There are many questions around the origins of the Picts, Gaels, and Scots, the original peoples of what was to become Scotland. Here, Steven Keith, originally from Scotland and living in India for twenty years, looks at theories for the origins of these peoples and how they came to be in Scotland.

You can read Steven’s article on the origins of Scotland here.

Scota and Goidel Glas on a voyage from Egypt. From the 15th century chronicle Scotichronicon

Scota and Goidel Glas on a voyage from Egypt. From the 15th century chronicle Scotichronicon

When the tribe of Chattiarrived in Scotland at the beginning of the Christian era and became the embryonic clan Keith, they assimilated with the people known to us by their Roman name, the Picts. They, however, knew themselves by another name, the Kalti or Kelti.We are aware of this from the written work of the Roman scribes, who quite naturally filled in the details of the unknown that they were expected to. 

Where the Pictscame from and who they were, other than the carvers of often monumental monoliths and the speakers, readers and writers of a script we are still yet to decipher, understand and know, remains mysterious to the masses. 

They themselves believed that they were the descendants of the Goddess Brigid, considered to be sacred and benevolent across the disparate communities of the ‘Celtic’ world. Kenneth MacAlpin, considered to be Scotland’s first king, was a descendant through his mother, as all Pictish kings were, as a consequence of their matrilineal system of inheritance. To the Gaelic speakers who had arrived in Ireland, the Picts of what they called Alba (Scotland) were known as the Cruithne, which translates into English as ‘wheat growers’, and that name too was to be found in use in Ireland at that time to describe the non-Gaels. Their land was known as Cruithentuath. The Cruithne had populated Ireland before the arrival in Hibernia of the Gaels from Iberia.


Different Interpretations

In the Irish chronicle, the Book of Lecain, it is written that from Noah came Japheth and then father after son, Fathecht, Mais, Buain, Agnoin, Partilan, Luchtai, Cinge and Cruithne who himself produced the seven sons, Cait, Ce, Cirig, Fib, Fidach, Fotla and Fortrem, each of whom were Kings of the seven provinces or Kingdoms of Cruithentuath.

The Greek historian Strabo, writing in the first century A.D, asserted that the Picts or Kaltis had been displaced to Scotland from the Celtic lands of Gaul, which he called ‘Galati’, by the Samaritans, whose soldiers had invaded from beyond the River Rhine and from the mountains that are now part of Switzerland. In fact, he tells the reader that they had arrived in ‘Celtae Galatea’ from Asia Minor where they had been known as the Kaldees or Galat from Galatia, the area that was formally the lands upon which the Hittites had built their capital of Hattusha. Are they the same people as the Chaldeans who migrated from the neighborhood of Sumer, north toward Anatolia?

The Gaels themselves recorded their descent through time in the Lebor Gabala, written in the eleventh century A.D. It claimed that their ancestor was a Scythian King, Fenius Farsaid, also a descendant of Japheth and one of the seventy two chiefs who began the construction of the ill-fated Tower of Babel. His son Nel wed the Egyptian Princess, Scota and from that union came the son, Goidal Glas, from whom came the Gaelic culture and language (one of the original seventy two tongues that emerged following the curse on the seventy two chieftains intent on building a tower to talk to God!). Nel and Scota spent their time in Egypt before they left for Spain, leaving at the same time that the Hebrews departed. Wherever they left to, they brought with them the accumulated knowledge of that civilization.

The Hebrew Bible or Old Testament is of course, where we first read of the Tower of Babel or Japheth, as well as his second born son, Magog. From the Roman historian of the first century A.D, Titus Flavius Josephus, we learn that from Magog are descended the Scythians. Could it be that from the fist born son of Japheth came the Picts and from the second born came the Gaels? The biblical Tribe of Dan has often been connected with the story of Ireland, particularly with one of the founding people of that land, the Tuath De Danann, which can translate as the ‘tribe of Dan’.


Coming from the North?

The Dan Hebrews, who occupied a coastal territory in ancient Israel, were mariners and merchants. They were also of the lands of Crete and Greece, from where they left at the time of a great famine and the schism within the House of David that saw the ten northern tribes seceding over the ascension to the throne of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, before a reconciliation and the reunification of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel. These were concurrent events. According to history, from the Greek islands they arrived in Denmark, giving that place its name. Interestingly, the rest of Scandinavia began to be populated at Denmark, for obvious geographic reasons; therefore it would have been possible for the Tuath De Danann to have arrived in Ireland from the north, as the Irish chronicles inform. Scotland too, is to the north of Ireland. 

