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Notes on the Early History of Scotland
Ireland not the Hibernia of the Ancients

It is a well-known fact that most of the writers who have dealt with the early history of Scotland state that Scotia, the ancient name of this country, was a name applied to Ireland only till the eleventh century. A few writers have maintained that Scotland was the only Scotia; but the opinion seems to be gradually gaining ground, and is now almost universally adopted, that when Scotia is mentioned in the works of writers who lived before the eleventh century, the country they refer to is Ireland.

Incredible as it may seem to some persons, the foundation for this belief is very unsatisfactory. It almost entirely rests upon the assumption that Ireland was always called Hibernia; but this is not the case. It is doubtless asserted to have been always so called in a few works of questionable authenticity; but there is, fortunately, plenty of trustworthy testimony to establish the fact that before the eleventh century the island now known with the name of Ireland, and Hibernia were different countries. In addition to this we have the distinct statement of the only early English annalist whose work has apparently escaped the ravages of manipulatinq monks, Ethelwerd, that Ireland was first so called at the beginning of the tenth centnry, and that since the time of Julius Caesar till then it was known by the name of Bretannis.

It might be granted that Hibernia and Scotia were names ajplied to one country before the eleventh century without believing that Ireland was ever called Scotia, but there is no trustworthy evidence to show that even this was the case. The writings in which they are made to appear as synonymous names for Ireland, such as Adamnan’s "Life of St. Columba," and Bede’s "Ecclesiastical History," can be shown to have been manipulated for this purpose.

When Ireland first became known by the name of Hibernia it may now be impossible to ascertain but there are good reasons for believing that it was not so called till the twelfth century, when the Roman Church first obtained supremacy there.

In the work ascribed to Richard of Cirencester entitled "De Situ Britaunhe," it is certainly distinctly stated that Hibernia was an ancient nanic of Ireland, thus :—" Having now finished our survey of Albion, we shall describe the neighbouring country, Hibernia or Ireland, with the same brevity. Hibernia is situated more westerly than any other country except England," &c. It was at first believed, on the authority of the compiler, that this was the work of a monk of the fourteenth century, compiled from materials left by a Roman general but it was not published till the year 1757, and it seems never to have been heard of during the 400 years since it was said to have been written. On account of the late date at which it was made known, Pinkerton in his " Enquiry" received it with distrust, but he sometimes quoted it as an authority. Many other writers accepted its information without the shadow of a doubt as to its authenticity. Burton, the author of the "History of Scotland," seems to have been among the first to expose its real character; and it is now generally believed to be a fabrication of the eighteenth century. Dr. Skene considers it an impudent forgery; and he adds, that Horsley’s Britannia Romana" was published in 1732, before this imposition was practised on the literary world, but the Roman part of Pinkerton’s Enquiry, "Roy’s Military Antiquities of the Romans in Britain," published in 1793, and Stuart’s Caledonia Romana," are all tainted by it. The reason for publishing the "De Situ Britannia" may have been because Sibbald’s "Essay on the Thulo of the Ancients," which identified Claudian’s lerne with Strathearn in Scotland, and raised some awkward questions as to how the early history of Scotland had been manipulated, was published sonie time before it. The essay may be seen at the end of Gibson’s edition of Camden’s "Britannia," and the arguments produced there in favour of the identification referred to will be found to be sound and to the point. But although the untrustworthy character of Richard of Cirencesters work has been thoroughly exposed, it is still believed that lerne, Hibernia, and Scotia were ancient names of present Ireland, and that the Scots came from that country to Scotland. These beliefs are strongly supported by the "De Situ Britannia;" and it is remarkable that they were not looked upon with suspicion when the work was found to be a forgery.

