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Angry Picts are much worse than Angry Birds…

SkyHarbor, 2013/03/10 

Olga Kurylenko as Pictish warrioress Etain

I just watched a 2010 film called ‘Centurion’ which purports to portray the mysterious demise of the Roman IX Legion in 117 AD at the hands of the Picts of Caledonia. While it’s a fun yarn (if a bit blood-spattered) with lots of Scottish landscape and suitably ferocious if overdressed Pictish warriors (both men and a couple of rather hot women), the tale is hopeless from a historical perspective. It is loosely based on a 1954 novel by Rosemary Sutcliff called “The Eagle of the Ninth”. The 2011 film “The Eagle” was based more closely on the same book.

The story of the annihilation of the Roman IX Legion is true enough, but it took place in the south and half a century earlier. Also, it was tribes of Celtic Britons under the Iceni warrior queen Boudica who ambushed and massacred the Romans, NOT the Picts…

Here’s a short preview of the film:

The fact of the matter is that we know precious little about the Picts (‘Pict’ was a Roman nickname meaning ‘Painted Ones’ – we don’t even know what they called themselves) and what we THINK we know is largely legend and heresay. We know they were excellent artists and metalworkers based on their artifacts. We know they tended to be into painting and/or tattooing their bodies and that they went into battle with few if any clothes on. We know they had no written language so we have no historical records and don’t even know what language they spoke – although it was very likely a Celtic tongue closely related to the Brythonic language of the Britons (and largely mutually intelligible). They seemed to disappear into the mists of time around the time the Vikings began raiding north-east Britain at the end of the eighth century.

3½/5 stars.

further info:

Orkneyjar: Who Were the Picts?

Wiki: The Picts

Wiki: Massacre of the 9th Legion

Wiki: The Eagle of the Ninth (1954 novel)

Wiki: Centurion (2010 film)

IMDB: Centurion (2010)


  1. Max wrote,

    I remember reading about Boudica in the excellent Before Scotland and recall there being a lot of emphasis on the extreme brutality of the Roman response to her successes in battle against them. This was just one of several over-the-top punishments they used in a futile attempt to break the spirit of the British tribes. The story in the movie does look like quite the mish-mash. According to the wikis (see the one on the Iceni too) Boudica’s uprising was, as you say, half a century earlier but it didn’t even involve the disappearance of the 9th. That did happen in about 117, or they might have just been transferred to Parthia where they likely got wiped out by some other uppity barbarian horde.

    Comment on 2013/03/10 @ 6:26 pm

  2. byronius wrote,

    I fixed your picture, hope you don’t mind. That’s a face, all right. I’m sure she could kick my butt.

    Comment on 2013/03/10 @ 7:20 pm

  3. SkyHarbor wrote,

    The film ‘Centurion’ makes clear at the end that the Romans decided to cover up the entire embarrassing Caledonian episode… and to ‘disappear’ the few survivors to KEEP it quiet. And they generally succeeded as we still don’t know for sure what really happened.

    A better known similar disaster had befallen the Roman Legions in Germania at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (9 CE). The Roman defeat was so complete and catastrophic that Caesar Augustus himself famously wailed “Quintili Vare, legiones redde!“ (‘Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!’) upon hearing the news. The defeat marked the end of the Roman advance into northern continental Europe.

    In Britannia, when Boudica and the allies of the Iceni rose up in revolt against the Romans, the Roman legions underestimated both the battle skills and rage of the British tribes, who the Roman military looked down upon as little more than pesky ‘street gangs’. Big mistake. BTW: Wikipedia also credits Boudica with the demise of the IX Legion. Of course, the Romans eventually lured Boudica’s forces into a ‘proper’ Roman style battle where the Iceni and allied British tribes were utterly wiped out. Boudica herself committed suicide rather than fall into Roman hands. Probably a wise move given the Roman mood at that point!

    Comment on 2013/03/10 @ 7:59 pm

  4. Max wrote,

    Great detail. I defer to your superior wikiwarrior skills.

    Comment on 2013/03/10 @ 9:51 pm

  5. SkyHarbor wrote,

    As Americans studying the history of Rome and its Empire, one can’t avoid repeated shocks of self-recognition. For the first time in Western history, we see a modern ‘superpower’. Even the political intrigues are essentially modern. We were modelled after the Roman Republic after all.

    If you can’t see the parallels between Rome and America… you just aren’t looking:

    “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” — George Santayana

    Comment on 2013/03/16 @ 10:09 am

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