Roman Sources

The Picts are mentioned in four Roman sources. The first two notions are in panegyrics which are collected in the Panegyrici Latini. These translations come from: C.E.V. Nixon & B.S. Rodgers, In Praise of Later Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini. Berkeley 1994. This publication also contains the Latin text of the panegyrics by R.A.B. Mynors.

  1. Panegyric VIII, written in 297 by an anonymous writer ( this panegyric was formerly ascribed to Eumenius). Nixon 1994, 104-144.

“In addition to that, a nation which was then primitive and accustomed to fight, still half-naked, only with Picts and Hiberni, easily succumbed to Roman arms and standards, almost to the point that Ceasar should have boasted about this one thing only on that expedition: that he sailed across the Ocean.”

  1. Panegyric VI, written in 310 by an anonymous writer. Nixon 1994, 211-253.

“The day would end before my speech, if I were to recapitulate all the deeds of your father, albeit in this brief fashion. Even in that final expedition of his he did not seek out British trophies, as commonly believed, but when the gods were already calling him approached the very threshold of the earth. For it was not that he who had accomplished so many great feats thought it was worthwhile to acquire – I won’t mention the forests and swamps of the Caledonians and the other Picts – either nearby Hibernia or Farthest Thule, or the Isles of the Blest themselves, if they exist, but rather – something he did not wish to speak of to anyone – when he was about to join the gods, he gazed upon the Ocean, that father of the Gods, who rekindles the fiery stars of heaven, so that when about to enjoy thereafter perpetual light, he might now see there almost continuous daylight.”

  1. Ammianus Marcellinus lived from around 330 until 400 A.D. He is seen as the last great chronicler of the Roman empire. His most important work is the Res Gestae Libri XXXI, written at the end of the fourth century. In these 31 book scrolls Marcellinus describes the history from the reign of emperor Nerva in 96 A.D. until the death of emperor Valens during the battle of Adrianopel in 378 A.D. In Book XX he mentions the Picts when Lupinus is sent to Britain in 360 to fight the savage tribes in the north. This translation comes from volume two of the Loeb Classical Library Edition (1940) and was made by J.C. Rolfe. It can be found online (with the original Latin text) at:*.html .

Book II.I.

Lupicinus, master of arms, is sent with an army to Britain, to resist the inroads of the Scots and Picts

Such was the course of events throughout Illyricum and the Orient. But in Britain in the tenth consulship of Constantius and the third of Julian raids of the savage tribes of the Scots and the Picts, who had broken the peace that had been agreed upon, were laying waste the regions near the frontiers, so that fear seized the provincials, wearied as they were by a mass of past calamities. And Julian, who was passing the winter in Paris was distracted amid many cares, was afraid to go to the aid of those across the sea, as Constans once did (as I have told), for fear of leaving Gaul without a ruler at a time when the Alamanni were already roused to rage and war. Therefore he decided that Lupicinus, who was at that time commander-in-chief, should be sent to settle the troubles either by argument or by force; he was indeed a warlike man and skilled in military affairs, but one who raised his brows like horns and ranted in the tragic buskin (as the saying is), and about whom men were long in doubt whether he was more covetous or more cruel. Therefore, taking the light-armed auxiliaries, to wit the Aeruli, the Batavians, and two companies of Moesians, in the dead of winter of leader aforesaid came to Boulogne, and after procuring ships and embarking all his troops, he waited for a favourable breeze and then sailed to Richborough, which lay opposite, and went on to Londen, intending there to form his plans according to the situation of affairs and hasten quickly to take the field.

  1. Claudius Claudianus was a writer and poet who was originally from Greece. He lived from circa 370 till 404. He has mentioned the Picts a few times in his works. The passages reproduced below come from the second volume of the Loeb Classical Library and were translated by J.C. Rolfe (1940). They can be found online (with the original Latin text) at:*.html
  •  Liber Secundus XXII, Claudian on the consulship of Stilicho, A.D. 400

Book II; Chapter XXI

“Next spake Britain clothed in the skin of some Caledonian beast, her cheeks tattooed, and an azure cloak, rivalling the swell of ocean, sweeping to her feet: “Stilicho gave aid to me also when at the mercy of neighbouring tribes, what time the Scots roused all Hibernia against me and the sea foamed to the beat of hostile oars. Thanks to his care I had no need to fear the Scottish arms or tremble at the Pict, or keep watch along all my coasts for the Saxon who would come whatever wind might blow.  Claudianus over het Consulschap van Stilicho. A.D. 400.”

  • Eutropium, against Eutropius

“Examples near at hand testify to the extent of my power now thou art emperor. The Saxon is conquered and the seas safe; the Picts have been defeated and Britain is secure. I love to see at my feet the humbled Franks and broken Suebi, and I behold the Rhine mine own, Germanicus.12 Yet what am I to do? The discordant East envies our prosperity, and beneath that other sky, lo! wickedness flourishes to prevent our empire’s breathing in harmony with one body. I make no mention of Gildo’s treason, detected so gloriously in spite of the power of the East on which the rebel Moor relied. For what extremes of famine did we not then look? How dire a danger overhung our city, had not thy valour or the ever-provident diligence of thy father-in‑law supplied corn from the north in place of that from the south! Up Tiber’s estuary there sailed ships from the Rhine, and the Saône’s fertile banks made good the lost harvests of Africa. For me the Germans ploughed and the Spaniards’ oxen sweated; my granaries marvel at Iberian corn, nor did my citizens, now satisfied with harvests from beyond the Alps, feel the defection of revolted Africa. Gildo, however, paid the penalty for his treason as Tabraca can witness. So perish all who take up arms against thee!”

  • Panegyricus de Tertio Consulatu Honorii Augustii

Panegyric VIII

“He conquered the fleet Moors and the well-named Picts; his roaming sword pursued the flying Scot; his adventurous oars broke the surface of the northern seas.”

  • De Bello Gothico

Chapter XXVI

“Next the legion that had been left to guard Britain, the legion that kept the fierce Scots in check, whose men had scanned the strange devices tattooed on the faces of the dying Picts.”

  • Panegyricus de Quarto Consulate Honorii Augusti

“Twas he who pitched his camp amid the snows of Caledonia,3 who never doffed his helmet for all the heat of a Libyan summer, who struck terror with the Moors, brought into subjection the coasts of Britain and with equal success laid waste the north and the south. What avail against him the eternal snows, the frozen air, the uncharted sea? The Orcades ran red with Saxon slaughter; Thule was warm with the blood of Picts; ice-bound Hibernia wept for the heaps of slain Scots.”