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From Caledonia to Pictland: Scotland to 795 (New Edinburgh History of Scotland)

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From Caledonia to Pictland: Scotland to 795 (New Edinburgh History of Scotland)

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    Available in PDF Format | From Caledonia to Pictland: Scotland to 795 (New Edinburgh History of Scotland).pdf | English
    James E. Fraser(Author)
From Caledonia to Pictland examines the transformation of Iron Age northern Britain into a land of Christian kingdoms, long before 'Scotland' came into existence. Perched at the edge of the western Roman Empire, northern Britain was not unaffected by the experience, and became swept up in the great tide of processes which gave rise to the early medieval West. Like other places, the country experienced social and ethnic metamorphoses, Christianisation, and colonization by dislocated outsiders, but northern Britain also has its own unique story to tell in the first eight centuries AD. This book is the first detailed political history to treat these centuries as a single period, with due regard for Scotland's position in the bigger story of late Antique transition. From Caledonia to Pictland charts the complex and shadowy processes which saw the familiar Picts, Northumbrians, North Britons and Gaels of early Scottish history become established in the country, the achievements of their foremost political figures, and their ongoing links with the world around them.It is a story that has become much revised through changing trends in scholarly approaches to the challenging evidence, and that transformation too is explained for the benefit of students and general readers. Key Features: *The only detailed political history to treat the first eight centuries AD as a single period of Scottish history. *Redresses the imbalance created by an existing literature dominated by archaeologists. From Caledonia to Pictland provides a narrative history of the period. *Bridges a traditional disciplinary divide between the Roman and early medieval periods. *Locates this phase of Scotland's history within a European context, emphasising what is unique and what is not.

The field of 'Pictish studies' has advanced in Scotland in recent years. The author has been at the forefront of some of these developments and this book is a measure both of his intellectual ability and his tenacity in solving many of the 'Problems of the Picts'. It deserves to become a recommended text. -- Alasdair Ross, University of Stirling Early Medieval Europe A very important contribution to the study of early Scottish history. It is a rigorous piece of scholarship and a treasure trove of new ideas that will excite scholars and general readers alike. -- Fiona Edmonds, Clare College, Cambridge Scottish Historical Review The field of 'Pictish studies' has advanced in Scotland in recent years. The author has been at the forefront of some of these developments and this book is a measure both of his intellectual ability and his tenacity in solving many of the 'Problems of the Picts'. It deserves to become a recommended text. A very important contribution to the study of early Scottish history. It is a rigorous piece of scholarship and a treasure trove of new ideas that will excite scholars and general readers alike.

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Book details

  • PDF | 352 pages
  • James E. Fraser(Author)
  • Edinburgh University Press (19 Jan. 2009)
  • English
  • 9
  • History
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Review Text

