The formation of the nation of Scotland took place over centuries through the migration of peoples originally from mainland Europe and Asia. Here, Steven Keith, originally from Scotland and living in India for twenty years, explains the origins of Scotland and the Scottish people.

Kenneth MacAlpin, or King Kenneth I, often seen as being the first King of the Scots in Scottish folklore.

Kenneth MacAlpin, or King Kenneth I, often seen as being the first King of the Scots in Scottish folklore.

Thinking of Scotland, as I do from the somewhat similar mountains of northern India, which have been my home for near on twenty years, I do so from a rather Indian perspective, that of families, clans and tribes living on land that they consider to be their ancestral land, however with the understanding that those same ancestors had themselves migrated from their ancestral lands in a far off past kept alive in stories from both manuscript and memory. 

What began as a fascination with the origins of the peoples of the Himalayan ranges led quite naturally to an interest in where we all come from, our origins. The Indians of course, as the most ancient of civilizations, had an understanding themselves of the world, how it was made, when and, more importantly for this piece, who populated it and where they settled.

One of the more ancient of the Vedic texts that form part of the ‘liturgy’ of the Hindus is the code of Manu,[1]the lawgiver, not dissimilar to Maru, the lawgiver of Japanese culture, or Minos of Crete or Moses who we are perhaps more familiar with. The laws of Manu tell that from the caste of the Kshatriyassprung the peoples they knew as Yavanas and we know as Greeks; the Pahlavasor Persians, others who would eventually form the cultures of Siam, China, Burma and Tibet and the people known to us as Scythians but to the Sanskrit writers, as Saka.

The Scythians are mentioned too in the Old Testament, as are many of the same names of the nations of people described and located in other contemporary texts and tablets. The Egyptians and the Hittites of Anatolia being the two others who were to play leading roles and help us to make significant strides in understanding the ancient and transcendental culture that was to become Scotland.


The Origins of Scotland

In the Scottish people’s Declaration of Arbroath[2], the authors gave a brief history of their forefathers, their journeys and the Europe of that time. Although written in the 14th century, the document is remarkably similar to the stories written in the centuries before by Greeks, Romans and the English writer, Bede, to name but a few.

The seventh century Saint Isidore writing in his Encyclopedia of Knowledge[3], drawn from ancient Latin and Greek sources, recorded that the ancient inhabitants of what is now Spain and Portugal and was then known as Iberia, were the war-like Haspernians,a name not too dissimilar to the Hibernians of Hibernia or Ireland. We know that the Atlantic seaboard provided the route for genes to move from south to north as northern Europe was repopulated after the ice that had marked that age had receded and reshaped the land and sea. The genes had names and names tell stories even if they change after generations of whispers.

The Scots of Ulster and Dal Riataasserted that they had hailed from the marriage of an Egyptian pharaoh’s daughter, Scota, and a Scythian general of her father’s army who had refused to pursue the Israelites as they fled across the Red Sea. They settled in exile with their entourage in Ulster as the Scots and then Scotland, giving Scotland its and her name.

In the old German spoken in the ancient times, the word for Scotland and for Scythian is the same, Scutten. The Scythian peoples dominated the steppe north of the Black Sea at that time. A matrilineal culture who painted their bodies and who had developed an extraordinarily high standard of craftsmanship with metal, particularly gold, they faded from history at about the time that scholars first begin to describe another matrilineal, body painting, metal working people, the Picts. Were they the same people?


The Picts

Pictland was an amalgamation of minor kingdoms, the northernmost being Cait, that eventually would give its name to the county we know as Caithness. To the Gaelic speakers of Dal Riataand Ireland, the part of Pictland known as Cait, was known as Cataibh,meaning ‘among the cats’ and to the Norse speaking Orcadians it was called Katanes, ‘headland of the cats’. 

