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The Picts

Article, drawings and photos from our member Marco Petermann

Please click a picture to get (in most cases) a greater picture

 The Picts are first mentioned in AD 291 by roman sources and in AD 841 the Scottish kingdom of Dal Riatta is said to have conquered Pictland, which was situated in modern eastern Scotland. Previously the Picts had already lost the Shetlands, the Orkneys and northern Scotland to the Vikings. With their southern neighbours, weather Romans, Britons or Angles they were constantly at war.

The archaeological evidence for this people is scarce. The title of the book “The Problem of the Picts", published in 1955, says it all. Keeping this in mind, it is astonishing how many companies offer miniatures of Picts, compared to Scots, Welsh and Irish.

But how is it possible to reconstruct the appearance of the Picts with those gaps in archaeological documentation? Here the picture stones, which are spread over all of eastern and northern Scotland and often depict warriors, come in handy. With their help it is possible to get information on clothing, arms and warfare.

Main component of the dress was a tunic which reached to the knee or al little above. Occasionally individuals with tunics reaching to the ankle are depicted. Often these persons seem to be clergymen. This is certainly not the case on the picture stone from the Brough of Birsay, Orkney. The three men depicted can easily be distinguished as warriors, probably nobles.

Trousers are never to be seen for sure. Apart from the pictorial evidence, the statement of Bede, who calls them redshanks, leads to the conclusion that the Picts did normally not wear trousers.

The author as a pict on a reenactement event

to compare: Pict 25mm figure

If capes were pulled over the head and then closed under the chin, or if they had an attached hood, is not clearly distinguishable. As a find from the Orkneys shows, hoods were definitely worn. In contrast to its high medieval counterparts, this hood does not have a long tip. The fringe and the cords are made in the technique of tablet weaving. The same technique is used to produce braids. No braids did survive to the present day but the weaving tablets did. And even on the picture stones braids and cords can occasionally be distinguished. As the Falkirk Tartan shows, simple tartans were known as well. This piece of fabric was used to seal a vessel filled with coins and was radio carbon dated (a rather inaccurate method) to A.D. 235. This makes the Falkirk Tartan the oldest surviving piece of Scottish fabric with a checked pattern. It seems that pictish clothing could be colourful and richly decorated.

 Hair seems to have been worn long. Beards with pointed goatees were common. 

The equipment of the average pictish warrior probably only consisted of a thrusting spear and a shield. Nobles and wealthy men carried a sword in addition. Though javelins are rarely recognisable on the stones, they were probably widely distributed. Single handed axes are depicted in different scenes, e.g. in duels, but never in battle. Keeping in mind that only two depictions of real battles exist, this is not surprising (In most cases warriors are depicted in duels or on the hunt.). A few of the hunting scenes show bows or maybe crossbows.


Most shields are relatively small and circular. For horsemen this is always true and with infantry this seems to be true in the most cases. But there are a few exceptions of rectangular shields on older stones. This coincides with roman depictions. So, if your army does not need to be recognised as early Picts, you should equip your miniatures with roundshilds. This has the advantage of being able to use them as Scots, Welsh and Irish as well. 

Armour is not recognisable on any stone for sure. The central figure on Sueno´s Stone (obviously a leader) might wear something like a padded jacket. There is no agreement whether helmets are depicted on the Dupplin Cross. Archaeology too did not produce more than a few fragments of mail armour. Although it seems reasonable to believe that first roman and later anglian armour fell into the possession of Picts, armour was probably not wide   spread.

Our only source for information on order of battle and formations is the Aberlemno Churchyard Crosslab. It probably depicts the battle of Dunnichen in A.D. 685. During this battle the Picts defeated an army from Northumbria and killed the anglian King Ecgfrith. I do not agree with the assumption that the stone should be read like a comic strip. It rather seems to be a single scene.

In the centre of the pictish army stand three warriors, symbolising a shildwall. The one in the front row is protecting himself with a shield and is armed with a sword. The middle one is fighting from the second row with a lance, while his shield is slung over the shoulder and the last one stands ready to step forward to fill occurring gaps. Although this formation is not at all unusual for the dark ages, the Aberlemno Crosslab seems to be the reason why, according to the WAB-shieldwall armylist, Picts might be equipped with pikes.


On the flanks of the shieldwall there is cavalry. The upper horseman is armed with a sword and the lower one seems to be throwing a javelin.

All the northumbrians are fighting on horseback. Their upper/right flank is breaking away and in the lower section a raven is feeding on a body (probably Ecgefrith). In contrast to the anglians, which are at least wearing helmets, the Picts only use circular shields to protect themselves.


All bare legged Dark Age figures can be used to resemble Picts, so all Irish, Scots, Welsh and of course Picts come in useful. The main component of the army should consist of figures armed with a thrusting spear and a medium shield. The nobles, which may fight on foot or on horseback, can be recognised by their long tunics and swords. Some wear mail coats and/or helmets (Blacktreedesigns is the only company offering armoured Picts. Gripping Beast offers some Irish with mail or helmet, also some of their hiberno-norse can be used.). Skirmishers with either bow or javelin complete a pictish army.

Addition from the Author: Gripping Beast now offers a new range of pictish miniatures.


 G. Henderson and I. Henderson, The Art of the Picts, London (2004)

N. Aitchson, The Picts and the Scots at War (2003)

J.E. Fraser, The Battle of Dunnichen 685 (2002)

F. Wainright, The Problem of the Picts (1955)