An ethnographic history of Scotland, Part II: The Germanic tribes

In recent years, the peoples of Britain have been steadily divided along national lines for political purposes, and a dichotomy has been presented between ‘Celtic’ Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ England; which has been used to strengthen a false nationalism, not based on race, but on the extent of state authority. Yet history shows this simplification to be untrue, particularly in Scotland where the (mostly) Germanic English tongue is dominant today. This actually reflects a process that has been occurring in Britain for thousands of years, as the cultural influences from either the Atlantic (the West coast of France, Spain and Portugal) or Nordic (Scandinavia and the Low Countries) peoples have competed for dominance at various points in history. Last time, we looked at the Celtic tribes in Scotland, who represent a time of Atlantic supremacy. Today in Scotland, Nordic culture reigns supreme and this process began with the Roman invasion.

By the dawn of the First Century AD, the Roman army consisted of legionaries from Italy supported by auxiliary troops from the provinces of the empire. Most of the auxiliaries stationed in Britain were from Batavia in what is now the Netherlands, who mingled with the local population. Later on , as the Romans themselves grew weary of fighting for their leaders due to systemic corruption (sound familiar?) and the increasing occurrence of civil war, they came to rely on ‘foederates’, Germanic warriors enlisted from the borders of the empire who fought for the Romans in exchange for land within the empire. This proved to be their undoing, as the foederati generals became so powerful that they could simply rely on their loyal warriors to carve themselves kingdoms within the decaying empire.

Things happened a little differently in Britain, as the Roman armies had already left out of frustration with trying to maintain the difficult province by the time the empire started to crumble. The Romano-British were beset by raids from the Picts and Gaels (who the Romans called ‘Scoti’, from whom the Scots derive their name and is related to the word ‘Scythian’), so they decided to use the Roman tactic of recruiting Germanic foederati to fight them; as the Romanized Britons had become dependent on the Roman soldiers and were mostly unable to respond effectively with their own militias. The British tyrant ‘Vortigern’ recruited two leaders from Jutland (mainland Denmark) named Hengest and Horsa (both names meaning ‘horse’) and their warbands to defend the Britons against these invaders, in exchange for land in the South-East of Britain. Despite their success, the Romano-British nobles feared these heathen warriors and wanted them out of Britain. Vortigern tried to convince them to leave, but since he had given them his word that they could stay (and also married Hengest’s daughter and thus, to them they were family) they saw this as oathbreaking and reacted by making war on the Britons. They successfully conquered the South-East, and soon many other Germanic tribes from Angeln ( in Schleswig) and Saxony settled on the East coast. These tribes became what are today known as the Anglo-Saxons.

Throughout the 5th and 6th Centuries, the Anglo-Saxons had little to do with Scotland. An ambitious warlord named ‘Ida’ is said to have taken control of Bamburgh on the Northumberland coast and founded the kingdom of Bernicia. Though this region lay close to Scotland’s modern border, during this time they were more concerned with fighting the Britons (and each other) to the South. This was to change at the dawn of the 7th Century with the rise of a ruthless Bernician king named ‘Aethelfrith’. Intent on expanding the borders of Bernicia, he campaigned against his neighbours to the South and extended his hegemony into Scotland. He came to blows with another powerful warlord in Scotland at the time, Aidan MacGabran, King of Dal Riada (the Gaelic part of Scotland). They met at a place called ‘Degsastan’ somewhere in the Scottish Borders, and a battle ensued in which Aethelfrith would emerge the victor; which set the course for Anglo-Saxon domination in Scotland over the next century, having gained a foothold in the Borders region.