According to the seventeenth century historian, Sir Robert Gordon[4], in AD 82 two boatloads of warriors had arrived in Caithness from their lands in Friesland, Batavia, the modern-day Netherlands, where they had made their home after retreating to there from the southern part of the Roman province of Germania, in the area of modern day Hesse, which had been occupied by the legions of Rome in the decades that had preceded. These people were the Catti.History goes on to tell us that the chief of the Cattihad married a daughter of the Pictish King, Brude, and by the time Kenneth MacAlpin, King Alpin, had joined the Scottish and Pictish thrones (from 843 AD), the Senachies had named Gilli Chattan Noir as the chief of the Cattiand from him are descended Clan Keith and also the clans of MacKenzie, MacPherson, Sutherland and Davidson, known as the confederation of Clan Chatten.

In old German, Hesse was known as Hatti, the same name that they gave to the Hittites of Anatolia, to the south of the Black Sea and the same name the Hittites knew themselves by. The Egyptians knew the Hittites as the Kethi. The emblem of both the Hatti (Kethi)and the Catti(Hatti)was the black cat. The black cat remains on the banners of the Earls of Sutherland and Clan Chatten, each themselves descendants of theCatti/Pictish nobility.

The Indo-European Hittites had been amongst those at the forefront of the civilizations of the time, pioneers of the Bronze Age’s technological advancements, they had been the first to introduce codified civil and criminal law, indeed the first example of an international peace treaty to conclude a war is between the Hittites and the Mitanni of northern Mesopotamia, signed by their leaders, under oath before the Indic Gods VarunaIndra,Mitraand Nasatya.[5]A copy of this legal first adorns the United Nations building in New York City, a testament to what can be achieved by mediation rather than militarism.


The People of Scotland

Scotland was populated from the collapsing civilizations of the Mediterranean and the near east; from the Hittites and Scythians of the Black Sea, the Egyptians and dare I say, some of the sons of Esau who had married into both Hittite and Egyptian royalty and whose genetic characteristics of red hair and blue eyes are still disproportionately found in the blood of the Scots. Around the globe, between one and two percent of people have red hair, a figure that rises to thirteen percent in Scotland, with almost 40 percent being carriers of the allele. In the Ashkenazi Jewish community significantly higher than average levels of red hair can be detected, but not nearly to the same level found amongst the modern day Scots and Irish. Indeed, in Eastern Europe and Russia, red hair was associated with being Jewish and in Spain during the Inquisition, red hair could be a death sentence based on the same prejudice.

The building of Hadrian’s wall guaranteed that those families on the northern side were isolated, the distinctive system of clans that would come to define the country could develop and the ancient bloodlines that had long before sought refuge and sanctuary on the fringes of the known world, could bond and maintain themselves as a united collective amidst the mayhem and murder that would come to mark the Dark and Middle Ages. The fact that these people remained outside of the formal Roman Empire, meant that they could define themselves as being free and independent as well as maintaining their distinctive culture until the union with England in 1603. Indeed Samuel Johnson, the doctor of letters who gave the world the first English dictionary and who was the preeminent English academic of his time, had lamented, that with a Stuart on the throne in London, the Scots had infiltrated and polluted the good peoples of his green and pleasant land.

It was peoples originally from the Middle East who gave the Scots the contents of their memory and their minds, as well as the confidence that emanates from a successful, proven people. It is this ancient heritage, that is embedded in the subconscious of the Scottish people, that has meant that to this day Scots will always consider themselves as being free and independent, irrespective of our circumstances, and as being Scots from Scotland. 


What do you think of the origins of Scotland? Let us know below.

Steven Douglas Keith is a Scotsman living for twenty years in the mountains of India, an essayist, an artist and a poet. His work seeks to find the commonalities shared by cultures, specifically between the traditions of the orient and occident.

He can be found on Twitter @k_el_ph and

[1]“The Laws of Manu”, Wendy Doniger, published by Penguin

[2]“The Declaration of Arbroath”,1320, Sir James Fergusson(1970)

[3]”Etymologiae” (Encyclopaedia of Knowledge), Saint Isidore, circa AD 700

[4]“Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland, from its Origins to the year 1630”,Sir Robert Gordon edited by Henry William Webber, published in Edinburgh 1813

[5]“The Sun King and Dasharatha”, Subash Kak,

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
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