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Britain and the Beginning of Scotland 

Dauvit Brown

British Academy: Sir John Rhŷs Lecture, 5 December (2013)

Until recently it was generally held that Scotland first began to take shape with a union of Picts and Scots under Cinaed mac Ailpín, who died in 858. For example, Edward James in his Britain in the First Millennium, published in 2001, referred to how ‘a king of Dál Riata, Cinaed mac Ailpín (Kenneth mac Alpine), definitively united the Picts and the Scots into a new kingdom’,so that ‘in the middle of the ninth century the kingdom of Scotland is unified, under Cinaed mac Ailpín (840/2–858), a Gaelic rather than a Pictish king.

Cinaed was the common ancestor in the male line of kings of Scots from around 890 until 1034. This alone could explain how he came to be regarded in the tenth century as one of the kingdom’s founding figures. If so, he would only have gained this status retrospectively. Be this as it may, there is no longer a consensus about his role, or about whether he was a Gael or a Pict. Some have abandoned the notion of Cinaed as founder but have still retained the idea that a new, united kingdom emerged in the end of the ninth century—‘a homologated kingship of Picts and Scots’, to quote Archie Duncan in 2002.