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It is likely that the Picts, or Cruithni as they called themselves, spread into the northernmost parts of the British mainland from the Orkney Islands, only really making an impact when the Caledonian tribes barring their way to the south were defeated by the Romans under Septimius Severus in the early 3rd century. From the 3rd to the 9th centuries they raided the Roman province of Britain, then took on the Sub-Roman Successor states and the Germanic kingdoms that followed, only falling to the increasing pressure of Scots-Irish settlers in their own homeland that led to the creation of the joint kingdom of Scotland or Alba in 846 AD. It is interesting to note that although many peoples fought with or for the Picts, the Picts themselves seem to have been notable in the armies of other peoples only by their absence! In wargaming terms the Pictish period is split by the disappearance of the chariot, which seems to have fallen out of favour with the Picts relatively late, between 400 and 500 AD.
Our Picts were sculpted by Michael and Alan Perry.
The Pictish people were far from the main trade routes and centres of civilisation, so were simply attired and could seem very ‘barbaric’ even to non-Romans. Clothing ranged from the ubiquitous heavy cloak, through loincloths to knee-length tunics. Shoes were only for the very rich! Unsurprisingly, Pictish complexion was pale, while their hair could be dark brown to red and was worn long and combed. The one element of Pictish appearance most discussed is the ‘painting’ of their bodies. The term ‘Picti’ actually means painted in Latin, and it is by this name that we have come to know them. The exact nature of the ‘painting’ has been debated, however. While northern British tribes may have used the blue/green dye of the woad plant we have a direct poetic reference that states the Picts were tattooed, not dyed à la Braveheart. There are many zoomorphic patterns specific to Pictish art which can form the basis for such colourful markings.
Nobles and commanders
The more prosperous Picts [PICT002] would be distinguished by the quality of their clothing and equipment. Amongst these metal-poor people they would be the few warriors who owned swords or any form of armour. Clothing could be coloured and/or embroidered in natural dyes such as dull reds, blues, greens, yellows, and browns. Patterns for clothing would range from simple bands of colour at the hem and sleeve, through complex intertwined lines similar to ‘Celtic’ designs, to checks and stripes but not highly complex tartans, which did not appear until well after this period. In armies of the pre-500 AD period chieftains and their retinues could fight from two-horse chariots (see below). Shields would be as for warriors.
Pictish armies would formed around a core of tough spearmen [PICT003 & 4]. These would wield their spear two handed to hold off horsemen, a tactic which would, in time, develop into the famous Scottish schiltron of the medieval period. Few sources of metal were available to the Picts and their weaponry reflected this. While the Britons threw javelins and fought with long slashing swords, the Picts held on to their spears and thrust with them. It would not be out of place to represent some warriors with flint or bone tipped spears. Secondary weapons were few and far between, with swords almost unknown to the masses, but there are many carvings depicting Picts with small headed axes or hatchets. Clothing would be undyed wool or linen, a few having embroidered hems and most a heavy woollen cloak with the typical checked and striped patterns in natural colours. Shields were not always carried but would be a mixture of round bucklers and oblong types. Tattoos would be commonest in the earlier period (up to the 6th century) but would then become increasingly uncommon.
Alongside the warrior spearmen there were still a few javelinmen, who would skirmish ahead, or ambush from cover in conjunction with archers, or run alongside in support of the cavalry. These can be made up from the codes given above by substituting a lighter wire javelin for the heavier spear. You might also consider drilling out the shield hand and adding a spare javelin or two for a more realistic effect.
The Picts are not noted for having a ‘heroic’ warrior culture, so reports of tribesmen fighting naked and tattooed [PICT001] may seem a little incongruous. However, a Scots-Irish people named the Attecotti seem to have allied themselves closely with the Picts up until the early 5th century, and these were probably the source of such naked warriors. They were noted sailors and raiders and seem to have been particularly feared by their opponents. Their tattoos, cloaks, and round shields would be similar to Pictish types. (Several units in the Late Imperial Roman army were recruited from captured Attecotti but, unfortunately, they would have been dressed and equipped like other Auxilia Palatina.). I recommend that you mix in other naked British and Gallic figures from the appropriate ranges.
Archers and crossbowmen
The Picts were infamous for their numerous and effective missile men [PICT006], and large numbers of archers and crossbowmen shooting from ambush would have been a feature of many battles. The crossbow was a simple but effective hunting weapon used throughout northern Britain, but it was not as powerful as later medieval types.
Cavalry and chariotry
The Picts were well supplied with tough, pony mounted cavalry [PICT005], which scouted, raided, and skirmished to the discomfort of their enemies.
For chariotry I recommend that you use Ancient British and Bronze Age chariot cabs and horses. The crews will need to be converted - fairly easily, by removal of the cast base from PICT003. Chariots could have been painted in subdued reds, greens, blues, yellows, faded black, and off-white, in addition to the more usual natural wood. For reins and tack try the foil from tomato purée tubes.
Apart from the Attecotti noted above, prior to the 6th century you could include a unit of Caledones [Any naked or bare chested Celt/Briton/Pict with a javelin or longsword and shield, a large force of Saxons [click here for appropriate Saxons], or an allied Scots-Irish raiding party [for chieftains and commanders use PICT002, for warriors PICT003] made up of a majority of fleet footed javelinmen with small round shields and a few light slingers [those in pack FS004 only need a paint job], all of which should have brighter clothing colours than the Picts and plenty of striped patterns. The Scots-Irish used chariots nearly as late into this period as the Picts, and it is possible that chieftains would have brought them along when raiding. These should be assembled along the same lines as the Pictish vehicles. In fact a complete Scots-Irish army could be collected.
Up until the late 5th century it is historically accurate to field a mainly Pictish army with all the above allies, as they often co-ordinated attacks on the Imperial Roman province of Britain, thus hastening it’s decline.
During their independent existence the Picts raided and/or fought off every neighbour they had. These included the Caledones, Scots-Irish, Early Imperial Romans, Middle Imperial Romans, Early and Middle Saxons, Late Imperial Romans, and Sub-Roman (Arthurian) Sucessors.