Tartans

A lot of Scottish highland “tradition” is not medieval at all, but a product of the nineteenth century – this includes one of the most Scottish emblems of all: the woven pattern known as tartan. And yet, to a North American, that is still a very long time indeed – and never underestimate the power of nationalist feeling to make people cherish something anyway! (I remember, in Canada, when inukshuks and the dish poutine seem to have come out of nowhere in the early 1990s to assume instant status as national icons, and when Bob and Doug Mackenzie taught us that “hoser” was a typically Canadian insult, even though I had never heard it before their schtick became famous c. 1982.) Tartan, according to Wikipedia,

is made with alternating bands of coloured (pre-dyed) threads woven as both warp and weft at right angles to each other. The weft is woven in a simple twill, two over—two under the warp, advancing one thread at each pass. This forms visible diagonal lines where different colours cross, which give the appearance of new colours blended from the original ones. The resulting blocks of colour repeat vertically and horizontally in a distinctive pattern of squares and lines known as a sett.

It is doubtful that particular tartans represented anything specific prior to the mid-nineteenth century, but with the Victorian “invention of tradition” they came to be associated with particular Scottish regions, clans, or institutions, with a certain amount of prescriptiveness. In reality, most people choose which tartan to wear for aesthetic reasons alone, although by the strictest standards of propriety, they should not. But the good news is that tartan is a tradition that has become universalized. You don’t need to steal someone else’s tartan, because you can always get one of your own, and register it with the Scottish Register of Tartans. Naturally this appeals to groups with Scottish connections, but all sorts of tartans exist, or so I discovered from Facebook on Tartan Day (April 6). Some examples:

17796562_10154362353636892_6086054473039248723_nRoyal College of Physicians, Edinburgh. Tartans do not need to be allusive but this one is: four colors represent the four humors of Hippocrates – blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. (Presumably this is for historical reasons only and not reflective of the current curriculum.) My friend Rick Num brought this one to my attention.

 

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“Organised by Dunedin (Florida) local doctor Pat Snair and designed and woven by Lochcarron of Scotland for the Toronto Blue Jays – the Canadian city’s baseball team which does its winter training in Florida.”

 

 

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“A tartan created for Domino’s Pizza Group which integrates its well-known brand colours. The Tartan will be used to mark the opening of a new store in Glasgow and will be made available for team members who would like to wear a kilt.”

 

 

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“Designed by Polly Wittering of House of Edgar to commemorate the return of the Stone of Destiny from Westminster.”

 

 

 

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“Designed in December 1981 by Peter E. MacDonald. Commemorates the 250th Anniversary of founding of Georgia but is now widely regarded as the Georgia State tartan. Was designed at the suggestion of Dr Micheil MacDonald following discussions with officers of Stone Mountain Games… Adopted as the official State tartan by the State legislature on 1st May 1997.”

 

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“Based on the colours of the International Bear Brotherhood flag, this tartan is the first in the Equality series of kilts for Kilted Bros, LLC.”

 

 

 

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“Full name is ‘Metropolitan Atlanta Police Emerald Society Pipe Band’. Designed by Thomas D. Alexander III and Marjorie Warren with help from Alistair Buchan of Lochcarron. The Society was formed to promote brotherhood and to care for their own. The Society is open to all interested persons.”

 

 

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“The University of Georgia tartan was commissioned for UGA by Mr. Estes & Mrs. Hoover, who hired Matthew Newsome of the Scottish Tartans Museum in Franklin, NC, to design the tartan. Ownership of this tartan has now been transferred to the University of Georgia.”

 

 

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“Designed in 2002 by Dr. Phil Smith for Auburn University, Montgomery, Alabama, USA. Threadcount corrected in Sept 2004 in line with designer’s note. Sole agents are Scotpress of Auburn, Alabama.”

 

 

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“Also called ‘We Are Crimson,’ this was the winning tartan in a design contest for an official University of Alabama tartan sponsored by the College of Human Environmental Sciences at the University of Alabama. ‘I wanted my tartan to be easily recognized as the University’s plaid,’ Rich said of her design. ‘So, naturally I wanted the predominant colors to be crimson and white, with accents of black and grey. Secondly, I wanted it to represent the entire University, so I used 13 lines to represent the 13 colleges that comprise The University of Alabama today. Then, in the center of the design, the innermost white square represents Denny Chimes, and the whole central plaid represents the Quad because the Quad is the heart of the campus. The four corners of the centre plaid speak to our past and represent the four original buildings that survived the fire set by the Union troops during the Civil War.'”

I think that is the most allusive tartan I’ve ever encountered.

The Register (which since 2009 has been administered by the National Archives of Scotland) has its own tartan and, I’m pleased to note, its own coat of arms. Apparently it recognizes some 4000 tartan designs – which for now does not include one for Reinhardt University.

Roman Scotland

From the Scotsman, something I’ve always wondered:

Why couldn’t the Romans hold and conquer Scotland?

ALISON CAMPSIE

There is no doubt that the Imperial Roman Army flexed their might on Scottish soil after Agricola first sent a survey fleet in 79 AD.

His leadership peaked around 83 AD at the Battle of Mons Graupius- now known as the Grampian Mountains – when 10,000 Caledonians are thought to have died at the hands of a well-organised Roman legion of around half the size of the tribal force raised from 30,000 men.

Agricola returned triumphant to Rome and was highly decorated for his efforts but the victory did not seal Roman influence in Caledonia. Indeed, it coincided with the withdrawal of large numbers of troops.

Shortly after the victory at Mons Graupius, the Romans suffered crushing defeats on The Danube in 85 and 86 in the Dacian Kingdom, now modern-day Transylvania.

The Romans withdrew to a line just north of the Cheviots – the rolling hills that straddle the modern border between Scotland and England – to a position reached some 12 years earlier and men filtered east.

