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Ancient and Medieval Army Lists

Dalriadic Scots (500 - 846 AD)
(DBA 61a)

Roman historians recount the raids of the Scots and Picts on Briton's northern frontier as early as 297 AD. In 360 BC, Ammianus Marcellinus wrote that "savage tribes of Scotti and Picti, having broken the truce, were ravaging the parts of Roman Britain in the neighbourhood of the walls." In 365 CE, he noted that the "the Picti, Saxones, Scotti and Atecotti harassed the Britons continually." In 367 AD, a large force of Pict and Scots raiders overran Hadrian's Wall and ravaged the lands beyond. Campaigns by Theodorus (384 AD) and Stilchio (396 AD) helped settle the frontier temporarily. However, troops were later withdrawn from the region to fight on Rome's other hard-pressed borders. In 450 AD, Gildas recorded that the Britain's call for help (The Groans of the Britons) against the "foul hordes of Scots and Picts" had gone unheeded by Rome.

The Scots referred to in these accounts were from the Irish tribe Dal Riata and are represented in DBA by the Scots-Irish list (DBA 61). They hailed from the Antrim coast and part of the province of Ulster. They crossed the narrow Irish sea in their hide boats (curraghs) and mounted raids among the Attecotti and into Roman Britain. Over time, many stayed behind. Later, conflict between two Riatan tribes, the Dal Fiatach and the Dal nAraide, prompted a subchieftain named Cairpre Riata to lead his tribesmen across the water to settle in Scotland. Through these migrations, the Dal Riatan kingdom eventually spanned both Northern Ireland and a small portion of western Scotland.

According to the Irish chronicler Abbot Tigherac, Fergus Mor Mac Erc, King of the Dal Riata, transferred his throne from Antrim in Northern Ireland across the channel in 500 AD to join other Riatans living near Loch Linnhe in Scotland. This marks the beginning of this DBA Dalriadic Scot list (#61a). Fergus Mor built his stronghold on a hilltop ("Dun") in the Moss of Crinan overlooking the Add, a small streamlet which flows into Loch Crinan. Dunadd became the capital of the Dalriadic kingdom, which came to encompass the areas of Argyll, Kintyre and the Inner Hebrides.

The balance of the kingdom was divided into three districts among Fergus' relatives. Brother Angus and his tribe held the islands of Jura and Islay. Brother Loarne was given the region that still bears his name. The third (comprising modern Cowall and Kintyre) was passed down to Fergus's great-grandson Comgall. These four kinship groups -- Cenel Gabrain (the direct line of Fergus Mor), Cenel Loairn (the sons of Loarne), the Cenel nOengusa (the sons of Angus) and the Cenel Comgall (the heirs of Comgall) were to contend throughout the history of Dalriada for the throne.

The first five years of Dalriadic rule were turbulent, but the third king Comgall was reputed to have ruled for 30 years without strife (507-538 AD).

In 558 AD, King Brude Mac Maelchon of the Picts resoundly defeated the Dalraidic King Gabran in battle and in that same year Gabran died (whether or not he died in the battle is unclear). No further battles are recorded for 15 years.

Conall, son of Comgall, succeeded Gabran as king of Dal Riata. Conall welcomed the exiled Columba (Colum Cille) from Ireland, and sent him on a peace embassy to the Pictish king. It was apparently successful, for in 563 AD, in apparent agreement with the Pictish king, Conall granted Columba the island of Iona on which to build his famous monastery. Columba then commenced his work of converting the Picts to Christianity.

In 568 AD, King Conall and his kinsman, Colman Becc of Ireland, led a campaign into the Inner Hebrides to consolidate his rule over Soil and Islay. The death of Conall in 574 AD lead to a succession crisis, with the kingship due to revert from Conall's line by tradition to the sons of Gabran. Columba intervened and proclaimed Aedan as king over his elder brother Eoganan. This prompted a rebellion by Dondchad, the son of Conall and supporter of Eoganan's claim to the throne. Aedan prevailed over Dondchad in a battle fought at Kintyre, thus cementing his claim to the throne.

The balance of this period is not well recorded, although it is believed that the rise of Christianity and the power of Columba and his successors exercised in non-secular matters encouraged relative peace and prosperity between Dalriada and her neighbors, the Picts to the east and north, and the Britons to the south. Then came the Saxons of Berneicia and Deira, which were later joined to form Northumbria.

King Aedan lead a Dalriadic/Strathcyde Breton army against Ethelfrid of Berneicia, but was defeated decisively at Daegsastan (circa 597 AD). This defeat, coupled with the news of the death of Columba, prompted Aedan to relinquish his throne and retire to Kintyre, where he died at age 80.