After Aethelfrith’s death, his kingdom was taken by his enemy, Edwin of Deira (Yorkshire), whose own kingdom fell apart upon his death. Aethelfrith’s son, Oswald, then became king of Bernicia and went on the unite the kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira to form what became known as ‘Northumbria’. Irish annals record a ‘siege of Etain (Edinburgh)’ in 638 during Oswald’s reign, which, while not mentioning who was involved, suggests that he managed to conquer the British kingdom of Gododdin (Lothian); which brought the realm of Northumbria to the borders of the Picts. After his death, he was succeeded by his younger brother, Oswy, who then became the most powerful king of Northumbria. He campaigned as far West as Galloway and as far North as Angus, and all of the most powerful kingdoms in Scotland and England paid tribute to him. After his death, his son, Egfrith, managed to reinforce his kingdom’s authority by defeating the Picts at the Battle of Two Rivers near Perth in 671. However, another Pictish rebellion 14 years later convinced Egfrith to launch an ill-advised mounted campaign once again into Southern Pictland, only to be defeated and killed at the Battle of Nechtansmere, probably at Dunnichen in Angus.

The Picts had shaken off the yoke of Northumbrian servitude once and for all, never again would the Anglo-Saxons march North of the Forth until the reign of Aethelstan of Wessex in the 10th Century, and so their territory was restricted to the South-East. The Picts then became the dominant power in Scotland during the 8th Century, gaining submission from the Gaels of Dal Riada and the Britons of Strathclyde. This was not to last, however, as all of the peoples of Britain would feel the fury of the Norsemen at the end of the 8th Century. The Norsemen were the last wave of Germanic heathen folk to invade Britain, as they began their raids first on Lindisfarne in 793, then on the Northern and Western Isles in 794. In subsequent years they settled on Shetland and Orkney as bases from which to launch further raids rather than sailing all the way from Norway. By the middle of the 9th Century, they had also colonized the Hebrides, mingling with the local Gaels (for some reason, no trace of Pictish culture survives from the Isles after this period, possibly because the local Picts were outnumbered by Norse settlers, which was not the case on the Gaelic Inner Hebrides).

It was during this time that the Jarl of Orkney, Sigurth the Mighty, launched campaigns onto the Scottish mainland, conquering Caithness and Sutherland (which was ‘southern land’ from an Orcadian perspective). His forays into Ross and Moray brought him to blows with the reigning Pictish king and his kinsmen, who were wiped out by Sigurth’s armies (though it was the Picts who had the last laugh, as the captured head of the Pictish king’s teeth rubbed against Sigurth’s leg, which became an infected wound and he died). This threw the Pictish kingdoms into civil war, shattering their collective power in Scotland. From the struggle for power emerged Kenneth MacAlpin, king of Dal Riada (which was previously under Pictish control), who defeated his rivals in battle and became King of the Picts. Though still dependent on the support of the Pictish nobles, this marked the beginning of Gaelic supremacy in Scotland.

Norse settlement continued throughout this period, as Norse-Gaels from Ireland, led by Olaf the White, sacked the Strathclyde Briton’s stronghold of Dumbarton, forcing the Britons to relocate their centre of power to Govan further inland. These ‘foreign Gaels’ subsequently settled in Galloway. From this point on, however, favour began to swing in favour of the Scottish Gaels who, by the 10th Century, had annexed Lothian form Northumbria. By this time, their kingdom was centred at Scone and was known as ‘Alba’ in Gaelic and ‘Scotland’ in English and they shared power with the kings of Moray (also Gaelic), though this sometimes led to fighting between the two. It was at this point that the Picts ceased to form a distinct entity and disappeared from history following ‘Gaelicization’. The new unified kingdom then became threatened by the Saxon king Aethelstan, who gained submission from Constantine II following an invasion of Scotland. An attempt to regain power by the Scots, Strathclyde Britons and the Norse-Gaels of Dublin met with defeat at the Battle of Brunanburh in 934. However, Aethelstan’s power had still been sufficiently weakened by the long campaign, and the young kingdom of Scotland was able to survive.

