War or Peace? The Relations Between the Picts and the Norse in Orkney
By Jessica Bäcklund
Northern Studies, Volume 36 (2001)
Introduction: Around AD 800 the Vikings came to Orkney to settle. At this time the Picts were living in the area and the Norse settled very close to, or even on top of, the old Pictish farmsteads. A mix of Pictish and Norse artefacts has also been found in the early Norse settlement layers. It has been intensely debated what happened when the two peoples met, and the finds have been interpreted as evidence for both friendly and hostile relations.
How would we be able to tell from the archaeological and historical records whether the Pictish and Viking contacts in Orkney were friendly or violent? Clear cut evidence such as defensive structures, battle fields and war cemeteries, or undisputed evidence of flourishing trade between the two peoples, frequent intermarriage or a coming together of ideas and practices from both sides (such as the Bressay slab from Shetland) have not been found in Orkney. However, Richards has looked at the Viking settlement in England using evidence like pagan graves, language development and runic inscriptions, and a similar approach can be applied to Orkney. The Orkney Isles have also got detailed rentals that can give us some information.
This article will focus mainly on the earliest period of Norse settlement, before the Norse earldom was established.