Thursday, 4 June 2009

History of Scotland Part III - A big map and a regular pope please

I'm going to whizz past most of the first two millenia BC during which humans living in Scotland transited from using stone to bronze to iron - rather in the way you upgrade from Windows 2000 to Windows XP to Windows Vista except (a) slightly longer time frame; but (b) not quite as painful because IT consultants hadn't been invented back then (although imagine the scenario "Residents of Skara Brae are reminded that the use of iron axes is forbidden until you have attended mandatory training. Bronze axes will continue to be supported meantime subject to appropriate risk assessment...")

Anyway, in 55BC (although it might have been 55AD, I can never remember) the Romans landed in Britain to find it peopled by a race called Celts. Which ought not to have come as too much of a surprise to them because a lot of western Europe was as well: France (Gauls - Asterix et al) but also what's now Spain and Portugal was Celtic then too.

But in the British Isles, the Romans found two distinct types of Celts: "P-Celts" and "Q-Celts". The former lived in Great Britain and the latter in Ireland (although the Romans never attempted to conquer Ireland).

The distinction was linguistic. Apparently P-Celts could not pronounce a hard "c" and replaced it with a "p" whereas Q-Celts could do a hard "c" - as the actress said to the bishop. Anyway, while an Irish Q-Celt would have no bother ordering a Big Mac and a regular Coke, a benighted British P-Celt would be asking for a "Big Map and a regular Pope". Thus, Welsh princes (P-Celts par excellence) had names like Rhodri ap Llewyllyn whereas Q-C Irish princes had names like Fergus mac Erc (ap and mac both meaning "son of" in their related Celtic dialects)

Here I was hoping to be able illustrate this post with a picture of Rhodri ap Llewyllin but - possibly due to not being able to spell Lou-Ellen (can anybody?) - all I got from a Google search was this:

That's Rhodri Morgan, the leader of the Welsh parliament but am I the only one who thinks he looks suspiciously like that Serbian bloke who's about to be had up before the International Court in the Hague - not Mladic, the other one? Would you vote for him in a Euro election? I wouldn't.

Anyway, back in pre-Roman Britain, my mouth may have gone off-line and the backup aperture I sometimes speak out of may have tripped in because, as I type this, I realise that place names such as Carlisle, Cardiff and Lanark are quintessentially P-Celtic despite being loaded with hard c's. If you think about it, how similar does Lanark sound to Llanerch which could be in Wales or - that other hotbed of P-Celticism - Brittany? It's not a coincidence. So it's maybe not as simple as P-C's not being able to pronounce a hard c to save themselves. But I do know that the ap/mac was a shibboleth between the two races of Celt. It maybe changed over the odd millenium or so - I would remind you, I'm not looking any of this up.

Now, at the risk of confusing things even further, it used to be believed that there was a third race in Great Britain at the time of the Roman invasion - the Picts living in Scotland north of the Forth-Clyde line. We don't know how they ordered their fast food but historians used to judge their enigmatic symbols carved on stones to be aboriginal pre-Celtic. More modern scholarship, however, deems the Picts to be definitely P-Celtic - albeit maybe with stronger elements of earlier races still influencing their culture compared with other Celts.

Which is a relief because we can sum up this episode by saying 55BC (maybe AD) P-Celts in GB and Q-Celts in Ireland. Next time, I'll explain how Q-C's and macs came to Scotland and how we were spared being Welsh. Meanwhile, here's a nice picture of a Pictish symbol stone:-


Sarah said...

I have nominated you for a "One Lovely Blog" award. Go to you know where and follow the instructions.

Kathie said...

Here ya go:

Is one of these the bloke you seek? Not for nothing I've dubbed myself "Rainha de Google"!