Ancient Scottish history has been otherwise unfairly treated. It has been seized upon by the anrialists of England, Ireland, and Wales, and even the historians of the Continent of Europe have apparently nibbled now and again at this inviting morsel. This is not all. The best of the early historians of Scotland, Fordun, or his continuator Bower, and Boece, or an authority whom he frequently quotes, Veresnund, have surrounded the history of their native country with such a mist of fiction and perverted names, that it is difficult to get at the clear and unclouded truth. There is a possibility, however, of reaching many of the fragments which have been taken hold of by other countries, and after divesting them of the falsehood in which they are generally embedded, to place them in their right position. It is also possible to eliminate much of the fiction from the pages of the native historians, and to identify many of the Perverted names which appear in their works; and thus the early history of Scotland can in some degree be reconstructed on a more sound foundation.

Thomas Innes, in his Essay on the "Ancient Inhabitants of Scotland," was the first who effectually assailed the fabulous history put into shape by Fordun or Bower, and Boece or Veremund, and exposed its real character. Pinkerton in his "Enquiry" was the first to attempt a reconstruction, and he was followed by Chalmers in his "Caledonia," but both these works were still partly founded on untrustworthy materials. The latest and most successful attempt will be found in Robertson’s "Scotland under her Early Kings," Burton’s History of Scotland," vols. i. and ii., new edition, and especially in Dr. Skene’s "Celtic Scotland." The last writer has perhaps done more than all the other writers named put together to place the early history of Scotland on a sounder basis; and his opinion on some of the difficulties connected with the task, on the spurious materials which have been circulated as Scottish history, and on the way in which the works of the ancient annalists have been manipulated, is valuable and interesting. Some of these opinions are given below:-

What may be called the Celtic period of Scottish history has been peculiarly the field of a fabulous narrative of no ordinary perplexity; but while the origin of these fables can be very distinctly traced to the rivalry and ambition of ecclesiastical establishments and church parties, and to the great national controversy excited by the claim of England to a feudal supremacy over Scotland, still each period of its early history will be found not to be without sources of information, slender and meagre as they no doubt are, but possessing indications of substantial truth, from which some perception of its real character can be obtained!

The following passage seems to indicate that the Continental historians have appropriated a part of the early Scottish history. The statement by Gildas that the Saxons came on the invitation of a leader of the Britons, who is called Guorthegirn by later writers, "seems to find its counterpart in the invitation given to the barbarians to invade Gaul and Britain by Gerontius, a Count of Britain in the service of Constantine, in the year 407; and in the later form of the tradition they are certainly identifled." Gaul was the ancient name of a part of the country to the north of the wall of Antonine; and when Constantine revolted, or usurped the command of the Roman troops in Britain, he is said to have been besieged by one of Stilicho’s generals in Valentia, which is supposed to have been on the Continent. But there was a Valentia in Britain also; and there is good reason for believing that it was the name for the district north of the wall of Antonine, and that it included Gaul, where Constantine is said to have landed after his revolt. Is it not more likely, then, that this was the Gaul and Valentia where Constantine’s exploits were carried on? There can be no doubt regarding Gildas’ statement about the invasion of the Saxons; it is corroborated by every later writer who touches upon the subject. And therefore it may be reasonably concluded that this episode in the history of Scotland has been appropriated by the Continental historians, unless we are to believe that the same series of events was happening at the same time on the Continent and in the neighbourhood of the Firth of Forth.

The following passages show how the early Scottish history has been manipulated:-

By all the chronicles compiled subsequent to the eleventh century, Alpin, son of Eochaidh, is made the last of the kings of Dalriada; but the century of Dalriadic history which follows his death in 741 is suppressed, and his reign is brought down to the end of the century by the insertion of spurious kings. The true era of the genuine kings who reigned over Dalriada can be ascertained by the earlier lists given  by Flann Mainistroch and the Albanic Duan in the eleventh century, and the annals of Tighernac and of Ulster, which are in entire harmony with each other. . . . There is, unfortunately, a hiatus in the Annals of Tighernac from the year 765 to the year 973.’

The list of Pictish kings in the later chronicles bears marks of having been manipulated for a purpose also.