In the 11th Century, Gaelic dominance in Scotland reached its peak, as Strathclyde and the Borders region were annexed during the reign of Malcolm Canmore. However, his reign also signalled the beginning of the decline for Gaelic culture, as Malcolm’s second wife was of the House of Wessex (whose family had fled to Scotland following the Norman invasion) and it was likely under her influence that English became the language of the Scottish court. Though the Scottish nobles tried to reverse this process by supporting Malcolm’s brother, Donald, and his claim to the throne after Malcolm’s death, it was too late. Malcolm’s sons had fled to England and were supported by the Norman king, Henry II. Despite the regime change imposed on England by William the Bastard in 1066, the hybrid Anglo-Norman culture was simply imported to Scotland by Malcolm’s sons after they returned to Scotland and overthrew their uncle with English support, particularly David I.

It was he who founded the burghs of Scotland and imposed ecclesiastical reform that brought the Church of Scotland in line with the rest of Catholic Europe. He stripped the kingdoms of Moray and Galloway of their remaining autonomy and invited Norman and Flemish knights from England and gave them the land and titles that he had taken from the displaced nobles. It was also during his reign that Edinburgh became the capital. David’s successor, William, spent much of his reign launching failed campaigns into Northumberland in an attempt to annex the region. It was not to be though, and so under his successor, Alexander II, Scotland’s border became fixed to what it is today (with the exception of Berwick, which would change hands over the centuries). Alexander was focused on a more realistic acquisition, the Hebrides.

While the Hebrides had formed their own kingdom with the Isle of Man, they had recently come under Norwegian domination, as the Northern Isles had been for two centuries. Alexander died on his way to the Hebrides to begin his campaign, but the fight was taken up by this son, Alexander III, who managed to drive away the army of the Norwegian king, Haakon the Old, at the Battle of Largs in 1263. Haakon retreated to Orkney and died there and his son, Magnus VI, had no interest in reasserting his father’s claim; and so he ceded the Hebrides to Scotland and acknowledged Scottish authority over Caithness, which had also been disputed. From this point, Gaelic culture became dominant in the Hebrides, while the Northern Isles still belonged to Norway (for now). As Norse culture in Scotland went into retreat, Germanic culture still found room for expansion in the Lowlands, as the dichotomy between the Gaelic Highlands and Germanic Lowlands would become a feature of later centuries.

The Celtic and Germanic peoples had a lot in common, they all worshipped Wotan as the chief god in heathen times (though they obviously had different names for him) and they also practised a mixed economy of pastoralism and agriculture supplemented by some hunting traditions. There were, however, noticeable differences; not just linguistic, but also cultural. In general, the Teutons tended to focus on the solar solstices and equinoxes as the most important times of the year, while their Celtic counterparts placed more emphasis on lunar festivals, though these were all present in both cultures. This displayed a heavier emphasis on agriculture by the Norse and Anglo-Saxons and pastoralism by the Picts, Gaels and Britons. To the Celts, cattle were considered the most sacred animals, while the Teutons held more reverence for the boar (cattle-raiding was not a feature of Germanic culture). There were also differences in political structures; while the Celtic peoples retained a more decentralized tribal structure, the Anglo-Saxons had been influenced by the military hierarchy of the Romans, and so the loyalty of the warband to their leader was more important than loyalty to their tribe. Though Anglo-Saxon kings were much more answerable to their folk than the later Norman kings (who saw the folk as mere ‘subjects’), this meant that Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were more centralized and homogeneous, unlike the complex system of high kings and sub-kings present in Scotland and Ireland.