In 613 AD, a Dalriadic contingent fought with a unified British army (with contingents from Gwynedd, Powys, Pengwern and Dumnonian) against the Saxon invader Ethelfrid at Chester. The battle failed to slow the Saxon king, who continued his campaign and slew 1200 British monks of Bangor who where attempting to avert the battle with prayer. Ethelfrid then seized Deira from his brother Edwin, and combined them into the new Kingdom of Northumbria, which Edwin recovered in 617 AD

Then King Penda of Mercia and Caedwalla (Cadwallon) of Wales joined forces against Northumbria, killing Edwin and destroying his army at the battle of Heathfield Chase in 633/634 AD. Caedwalla was given the Northumbrian throne by Penda, but lost it again to Oswald, son of Ethelfrid, who fought a series of battles with Penda to defend it. Oswald's army included a contingent of Scots (including monks from Iona) provided by King Domnall Brecc of Dalriada. With the defeat and death of Penda, Oswald and his heir Owsy reigned supreme. They seized Edinburgh, the last major stronghold of the British Votadini kingdom of Goddodin. Unable to resist, Dalriada and the Pictish kingdoms were forced to swear fealty to the Northumbrian bretwaldas.

As evidenced by the Convention of Druim Cett (575 AD), the Dalriadic Kings in Scotland had apparently continued to rule over and collect taxes from the Riatans who remained in Ireland. However, Domnhall, king of the Ui Neill defeated Congal, king of the Dal nAraide and Ulster (the nephew and agent of King Domnall Brecc of Dalriada) at the battle of Magh Rath in 637 AD, effectively ending Dalriadic control over their Irish possessions.

In 642 AD, King Owen of Strathclyde defeated an invading Dalriadic army at the Battle of Strathcarron, killing the Scottish King Domnall Brecc.

Oswy's heir Egfrid ascended to the Northumbrian throne in 670 AD and mounted campaigns in the north to consolidate his hold over the Scots and Picts. Dalriada and the Picts fought unsuccessfully for independence, the Picts suffering a massive defeat in which their dead were reputed to lie so thick in two rivers that the Northumbrians could walk dry-shod from bank to bank. Thereafter Egfrid annexed Galloway, drove the Britons entirely out of Cumbria, seized Carlisle and the famous Columban monastery at Lindisfarne, and subjected the Mercians to his rule. Egfrid's subsequent foray into Ireland was repulsed, after which he mounted a major invasion of the north in 685 AD. The Picts feigned a retreat, drawing the Northumbrians deeper into the highlands to Lin Garan (or Nechtan's Mere) a marshy lake in Forfarshire where an ambush had been laid. Egfrid was killed in the subsequent battle and his army all but annihilated, thus ending the Northumbrian control over Pictland and Dalriada and allowing the Picts to occupy as far south as Lothian. Contingents of Strathclyde Britons and Dalraidic Scots may have fought with the Picts at the battle of Nechtansmere

Subsequently, Kings Eugene VI of Dalriada and Alfred of Northumbia cemented a friendship based on their mutual interests as scholars. Alfred was raised in the Monastery at Iona, whereas Eugene had been trained by Adamnan, abbot of Icolm-Kill. Peace prevailed for ten years, although relations between Dalriada and the Picts became increasingly strained and conflict only averted due to the mediation of Adamnan.

The peace was spoiled, however, when the Southern Pictish King Nechtan converted to the Roman rite and expelled the Columban priests, who fled to Dalriada. With religious lines drawn between Rome and Ireland, the conflict broadened and diversified. A period of religous civil war ensued between the Northern and Southern Picts, and war between the Southern Picts and Dalriada, who had allied themselves with the Northern Picts. Then a civil war erupted in Dalraida in c. 725 AD, when Echdach usurped the throne of Dungal. Finally, the reunified Picts under King Oengus attacked and overran Dalriada between 731-736 AD, forcing the Dalriadic king into brief exile in Ireland. Oengus continued his aggressive expansion southward until defeated by the Strathcylde Britons at the battle of Catohic (Mocetauc) near Glasgow in 750 AD

In 768 AD, King Aed Fin lead a Dalriadian army into the southern Pictish province of Fortriu and fought a battle the outcome of which is not known. Thereafter, the Dalriadic kingship list becomes somewhat conjectural. The following is offered as a plausible but not certain history.

