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From Pictland to Alba, 789-1070

Alex Woolf

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In the 780s northern Britain was dominated by two great kingdoms; Pictavia, centred in north-eastern Scotland and Northumbria which straddled the modern Anglo-Scottish border. Within a hundred years both of these kingdoms had been thrown into chaos by the onslaught of the Vikings and within two hundred years they had become distant memories.

This book charts the transformation of the political landscape of northern Britain between the eighth and the eleventh centuries. Central to this narrative is the mysterious disappearance of the Picts and their language and the sudden rise to prominence of the Gaelic-speaking Scots who would replace them as the rulers of the North.

From Pictland to Alba uses fragmentary sources which survive from this darkest period in Scottish history to guide the reader past the pitfalls which beset the unwary traveller in these dangerous times. Important sources are presented in full and their value as evidence is thoroughly explored and evaluated. Unlike most other volumes dealing with this period, this is a book which 'shows its workings' and encourages the readers to reach their own conclusions about the origins of Scotland.

Key Features

  • The first book in over twenty years to explain the destruction of the Picts and the rise of the Scottish kingdom from contemporary accounts alone
  • Recounts and evaluates modern scholarship developing readers' awareness of recent debates and controversies
  • Subjects contemporary sources to rigorous examination allowing students to appreciate the strengths and pitfalls of different types of evidence
  • Locates early Scottish history firmly within a European context


Maps, genealogical Tables and Illustrations
General Editor's Preface
Note on Pronunciation and Spelling
Introduction: Land and People in the Eighth Century
Part One: Events (789-1070)
Chapter 1. The Coming of the Vikings
Chapter 2. The Scaldingi and the transformation of Northumbria
Chapter 3. Last Days of the Pictish Kingdom, 839 to 889
Chapter 4. The Grandsons of Cinaed and the Grandsons of Ímar
Chapter 5. The Later Tenth Century: A Turmoil of Warring Princes
Chapter 6. The Fall of the House of Alpín and the Moray Question
Part Two: Process
Chapter 7. Scandinavian Scotland
Chapter 8. Pictavia to Albania
Table of Events
Guide to Further Reading

About the Author

Alex Woolf is Lecturer in Early Scottish History at the University of St Andrews. He has published numerous articles on the history of Early Medieval Britain and is Historical Consultant to the BBC's 'A History of Scotland' series in 2008.


The author was charged with writing a political history of the kingdoms in North Britain between 789 and 1070. He has done this with aplomb and displayed a breadth of knowledge and understanding that would be hard to match... It is to Woolf's credit that he has managed to produce such a well-written account that effectively tackles a far wider frame of reference than any of his predecessors ever accomplished (or were willing to engage with), and it is the totality of his discussion that is so impressive. This book deserves to become a recommended text.
- Alasdair Ross, University of Stirling, History Scotland
The author of this masterly work presents and discusses the evidence of the available, often fragmentary, sources to provide an intelligible account of the eventual evolution of a very limited 'kingdom' of Alba.
- Northern History
Teasing out the tangle of sources and suggesting ways of filling in the blanks, Woolf comes closer than we've ever been to a coherent account of a fascinating time. 4 stars
- Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman
Of all the periods of Scottish history, 789–1070 is the most obscure as it is one of the most formative; for that very reason Alex Woolf’s success in distilling an intelligible and credible narrative makes this book a triumph... The balance of his approach is matched by the quality of his prose: it has an easy pace, a clarity of structure and the tone of civilised conversation. It is hard to think of how such a survey could be better done, given the difficulties of the evidence and the complexity of the changes in North Britain from the eighth to the eleventh century.
- T. M. Charles-Edwards, University of Oxford, Innes Review
I find an overriding sense of adventure in this volume, with ideas rolling thick and fast... Woolf repeatedly demonstrates a perceptive senseof place in his historical arguments, giving a valuable insight into the interplay of geography and history in Scotland’s past. Woolf ’s skills of close textual analysis are also brilliantly demonstrated throughout the volume.... A striking and laudable feature of Woolf ’s book is the concern to show Scotland in a bigger historical picture. Woolf often draws on parallels and insights from across medieval Europe. This is important in showing the value of comparative evidence to provide insights into Scottish history. This feature of Woolf ’s work also highlights Scotland’s potential significance for mainstream European medievalists. There is no doubt that this volume marks a major advance in interpreting the Viking Age istory of Scotland. Woolf demonstrates the breadth of vision and originality of mind which deservedly characterises him as one of the leading early medieval Insular historians.
- Claire Downham, University of Aberdeen, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies
From Pictland to Alba is an extremely valuable synthesis of recent scholarship, and a showcase for Woolf's original insights. The book is essential reading for scholars and its accessible style should ensure an extensive student readership. From Pictland to Alba will no doubt be considered a formative text by the next generation of scholars of early medieval Scottish History.
- Fiona Edmonds, Clare College, Cambridge, Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies
...a sometimes demanding, but often fascinating and always rewarding book, rich in ideas.
- Rab Houston, BBC History Magazine
An impressive piece of scholarship by one who has been in the vanguard of rewriting medieval Scottish history... Alex Woolf is to be commended for producing a work that greatly advances our understanding of what continues to be an obscure and challenging period in Scottish History.
- R. Andrew Macdonald, Saga-Book

From Pictland to Alba is a major contribution to the history of Scotland and its neighbours, a survey integrating much good recent scholarship with the author’s own valuable interpretations.

- Mark Zumbuhl, University of Manchester, Northern Scotland Vol 3, No 1

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