In his work on "Celtic Scotland," Dr. Skene usually quotes the "Annals of the Four Masters" for the events in Irish history which concern the history of Scotland, as it is the most complete chronicle which Ireland possesses; but as it was compiled as late as the seventeenth century, and the authority for some of the events is not given, he does not accept it as an independent authority, and considers the events which are not found elsewhere open to suspicion. As an instance of the latter, he says, The Annals record the death of Somhairle MacGiliadomnan, Ri Innsigall, at 1083. This was Somerled, Hegulus of Argyll, whose death really took place in 1166." Several instances are also given of the appropriation of early Scottish history as Irish history by this work. One of the best is the battle between Aedh and Ciniod, recorded by the Ulster Annals to have taken place in Fortrenn in Scotland. The Annals of the Fonr Masters record this as a battle between Aedh and Cinaedh, son of Flann, Leinster men, where Aedh was slain; but there was no place called Fortrenn in Leinster."

Another instance of the perversion of Scottish history by this work may be given from Reeves’ edition of "Adamnan’s Life of St. Columba." It is as follows:-

"The earliest authentic account of anything like diocesan episcopacy in Scotland is the entry in the Four Masters at 961: ‘Fothadh, son of Bran, scribe, and bishop of Innsi-Alban;’ that is, of the Isles of Scotland." This entry is supplied by the Four Masters only. The Pictish Chronicle has, 'Fothadh episcopus pausavit.’ In the supplement to Fordun is an account of the bishops of Kilreymonth or St. Andrews, where we find the following: ‘Primus, ut reperi, qui Fothad,’" &c. Which are we to believe? the "Four Masters," an Irish work of the seventeenth century, on the one side, or " Fordun’s Annals," an earlier and a Scottish work, and the Pictish Chronicle, a still earlier authority, on the other side ?


In most of tHe histories of Scotland, it is affirmed that the name of Scotia or Scotland originally belonged to Ireland, as already stated, and that present Scotland was not so called till the eleventh century. Most of the historians are content with the simple statement that such was the case, without giving any proofs in support of the assumption. One recent writer on the early history of Scotland does indeed give a few proofs; bUt the best array of them is found in Pinkerton’s "Enquiry into the History of Scotland Preceding the Reign of Malcolm ill.;" and it is possibly on the basis supplied by him that the writers who believe that Ireland was once called Scotia rest their faith. Examined by the light of recent research, however, these proofs do not hear the interpretation put upon them; and it is necessary in the interests of justice that their fallacious character should be exposed. In doing so, each proof will be examined by itself.

The proofs are brought forward in the "Enquiry" in a chapter devoted to the origin of the name Scotland.’ They all proceed upon the assumption that Hibernia was the ancient name of Ireland, although only one of the authors cited, Orosius, identifies the western island with the country he designates Hibernia. But this writer cannot be taken as an authority on such a matter unsupported by more reliable evidence. Pinkerton’s first duty was to prove that Hibernia was the ancient name of the country now known by the name of Ireland, before he undertook to prove that Scotia was an ancient name for the same country. In the first volume of the "Enquiry," when speaking of the references in early Greek and Roman writers to Britain, he does attempt to do this, but the proofs he brings forward in support of it are by no means clear; in fact, they are contradictory, as will be shown below, when an endeavour will be made to prove that Iceland or Scotland was the ancient Hibernia. There is apparently reason for believing that Hibernia was sometimes called Scotia, or vice versa, by early writers; but it is quite a different assertion to say that present Ireland was also called Scotia. The chapter containing the proofs begins thus :—

"That the name Scotia or Scotland originally belonged to Ireland, and continued to belong to that country alone till a late period, begins now to be acknowledged even by the most prejudiced Scottish writers. This fact clearly appears from the following numerous authorities, while that the names Scoti, Scotia, were ever applied to the present Scots and Scotland before the reign of Malcolm II. or beginning of the eleventh century, not one authority can be produced. The first mention of the name Piks is by Eumcnius the panegyrist, who says, as fully quoted, part iii. chap. i., that before the time of Julius Ceasar, Britain, that is, the part of Britain south of the Forth and Clyde, or Roman Britain, was only invaded by the Piks and Irish, Pictio mode et Hibevitia. This was written in the year 296 and the name of Scots was still unknown. For as the Britons, before they knew the indigenal appellation of the Picts, termed them Caledonians: so before they knew the indigenal name of that superior people in Ireland whose warlike spirit burst upon them, they called them Hiberni or Irish, from the name of the island. So in later times the pirates of Scandinavia were all called Normans before the indigenal names of Danes, Norwegians. Swedes came to be known."

