Scoti or Scotti (Old Irish "Scot", modern Scottish Gaelic "Sgaothaich") was the generic name given by the Romans to the Celtic Gaels who raided from Ireland. Some of them, from the nascent Ulster Kingdom of Dál Riata, migrated to Argyll, the Inner Hebrides and Islands of the Clyde, extending Dál Riata. In time the name became applied to all the people within the regions this kingdom conquered, hence the modern words Scot and Scotland. It is not believed that any Gaelic groups called themselves Scoti in ancient times, except when referring to themselves in Latin.


The earliest accounts of the Scotti are from Roman sources, particularly Ammianus Marcellinus who describes their relentless raids on Roman Britain. The Scotti are confirmed by later sources to be the Gaelic speaking inhabitants of Ireland. It would appearFact|date=September 2008 that the ancestors of the Gaels migrated across the sea from Celtic Gallaecia to Ireland and then established themselves as a dominant minority over other linguistically Celtic groups, which the Romans collectively called Attacotti. They gradually spread and, through cultural assimilation eventually only Gaelic was spoken in Ireland. The maps of the geographer Ptolemy seem to support this thesis, showing Iberian groups such as the Concani, a Cantabrian tribe, in Ireland.


The language of these people was Goidelic (also called Gaelic), which falls into the Q-Celtic family of the Celtic languages. The ancient peoples of Ireland were largely illiterate, except for a form of alphabet known as Ogham (as attributed to the Celtic god Ogma) which was only used for small inscriptions bearing names and serving as boundary markers and perhaps simply graffiti.

Mythology and religion

The religion of the Gaels, as with other Celts, can be described as polytheistic or pagan. They worshipped a variety of gods, which are generally found in the pantheons of other Celts, such as the Gauls and Brythons. In Ireland these deities included Crom Cruach, a fertility god requiring human sacrifice which was worshipped on the plain of Magh Slecht in County Cavan. Also, there was the Dagda, Irish version of the Gallic god Sucellus, Lugh, the god of art, poetry and inspiration, Tuireann, the thunder god and equivalent of the Gallic Taranis. Other gods were Morrigan, goddess of war, death and terror, Boann, the goddess of the river Boyne, and Eriu the goddess of sovereignty, after whom the island of Ireland is named.

ocial structure

Gaelic society was a caste society, that is, it was divided into inherited role-based classes. There were four general classes, from lowest to highest they were: slaves, peasants, warriors and finally the upper classes, which included chieftains, bards, seers and Druids. The bards were in charge of entertainment, acting as itinerant minstrels, telling stories, playing the harp and singing songs at the feasts held in the homes of tribal rulers for the pleasure of their guests. Druids were in charge of ceremonies and sacrifices as well as the keeping of secret knowledge about mythology and the cosmos.


In Gaelic society, as in other Celtic societies described by the Romans, women could possess a great deal of property and/or social-status. Some women even attained the status of queen, such as queens Medb and Macha of the Ulster Cycle (or the historical Brython queen Boudica, although her tribe lived in Britain). Gaelic women, like their other Celtic cousins, are thought to have enjoyed a great deal of sexual freedom, such as queen Medb who had multiple lovers in addition to her husband Ailill. Allusions in Irish literature and Roman comments on marital customs among the Brythons (described in Julius Caesar's "De Bello Gallico") and Celtiberians (Strabo's "History and Geography of Spain") mention Celtic polyandry (women having marital relationships simultaneously with several men). It is probable that such practices also held true in Ireland at this time.


As shown by contemporary sources and Irish literature, the Gaels were primarily a warlike culture. The Gaelic warriors practiced relentlessly their martial arts (for example Cu Chulain in the "Tain Bo Cuailnge"), getting up in the early morning and practicing for several hours. Gaelic men organized themselves into "youth-troops" called Fianna which engaged in constant martial exercise, raiding and hunting until they grew beards (a sign of manhood) and married women. In this culture, hospitality was of utmost importance and guests were entertained lavishly by all. Feasts were held regularly by chieftains and kings for their retinues of warriors and poets. Mead, beer and meat were consumed in high quantities during these feasts, and jesters, warriors, jugglers and poets entertained the guests with their various art forms, music and legends. Another peculiar practice of Gaels was to send their children into foster parentage, usually with their fathers' sister, as a way of strengthening familial bonds.


