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Name Origin: Picti was the name given by the Romans to the people of north Scotland. It means 'painted' or 'tattooed' people in Latin.

Overview. Pictish was spoken by the Picts, a people of north Scotland, from the early centuries CE until the middle of the 9th century when it was replaced by Irish Gaelic. Pictish has left a very limited number of inscriptions mainly in the Ogham alphabet, most of them undeciphered. Being so sparsely attested, its classification is still in doubt but most scholars agree now that Pictish was a Celtic language.

Classification. Pictish was apparently a Celtic language related to the p-Celtic group which includes Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish, Breton, and Gaulish. Some scholars think that Pictish was not Celtic at all, may be not even Indo-European.

Distribution. Northern Scotland, above a line uniting the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth.

Status. Extinct. Documented from the first centuries CE until the middle of the 9th century. After the fall of the last Pictish kingdom, it was replaced by Gaelic which had reached Scotland from Ireland around 500 CE.

Main Documents. Evidence of Pictish is limited to:

  1. 39 stone inscriptions, 32 of them in the Ogham script and 7 in the Latin script, which are, except for a few fragments, undeciphered.

  1. place names and personal names.

  1. a list of Pictish kings, in chronological order, recorded in a document from the 9th-10th centuries called the Pictish Chronicle, the only non-epigraphic text to have survived.  


Most Pictish inscriptions used the Ogham alphabet, constituted by four sets of strokes to which another was added later. Each set contains five letters formed by one to five strokes. They were engraved in stones vertically or horizontally (from right to left). Their transliteration is shown along with their sound between brackets. The four last symbols were auxiliary signs of which p was used for Latin loanwords.

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -The Age of the Picts. W. A. Cummins. Sutton (1998).

  2. -The Picts. A History. T. Clarkson. J. Donald (2011).

  3. -'The Pictish language'. K. Jackson Nelson in The Problem of the Picts, 129–166. F. Wainwright (ed). Greenwood-Heinemann (1955).

  4. -Celtic Culture. A Historical Encyclopedia. J. T. Koch (ed). ABC CLIO (2006).

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