WHY DID THEY RAID?
In the second part of this blog we’ll look at why these various Peoples may have raided at the same time, leading Ammianus to called it the Barbarian Conspiracy. If we look at why the Attacotti (and others) raided, we might get some idea of where they could have been from.
It could be, of course, simply down to a weakened defences of Britannia, but Professor Guy Halsall (from his Anderson Lecture, 2011 -), James Fraser (From Caledonia to Pictland) and Fraser Hunter (Beyond the edge of the Empire ) have put forward the varying possibility that these Peoples beyond the Roman frontiers (not only in Britannia but in Europe) were as much intertwined with the Empire as those within it, and may have suffered from its downfall, and changes of policy. They point out that the high quality Roman goods (especially silver in some areas) that some of the Picti, Britons between the Walls and (possibly) the northern Scotti had, may have been bribes as well as the sign of trade with the Empire. (Hunter also notes the material and settlement collapse in the northeast of Scotland during the the Late 3rd and 4th centuries).
These ‘bribes’ and this trading ceased in northern and northeastern Scotland in the Late 3rd century. Was it because Roman policy towards them in particular changed? This, these authors wonder, could be part of the reason (or in some cases maybe the whole reason) why they raided. It was to say “You stop paying us to leave you alone, then we won’t leave you alone!” or “Oh no, our supply of silver has gone, our status has gone done, we need to go and get some more … and show our bravery in our society through our daring fetes at the same time!” Some of it may have been out of desperation as something drastic seems to have happen in these Scottish areas with settlement abandonment as well. But what?
This is most likely the home of at least some of those raiding Scotti, and it is an area where Roman coins have been found, most notably in Ulster. This is the island where many think the Attacotti originated from, via that aichechthúatha argument or a people called the *Ate (S)cotti or the *Atecotte. (Also see WALES).
How about them coming from Éire (Southern Ireland)? It’s possible, but Scotti (or Scoti) was a general name for any group from the island of Hibernia, (or Goidelic speaking people in general?), although it became synonymous with northern Hibernia (Ulster). However, one would think the Attacotti would simply be grouped under Scotti if they were from the island. A counter-argument to this could be that they were only known by their name because they were captured. If another Scotti group had been captured, then, perhaps they too would be known by another specific name, rather than a general one.
It’s not out of the question that they were allies in raiding, and their Scotti ‘friends’ sold them down the river to the Romans … especially if they were seen as lowly aichechthúatha. This wouldn’t be the first time such a thing had happened, and this could also have been the case if they had been part of a Pictish confederacy instead.
However, since those Roman units were named after tribal groups, would they really go for aichechthúatha? If they’d been sold out by fellow Scotti, possibly, and Rance argues that other unit names may have derived from derogatory terms given by tribal overlords. (Rance, 2001, p.251) But there’s still the etymological problem.
It’s also worth considering the Romans in Ireland, which, until very recently was thought out of the question. However, with the discovery of a ‘Roman fort‘ at Drumanagh near Dublin (British Archeology, March, 1996) opinion has change.
One fly in this ointment is the following:
“There is surprisingly little Roman material in Ireland, but what there is has a strange distribution. None has been found in association with native material. Indeed, to a great extent the distributions of stray Roman and native objects are mutually exclusive. In other words, those native Irish possessed of a rich, La Tene-derived, ornament industry seem to have been uninterested in Roman trinkets. Moreover in the South East, in Leinster, which has produced a fair number of Roman objects and even Roman-style burials and cemeteries, native material is surprisingly rare.” (Richard Warner, British Archeology, May, 1996)
However, Roman hordes found in Ireland (north and south) include:
- 4 silver ingots and 3 pieces of silver plate ( Late 4th C., Balline, Co Limerick, Éire)
- 1,701 silver Roman coins, a silver bowl, and 6 kg of silver ingots and hacksilver (Ballinrees, County Londonderry, Ulster)
(What a coincidence in those place names! Balline is in central-southern Éire and Ballinrees is near Coleraine at the central north of Ulster).