There were also differences in their styles of warfare; Germanic warriors preferred to meet their foe on the open battlefield most of the time, in contrast to the heavy reliance on skirmishes and ambushing by the Celtic peoples. The main formation of Germanic armies was the shieldwall, which placed more emphasis on teamwork than the Celtic preference to fight for individual glory (although there is evidence that the Picts adopted the shieldwall and used it against the Northumbrians at the Battle of Nechtansmere). Germanic swords, shields and spearheads also tended to be larger than those used by Celtic warriors and they seem to have utilized more armour in the form of mail shirts and iron helmets, which could be very richly decorated. The Teutons also had light cavalry, but they were primarily infantrymen; and so the Norse became famous for their skills with the axe and, because of the increasing reliance on armour from the 10th Century onwards, chose to forego the shield and used much larger axes wielded with two hands (a style which was adopted not only by the Anglo-Saxons, but also by the Irish and Hebrideans). Yet the warrior culture of all these diverse peoples was the same, they all celebrated their victories in the mead hall and treasured honour and loyalty as the highest virtues. They are sister-cultures which compliment each other well, and it is a shame that they are sometimes seen as antithetical to one another.

To be continued…

Wulf Willelmson

An ethnographic history of Scotland, Part I: The Celtic tribes

To have an understanding of one’s heritage, you must recognise the struggles of the tribes and nations that came before you so that you can appreciate the cultures that your ancestors fought to preserve and how you can hopefully avoid being wiped off the map as a distinct group of people. That said, the folk that make up ethnic groups tend not to truly disappear (except in the case of deliberate genocide by a hostile invader), but rather live on in in the blood of people who may have adopted the culture of their ancestors’ enemies. Such is the course of history, and being able to recognise who is truly your racial enemy and who is simply another ethnic group living in the vicinity is essential to the survival of a folk. Some ethnic groups live side-by-side in a country, others come to dominate the whole country, while the unfortunate or weak-willed are trampled underfoot and forgotten. We must have an understanding of where we have come from if we want to know where to go as a folk.

Our country has a long history of human occupation stretching back at least 10,000 years to the Mesolithic, though earlier settlement will have become obscured by the devastating force of the glaciers during each Ice Age. Though the ways of these early prehistoric folk have long since faded, our Aryan heritage stretches at least back to the Bronze Age (around 4,000 years ago) with the introduction of metallurgy and pastoralism (although whether the Aryans were also responsible for the introduction of agriculture around 5,000 years ago is not entirely clear). Nevertheless, despite the many interesting things that could be said about our prehistory, for the sake of conciseness I am going to focus specifically on the history of the last 2,000 years, since our ancestral memory of earlier times has been clouded and also because it is in this period that the various peoples who form the basis of the European nations today emerge. Maybe another time we can focus on the truly ancient past.

For now we must do with what, unfortunately, other civilisations have had to say about our ancestors. The Classical Greeks knew of Britain and Ireland and even sailed there a few times. The name they gave for Britain was ‘Albion’, an ancient term possibly meaning ‘white’ and related to the name of the Alps. However, it is the Romans who give us the first true glimpses of our country’s ethnography, specifically because they were attempting to conquer it. The impression that they give us is that our ancestors were naked savages that knew nothing of civilisation and lived like animals, and that the only reason that the Romans couldn’t conquer their land was because it was so dreary and the climate so awful that no sane person would ever want to live there. Archaeology has shown this blatant propaganda to be false, as of course, our ancestors were engaged in agriculture for thousands of years and in fact, the area of Strathmore on the east coast has long been acknowledged as highly productive for growing grain. Therefore, the Romans have contributed nothing to our heritage aside form their ‘historical’ records and archaeological remains. Yet their accounts are still valuable, as they provide us with the earliest tribal and ethnic names that our ancestors may have used to refer to themselves.

