Macbeth’s Scotland

Before the Scots came in the 6th century, the land they were to occupy was Pictland, inhabited by many diverse tribes known to us collectively as the Picts. Pictland was divided, however, into a northern and southern kingdom. When the Scots invaded on the western fringe of Pictland, they called their holdings Dalriada. Three centuries later, when Kenneth MacAlpin united Dalriada with Pictland–by fair means or foul–he called the combined country Alba. That was the name it still had in Macbeth’s day, although its inhabitants were called Scots.

By tradition, Scotland had seven provinces, called Mortuatha (great tribes): Caithness, Moray, Ce, Cirech, Atholl, Fortriu, and Fife. This was more a political division than a geographic one, determined by ties to one regional king (righ) or another. Cattle raiding being a favorite pass-time of the Celts, however, there was continual skirmishing between the various tribes, and most notably between Moray and Atholl. We’ll explore some of the reasons for that elsewhere, but let me mention in passing that Macbeth came from Moray, whereas Duncan was from Atholl.

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