That’s a lot of silver in the Coleraine Hoard, and it’s specifically this kind of material that is thought could be used for pay-offs, so to speak … if it wasn’t taken during raiding. Webster and Brown (The transformation of the Roman world AD 400-900, p.213) certainly think the Coleraine Hoard was booty. The coins go up to Constantine III (408). If the policy of payment had stopped, then this lot definitely got the later items from raiding, unless Britannia did a one off ‘donation’! The hacksilver makes me wonder about this being part of a ‘bribe’, but I’m no expert. Philip Freeman in, ‘Ireland and the classical world’ (2001) wonders the same. Of course, this is just a single hoard and we’ve no idea what else may have been in the region or for how long.
But, we must keep in mind St Jerome’s grouping of the Attacotti with the Scotti, which could be telling.
First the north. We know there were setters and raiders in this area, from Anglesey to the Llŷn Peninsular. Any settlers would have become citizens by now and this is not what they may have been, having been made into auxilia palatina units (although they would be made citizens as soon as they became soldiers of the Empire!). This doesn’t rule out them being from somewhere else, such as Ireland or Scotland, and being captured here, or even based in the region as federates who then went of the rampage.
The southwest of Wales has the largest concentration of inscribed stones with Irish ogham than anywhere else in the UK. This is the region (now Dyfed, once Demetia) that Philip Rance argues for the Attacotti originating from in his extensive paper, ‘Attacotti, Déisi and Magnus Maximus: The Case for Irish Federates in Late Roman Britain’, (2001). It is traditionally said that its dynasty came via the Déisi from Munster in Ireland after their expulsion. This may be an origin myth but that there were Irish there (or Gaelic speakers and culture), there is no doubt, and many think, including Rance, that they were brought over as federates, just as the Germanic federates came to the east.
Rance’s theory forwards the argument that the Déisi, who were known to be an aichechthúatha (‘client people’) of the more dominant Dál Fiachach Suidge of Ireland, were the Attacotti. His basic argument is based on one others have suggested, and that is that the name Attacotti derives from, not a tribe per se, but a section of Irish, or Cambro-Irish in this case, society called the aichechthúatha – a general term used for ‘rent-paying’ groups. It has been counter-argued that aichechthúatha would not produce Attacotti, but something more like *Acectoti. I’m no philologist, but that sounds right to me. But Rance also argues on the federate grounds and the number of them that may have been there that would account for large Roman units being able to be made from them. There could, indeed, have been a federate group (or groups) here from Hibernia (or northern Britain). An alternative might be that they weren’t known as aichechthúatha, but that another group called something like the *Atecotte. (See below) where in the area.
The reasoning based on the numbers sounds plausible, otherwise we have to account for how so many could have been captured. The answer could be the same as that which happened to the Alammani group mentioned in Part One.
Even if Rance is wrong about them being the Attacotti, his paper is worth a read for the information it contains on the subject. (Available at JSTOR for $12 if you’re not a member: http://www.jstor.org/pss/526958 )
Moving to Scotland, in this theory, the name comes from A(l)t C(l)ut (Rock of Clyde); what is now Dumbarton Rock (The Rock of the Britons) in southwest Scotland. However, this is based on Charles Bertram’s 18th century medieval forgery ‘Richard of Cirencester’, and would require the Romans to miss out two Ls in the name.
This was certainly a British speaking region, lying between Hadrian’s and the Antonine Walls. Roman goods have been discovered here, so it is a possibility, under this scenario. They were certainly in a good geographical position to raid, not being too far from Hadrian’s Wall. There are coin hoard concentrations here too (Hunter, 2007, pp34-35) either achieved by raiding or bribery … or both. (If you look on the internet it is amazing to see how much it is almost stated as fact that the Attacotti were from here. It’s a possibility, that’s all).
This Western Isles is the area that would later become the Gael region of Dál Riata (Dalriada). There are many arguments now that their arrival was no invasion but that a similar culture (and probably Goidelic language) had been here a long time and began to spread during the 6th centuries. As Hunter notes, this Atlantic zone of the British Isles didn’t have the same trade (or raiding) as those further north and east. There are no coin hoards here, unlike those found in southern Scotland, but there are Roman finds, which appear to tie in with the Roman withdrawal from the Antonine to Hadrian’s Wall (Hunter, 2007, pp.32-33).
It is interesting to note that before the Late 4th century the Attacotti aren’t mentioned, nor are they mentioned again after the Barbarian Conspiracy, during Flavius Stilicho’s campaign for example. Only the Scotti and Picti are mentioned. It could be argued that this was the Attacotti’s first and last attempt at raiding, hence why there are no hoards found in the region. But, of course, this could go for any region with no or few finds.