The Roman historian Tacitus gives us some interesting details about the natives of this land in the eulogy to his father-in-law, British governor and general, Agricola, and his attempt to conquer Scotland. He refers to her inhabitans as ‘Britons’ and more specifically to the tribes north of the Forth-Clyde isthmus as ‘Caledonians’ (from whom our kindred takes it’s name). While it is tempting to presume that the folk of Northern Scotland were ethnically identical to those in the rest of Britain on this basis, there is evidence that this was not necessarily the case. In the Welsh Triads, Britain (known as ‘Prydein’) is split into three parts: Lloegyr (what is now Southern and Eastern England), Cymru (pronounced ‘cum-ree’ and consisted of Wales, Northern and Western England and Southern Scotland) and the area in question as Alban or Prydyn. While the Welsh refer to themselves as ‘Cymraeg’, they referred to the inhabitants of Prydyn as ‘Brithwyr’, which is very confusing considering that later on the Romans referred to the former as ‘Britons’ and the latter as ‘Picts’. Nevertheless, it has been proven through the analysis of place-names and Pictish personal names that the Picts spoke a Brittonic language in the same family as Modern Welsh, Cornish and Breton.

Another group that appear to have been present in Scotland at this time are the Gaels. Though they have come to be seen by some as synonymous with Scottish identity, originally they seem to have had a fairly minor presence in Scotland, inhabiting what is now Argyll (which means ‘coast of the Gael’). It has been generally assumed that the Scottish Gaels originally came from Ireland, although the lack of Brittonic place-names in Argyll that would suggest the presence of an earlier Pictish population makes this unlikely. Thus, by the time the Romans arrive (and for that matter, by the time they leave) Scotland consisted of three distinct ethnic groups: Britons in the South, Gaels in the West and Picts in the rest (the Northern and Western Isles were probably Pictish too but it’s harder to be sure). They all spoke Celtic languages and had similar Iron Age cultures, but each group consisted of different tribes with their own traditions and ties to the land.

Their way of life most likely depended on what sort of land they lived on. Tribes that inhabited the low-lying plains (yes, they do exist in Scotland) would have focused more on agriculture and may have had more settled lives, growing grains like barley, oats and spelt wheat as well as vegetables such as leeks, kale and turnips. Those tribes that lived on the hills would have practised pastoralism and moved up or down from the hills depending on the season. Though they would have herded sheep, goats and pigs (chickens being relatively rare in this period), their main focus was on cattle, who were considered so valuable that cattle-raiding has been a long-standing tradition in Celtic culture. This usually took place during Autumn and was a chance for young warriors to prove their worth among their tribe through acts of bravery. As you would expect, these folk survived on a diet mainly consisting of meat and dairy, although they would also have grown crops, the emphasis here being that these differences in lifestyle between tribes were not necessarily exclusive, more the predominance of agriculture or pastoralism in a particular area. The tribes that lived on the coast or on islands would have relied more on wild sources of food, such as fishing and whaling as well as hunting for seabirds and their eggs. They were the ones who best preserved the ancient ways of the hunter-gatherers of the Mesolithic (as reflected by the lack of archaeological finds from Scottish islands in this period), although they also practised what agriculture and animal husbandry they could.

The style of warfare among Iron Age tribes in Scotland was fairly primitive, there is little evidence for armour and what armour there was (chainmail and possibly bronze helmets) would have only been worn by the chieftains or champions who were given lavish weapons and armour as gifts. Spears, javelins or darts (which may have been tipped with iron or bone) and small shields would have been the mainstay of warriors at this time, with a focus on light, mobile warfare consisting of hit-and-run tactics and ambushing. Though they seem to have reserved this style of warfare for the Romans, who could not be defeated in a pitched battle (as evidenced by their defeat at the hands of Agricola at the Battle of Mons Graupius according to Tacitus) and had to be dealt with through guerilla warfare; attacking and then retreating into the mountains and forests to wear them down through attrition (which seemed to do the trick given that the Romans basically gave up on conquering Scotland, if not for want of trying). They used light cavalry but they also had chariots, which were more suited to the smaller ponies native to Britain and had gone out of fashion in the rest of Eurasia. It is unclear what their swords were like, Tacitus says that the Caledonians used ‘huge swords’, but all of the archaeological evidence from Northern Britain (albeit, none has been found in the region of Alban) suggests that swords weren’t much longer than the average gladius, which is more likely considering that iron isn’t particularly abundant in Scotland, and the style of warfare in Northern Britain and Ireland suggests the use of short swords.

