Due to the recent discover of the Iron
Age (250 BC) chariot burial in Newbridge (10 km West of Edinburgh) I
thought it might be beneficial to give you a quick overview of chariots
in Pictish times.
Numerous chariot examples survive on
Irish high crosses. Chariots played a very large part in early Irish
history. The ancient story of Tain bo Cuilagne (cattle raid of
Cooley) indicates that the elite fought from 2 wheel chariots. Not only
was chariot warfare in effect, but chariot racing was also a form of
entertainment. The Irish story, The Curse of Macha, weaves a tale
in which a 9 month pregnant Macha runs a race against the kings chariot
to prove her husbands bragging as true. She wishes to hold off on
the race until the baby is born but the men demand that she race
immediately. She wins, gives birth to twins at the end of the race, and
then curses the men so that they feel the pangs of birth in their
greatest time of need.
Similarities in art often occur between
the Irish and the Pictish. However, any literature produced by the Picts,
besides a list of kings, has been lost to us and we only have one
visual example of a chariot in Pictish art. The Meigle #10 stone, sadly
now lost, is our only glimpse of a "Pictish" chariot. At one point the
stone rested on a mound in the Meigle Churchyard; today we only have a
sketch (found in Allen & Andersonís, The Early Christian Monuments of
Scotland) of the original stone.
Two, side-by-side, horses with braided
tails draw the Meigle chariot. There is a seated driver at the front and
two passengers, sitting one in front of the other, behind the driver.
The chariot has an awning stretched over the two passengers and the
wheel, underneath the passengers, has twelve spokes.
It is in question whether the chariot
on the stone represents a Pictish chariot, a Roman chariot or the
artistís perception of a Biblical times chariot.
Dr. J. Anderson suggested that the
chariot scene on Meigle #10 represented the Biblical ascension of
Elijah. It has also been noted that the Roman processional carts (carpentum)
also had awnings stretched over them. Without more archaeological
evidence of early Scottish/Pictish chariots it is hard to know whether
the Meigle chariot is supposed to be a Pictish representation, a foreign
representation or a Biblical representation. However, we know that
chariots were used in early, present day, Scotland. Tacitus claimed that
the Caledonians used chariots at Mon Grapius in 84 AD. The last recorded
use of chariots in a Celtic battle was by the Dal Riadans at the battle
of Moin Dairi Lothair in 563 AD.
Although only one representation of a
formed chariot exists in Pictish art, it has been suggested that the
notched rectangle symbol is an abstract representation of a chariot.
(The two inner circles [notches] represent the wheels underneath the
chariot [chariot viewed from above]). This symbol, without a Z-rod,
appears only on Drumlanrig jewellery and on Jonathanís Cave in East
Wemys, Fife. With the Z-rod the symbol shows up on numerous Class I
stones and on only two Class II stones: The Maiden Stone and the
Aberlemno #2 stone.
What separates Class I from Class II
stones is the introduction of Christianity. (Class II stones usually
have a cross displayed on one side of the stone and human activity on
the other). The use of chariots also began to disappear around the same
time (7th century) as Christianity began to take root in
Pictish settlements. This goes far in explaining why the suggested
chariot symbol is found on numerous Class I and on only two Class II
So, if the Picts used chariots, then
why has archaeology yet to uncover any from the Pictish era?
It seems that the Picts did not find it
necessary to bury their chariots. In fact, when it came to burials, the
Picts did not appear to include any burial goods in their traditions.
Chariots were no exception.
Due to this unfortunate circumstance we
may never unearth a chariot from the Pictish era. However, Iron Age
burials, like the one found in Newbridge does give us a glimpse at the
design that may have directly influenced the Pictish chariot centuries.
Drawing of Cariot
By Historian Sarah Fisher
Newbridge Chariot pictures Headland Archaeology Ltd