This is another area that states as fact that this is where the Attacotti were from. Only another possibility, but if they were Goidelic speaking Britannians they could have been likened to the Scotti (and, indeed, could have had a similar culture), yet known to have been from one of the Britannian Isles, therefore called Britons by St. Jerome.
Looking at the Got/Cot(?)/Cat/Caith of northern Scotland; the argument is, as put forward by the writer Carla Nayland ( http://www.carlanayland.org/essays/attacotti.htm ) – which she admits might be clutching at straws – suggests Got or Cat/Caith may have been *cotti. Got being part of Atta/Ate Cotti isn’t out of the question, as ‘c’ and ‘g’ could sound alike. (Remember, the name for themselves could have been something like *Attacotos, *Athogotos, *Ardgothos or the like). If it was Pictish we’ll may never know its meaning whoever it sounded. It could even have been Xavier Delamarre’s, *Atecotto, later shorterned and remembered as Got. (This might not work on etymological grounds!).
It would be a very long way for this lot to be raiding, but it’s not out of the question as the Dicalydones and the Verturiones (both most likely confederations) had certainly travelled a long distance … and all three are from the area (north and northeast Scotland) that Hunter identifies as going through some kind of crisis in the 4th century. The region does show signs of contact with the Empire, especially in silver, so Cot could, like the other Pictish areas to their south, have been greatly affected by the Empire’s (possible) change in policy. It may not all have been down to a Roman change in policy, but it could have been a major factor.
One possibility I would forward is that, if these were the Attacotti, it could have been the capture of a great many of their young men that really tipped the balance and led to further decline as the Romans drew their young men away.
Whilst Got/Cat/Caith (supposedly) stretched to the Hebrides in the west, Hunter has shown, as noted above, that the Atlantic side of far northwestern Britain didn’t have as much a contact with Roman culture and doesn’t appear to have been as affected by any Roman policy change. But no one can be sure of the extend of the supposed seven Pictish ‘nations’, and at this time they were most likely far more fragmented. As I mentioned, if the name is Pictish, we may never know its meaning, and if the north’s language and culture had been influenced by Scandinavia it would complicate things even further, but might explain why they would not be lumped in with the Picts. But, again, it could simply be because they had been caught that we know them by a specific, rather than a generalised, name. Ammianus would only have been told these people were called Attacotti; he, most likely, would have had no idea where they were from.
(See: Jonathan Jarret’s blog for some more on the Pictish problem; Guy Halsall’s blog, who warns about the general problem of just who the Romans called Picti; Tim Clarkson’s Senchus blog for all things Pictish and Northern British).
So, am I going to stick my neck out and say where I think they were from? Not on your nelly! A reading of St. Jerome should indicate either Irish or, at least, Goidelic speaking, but he calls them Britons. This was either because they were from the British Isles or it was just because the Roman unit was formed there … unless he’s referring to a group of Attacotti before their Roman military formation, which is possible. If this is the case, then it may point to them coming from a Gaelic (Goidelic) speaking region of Britain and at this point in time that may only be, what is now, southwest or northwest Wales or the Western Isles of Scotland.
There’s as a case for those Gots of Caithness, who, like those Picts to their south, seemed to be going through some kind of crisis. But the etymology might be a problem.
If they were from southwest Wales, as Rance considers, then they may have to have been new arrivals to end up as auxilia palatina, but the derivation of the name doesn’t seem to work … to this laymen at least. However, there’s more argument for this region as to why a great many barbarians might have been captured, never to cause a problem again.
Any of these ‘barbarian’ regions may have had something to lose from not raiding and a lot to gain. Did they do it just to get booty, hostages or slaves, or was it to try and get the Romans to start bribing them again, so they didn’t have to risk their necks on these ever increasing dangerous missions. Was the Coleraine Hoard a long term part of this, so it worked for the Scotti, but was a huge disaster for the Attacotti and a general failure for the Picts? Who knows, but it is food for thought.
The jury will have to remain out a while longer (or forever!) but I hope this has, at least, added to the debate.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to your thoughts, comments and correction.
(For a related blog on the Barbarian Conspiracy, which looks at where the British province of Valentia might have been, click HERE).