Sueno's Stone


Sueno's Stone

Sueno's Stone stands over 6.5 metres (about 21 feet) high and is a Picto-Scottish Class III standing stone on the north-easterly edge of Forres, Scotland. It is the largest such stone in the British Isles. It is situated on a raised bank on a now isolated section of the former road to Findhorn.

One or two stones?

Evidence from Timothy Pont’s Mapp of Murray (c 1590), the more modern military maps of Roy and Ainslie (1750 and 1789 respectively) and Robert Campbell's map of 1790 all show Sueno’s Stone along with another stone that has now disappeared. The fact that Pont's map shows the standing stones at all indicates their size as Pont does not show any other obelisks anywhere. Ainslie has inscribed on his map ‘two curiously carved pillars’. The fact that these maps show the pillar(s) in their present (at least approximate) position belies the notion that it was found elsewhere and re-erected at its present location. [McCullagh: Excavations at Sueno’s Stone, Forres, Moray, 1995] Hector Boece (c1465–1536) (not known entirely for his historical accuracy) mentions the stone and attributes it to Sueno. Lady Ann Campbell, the Countess of Moray, is noted in the early 1700’s as carrying out maintenance on the stone in an attempt to stabilise it. This was achieved by constructing stepped plinths around the base and these are what can be seen today. Archaeological excavations carried out in 1990 and 1991 suggest that it may originally have been one of two monumental stones.

Description

Sueno's Stone is an upright cross slab with typical Pictish style interwoven vine symbols on the edge panels. It is carved from Old Red Sandstone which is prevalent in the Laigh o’ Moray but has suffered considerable weathering in places. The western face has a carved Celtic cross with elaborately interlaced decoration and a poorly preserved scene set in a panel below the cross. The east face has four panels that show a large battle scene. The top panel is quite weathered and shows rows of horsemen. The second panel depicts armed foot soldiers and the third panel shows the decapitated vanquished soldiers, the heads piled up, and soldiers, archers and horsemen surrounding what may be a broch. The base panel depicts the victorious army leaving the battle field. In the early 1990s the stone was encased in armoured glass to prevent further erosion and also graffiti.

Interpretations

Radio carbon dating at the site produced dates of charcoal fragments to between AD 600 and AD 1000. Two separate but similar patterns were discerned and may relate to the second stone. There is general agreement that the stone dates to between the 9th and 10th centuries [Oram, Richard: "Moray& Badenoch, A Historical Guide", Edinburgh, 1996, p. 65] and greater accuracy is probably not possible. The examination of the carvings has been carried out to compare the style [Henderson, I 'Pictish Vine-Scroll Ornament', in O'Connor, 1983] and also to interpret the figurative [Jackson, 1983; 1993] and historical significance. [Sellar, W D H 1993 'Sueno's Stone and its Interpreters', in Sellar, W D H (ed) Moray: Province and People,Scot Soc Northern Studies, 97-116.] The Irish crosses of the 10th century are similar with their interweaving patterns and crowded panels of figures. [Stevenson, R B K 1955 'Pictish Art', in Wainwright, F T (ed) The problem of the Picts, Edinburgh & London,97-128] . One hypothesis is that the figures depicted in the battle, parade and decapitation scenes is the army of Kenneth MacAlpin (Cináed mac Ailpín), the scene being the representation of Kenneth's demonstration of his military and legal authority over northern Pictland [ Jackson, A 1993 'Further thoughts on Sueno's Stone’.] . The two side panels have sinuous vine patterns populated with men as depicted in the Book of Kells. [Henderson, I 1983 'Pictish Vine-Scroll Ornament', in O'Connor, A & Clark, D V (eds), "From the Stone Age to the 'Forty-Five", Edinburgh, 243-68.] This suggests a date of between AD 800 and AD 900. The traditional interpretation of the battle scene was that it shows a victory by Malcolm II (Máel Coluim mac Cináeda) (reigned 1005–1034) against Danes or Norse led by one Sueno. This appears in Alexander Gordon's "Itinerarium Septentrionale" of 1726 and is thought to have been ancient then, derived from folklore and the more learned histories of John of Fordun, Hector Boece and George Buchanan. However, this interpretation is no longer supported by historians and archaeologists.

Several more recent interpretations have been advanced. Anthony Jackson suggested that the stone displayed the final triumph of the Christian Gaels of Dál Riata over their, supposedly heathen, Pictish enemies, in which case it would have been erected by Kenneth MacAlpin or his immediate successors. To say that much of Jackson's interpretation is problematic is to understate the case. As an alternative, Archie Duncan advances his theory that the stone records the defeat, death and reburial of Dub (Dub mac Maíl Coluim) in 966 or 967.

A modified form of Jackson's theory — stripped of much of the ingenious interpretation — is probably the present orthodoxy. This holds that Sueno's Stone commemorates an unknown victory by the "men of Alba", the Gaelicised Picts of the lands south of the Mounth over the "men of Moray", those of the lands north of the Mounth.

Legend

Local legend says this was the crossroads where Macbeth originally met the three witches. In the legend, they were eventually imprisoned inside the stone—should the stone be broken they would be released. However this tale can date no further back than Shakespeare's play "Macbeth".

Notes

References

*Duncan, A.A.M., "The Kingship of the Scots 842–1292: Succession and Independence." Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2002. ISBN 0-7486-1626-8
*Foster, Sally M., "Picts, Gaels and Scots: Early Historic Scotland." Batsford, London, 2004. ISBN 0-7134-8874-3
*Henderson, George & Isabel Henderson, "The Art of the Picts: Sculpture and Metalwork in Early Medieval Scotland." Thames & Hudson, London, 2004. ISBN 0-500-23807-3
*Jackson, Anthony, "Further Thoughts on Sueno's Stone" in W.D.H. Sellar (ed.) "Moray: Province and People." The Scottish Society for Northern Studies, Edinburgh, 1993. ISBN 0-9505994-7-6
*Oram, Richard., "Moray& Badenoch, A Historical Guide", Edinburgh, 1996. ISBN 1-874744-46-7
*Sellar, W.D.H., "Sueno's Stone and its Interpreters" in W.D.H. Sellar (ed.) op. cit.


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