The Picts are the inhabitants of the Pictish Wilderness during the Hyborian Age.

Robert E. Howard's Picts are a conflation of the historical Picts and American Indians, particularly the Algonquins.

History and politics[edit | edit source]

The Picts originated from the Pictish Islands, a chain of islands far to the west of Thuria and Atlantis. Due to raiding expeditions, they have colonies on the Thurian continent itself and near the end of the Thurian Age. There were Pictish settlements among the mountains south of Valusia, which guarded the kingdom against invaders.

During the Cataclysm, the Picts of the Pictish Islands were destroyed, as their lands rose to form the mountains of what would be the Americas. The Picts of the islands would become the Native Americans. The Picts of Thuria fell further into barbarism, worked with flint, and advanced in military technology. They entered a war with the surviving Atlanteans, who were less numerous and powerful. Soon, the Picts created a nation of savages.

A millennium after the lesser cataclysm, they become scattered and fearsome savages dwelling in the caves of southwestern Thuria, contenting with other beasts. The Picts have retained their speech and name, now in a primitive form. They remained stable, neither evolving or devolving as other societies had and remained savages during the Hyborian invasion. The invaders drove the Picts into the barren lands of the west, while the Picts themselves fiercely resisted contact with the civilization, although at times they benefitted from this contact.

To the southwest, a tribe of Picts invaded the fertile valley of Zingg, conquered the agricultural people there, and settled among them, forming a mixed race that would form Zingara.

During the height of the Hyborian Age, there were grisly tales of the hostile Picts, and what happened to explorers or traders. They ventured into the mountains of Zingara for tin or stole grain from the Bossonian Marches, while from both they captured steel weapons and armor. In earlier times, they constantly fought against their old enemies, the Cimmerians. The Aquilonian kings toyed with the idea of putting both barbarian tribes against themselves and thus let them destroy each other. Picts fought as mercenaries in the Aquilonian splendid armies (disgusting their Bossonian colleagues) and returned home with knowledge of civilized warfare.

History changed with the arrival of missionary Arus, the priest of Mitra. He contacted with the tribe of Gorm, teaching them civilization and crafts, while making contact between them and Aquilonia. Soon, Gorm used this knowledge to dominate other clans through war and diplomacy. He became chief of chiefs, king of all Picts. Throwing his tiger-skin in favor of a new corselet of silver mail, he moved his steel-armed and scale-mailed Picts against the civilized world, starting with the Bossonian Marches. The first invasions ended in a great battle and a defeat.

But the second attempt found no opposition; Aquilonia had devastated the Bossonian marches in retribution, and was warring once more with Nemedia. Gorm, now an old man, planned and directed the second invasion, which was a concerted rush of the whole Pictish nation, led by Pictish chiefs who had served as mercenaries in the Aquilonian armies. They rushed into the Bossonian marches, now without opposition, and swept the remnants of the Bossonians out of existence. They swarmed into Aquilonia, and in the midst of the chaos, along with a raid by the Cimmerians, the mercenaries and vassals found the opportunity to mutiny and leave for their countries, adding to the chaos. The onrush was inexhaustible as horde after horde swarmed forth from the Wilderness, and the Aquilonian legions that were called from all parts of the empire were no match for them.

Pictish empire[edit | edit source]

Soon the Aquilonian empire fell, and the Picts occupied its ruins. The Picts started blotting out the former inhabitants but never managed to conquer Gunderland.

The Picts broke into the borders of Zingara and then Argos and clashed with the Hyrkanians in Ophir. Generally the Pictish advance was stopped by Nordheim, Cimmeria, and Nemedia (aided by Æsir (Aesir) mercenaries) and most importantly by the Hyrkanians, another invading force who conquered their way westward. The Pictish empire now occupied the westernmost Thuria from Vanaheim to Zingara, including Ophir, Argos, the western parts of Koth, and Shem. The two new opposing empires warred along their borders, as in Koth, which was divided and switched conquerors between the Picts and the Hyrkanians.

During their rule they occupied the ruins of the palaces they conquered but without copying or adopting the civilization they subjugated. They shattered artifacts and cities without making new one to replace it. The Picts remained true barbarians.

The Nordic drift shattered the Pictish empire, which afterwards consisted of the western part of the continent, Aquilonia and part of Zingara, until the western parts were deluged by the ocean. Reduced once more to the status of stone-age savages, they began once more to possess the land, until they were overthrown by the westward drift of the Cimmerians and Nordics from Vilayet.[1]

People and culture[edit | edit source]

The Picts are a Darker skinned race, though swarthy. The Picts are short, very dark, with black eyes and hair. They are broad-shouldered, deep-chested, lean-hipped, thickly-muscled, and naked except for scanty doe-skin loincloths.