In 781 AD, Constantine mac Fergus became King of the Northern Picts. Over the next ten years, he extended his rule south and west. In 798 AD, the Vikings made their first appearance on the scene and posed a constant threat to both the Picts and Dalriadic Scots for the next 200 years. In 809 or 810 AD, Conall mac Aed relinguished the throne of Dalraidia according to Irish annalists (perhaps because of the Viking threat), and the Dalriadic nobles recognized Constantine as their king, thus unifying the Picts and Scots for the first time. Constantine and his heir and brother Oengus referred to their joint kingdom as Fortren. From this point forward until the accession of Kenneth Mac Alpin, the exact line of "Scottish" kings or claimants to the former Dalriadic throne is unclear.

In 832 or 834 AD AD, Oengus died giving rise to another succession controversion. One of several candidates, the Scot Alpin claimed the Pict throne by virtue of his mother's royal Pictish blood. The Picts elected another, prompting Alpin to take the field. A battle was fought at Restennet, near Forfar, resulting in the death of the Pictish king and a victory for Alpin despite heavy casualties. But rather than recognize Alpin's claim, the Picts elected a new king and raised a new army. In a second confrontation fought near Dundee, the Picts mounted their camp attendants on baggage horses and held them in concealment until a key juncture when they appeared on a hill overlooking the battleground. The appearance of this "second army" caused the Scots to panic and rout. Alpin's nobles were captured and executed on the spot, and an attempt to ransom Alpin was refused. He was beheaded and his head placed on a pike, which was carried home to adorn the battlements of the Pictish stronghold at Abernethy.

An alternative history of this battle (reputedly fought in 839 AD) is also told. In this account, Norse Vikings came upon the Scot and Pict armies locked in combat and stopped to watch the outcome. After the Picts had prevailed and beheaded Alpin, the Norse attacked the victorious Picts, killing King Eogahann and scattering his army.

In any event, the victory ended immediate hostilities with the Scots, but prompted civil war among the Picts (perhaps due to the death of Eogahann and renewed conflict over a successor). This period of respite allowed Kenneth the Hardy, son of Alpin and successor to the Dalriadic throne, to recruit his strength. After three years, Kenneth Mac Alpin was eager to take the offensive, but was hampered by nobles reluctant to renew hostitilies. In the fourth year, Kenneth invited his nobles to a banquet. After the revelry, and as his nobles drifted off to sleep, a young kinsmen of Kenneth appeared dressed "in a luminous robe, made out of the phosphorescent skins of fish," and with a long speaking tube. This apparition exhorted the befuddled nobles to avenge the death of Alpin, and they apparently took heed of what appeared to be a divine message. The Dalriadic army subsequently took the field, crossing into southern Pictish lands and defeating a Pictish force near Stirlingshire. A series of battles followed, until finally the Pictish king and his army were trapped near Scone by the River Tay and destroyed.

A less generous version of Kenneth's ascession involves the story of another banquet to which were invited various Pictish nobles who opposed his claim to the throne. Purportedly a pit was dug underneath the floor of the banquet hall. After much wine had been consumed, the floor supports were removed and the Pictish nobles fell into the pit and were slaughtered by Kenneth's men-at-arms.

In any event, in A.D. 843, purportedly Kenneth Mac Alpin ascended the throne as ruler of Alba, the unified kingdom of the Dalriadic Scots and Picts. Pictish resistance apparently continued for several years, however, for it is recorded that King Aethelred II of Northumbria had sent military assistance to the Picts in their unsuccessful fight against invading Scots as late as 846 AD. This later date marks the beginning of the DBA Prefeudal Scots (#111) list.


Ui Neill (Scots-Irish #61), Dalriadic Scots (#61a), Northumbrians (Early Saxons, #75a), Strathclyde Britons (#92 without LB option), Picts (#67), and Vikings (#106a)


3Wb Nobles/CnC
1x 2Lh or 2Ps
8x 3Wb or 3Aux
2x 2Ps


Essex offers a range of 15mm Scots-Irish figures (SIA), which can be employed as Dalriadic Scots. I can also recommend Feudal Castings. Any pre-feudal Scots, Saxon, or Welsh foot can be pressed into service, although you will want to use figures with small round shields whereever possible. Dark Age Pict figures generally will not be suitable due to the uniqueness of their hair (esp. beards) and shields (i.e. square or figure eight shaped).

Other Resources

For tips on painting a Dalriadic Scot army, consult similar notes for the Scots-Irish (#61) list.

For general historical information concerning the Dalriadic Scots on-line, consult:

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Last Updated: Feb. 22, 2000

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.