Constantine I of Scotland

Infobox_Monarch | name = Constantine I
("Constantín mac Cináeda")
title = King of the Picts

caption = 18th century depiction of Constantine, son of Kenneth MacAlpin. The depiction is highly anachronistic.
reign = 862–877
coronation =
predecessor = Donald I ("Domnall mac Ailpín")
successor = Áed ("Áed mac Cináeda")
heir =
consort =
issue = Donald II ("Domnall mac Causantín")
royal house = Alpin
royal anthem =
father = Kenneth MacAlpin ("Cináed mac Ailpín")
mother =
date of birth =
place of birth =
date of death = 877
place of death = Atholl?
place of burial= Iona|

Constantín (Scottish Gaelic "Còiseam mac Choinnich") (died 877) was a king of the Picts. Son of Kenneth MacAlpin, Custantín succeeded his uncle Donald as king following the latter's death on 13 April 862. Reckoned Constantine I in 20th century lists of kings of Scots, early sources describe Constantín as the last Pictish king, although Irish annals report later kings of the Picts. Constantín's reign witnessed increased activity by Vikings, based in Ireland and Northumbria, in northern Britain and he died fighting one such invasion.


Very few records of ninth century events in northern Britain survive. The main local source from the period is the "Chronicle of the Kings of Alba", a list of kings from Kenneth MacAlpin (died 858) to Cináed mac Maíl Coluim (died 995). The list survives in the Poppleton Manuscript, a thirteenth century compilation. Originally simply a list of kings with reign lengths, the other details contained in the Poppleton Manuscript version were added from the tenth century onwards. [Woolf, "Pictland to Alba", pp. 87–93; Dumville, "Chronicle of the Kings of Alba".] In addition to this, later king lists survive. [Anderson, "Kings and Kingship", reproduces these lists and discusses their origins, further discussed by Broun, "Irish origins".] The earliest genealogical records of the descendants of Kenneth MacAlpin may date from the end of the tenth century, but their value lies more in their context, and the information they provide about the interests of those for whom they were compiled, than in the unreliable claims they contain. [Broun, "Irish Identity", pp. 133–164; Woolf, "Pictland to Alba", pp. 220–221.] The Pictish king-lists originally ended with this Constantín, who was reckoned the seventieth and last king of the Picts. [Broun, "Irish origins", p. 168–169; Anderson, "Kings and Kingship", p. 78]

For narrative history the principal sources are the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" and the Irish annals. While Scandinavian sagas describe events in 9th century Britain, their value as sources of historical narrative, rather than documents of social history, is disputed. [Woolf, "Pictland to Alba", pp. 277–285; Ó Corrain, "Vikings in Scotland and Ireland"...] If the sources for north-eastern Britain, the lands of the kingdom of Northumbria and the former Pictland, are limited and late, those for the areas on the Irish Sea and Atlantic coasts—the modern regions of north-west England and all of northern and western Scotland—are non-existent, and archaeology and toponymy are of primary importance. [Woolf, "Pictland to Alba", p. 12.]

Languages and names

Writing a century before Constantín was born, Bede recorded five languages in Britain. Latin, the common language of the church, Old English, the language of the Angles and Saxons, Irish, spoken on the western coasts of Britain and in Ireland, Brythonic, ancestor of the Welsh language, spoken in large parts of western Britain, and Pictish, spoken in northern Britain. By the ninth century a sixth language, Old Norse, had arrived with the Vikings.

Fall of the House of Wrguist

Fortriu was dominated by the family of Constantín son of Wrguist from 789 to 839. Constantín expelled Conall mac Taidg from power in 789, and ruled until his death in 820. Early in Constantín's reign attacks by Vikings are recorded, in Northumbria in 793, where Lindisfarne was a target, and in Ireland in 795 and 798. It is thought possible that these Vikings conquered the British part of the kingdom of Dál Riata, perhaps in 793, and remained in control until about 806 when they relocated southwards to the wealthier and more populous parts of the Irish Sea. Constantín's old enemy Conall may have established himself as king in Dál Riata for he was killed in Kintyre by one Conall mac Áedáin in 807. The second Conall may, if the later Dál Riata king lists have any value, have replaced the first Conall as king there for four years, after which Constantín installed his son Domnall to rule over Dál Riata, perhaps until 835.

On Constantín's death in 820 he was succeeded by his brother Onuist who ruled until about 834. Onuist's reign was followed by the joint rule of Constantín's son Drest and Talorcan son of Wthoil, which lasted about two years, to be followed by Onuist's son Wen or, as he was known to Irish chroniclers, Eóganan. In Dál Riata, Domnall appears to have been succeeded by one Áed mac Boanta.

The half century of dominance of northern Britain by the family of Constantín son of Wrguist ended in 839. In this year the "Annals of Ulster" record the death of Wen, of his brother Bran, and of Áed mac Boanta, in a bloody battle against Vikings. While Áed cannot be linked to the descendants of Wrguist, his presence at the decisive defeat suggests that Dál Riata in Britain remained subject to the kings of Fortriu until 839.

The next king named by the king lists is Wrad son of Bargoit, who ruled for three years. Following this, the lists disagree as to the length of time that Wrad's son Bruide ruled, either a year or a month, and whether he was succeeded directly by Kenneth MacAlpin, or whether there were in fact multiple competing candidates, including Bruide's brothers Ciniod and Drest, and Bruide son of Wthoil, presumably a brother of the Talorcan who had shared power with Drest son of Constantín.

Kinadius and Dovenaldus

Amlaíb and Ímar

In 866, the Chronicle states that Pictland — the Annals of Ulster say Fortriu — was ravaged by Vikings led by Amlaíb Conung (Olaf) and Auisle (Ásl or Auðgísl). The Chronicle claims that Amlaíb was killed by Constantine that year, but this is either incorrectly dated, or a different Amlaíb is intended as the Irish annals make it clear that Amlaíb Conung was alive long after 866. A date of 874 has been proposed for this event.

In 870, Amlaíb Conung and Ímar captured Alt Clut, chief place of the kingdom of Strathclyde. The king, Artgal, was among the many captives. The Annals of Ulster say that Artgal was killed "at the instigation of Causantín mac Cináeda" (Constantine son of Kenneth) in 872. Artgal's son Run was married to a sister of Constantine.

Last days of the Pictish kingdom

In 875, the Chronicle and the Annals of Ulster again report a Viking army in Pictland. A battle, fought near Dollar, was a heavy defeat for the Picts; the Annals of Ulster say that "a great slaughter of the Picts resulted". Although there is agreement that Constantine was killed fighting Vikings in 877, it is not clear where this happened. Some believe he was beheaded on a Fife beach, following a battle at Fife Ness, near Crail. William Forbes Skene read the Chronicle as placing Constantine's death at Inverdovat (by Newport-on-Tay), which appears to match the Prophecy of Berchán. The account in the Chronicle of Melrose names the place as the "Black Cave" and John of Fordun calls it the "Black Den". Constantine was buried on Iona.


Constantine's son Donald II and his descendants represented the main line of the kings of Alba and later Scotland.



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