish origin, the culture of both these people had affected Scots in many ways.

There were many cultural and ethnic groups in Scotland in the Early Middle Ages, including the Angles, The Gaels, the Picts, and the Britons.

Celtic Cross

Who Were the The Celtic speaking Picts?

The Celtic speaking Picts,  spoke Celtic and lived near the rivers Clyde and Forth. The culture of the Celtic speaking Picts can be inferred by Pictish stones.

Picts were the descendants of the Caledoni and other tribes. A higher degree of political unity was seen in Pictland in the 7th and early 8th centuries.

After merging with Gaelic people by 900, they formed the Kingdom of Alba. The Picts were farmers who lived in small communities. Their religion was Celtic polytheism and later Christianity.

Their artwork was found on stones, bones, and metals. The artwork of the Picts in the 7th and 8th centuries was inspired by Irish and Anglo-Saxon art.

Celtic Tribal Symbol

King Alpin II – Picts

  • King Alpin II ruled Picts from 775 to 778.
  • He was a son of Uuroid who was the king of Dalriada. This kingdom was founded by Irish invaders in 500 AD.
  • He was a father of the famous King Kenneth MacAlpin.
  • At the time of the birth of MacAlpin, the Pictish Kingdom dominated the Gaels.
  • The mother of Kenneth was a beautiful princess of Picts.
  • Alpin II was beheaded by the Gaels for fighting on behalf of a Pictish King who was the enemy of the Gaels.
  • It is also suspected by some historians that Alpin II left his army for an unnamed Pictish princess.

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Viking Raids in Scotland

  • Vikings were one of the most dangerous threats for kingdoms of England and Scotland.
  • They raided the areas, killing and looting brutally. After the death of Alpin II, the raids of Vikings became very frequent and more ferocious.
  • During this period, all the Scottish kings were fighting with each other in order to gain power.
  • Vikings took advantage of the situation and attacked the area.
  • It is found that a large army attacked Scotland which almost wiped out the Picts.
  • This ultimately forced the many lords and kings to come together and put up a unified front against the Viking threat.
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MacAlpin’s Claim to Throne

  • King MacAlpine wanted to unite the Pictish and Gaelic thrones. He had some right to both of thrones.
  • The seven royal houses of the Picts challenged him. Pict Drust X strongly opposed him. However, the Picts also knew that they needed an active leader in order to fight the Gaels and Vikings.
  • A great meeting was arranged at Scone at which all the contenders to the throne were invited. MacAlpin also came. Once all the Pictish noblemen had arrived, MacAlpin’s men killed all of them.
  • With the death of the leading Picts, including Drust, MacAlpin was left as the key contender of the throne. This famous incident is known as MacAlpin’s treason.

Celtic Bretons

King of the Picts and Gaels

  • Kenneth, after taking the crown, had a significant threat from the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons.
  • In 839 the attack of Vikings was so fierce that it almost wiped out all the Picts.
  • Between 839 and 848 AD, MacAlpin was claiming the crowns of both Picts and Gaels. He had a blood claim to both of the thrones.
  • This was one of the most crucial times of Scottish history.
  • Even after becoming the king of both Picts and Gaels, he had a lot of hostile enemies.
  • In the north were highlanders, in the south was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, and in the west were Irish. The threat of Vikings was always there from the sea.

Unification of Scotland – Picts *Celts

Scotland was unified under MacAlpin’s rule. The Gaels and Picts had a common interest when it came to the defence of the country. He united the Gaelic Dal Riata kingdom and the Pictish Fortrio region to form a new kingdom Scotia (Alba in Gaelic).

A fleet of 140 Viking ships came to attack Dal Riata. MacAlpin ordered the Gaels to move safely to interior Pict lands along with their religious relics. These also included treasured remains of St. Columbia. This was a remarkable foresight of MacAlpin.

When the Gaels migrated to the Pictish lands, this was the end of Dal Riata and the beginning of Pictland. At this time the religious capital was moved from Iona to interior Dunkeld.

MacAlpin Later Life and Death

A great risk was taken by the Gaels when trusting MacAlpin and moving to Pictland. MacAlpin promised lands to the Gaels. These lands were captured by him from defeated rivals. A slight resentment was seen in common Picts, but MacAlpin did not allow them to rekindle old ethnic rivalries.

He died on 13th February 865 AD from a tumour at the palace of Cinnbelachoir. The title used for him was King of Picts, not King of Alba. The title of King of Alba was used for his grandson.

Celtic Speaking Picts’ and the Great Kingdom of Alba c. 700 – 800