Draconic Creatures in Pictish Art
By Alastair McBeath
Dragon Chronicle: The International Journal Of Dragons and Dragonlore, No.22 (2002)
Introduction: When I examined the late Celtic dragons and draconic creatures from surviving traditions in TDC, looking for possible links with the salmon, I noted little evidence to support such a connection except in a very loose sense, which mainly revolved around the watery habitat − typically quiet pools or lakes − both types of creature were placed in by storytellers. I also mentioned that there was a fish−dragon link to be seen in Pictish art, which is roughly contemporary with the earlier surviving Celtic myth and legend texts, around the 5th to 9th centuries CE. Now, it’s time to examine the draconic beasts present in the Pictish art repertoire.
The Picts left no written records, so what we know of them comes to us through the eyes of others. “Pict” derives from the Roman troops’ nickname of “painted men” (Latin “picti”), first attested in the 3rd century CE, for the people of the far north of Britain. The nickname comes from the Picts’ use of tattoos, perhaps including tribal emblems, though they were not the only Celtic people to use this kind of body art. Various evidence points to the Picts having been among the first Celtic−speaking people (perhaps the first) to arrive in the British Isles, and they may have been some of the earliest inhabitants of Ireland. Their name for themselves possibly included the elements −r−t−n−, which may lie at the name−root for “Britain”, though they did not speak the same Celtic language used by the Britons the Romans conquered.