This opening passage requires several comments. In the first place, it shows that his arguments are based upon false premises. That the Irish were known by the name of Hiberni, or that their country was called Hibernia, when Eumenius wrote, is assumed to have been the case without any good authority, Of course in the interpolated writers and the legends of the bards it is made to appear that Ireland was called Hibernia soon after the creation, but no reliable authority can be got for the fact earlier than the twelfth century. Besides, we have the distinct assurance of a writer of the eleventh century, Ethelwerd, that Ireland previously to that period was called Bretannis. With regard to the name Hibernis being an indigenal name for the Irish at the time Enmenius wrote. Pinkerton is wrong also. In most, if not all, the ancient Irish MS., when the natives are alluded to, they are called men of En or Erin. Hibernis was not even a foreign name for the Irish before the twelfth century. Several Roman, Spanish, and English writers appear to use it in this connection, but their works have evidently been tampered with; and they are contradicted on this point by writers who escaped that plague, who all place Hibernia to the north of Britain.

Continuing his proofs, Pinkerton adds:-

"But the name of Scots is first mentioned by Ammianus Marcellinus at the year 360, and not as belonging to most ancient times, as Eumenius mentions that of Picti but as present and immediate under that year. In Britaniis com Scotorum, Pictorumqu, gentiam ferarum cecurus, &c. Thus on the very first mention of the name Scotti, it is joined with that of Picti, just as Hiberni had been sixty-four years before by Eumenius. This, cornpared with the subsequent authorities, affords a clear inference that, from the very first, Hiberni and Scotti were synonymous; that Ireland was Scotia, and the Irish Scoti. Indeed it is risible to see some of our writers suppose that such a small country as Scotland could suffice for two grand nations, the Piks and Scots while England had but one, the Britanni; Gaul but Galli; Spain only Hispani. Do they imagine that the noble island of Ireland, a country superior in size, and far more in fertility and population to Scotland, was quite invisible to the Romans, or that by another miracle the inhabitants of a country so very near Britain never invaded this island? At 364 Ammianus mentions Picti Saxonesque et Scotti et Attacotti. At 368, Picti, Attacotti, and Scotti. The former passage no more implies the Scots to have been settled in Britain than the Saxons. And the Attacotti, or, as shown above, those Scots who settled in Pictland, are specially distinguished from tho Scotti proper, or those of Ireland."

Here again we have a fine example of arguing in a circle. The inference from the passages cited, compared with later writers’ sayings, that Hiberni and Scotti were synonymous names for the same people, is just and true; but neither the words of Emenius nor those of Amminnus give any ground for concluding that "Ireland was Scotia, and the Irish Scoti." It is scarcely worth while to notice the nonsense that follows about the grand nations. Nobody surely irnagines that Ireland was unknown in the time of Ammianus, but some people believe and say that ancient Irish history has been so obscured by a mass of fables that the true name and condition of its inhabitants at that period have been lost sight of, Ammianus’ mention on the Saxons at 364 might certainly give colour to the suggestion that is thrown out regarding it; but it might also imply that the Picts were not settled in Britain either. As he mentions both Picts and Scots together at 360, 364, and 368, while he only names the Saxons once, this goes far to support the belief that the Picts and Scots were both settled in North Britain at the time of which he is writing.