  • By Caroline Galwey on 12 November 2009

    This book starts with the Roman attempt to conquer Caledonia in the first century A.D., and ends with the `Pictish Project': the formation of Scotland's first effective native state. Just because the Picts disappeared in the ninth century AD and left no written records of their own, there was for a long time an assumption that their history must be fundamentally different from the rest of the peoples of the post-Roman British Isles, unfathomable, static and `aboriginal'. In the last few years it has only taken a fresh, unbiased look at the sources to realise that real political history can be written about the Picts, that they were just as dynamic, just as capable of change and self-re-invention as anyone else on this island - and, indeed, that some of their rulers, especially the mid-eighth-century Onuist son of Uurguist, were state-builders as adroit as any of the better-known Anglo-Saxon kings.The myth of Pictish peculiarity is just one of the received wisdoms that James E. Fraser sets out to explode. He downplays the importance of fifth-century Irish immigration into western Scotland in creating the nucleus of a future Scottish kingdom; he maximises the neglected evidence for British-speaking polities in southern Scotland; and he is determined to insist on the contribution of the Angles of Northumbria. None of this is likely to endear him to Scottish nationalists. Nor is plain speaking like this: `Popular culture ... has embraced the uplifting idea of a free Caledonia, where native Celts manfully and womanfully preserved their independence and their beloved ancient ways untouched by the grasping talons of a Roman eagle... . It is an utter fairy tale - our own way of writing pseudo-history which reveals more about ourselves (especially our anxieties about imperialism and globalisation) than it does about the past. The peoples of Caledonia had been snug in bed with the Roman elephant long before Severus came to northern Britain...' (and he goes on to outline the attractions of a strong mediating State for people who lived with the constant threat of total war that a non-state society entails). All this is a blast of fresh air amid the prevailing political correctness of textbooks like Edward James's Britain in the First Millennium.However, if one of the aims of this book was to show the interested student and layman how Dark Age history is actually written, it is much less completely achieved. Some reviewers have charitably assumed that the difficulties of the source-material are bound to result in a narrative that is an impenetrable tangle of strange names, genealogies and technical terms. That is not the case, and it is a pity Fraser did not model himself on great explainers and de-mystifiers of the Celtic past like Kathleen Hughes and Richard Sharpe. Writing verbal spaghetti and expecting your readers to unwind it is not the mark of a great intellectual, it is just lazy showing off. Not content with the existing technicalities of his subject, Fraser insists on inventing technical terms of his own like `diphyletic'. He wilfully goes for the least familiar forms of historical names (Urbgen rather than Urien, AEdilfrith rather than AEthelfrith, without any justification), makes up confusing geographical descriptors like `Moravian' for people around the Moray Firth, and, right after he has shown the unreliability of genealogical evidence for the sixth century, invents pompous titles like `the House of Guipno' and `the AEdilfrithings' that make shadowy gangster families sound like something out of Debrett (or Tolkien). Some of the sources - Bede, Adomnán, early Welsh poetry - are reasonably well explained, but some of the trickiest key sources, like the Irish annals and the genealogical texts that bear on Dál Riata (or Corcu Réti as Fraser capriciously prefers to call it), are barely introduced at all. Given that some of his most convoluted political arguments actually depend on very brief sections of these texts, if Fraser was serious about helping students see how it was done he would quote them in full, or print the relevant sections in an appendix. (It is still not particularly easy to get hold of copies of the Irish annals or the genealogies.) As it is, we have plenty of allegations of the readiness of medieval writers to put a `spin' on their historical statements, but a determined clutching of cards to the chest when it comes to the way Fraser arrives at his own.Early Scottish history has always suffered from a lack of helpful textbooks, and unfortunately on present form it does not look as if the new Edinburgh history is going to plug that particular gap. On the other hand, if you want proof that it is possible to have lots of new ideas about a badly evidenced period of history long thought hopeless (as Fraser gleefully outlines in his introduction), and, moreover, ideas which present people of the remote past as improvisers facing recognisable problems, and not as either barbaric dupes or plaster saints (one of whom, St Ninian, is convincingly dismissed as a ghost created by manuscript miscopying!), then it is worth the tussle of reading the book - a little at a time.

  • By TR on 4 November 2011

    The book is a rewarding, but demanding read. Its main thrusts are made with clarity and power; I refer to such matters as the influence of Rome far beyond the famous Walls, the need to include Northumbria within any sensible Scottish history of the period, the underestimation of Pictish capabilities and power, especially in the 8th century. My difficulties arose with the copious material which the author includes to back up his main theses, and to form a narrative, (or I should say narratives). For a non-expert like myself, the names of important people, groupings, and nations are difficult and relatively unfamiliar, a situation not eased by the versions of the names he sometimes chooses to employ, and the same is true of many of the places which feature. It seemed on many occasions that I was presented with facts and theories of limited relevance to the main thrusts or narrative streams, and this compounded the hard task of assembling in my mind a coherent picture, chapter by chapter. On more mundane matters, I think more maps, and certainly more references to them would have helped; the timeline, which should have been a boon, would have benefited enormously from being split into columns referencing the different peoples.I have no doubt that Fraser's book is a goldmine for serious students, but as a less focused reader, I got more from Smyth's book on a similar period.

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