Several key forts – from Stracathro in Angus in the north to Broomholm and Drumlanrig in the south – remained occupied but further forces filtered away from Caledonia with the start of the Dacian War in 103.

The decision to pull resources from Scotland may well have been made on a “last in, first out” basis but other reasons have been long debated.

According to David Breeze in his book Roman Scotland, Frontier Country, the Caledonians appeared to be “doughty fighters” with Roman statesman Dio crediting the “fearsome and dangerous” men with standing their ground over the two-year battle.

Others have suggested that the “guerilla tactics” of the Caledonians were the perfect assault on disciplined Roman fighters.

The mountainous terrain of northern Caledonia has also been considered as a barrier to conquest but, as Breeze points out, the ranges are no greater than those found in other parts of the Empire, such as Spain or the Alps.

Scotland perhaps became simply not worth the bother for the Romans, who were forced to fight and defend deep elsewhere.

“It is difficult to believe that the conquest of Scotland would have brought any economic gain to Rome. It was not rich in mineral or agricultural produce, “ Breeze said.

It is not clear how much this would have dampen the resolve to rule, given “Rome considered she had the right to rule the world,” Breeze added.

Caledonia’s tribal lands and society may have been just too unruly for the Romans who may have struggled to impose their own government and currency. Manufacturing, such as pottery and metal work, were not well developed.

Caledonians were, however, able enough to rise to the huge test of the advancing Roman army and raise battle groups of their own. The tribes at this point probably had their own Kings with society organised well enough to feed itself.

However, the situation was not help by Britain being “on the very edge of the known world,” Breeze said.

He added: “Perhaps if the tribes had not been so warlike, the mountains so high, the lack of economic benefit so obvious, geographical and social difficulties so great, Rome might have triumphed.”

The Antonine Wall – stretched from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde and the most northerly frontier barrier of the Roman Army – was abandoned around 165 AD with the troops returning to Hadrian’s Wall, around 100 miles south.

 

William IV

From the Facebook feed of the Canadian Heraldic Authority:

Today marks the 250th birthday of King William IV, who reigned from 1830 to 1837. Our illustration of his arms comes from a Canadian source, the Proclamation of the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada announcing a reward for the apprehension of William Lyon Mackenzie, the leader of the unsuccessful rebellion in Toronto in 1837. The document was issued in the name of the new monarch, Queen Victoria, yet it still used William IV’s royal arms. Can you spot the difference?

King William died on June 20, 1837; William Lyon Mackenzie’s rebellion took place in October, November, and December of that year. The Proclamation for his capture is dated December 7.

The difference, of course, is the inescutcheon at the fess point, consisting of the Hanoverian arms (of Brunswick, Lüneburg, and Westphalia). Victoria, being a woman, could not inherit these territories, so they went to her uncle, Ernest Augustus I. The Hanoverian arms were then removed, leaving the British Royal Arms in the form they are found today (1 & 4 England, 2 Scotland, 3 Ireland).

Via Wikipedia, a color rendition of the Hanoverian inescutcheon, which itself has an inescutcheon featuring the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire, for the office of archtreasurer of the HRE.

Via Wikipedia, an engraving of the Royal Arms from the Order of Service for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, by Reynolds Stone.

I like the nineteenth-century custom of showing the supporters leaping out from behind the shield.

Brought to you by the Letter I

From Adomnán’s Life of St. Columba. May we all have copy-editors this good:

One day Baithéne came to St. Columba and said:

“I need one of the brethren to help me go through the text of the psalter I have copied and correct any mistakes.”

The saint said to him:

“Why do you bring this trouble on us when there is no need? For in your copy of the psalter there is no mistake – neither one letter too many nor one too few – except that in one place the letter I is missing.”

So it was. Having gone through the whole psalter, it was found to be exactly as the saint predicted.

Iceland

Speaking of immigration, here is further evidence that the first people to reach Iceland were not Vikings, but Celts:

The research is revealed in the book, Into the Ocean: Vikings, Irish, and Environmental Change in Iceland and the North, which has recently been published by University of Toronto Press. Written by archaeologist Dr Kristján Ahronson of Bangor University, it shows he found these cross markings in these caves which are very similar found in Scotland and Ireland.

There are about 200 man-made caves in southern Iceland, and Ahronson focused on several located at Seljaland, which lies near the Isle of Heimaey. He explains, “In our work at Seljaland, we recorded over 100 simple crosses and 24 more elaborately carved or sculpted examples. The crosses bear a range of striking stylistic similarities to early medieval sculpture in the West Highlands and Islands of Scotland, such as that found at the important early medieval monastery of Iona in Argyll as well as more extreme locales for Scotland’s early Christian communities such as St Molaise’s Cave on Holy Island (off Arran) and at isolated north Atlantic places such as the tiny island of North Rona (north of Lewis and the Scottish mainland). The Seljaland caves are remarkable in their own right for the concentration of sculpture found there and because of the very fact that they’ve been dug out of the rock, and form part of a poorly understand yet distinctively Icelandic phenomenon, now dated to Iceland’s earliest settlement.” –

In an article for The Conversation, Ahronson offers more details on this site: “We were able to accurately date one of these caves by finding construction waste from where it had been excavated from the Icelandic rock. We related this waste material to layers of volcanic airfall, ash layers that have been dated by international teams of researchers with remarkable precision and are a powerful dating tool for this part of the world. And we developed new methods to study the surface of volcanic ash layers that helped us to better understand the processes by which people cleared and managed that woodland, and contributed to creating the pastoral landscape that we recognise today. Again, these human activities can be accurately dated and chime with the our other lines of investigation.”

Interesting. I wonder what became of these people once the Vikings arrived…