Amongst themselves battles were probably more ritualized, with an emphasis on display through both ostentatious torques and tattoos as well as taunts, songs and chants as a prelude to combat. The battle may have begun with an exchange of javelins from skirmishers and charioteers (as suggested from Tacitus account of Mons Graupius) before the more experienced warriors would charge at each other. Battles in this era were probably rather short, and would have depended on the performance of the most skilled warriors, with the lighter armed and less experienced warriors providing support through missile-fire and shouting. Given what Tacitus says about the amount of warriors that fled Mons Graupius (most of them) we can assume that these warriors were used to breaking once the better warriors began to rout and so while the losing army returned to their wives and mothers in shame, they at least lived to fight and maybe win again another day. The winners celebrated their victories in the mead hall (probably the house of their chieftain) and feasted, drank and sung of great deeds on the battlefield and heroes of the past. Battles would have usually taken place in the Summer (it was a separate sort of engagement from the cattle-raiding), and could have occurred for all manner of reasons, vendettas and slanders by a member of one tribe against another were likely reasons. Single-combat between champions was also aspect of Iron Age warfare, since this emphasizes the conflict between individuals rather than whole tribes and could have been used to resolve disputes without a battle taking place.

To be continued…

Wulf Willelmson

A new beginning…

Greetings,

The Creed of Caledon has been established as a response to the alienation and dissatisfaction felt by white Scots in modern society. Our institutions no longer serve our best interests, our communities have become fragmented and our nation is without direction as to how to benefit our folk. Our politicians seem to think that we are incapable of ruling ourselves, and must either be governed by the old imperial ruin that is the UK, or by the new corporate mega-state, the EU.

We can no longer look to external institutions to ensure what is best for our people, and so the Creed of Caledon focuses our efforts inward to grow morally and spiritually, as well as outward towards building new communities and establishing bonds of friendship between our folk. Our nation is not based on borders or flags, but is within our blood, and our ancestral memories are written on the very land that we live on. We now have the choice to become free folk, through reclaiming our heritage and by practicing the traditions of our forebears and adjusting them to the perilous times in which we live. We have no interest in being a political movement, as all attempts to change the broken system that have governed our lives within the past century have failed.

Our philosophy is known as ‘Wotanism’ and is based on the teachings of David Lane and Ron McVan, through we make no pretence to see men as gods or even holy in their own right, simply messengers who set an example for the rest of us through their words. Our specific practice is based on the surviving traditions and lore of the Germanic peoples, though unlike many ‘neopagan’ groups, we do not seek to relive the past or focus on a specific cultural group (such as Norse or Anglo-Saxon), but rather incorporate all of the cultures that have played a role in our history.

While our cultural outlook is predominantly Germanic, we acknowledge the importance of Gaelic culture in our past and present, as well as the vanished Picts and Britons whose memory still survives in our history and local place-names. Because of this, our particular strand of Wotanism is a syncretic mixture between Germanic and ‘Celtic’ elements, although the Germanic element is stronger simply to reflect the cultural reality that most of us speak a Germanic language and have done for hundreds of years. We feel that this will allow us to make our connection to the past more relevant to future generations.

We are at the dawn of a new age, the races of the world will be tested for their fitness to survive the coming storms. Only those who are determined enough in their will to carry on their seed for generations to come will pass the tests, and to do so we must do our utmost to improve ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually. The gods are there to offer us a hand, but they will not do the work for us. We must strive to strengthen our bonds not just with them, but with the spirits of our ancestors, the wights that inhabit the land and the plants and animals that will be our fellow survivors who emerge from the wreckage of the old world. The internet has allowed us access to the information that we need to endure the coming struggle, now we can work to lay the foundations of a new society that is based on the Aryan ethics of trust, honesty and loyalty. I look forward to writing many posts for this website.

Wulf Willelmson