Money was non-existent in Gaelic society at this time; instead, herds of cows, sheep and pigs were the main currency and the main source of sustenance. Horticulture was practiced, and crops such as wheat, barley and oats were common. These Celts, lived in small villages, hamlets and ringforts which rarely contained more than 10 to 12 dwellings. These settlements were built in the forest and close to water supplies such as rivers. They tended to be built on easily defendable places such as hills and sea-cliffs (see: promontory forts). They tended to be defended either by stone fortification walls or earthen ramparts with timber palisades, as well as moats and "chevaux de frise". Some also lived in fortified lake-dwellings known as crannogs.


Most people wore a mantle, or a woolen blanket worn over the shoulders and fastened with a pin or brooch. Animal skins were worn, as were waist-bands, jackets and trews for warriors. Conical hats were common and those of high status often wore a linen tunic, often dyed with saffron. This usually had long sleeves and was girdled at the waist producing a skirt like dress which went to above the knee or to the ankle. Men wore hair long to their shoulders, often with two braids in the front. Moustaches and beards were common. Women wore hair even longer and were also fond of braiding. Jewelry was uncommon as many had no means of obtaining them or reason for using them. It is also possible that tattoos would have been common, possibly influenced by their contact with the Picts, who tattooed themselves all over the body with blue woad.


Ireland at this time was a tribal society, that is they were divided into common ancestry groups or clans. Endemic warfare between these clans was a constant affair, and was often very violent and ritualized. Ireland was divided into five different tribal provinces, each with its ritual center (a ringfort often used as a capital and center of religious gatherings and sacrifices). These were:

*Munster in the south, with its center at Cashel
*Leinster in the east, centered at Dun Ailinne
*Ulaid in the north, centered at Emain Macha
*Connachta in the west, centered around Cruachan
*Mide in the central and eastern area, centered at Tara

These gave rise to the modern provinces of Munster, Leinster, Ulster and Connacht, and also the counties of Meath and Westmeath.


Clan wars were frequent and the objective was often the theft of enemy cattle rather than the overthrow of a particular clan. Single combat between champions was common and guerrilla warfare was the norm, as the geography of Ireland at this time consisted mostly of forests, swamps, glens, bogland and river-crossings. The Gaelic way of warfare was centered around the horse, with chariots and, by the late 500s, cavalry playing the main role in warfare, supplemented by professional cattle thieves known as "kern". Weapons used were slings, javelins, bows, darts, spears and short swords, axes, with round or oval shields. Armour was rare as Gaelic warriors considered it cumbersome; instead, most fought naked except for cloths tied around their waist as a form of belt from which to hang a scabbard and quiver. However, by the 400s, hard leather and even chainmail was worn. It was also common for warriors, especially cavalry to wear tight trews, known as breaches, which were generally either plain colored or twill or tartan patterned and usually reaching either to above or just below the knee; see also: "Gallowglass".

ettlement in Britain

The Gaels regularly raided Roman Britain in collusion with their allies the Attacotti and Picts, as well as some Saxon mercenaries. The Gaelic raiders were known to the Romans as the Scoti. Gaels from the kingdom of Dal Riata, in the most northeastern part of Ulster, migrated to the Inner Hebrides, the Islands of the Clyde and Argyll. There they expanded Dal Riata. Other Scoti settlements in Britain during this time were by the Laighin of Leinster and Ui Liathain tribe of Munster which settled mainly in Wales (Gwynedd and Dyfed). These settlements in Wales were attacked by the local Brythons and destroyed, though settlements in Cornwall may have lasted longer. Dal Riata remained a neighbour of the Picts, but after many centuries of warfare Dal Riata conquered their land during the reign of king Kenneth MacAlpin, merging the two territories and its peoples to form the Kingdom of Alba. Eventually this nation came to be known as Scotland, after the Gaelic Scoti who settled there.


Julius Caesar, "De Bello Gallico"

Gildas, "De Excidio et Conquistiu Britanniae"

Geoffrey Keating, "History of Ireland"

"Leabhar Gabhala Éireann"

"Tain Bo Cuailnge"

Bede, "Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum"

Strabo, "Geographica"

Ammianus Marcellinus, "Res Gestae Libri XXXI"

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