Our author’s second proof is easily disposed of. It is as follows :—"Ethicus, the cosmographer, or whoever wrote the work in his name, belongs to time same period; and says, Hibernia a Scotorum. gentibus Coliture’, ‘Ireland is inhabited by the nations of the Scots." This is open to the same objection as the preceding. Although there is no reason to disbelieve Ethicus’ assertion that Hibernia was inhabited by Scots at the time he wrote, this does not necessarily imply that Ireland was also peopled by them. It is very likely that Iceland was inhabited by Scots at the time Ethicus wrote, as an opportunity may afterwards be taken to show, and that this was the Hibernia of that writer.

His third proof tells against; rather than in favour of, his theory:-

Claudian also, about the year 390, has this line,Scotorum cumulos flevit glacialus Ierne,’ Icy Ireland wept the slaughtered heaps of Scots.’ And again, ‘ Totum cum Scotus lernum movit,’ When the Scot moves all Ireland.’ No reader needs to be told that Ierne is the Greek name of Ireland; and all interpreters, Barthius, Gesner. &c., agree in this. Note—Claudian errs in supposing Ireland a very cold country. He only judged from its northern situation. Those among us who have dreamed of Strath-Erne, a valley in Scotland, only show that national prejudice, like that overweening self-love from which it really springs, is a species of fanaticism."

It has to be remarked here that an author living in the eighteenth century convicts an author of the fourth century of a mistake in describing lerne as icy or cold. Writers of Claudian’s time no doubt made mistakes like other people, but it is probable that many of those attributed to them are only erroneous conclusions of people who cannot possibly have anything approaching to the opportunities of knowing the names and condition of countries in ancient times which they had. But let us try to find out whether Claudian was really mistaken when he called lerne cold. Strabo, a contemporary of Julius Ceasar, and an eminent Greek geographer, says, as quoted below, that the temperature of lerne was so cold that it was scarcely possible to exist in it, and that the people who lived there "lived miserably and like savages on account of the cold." We learn from" Chambers’s Encyclopedia" (Art. Strabo) that Strabo makes copious use of his predecessors, and quotes Julius Ceasar. If he had dissented from that writer regarding the temperature of Hibernia, which was the Roman name of the island known to the Greeks as lerne, he would have said so, as he does when speaking of the situation assigned to Thule by Pytheas. It may be taken for granted, therefore, that Strabo and Julius Ceasar and other writers who place Ierne and Hibernia north of Britain considered it a cold country, and that Claudian was right in calling lerne icy. Whether Claudian was refering to Iceland or to Scotland by the name of lerne is somewhat uncertain. Iceland answers better to the term icy and to Strabo’s description of lerne, while Scotland would harnronise better with the context of Clandian’s narrative. Perhaps both countries were called lerne by the Greeks and Hibernia by the Romans. There is direct and reliable testimony to prove that Scotland was once called Eyryn, a name still surviving in Strath-Earn, and, notwithstanding Pinkerton’s jesting remarks, this is evidently the district which would be moved by the Scots, and which wept over them when killed by the Romans, probably in this very valley of the Earn.

The following proof is the only one in favour of Pinkerton’s theory, but it will be found to he worthless ;—" In the next century Orosius has Hibernia insula inter Britannium et Hispaniam.... a Scotorum gentibus colitur. Ireland, an island between Britain arid Spain, . . . is inhabited by the Scotch nations.’ The letters of St. Patrick, published by Usher, also clearly mark the Scoti in Ireland only. The Scots to whom Patrick was sent are perfectly known to have been the Irish.’

The quotation from the works of Orosius is the only instance cited which clearly identifies Ireland with the Hibernia of the ancients. As it is contradicted by several more authentic arid reliable writers, it is probably an interpolation of the monks. Orosius’ work is said to be a trivial, inaccurate, uncritical miscellany of facts, culled from such second-rate authorities as Justin and Eutropius. The letters of St. Patrick mark the Scoti in Hibernia not in Ireland, and that the Scots to whom he was sent were the Irish, there is no evidence of a satisfactory nature to show, as an opportunity may afterwards be taken to prove.

