From Pictland to Alba, 789-1070, Paperback Book
5 out of 5 (1 rating)


In the 780s northern Britain was dominated by two great kingdoms; Pictavia, centred in north-eastern Scotland and Northumbria which straddled the modern Anglo-Scottish border.

Within a hundred years both of these kingdoms had been thrown into chaos by the onslaught of the Vikings and within two hundred years they had become distant memories.

This book charts the transformation of the political landscape of northern Britain between the eighth and the eleventh centuries.

Central to this narrative is the mysterious disappearance of the Picts and their language and the sudden rise to prominence of the Gaelic-speaking Scots who would replace them as the rulers of the North.

From Pictland to Alba uses fragmentary sources which survive from this darkest period in Scottish history to guide the reader past the pitfalls which beset the unwary traveller in these dangerous times.

Important sources are presented in full and their value as evidence is thoroughly explored and evaluated.

Unlike most other volumes dealing with this period, this is a book which 'shows its workings' and encourages the readers to reach their own conclusions about the origins of Scotland. Key Features: * The first book in over twenty years to explain the destruction of the Picts and the rise of the Scottish kingdom from contemporary accounts alone * Recounts and evaluates modern scholarship developing readers' awareness of recent debates and controversies * Subjects contemporary sources to rigorous examination allowing students to appreciate the strengths and pitfalls of different types of evidence * Locates early Scottish history firmly within a European context


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400 pages, 11 black & white illustrations
  • Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: British & Irish history
  • ISBN: 9780748612345

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From Pictland To Alba is a terrific study of late 1st millenium AD Scotland, drawing together in a brilliantly accessible way the competing societies of northern Britain. This is the 2nd book in the New Edinburgh series and is an outstanding contribution.Woolf opens his account with an assessment of the living and societal arrangements of communities in the time period and this is an invaluable context that history books often miss. History is not just about kings but is also the summed efforts of those across a culture. Woolf also keeps the technical parts of the study simple including in explaining his sources though having notes on naming conventions at the start might be a little intimidating.Woolf's narrative flows throughout despite crossing societies from Orkney to Normandy, and from Connacht to Sweden. The description of the balance of power between various Pictish, Gaelic, and British kingdoms is the most definitive around and the travails of each group are demonstrated logically and clearly. Woolf's narrative offers the reader the opportunity to make leaps of imagination to explain what is missed in the sources and Woolf is careful not to overplay what can be gleaned from existing information. In setting out possible options in areas where not quite enough is known, the reader can draw sensible conclusions on balance of probabilities that the rigorous narrative can not.The arrival of the Vikings in this period is one of the crucial elements in the formation of the Scottish state and the explanation of the collapse of the Picts here is convincing. The role that religion played in uniting factions is fascinating and the continued battle for survival that ultimately forged Britain is set in the context of expanding Scandinavian and Germanic kingdoms.The relationship with southern kingdoms is explained effectively and though it might have been nice to have more on Brunanburh, the context that Woolf sets shows just how definitive that battle for one was. Other battles are no doubt lost to history and Woolf shows how the conquest of Strathcylde by the Gaels remains a gap in our understanding but this work allows likely scenarios to be understood and for a solid picture of developments in Scotland to be pieced together.The formatting of the book is a mixed bag. The use of text boxes is a nice way to get to grips with particular specifics though the editing of paragraphs around those boxes is not great as they sometimes have to be referred back to. The use of footnotes is more irritating though as Woolf intersperses references to other works with his own commentary on his text which disrupts the flow on the chance that a footnote instead contains a thoughtful aside.Overall this is a superb work that should be recommended for anyone with an interest in the place and the period.

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