According to the ancient myths of Ireland, (recorded at different times, in different languages and by different peoples) upon the arrival of the Gaels on the island, Ireland was inhabited by a people who were known to history as the Tuath De Danann. According to legend, the first Gael ashore was met by the three high Kings of the Tuath De Danann, MacCuill, MacCecht and MacGreine, accompanied by their Queens. The story continues that a deal was struck, and the Gaels agreed that they would wait on board their ships anchored offshore. In the meantime one of the Queens conjured a tempest with the intention of scattering the invading fleet; however it abated with the magical words of a Gaelic poet. In the end the surviving Gaels, or Milesians, as they were known to the Tuath De Danann and to the chroniclers of the time, landed and agreed that Ireland should be split between them; the Gaels taking the ground of the island and the Tuath De Danann inheriting the underground, where they would continue to live as the fairy people of fable.

The Tuath De Danann had themselves invaded Ireland, relieving those they knew as the Fir Bolg, of their command. Scholars assert that the Fir Bolg were the Celts displaced from the area of today’s Belgium which was being incorporated into the Romanized world. That would confuse things, as the dates for the Roman advance on Belgae are too late to fit. Or are they? Legend asserts that the Fir Bolg were descendants of 5,000 people who had originated in Greece and arrived in Ireland from there after first traversing continental Europe as far as the English Channel.

Were the Tuath De Danann and the Cruithne one and the same people? By becoming the fairies residing in the underworld or spiritual world, they became eternal. Their symbols, names, histories and legends would become part of the high culture of the Gaels of Ireland and remain so, as indeed happened across the water in Scotland, where the spiritual heritage of the Picts or Cruithne was the glue that held together the new society forged by their merging with the Scots of Dal Riata, to create a Gaelic Scotland. The standing stones, the Stone of Destiny, the Stone of Tara, the Book of Tara. The name Eire, the Gaelic form of Ireland, comes from Eriu, one of the triumvirate of Goddess’ of the Tuath De Danann and the wife of King MacCecht. Her sisters Banba and Fotla have given their names informally and poetically, to their land. Fotla was also a son of Cruithne. Could he instead have been a daughter, perhaps more appropriate in a matrilineal succession? Sons and daughters sharing the kingdom.


How People came to Scotland

Is it not reasonable to suggest that the mass displacement of populations that occurred around the globe but specifically for this piece, in North Africa, the Levant, Anatolia and the Black Sea area, during the seven years of famine, between 1703 B.C and 1696 B.C was the primary driving force for the settlement of Scotland, Ireland and much of north western Europe, for that matter? This catastrophic calamity, that was recorded from China to the Americas in literature and in the rings of trees, forced starving Aryans from their desiccated grasslands, over the Hindu Kush towards the Indus valley. It drove the Scythians westward too, into Europe and thus creating the Celtic nations of Europe, that over time themselves spread westward until being isolated there millennia later.

We can see that the seafarers of the Mediterranean had already established intercontinental trade routes. The builders of the monuments of the Middle East had already navigated the northern European coastline. It doesn’t stretch the imagination to see the connection between the Levantine leviathans and the Pictish stones at Callanish, both constructed to monitor and honor the sun and its cycle. It seems that the ancestral origin myths, retained and remembered by the modern Scots and Irish, are borne out. 

In my recent article (here), it is asserted that there was a fusion between the Hittites of Anatolia and the Picts. Were they already familiar with each other from their shared time together in the Middle East, the crucible of modern civilization? Each of the original waves of invaders of what would eventually become the British Isles, launched themselves from the Mediterranean. It seems that they moved because famine had caused the collapse of their societies. City states were collapsing. Civilizations too. Sumer, like its teacher, Harappa also collapsed at this time, perhaps forcing its most famous son, Abraham, credited with teaching science to the Egyptians, to begin the migration that would allow him to fulfill his God given duties to teach. The first to reach those windswept northern shores built the structures that allowed civilization to exist, specifically to track time. Each of the civilizations in that area at that time were polytheistic, solar worshippers. They had emerged from the same root, one teaching the other and pushing knowledge of the material world farther along the road of discovery. They brought all their knowledge and customs with them. They also brought their spiritual inheritance and it has never left us.


What do you think of the article? 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_phand

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
CategoriesBlog Post

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
CategoriesBlog Post