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A New History of the Picts [Paperback]

Stuart McHardy
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 April 2011
When the Romans came north to what is now modern Scotland they encountered the fierce and proud warriors known as the Picts, who despite their lack of formal discipline and advanced weaponry, managed to prevent the undefeated Roman Army from conquering the northern part of Britain, just as they later repulsed the Angles and the Vikings. A New History of the Picts is an accessible history of the Picts, who have been for so long the subject of wild speculation. This controversial book contends that Scottish history has for too long been dominated and distorted by misleading suppositions. Stuart McHardy asserts that the Picts were the descendants of the original inhabitants of the land, living in a series of loose tribal confederations gradually brought together by external forces to create one of the earliest states in Europe: a people, who after repulsing all invaders, merged with their cousins, the Scots of Argyll, to create modern Scotland.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Luath Press Ltd (1 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1906817707
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906817701
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 15.3 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 484,494 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'Written and arranged in a way that is both accessible and scholarly, this is an excellent addition to the growing body of work on the Picts.' --Craig Horne, The Courier

'McHardy is punchy and uncompromising when apportioning blame for the facile labelling that he feels has compromised our understanding of the Picts up to now.' --Scottish Review of Books

About the Author

Stuart McHardy - writer, musician, storyteller, folklorist, historian, poet, past president of the Pictish Arts Society and ex-Director Scots Language Resource Centre - has lectured on many aspects of Scottish history and culture both in Scotland and abroad, and has made regular appearances on television and radio.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars
2.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Rather Frustrating 7 Jun 2011
This is an interesting but rather frustrating book. The author makes much of the possibility of reading backwards from modern times to understand society in his period. I would have been more convinced if he had presented some evidence from intervening years to back up his thesis, but he asks us to take on trust the idea that north of the Highland Line nothing much changed in well over a thousand years. As regards the more orthodox passages, it is not the author's fault that he along with others has had to rely on fragmentary annals and king lists which exist only in versions produced hundreds of years after the events he describes; he presents some credible interpretations, though a few of his paper tigers, like the disappearance of the Picts, were surely discounted some time ago. However, there is a growing body of archaeological information, and there are of course the carved crosses and stones. He has made little effort to weave such material into his narrative, so while the book is an enjoyable and fairly easy read, in this and other ways, it is too narrow to live up fully to its title.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A History of the Picts less than complete 6 Nov 2010
McHardy's book is certainly readable, I entirely agree there with your previous correspondent, and he is also right to stress the certainly underestimated tribal nature of early Scottish society - but repeating this ad nauseam makes it often very tedious. Of course, the Picts originated from (or were) the indigenous Scottish population; but what does indigenous mean in this context? The Broch builders, certainly, but the builders of megalithic monuments? Surely, McHardy does not assume that they spoke Celtic. So did Celtic drift into the British Isles on the wind?
It also seem spurious to assert a cultural equivalent between illiterate tribal societies and antique culture, however cruel Roman warfare was. What about Plato, Socrates, Homer, Cicero, Virgil, etc. etc., what about Roman engineering like the aqueducts? It almost sounds like "what have the Romans ever done for us?" ...
I agree with McHardy's assertion that there was no Scottish takeover leading to the end of the Picts (this is almost orthodoxy by now) and on the crucial role of the Vikings. It also appears likely that Fortriu was in the Moray area, although it does not entirely tally with the importance of Forteviot in the later period (and Scone, which he does not mention). I also find it unlikely that Pictish as a language disappeared very quickly, but the geographic evidence (place-names etc.) points to Gaelic becoming more or less the exclusive language - for a time. But it is hard to believe that the Picts (or some of them) spoke an early version of Scots. After all, the Angles spoke nothing like English but Old English, which was almost identical to Old High German - see Beowulf, Battle of Malden etc. for reference.
The most curious aspect of this book lies in the bibliography.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Terrible 2 Jan 2012
As a Classicist by trade [Romanist] I picked up this book hoping to find a deeper understanding of the peoples and culture north of the frontiers. Instead I found a treatise worthy of the SNP.

My first degree was in Scottish Literature, and agree with the author that Scotland's history cannot be viewed without viewing through the lens of the union of 1707. But, dear author, does not mean we hijack pre-Union history and mould it to fit our nationalistic politics.

The author is a folklorist and storyteller, and it seems that this is what this book amounts to: folklore. The level of Classical scholarship is abysmal.

On pg 11: "The idea that Scotland was anything other than outside the frontier is risible."
Wrong: tribes such as the Votadini and Damnonii quite enjoyed trading with the Romans, and forged many alliances. Even defending Roman borders when the Empire was in decline.

On pg 14: "Scotland is to a greater extent the lands north of Hadrian's Wall which the Romans never did manage to conquer."
Is the author now claiming Northumberland and Cumbria as Scotland? Also, should he read up on the subject he would learn that the 150/60's withdrawal had more to do with politics and an overstretched army than an unconquerable nation.

On pg 15: "They have no cities or towns, according to the Romans.
Incorrect again. The Romans name plenty of towns [duns] and Royal strong-holds.

On pg 13: " The name [Caledonians] seems to be virtually synomymous with Picts.
Wrong again. The first known use of Picts comes in the 4th century. And the Caledonii tribes are located north of the Maeatae. Pictish society stretched further than this.

He then goes on to dispute the Roman victory at Mons Grapus. What next? An Antonine Wall denier?

If your looking for historical accuracy I suggest: From Caledonia to Pictland.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A valuable new perspective on an old people 25 Sep 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you're interested in ancient Scotland, then I recommend you add this book to your collection. The author puts forward his own views on the provenance and fate of this people and backs it with reasonable evidence. Of course, there are other contrary opinions in the literature and no one can make a cast-iron case at present because, as McHardy says, Pictish archaeology is underdeveloped. Let's hope more funding goes towards it as we need a stronger evidence base.
McHardy's style is readable and the book is not too long. The first half of the book reads very fluently and adds most to the Pict debate, as the Roman period of Scottish history is poorly covered at present. As someone with a classical studies background, I found a few things in the book I would quibble with, or interpret a little differently, but nothing which undermines his case in any significant way.
The second half is harder work. There is more evidence available for the late Picts, but it is fragmentary, and this leads to a rather confusing narrative at times - but this is the nature of the subject, so don't blame McHardy.
My advice is to buy the book sooner rather than later as these kind of "special interest" books can quickly go out of print as I have found to my annoyance before!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New History of The Picts 8 Dec 2012
By Mikethebike - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm still reading this book, but am very impressed with the detail & new information it contains on the Pict peoples. As it turns out, the Romans,who gave them the ' Pict ' name, may not have been so far off the original ' sound/name ' they used for themselves as; ' Pecht '. The Romans were using their word for ' pictured ' people, but they used a sound/name that sounded much the same. I also bought other books which describe many other aspects of these people that cover their art, such as; ' Decoding The Pictish Symbols ',& ' The Art of The Picts ' so that I can roam & refer back & forth, to continue my studies of them. My ancestry includes Scots & Norwegians & probably these folks as well. This is definitely one of those books which will set you off on a ' paper trail ' of discovery. ( This is the primary reason I'm still reading this book ! ) I recommend this one highly.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scottish History at it's Best 16 Aug 2013
By Jene Moseley - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I haven't finished this book, but so far I like it and it's ability to connect me with my Scottish ancestry. It's loaded with interesting facts, but takes a bit of concentration.
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