Their faces are immobile, but their narrow eyes glitter with the fire that burns in the eyes of a stalking tiger. When a Pict stands motionless, the very beasts pass without noticing.

The Picts are a ruder, more practical, more prolific race. They left no pictures painted or carved on ivory, as did the Atlantians, but they left remarkably efficient flint weapons in plenty.

Initially, the Picts lived in caves and trees. Later, in tents of hides or brush-thatched huts of mud and wattle, as they learned from the Bossonians.[2] In their huts hang the grinning skulls of men. In mud-walled enclosures fires flicker, drums rumble, and spears are clenched in the hands of silent men wearing moccasins. Villages are surrounded by a stockade with a broad gate. A low, hideous pyramid of gory human heads can be seen in the middle.

Stakes (for torturing and killing captives) are set before a long building, larger than the other huts, decorated by human skulls dangling from the eaves. Inside is a grim stone altar, five human heads grinning on it. Behind the altar is an idol, dim, indistinct, bestial, yet vaguely man-like in outline. A bull ape. The Picts think they're sacred to their gorilla-god, Gullah the Hairy One, who lives on the moon.

They practice human sacrifice, blood-feud, and the burning alive of captives.

Only one drum in the world makes just that deep, menacing, sullen thunder: the war-drum of the Picts.

Pictish women wail their dead.

They have learned how to crudely use copper, bronze, and tin. Although it's abundant in their wilderness, Picts venture into the mountains of Zingara for tin. They trade with hides, whale teeth, walrus tusks, copper ore, and gold dust.[3] Ships from Zingara occasionally trade weapons, ornaments, and wine to the coastal tribes. Sometimes, they trade ostrich plumes from Kush. The Pictish shamans place great store by them.

The lands of the Picts are filled with wildlife and fish. They are primarily hunter-gatherers and fish the sea or rivers. They also have learned how to plant grain and do it sketchily, but prefer to steal it from their neighbors, the Bossonians or Zingarans.[4] Having no need of animal husbandry or agriculture, the Picts have never developed the kind of structured society which other nations have.

The clans are generally at feud with each other, and their simple customs are blood-thirsty. Some of their clans:

  • Hawk or Onayaga
  • Wolf
  • Eagle
  • Toucan
  • Cormorant
  • Sea-falcon
  • Wildcat
  • Turtle
  • Panther
  • Alligator
  • Otter
  • Hornbill
  • Raven

There is a difference by clan in the barbaric tribal designs painted on their faces and breasts. There's also difference between warrior's and hunter's marks.

Some common equipment is this. Their tangled manes bound back with bands of copper. A necklace of human teeth. A brass armlet. A toucan feather drooping over left ear. A heavy black bow with white notches for every slain enemy. Short swords and axes. Lower jaws painted white, contrasting vividly with their dark faces. Shark's teeth woven in the tangled locks of the wildest and most barbaric warriors. Shamans are almost hidden in ostrich plumes set on a harness of leather and copper.

They may use their teeth in fight. They slash throats from ear to ear. They are known to scalp enemies.

The worst insult you can give a Pict is to throw him into a cell.

There are huge serpents in the Pictish forests which sometimes hang by their tails from branches high above and so snare their prey. They are the only things a Pict fears.

Their shamans can transfer the soul of a captured enemy into a serpent. Then both are beheaded. And his foe should dwell in the body of a serpent throughout his next reincarnation.

Notable Picts[edit | edit source]

Painted people[edit | edit source]

Popular etymology has long interpreted the name "Pict" as if it derived from the Latin the word picti meaning "painted folk" or possibly "tattooed ones"; and this may relate to the Welsh word pryd meaning "to mark" or "to draw". Julius Caesar, who never went near Pictland, mentions the British Celtic custom of body painting in Book V of his Gallic Wars, stating -

Omnes vero se Britanni vitro inficiunt, quod caeruleum efficit colorem, atque hoc horridiores sunt in pugna aspectu,

- which means -

In fact all Britanni stain themselves with vitrum, which produces a dark blue colour, and by this means they are more terrifying to face in battle.

The phrase vitro inficiunt is traditionally translated as "stain with woad", but could as well have meant “infect with glass”-describing a scarification ritual which left dark blue scars-or “dye with glaze”, forming a direct reference to tattooing. Subsequent commentators may have displaced the 1st-century BC southern practices (of the Brittani, a tribe south of the Thames) to the northern peoples in an attempt to explain the name Picti, which came into use only in the 3rd century AD. Julius Caesar himself, commenting in his Gallic Wars on the tribes from the areas where Picts (later) lived, states that they have “designs carved into their faces by iron”.

Whatever the historical truth, there was in Howard's mind a clear link between these "painted folk" and the American Indians in their warpaint.

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original content was at Pict. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Conan Wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the GNU Free Documentation License.

References[edit source]

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