There is a sentiment, which announces to all: "We are kin. We are a family." And like any family, we disagree at times on some things, but come together in a crisis. Not much more needs to be said about the Highland clans ... or is there? Mr. E. William Robertson [1862] noted that the feeling of kindred was extremely strong amongst all early Celtic and Teutonic nations, and it was upon this principle that the lands were divided by the tribes. Mr. William Forbes Skene [1837] seems to agree, when he states that "the Highland Clans are not of a different foreign origin, but that they were a part of the original nation, who have inhabited the mountains of Scotland as far back as the memory of man, or the records of history can reach; that they were divided into several great tribes possessing their hereditary chiefs".

Not much is known up to and including the first permanent residents of the land of Ross and Moray. We might surmise that they were seafarers, who did some hunting and fishing and farming around their coastal communities. The evidence of these Neolithic farmers from several thousand years ago exists in the "great communal tombs - the chambered cairns - which served both as places of burial and worship" in an area just west of Tain at Ardvannie and Leachonich near Edderton. The huge upright slabs were arranged in a circle to form an inner chamber into which a long passage led from one side. Over this was raised a great mound of stones and pebbles, bounded by a border of massive boulders at the edge. Despite evidence of plundering by later settlers, the cairn at Ardvannie is over seventy feet across. Other ruins in association with human remains at Culbokie on the Black Isle consist of two concentric stone walls surrounded by a ditch near the small loch.

The newer settlers were most likely an emerging society of Bronze Age warriors, who emigrated to the British Isles from central Europe, probably from the Rhine River valley, about 1,000 years BC. As skilled sea-farers, they could have used the Teutonic term "Ross" to describe the shape of the coastline of Easter Ross (with Loch Eye exactly where it should be on a "noble steed"). We shall not speculate further about the origins of the Gaelic term "Ros", meaning a promontory, other than to say that the sagas of the Norse Vikings also refer to the land of Ross.

The Picts spoke a mixture of languages, which are characterized as P-Celtic Pictish used in general speech and a pre-Celtic, non Indo-European Ogham used for ritualistic and symbolic inscriptions on stone or bone. By around 500 BC, the bronze tools and weapons were being replaced by iron, and Hillforts were built to protect larger population centres, such as the partially built one west of Tain at Cnoc an Duin near Scotsburn on a bluff high above Strath Rory. One can imagine the powerful warrior chief with his armed forces governing a fairly large cleared area of farmlands. [Isn't it amazing what stories are revealed by stones, bones, age and locations?]

Local histories record the locations of the remains of smaller duns - or stone forts - which pepper the peninsulas of Easter Ross (one of which is at Scotsburn, and another to the south of Cadboll and Balintore). Near Tore on the Black Isle one may visit the Pictish huts of Arpafeelie Moor and hut circles at Drumnamarg (the Ridge of the Dead). Broch-builders from the Northern Isles were probably responsible for a great drystone tower erected at Dun Alascaig near Easter Ross on the slopes overlooking the Dornoch Firth during the period of Roman campaigns along the coasts. As a direct result of these forays, the fragmented tribes of Picts became the two confederacies of the Kingdom of Picts.

Perhaps it is worth noting that there were generally also two main royal houses, one paired district located in Fife-Kinrosshire and the other in Moray-Ross, and that this situation was to prevail throughout most of the history of Pictland and Alba. Undoubtedly, this independence was also "helped by the barrier of the Mounth", as noted by Dickinson. [Op.cit., pp.34 & 54] There were frequent disputes and battles between the two confederacies, but there were many occasions when they joined forces ... one of which we might describe as the dawn of Scotland's recorded history.

When Cnaeus Julius Agricola was appointed governor of the lands south of the Forth and Clyde Firths in 78 AD, he attended to the task of bringing the area of southern and middle England under control before extending the Roman Empire further north. Commanders of his legions began to return with reports that the people of Caledonia (Northern Pictland) were preparing to resist an invasion of their lands. The Battle of Mons Graupius, fought near Ardoch in the heart of north-east Pictland in 84 AD, was recorded by Roman Historian Tacitus, the son-in-law of Agricola. Since "The Pictish Chronicle" was little more than a list of kings, many would say that the history of today's Scotland begins with this battle.

Because of their reddish hair, Tacitus concluded that the Caledonians originated in Teutonic Germany. He also observed that they fought using metre-long swords and a small round buckler shield in battle. The northern Picts were the first army in recorded history to use these weapons. In fact, forerunners of the sgian-dubh (Scottish dirk) and targe (shield) were developed during the Bronze Age. Tacitus wrote that "... their swords of this iron material, and extreme length seemed a poor choice of sword to the legions until they saw that these monstrosities could actually be used quickly and efficiently with proper training. The ninth Legion under Agricola, in Britain, feared the barbaric Caledonians' extreme advantage in reach, with this overly long sword."

