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From Caledonia to Pictland

Scotland to 795

James E. Fraser

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Shortlisted for the 2009 Saltire Society History Book of the Year

From Caledonia to Pictland examines the transformation of Iron Age northern Britain into a land of Christian kingdoms, long before 'Scotland' came into existence. Perched at the edge of the western Roman Empire, northern Britain was not unaffected by the experience, and became swept up in the great tide of processes which gave rise to the early medieval West. Like other places, the country experienced social and ethnic metamorphoses, Christianisation, and colonization by dislocated outsiders, but northern Britain also has its own unique story to tell in the first eight centuries AD.

This book is the first detailed political history to treat these centuries as a single period, with due regard for Scotland's position in the bigger story of late Antique transition. From Caledonia to Pictland charts the complex and shadowy processes which saw the familiar Picts, Northumbrians, North Britons and Gaels of early Scottish history become established in the country, the achievements of their foremost political figures, and their ongoing links with the world around them. It is a story that has become much revised through changing trends in scholarly approaches to the challenging evidence, and that transformation too is explained for the benefit of students and general readers.

Key Features

The only detailed political history to treat the first eight centuries AD as a single period of Scottish history.

  • Redresses the imbalance created by an existing literature dominated by archaeologists. From Caledonia to Pictland provides a narrative history of the period.
  • Bridges a traditional disciplinary divide between the Roman and early medieval periods.
  • Locates this phase o
  • Contents

    Introduction: Fabulousness, Obscurity and Difficulty: narrative history to 795
    Chapter 1: New Nations: Caledonia from Cerialis to Caracalla
    Chapter 2: The Later Roman Iron Age and the Origins of the Picts
    Chapter 3: Uinniau, 'Ninian' and the Early Church in Scotland
    Chapter 4: Word and Example: Columba in northern Britain
    Postscript: 'The Roman Interlude'
    Chapter 5: High Lords of Princes: Áedán, Urbgen and Aeðilfrith, 576-616
    Chapter 6: Sighs of Sorrow: Iona and the kingdoms of northern Britain, 616-43
    Chapter 7: Emperor of All Britain: Oswy and his hegemony, 642-70
    Chapter 8: Bull of the North: Bridei son of Beli and fall of the Aeðilfrithings, 671-92
    Postscript: Scotland and the Aeðilfrithing Legacy
    Chapter 9: League and Iron: Bridei son of Der-Ilei, Iona and Argyll, 692-707
    Chapter 10: Nations Reformed: Northumbria and Pictavia, 704-24
    Chapter 11: 'When Óengus Took Alba': despot, butcher and king, 728-61
    Chapter 12: Dragons in the Air: a doubtful generation, 761-89
    Chapter 13: Regime-Craft in Early Historic Northern Britain
    Postscript: Remote from the Roman Nation
    Guide to Further Reading

    About the Author

    James E. Fraser is Lecturer in Early Scottish History and Culture at the University of Edinburgh.


    A very important contribution to the study of early Scottish history. It is a rigorous piece of scholarship and a treasure trove of new ideas that will excite scholars and general readers alike.
    - Fiona Edmonds, Clare College, Cambridge, Scottish Historical Review
    Anyone looking for the cutting edge of historical understanding of northern Britain from the earliest times to the Viking Age should look no further.
    - I. Ward, Amazon
    The field of 'Pictish studies' has advanced in Scotland in recent years. The author has been at the forefront of some of these developments and this book is a measure both of his intellectual ability and his tenacity in solving many of the 'Problems of the Picts'. It deserves to become a recommended text.
    - Alasdair Ross, University of Stirling, Early Medieval Europe
    There are many qualities in Fraser’s work which make it ideal as set text on Scottish history. The author writes with great clarity, even when dealing with complex issues. His work is detailed and the general perception that there is little material to write a history of the Picts is effectively blown apart by his close scrutiny of sources written by neighbouring peoples... This is surely one of the most ground-breaking books on Scottish history of recent times.
    - Claire Downham, Univsersity of Aberdeen, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies
    "this impressive work must be the starting point for future investigation and debate."
    - School of History, University of Leeds, Northern History, XLVII (2)

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