It is significant to find that Orosius and Eusebius are the only two writers who state that the wall built by Severus was 132 miles long. To those acquainted with the subject it is well known what an amount of controversy this statement has caused. Many writers have even identified Hadrian’s wall as the one built by Severus on the strength of it; but Dr. Skene, founding upon the older authorities, Aurelius Victor, Eutropius, and especially Spartian, fixes its site near the wall of Antonine. It is only by ignoring the testimony of Orosius and Eusebius that he has been enabled to fix upon its true site.’ It is worth remarking that if the passage of Spartian referring to Severus’ wall had been lost, it would have been impossible to have done this, and it may thus be seen how the history of Scotland could otherwise be tampered with than by fabrication. Large portions of the works of ancient authors referring to Britain are said to have been lost, but when account is taken of the extensive manipulation which the early history of Scotland has undergone, is it not more likely that they have been destroyed? There is a part of Amniianus’ work lost which Pinkerton believed would have done a great deal to elucidate the early history of Scotland.

Pinkerton’s next proof is as follows :—"In the sixth century, Cogitosus, author of the Life of St. Brigid, as quoted by Usher, sufficiently evidences in different places the Scots to be Irish. Gildas marks the Picts as invading the Britons ab aguilone, ‘from the north,’ the Scots, a circio, ‘from the north-west.’ For they always passed from the north of Ireland to join the Picts; but no part of present Scotland is on the north-west of Roman Britain, latterly extending to the Clyde."

Not having seen Usher’s quotations front the Life of St. Brigid it is impossible to deal with this sentence further than by saying, that had the evidences there given been stronger than those already produced, they would have been transcribed by Pinkerton. The west of Scotland is sometimes represented as the place where the Scots first settled in Scotland, but no trustworthy evidence in favour of such a view is forthcoming; and if the words a circio refer to the north-west, this is not the only place where Gildas’ works present an appearance of having been tampered with. There is some uncertainty, however, as to what direction a cireco points, and it is therefore not improbable that it was an ancient term for the north-east, to which part of Scotland all the reliable evidence points as being the first settlement of the Scots in that country.

The next proof is as follows:—"In the seventh age Isidorus is most explicit, Scotia cadem et Hibernia proxima , Britannia insula. Scotia, the same as Ireland, an island very near Britain.’ Adamnan, in his Life of Columba, confirms the same throughout, for Columba sails from Scotia to Britain and Hyona and from thence to Scotia, &c., &c., &c."

The same unwarranted identification of Ireland with Hibernia is here repeated, and it is needless to do more than notice it. This passage of Isidorus might be taken to refer to Iceland, as Hibernia is there called an island. But it will be afterwards shown that Scotland, north of the firths of Forth and Clyde, was considered to be an island at a much later period than Isidorus’ time; and it is clearly separated by water from the country south of these firths, which comprehended the Britain of the ancients, in maps of the sixteenth or seventeenth century.

Hibernia is said to be first mentioned as being called Scotia by Isidore of Seville in 580; but the following quotation will show that there is a probability of the statement being an interpolated passage, especially when taken in conjunction with the fact that no author of any repute confirms it. Of course it would not affect the point at issue—that present Ireland was called Scotia—even if it were the case, but the silence of all the best of the ancient writers, who would have been acquainted with such a fact had it been true, is remarkable.

It is a significant fact that a spurious compilation called Isidorian Deeretals was introduced under the name of Isidore of Seville as a part of the genuine collection known as his. In all these Decretals there is a strong and systematic assumption of the Papal supremacy, Although the author, the place, and the date of this singular forgery are still matter of uncertainty, It is impossible,’ says Dean Milnian, ‘to deny that, at least by citing without reserve or hesitation, the Roman pontiffs gave their deliberate sanction to this great historic fraud.’

It would be what might be expected that Isidore as well as Orosius, another Spanish historian, should identify Scotia and ancient Hibernia with present Ireland, for their works could easily have been manipulated to suit the views of those who tampered with the ancient history of Ireland and Scotland.

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