According to Tacitus, Calgacus the Swordsman, leader of the Caledonians, gave a rousing speech to his army before the battle, as follows: "We, the most distant dwellers upon the earth, the last of the free, have been shielded ... by our remoteness and by the obscurity which has shrouded our name. Beyond us lies no nation, nothing but waves and rocks." Calgacus concluded with an observation about the Romans, when he said, "They make a desolation (of our lands) and they call it peace!"

The Roman ninth legion, with their professional skills in battle formation, killed thousands of the Caledonians including their leader. Thirty years later, the unified northern confederacies made lightning attacks on villages along the Antonine Wall and wiped out the 9th legion.

The Alexandrian Greek mathematician and geographer, Claudius Ptolemy, completed a map of the British Isles in the 2nd century AD, but he must have relied too heavily upon the observations of a Roman captain during stormy weather at sea for the land north of Hadrian's Wall. Nevertheless, it was possible to discern the region between the Beauly Firth and the Strath of Kildonan, where he recorded a people that he named the Decantae, the "noble folk". It wasn't until 296 AD, that the Pictish people or "painted ones" were first named in Roman literature by the writer Eumenius, and the name Pict, in reference to the nation beyond the Antonine Wall, was recorded for posterity. In 360 Ammanius Marcellus stated that the "Picts were now two peoples - the Dicalydones and Verturiones."

The Celtic Gaelic tribe of Scots began to settle a Kingdom of Dalriada (around Argyll) during the early 5th century. By 409 AD, the Romans in England became involved with the invasion of their continental empire by the Huns, and the Britons were left to defend themselves against the Picts and the Scots, who often fought as allies. It was not until the middle of the sixth century that St. Columba established a religious colony on Iona. Within two years, the saint was ready to set out with Pictish translators on a mission to convert the King of Picts, who was a successor of the leader Calgacus, and fortunately there is a written account of his meeting with this Pictish king, besides a mere name halfway down the list of kings in the Pictish Chronicles.

The biographer to Saint Columba of Iona, Adamnan, reported that Pictish King Bridei (554-584), the 36th monarch in the chronicle, was an exceptionally powerful ruler, whose castle or dun was at the Ness River near Loch Ness. Adamnan also wrote that this king defeated the Scots under their King Gabran and drove them back to the western shores of Argyll. Perhaps the Scottish royal house was not considered to be of major significance, because no historian suggests that any intermarriage occurred at that time between the royal houses of the Picts and the Scots. Nor was there any hint of "marriage treaties" when King Bridei III, the 45th monarch in the chronicle, laid waste to the Scottish capital of Dunnadd in 683 and defeated Anglo-Saxon invaders at the Battle of Nechtansmere on May 20, 685.

The influence of St. Columba's Culdees of Iona became widespread amongst Scots, Picts and Britons from the late 6th century until well beyond the advent of the Norse Vikings, who were also converted after the end of the first millennium. In spite of the differences between these peoples, the common gravesite of their greatest leaders on the Isle of Iona attests to their sacred regard for this religion.

The great Bede, writing in 731 AD, recorded four groups of people living in Britain: the Britons, Picts, Scots and Angles. Bede also noted that Pictish royal succession was through the female royal line, generally ensuring that there was always an adult king to inherit the throne. The culture of the Picts was flourishing and their carvings on the symbol stones had begun to reflect the impact of Christianity. Ten years after this record by Bede, King Oengus I of Picts became the first King of Picts and Scots (741 - 761) for the final 20 years of a 32 year reign. In the absence of better information about the beginnings of "Alba", the strong reign of King Oengus I appears to over-ride all subsequent contenders.

I'll conclude this chapter of our Ross history with a couple of interesting observations by the late genealogist Sir Iain Moncreiffe. His thoughts may be found in the introduction to Debrett's "Guide to Tracing Your Ancestry". The first is that, if you go back 30 generations (a mere 800-1000 years) you have, theoretically, about 1,073,741,904 ancestors. However, if you think about it, 30 generations ago, there were not that many people in the entire world, let alone in Scotland (or the British Isles for that matter). So it must follow that all native Scottish Highlanders must be related in some degree, and probably many times, because their forebears must have married cousins, probably over and over again. The second thing he states is that if one single one of your ancestors or ancestresses had married someone else, you would not be you, you would be someone quite different - the genes and the DNA would not be the same. So your ancestry is of very real importance because who you are and what you are depends on it.

. . . TO BE CONTINUED . . .

© J. Douglas Ross