Late in the fifth century a tribe of Gaelic Scotti from the north of Ireland migrated to southwestern Scotland, and gave their name first to a part, then to all, of the picturesque peninsula north of the Tweed. Three other peoples contested the possession of this ancient “Caledonia”: the Picts, a Celtic tribe, established above the Firth of Forth; the Britons, refugees from the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain, settled between the River Derwent and the Firth of Clyde; and the Angles or English between the River Tyne and the Firth of Forth. From all these the Scottish nation was formed: English in speech, Christian in religion, as fiery as the Irish, as practical as the English, as subtle and imaginative as any Celt.
Like the Irish, the Scotch were loath to relinquish their kinship organization, to replace the clan by the state. The intensity of their class conflicts was rivaled only by their proud loyalty to their clan, and their tenacious resistance to foreign foes. Rome failed to conquer them; on the contrary, neither Hadrian’s Wall between the Solway and the Tyne (A.D. 120), nor that of Antoninus Pius, sixty miles farther north between the firths of Forth and Clyde (140), nor the campaigns of Septimius Severus (208) or Theodosius (368) availed to end the periodical invasion of Britain by the hungry Picts. In 617 the Saxons under Edwin, King of Northumbria, captured the hill stronghold of the Picts, and named it Ed(w)inburgh. In 844 Kenneth Mac-Alpin united the Picts and Scots under his crown; in 954 the tribes recaptured Edinburgh, and made it their capital; in 1018 Malcolm II conquered Lothian (the region north of the Tweed), and merged it with the realm of the Picts and Scots. Celtic supremacy seemed assured; but the Danish invasions of England drove thousands of “English” into south Scotland, and poured a strong Anglo-Saxon element into the Scottish blood.
Duncan I (1034-40) gathered all four peoples—Picts, Scots, Celtic British, and Anglo-Saxons—into one kingdom of Scotland. Duncan’s defeat by the English at Durham gave an opening to his general Macbeth, who claimed the throne because his wife Gruoch was granddaughter of Kenneth III. Macbeth murdered Duncan (1040), reigned for seventeen years, and was murdered by Duncan’s son Malcolm III. Of seventeen kings who ruled Scotland from 844 to 1057, twelve died by assassination. It was a violent age of bitter struggle for food and water, freedom and power. In those dour years Scotland had little time for the frills and graces of civilization; three centuries were to pass before Scottish literature would begin. Norse raiders captured the Orkney Islands, the Faroes, the Shetlands, and the Hebrides; and Scotland lived ever under the threat of conquest by those fearless Vikings who were spreading their power and seed over the Western world.