- Óengus I of the Picts
name =Óengus son of Fergus
title =King of the Picts
caption =The figure of the
Old TestamentKing Davidshown killing a lionon the St Andrews Sarcophagusis thought to represent King Óengus. The figure is dressed as a Roman emperor of Late Antiquityand wears a fibula like that of the Emperor Justinianon the mosaic at San Vitale, Ravenna. [See Charles Edwards, "'The Continuation of Bede'"; Yorke, "Conversion", pp. 236–237; Henderson, pp. 105ff. For similar images, see Henderson & Henderson, pp. 130–132.]
reign =732 – 761
full name =
predecessor =Nechtan son of Der-Ile
successor =Bridei son of Fergus
spouse 1 =
spouse 2 =
spouse 3 =
spouse 4 =
spouse 5 =
spouse 6 =
issue =Bridei, Talorgan
royal house =
royal anthem =
date of birth =
place of birth =
date of death =761
place of death =
date of burial =
place of burial =
Óengus son of Fergus (Hypothetical Pictish form: "Onuist map Urguist"; [Forsyth discusses the various forms of Óengus's name, also providing "Ungus(t)" as an alternative Pictish form.] Old Irish: "Óengus mac Fergusso", Anglicisation: "Angus mac Fergus"), was
king of the Pictsfrom 732 until his death in 761. His reign can be reconstructed in some detail from a variety of sources.
Óengus became the chief king in Pictland following a period of civil war in the late 720s. During his reign, the neighbouring kingdom of
Dál Riatawas subjugated and the kingdom of Strathclydewas attacked with less success. The most powerful ruler in Scotlandfor over two decades, he was involved in wars in Irelandand England. Kings from Óengus's family dominated Pictland until 839 when a disastrous defeat at the hands of Vikingsbegan a new period of instability, which ended with the coming to power of Cináed mac Ailpín.
ources and background
Surviving Pictish sources for the period are few, limited to king lists, the original of which was prepared in the early 720s, [M. O Anderson, "Kings and Kingship", pp. 88–102.] and a number of accounts relating to the foundation of
St Andrews, then called Cennrígmonaid. Beyond Pictland, the principal sources are the Irish annals, of which the " Annals of Ulster" and the " Annals of Tigernach" are the most reliable. These include materials from an annal kept at the monastery of Ionain Scotland. Óengus and the Picts appear occasionally in Welsh sources, such as the " Annales Cambriae", and more frequently in Northumbrian sources, of which the Continuation of Bede's chronicle and the "Historia Regum Anglorum" attributed to Symeon of Durhamare the most important. [Most sources are collected in "Early Sources of Scottish History" ("ESSH") and "Scottish Annals from English Chroniclers" ("SAEC"), edited by Alan Orr Anderson.]
Pictswere one of four political groups in north Britain in the early 8th century. Pictland ran from the River Forthnorthwards, including Orkney, Shetlandand the Western Isles. Prior to the Viking Age, the main power in Pictland appears to have been the kingdom of Fortriu. Known high-status sites in Fortriu include Burgheadand Craig Phádraig by Inverness. Pictland appears to have had only one bishop with his seat at Rosemarkie. [Early 8th century bishops include Curetán, Fergus and Brecc. Anderson, "ESSH", pp. 221; Yorke, "Conversion", pp. 153–155. Surveys of North Britain can be found in D.W. Harding, "The Iron Age in Northern Britain: Celts and Romans, Natives and Invaders" (2004), and Leslie Alcock, "Kings & Warriors, Craftsmen & Priests in Northern Britain AD 550–850" (2003). Foster, "Picts, Gaels and Scots" (2005), excludes southern Scotland and northern England.]
From the Forth south to the
River Humberlay the kingdom of Northumbria. Once the dominant force in Britain, it remained a powerful kingdom, but the end of the old dynasty of kings with the death of Osric in 729 led to conflict between rival families for the throne. The growing power of the Mercian kingdom to the south added to the problems faced by Northumbrian kings. For most of Óengus's reign Northumbria was ruled by the capable King Eadberht Eating. [Surveys of Northumbria include David Rollason's "Northumbria, 500–1100: Creation and Destruction of a Kingdom" (2003), and Nick Higham's "The Kingdom of Northumbria AD 350–1100" (1993).]
To the south-west of Pictland were the
Gaelsof Dál Riatawhere the kingship was disputed between the Cenél Loairnof northern Argylland the Cenél nGabráinof Kintyre. In 723 Selbach mac Ferchairabdicated as head of the Cenél Loairn and king of Dál Riata in favour of his son Dúngal, who was driven out as king of Dál Riata by Eochaid mac Echdachof the Cenél nGabráin in 726. Dúngal and Eochaid were still in conflict as late as 731, when Dúngal burnt Tarbert. [John Bannerman, "Studies in the History of Dalriada" (1974), remains the standard work on Dál Riata.]
The history of the fourth group, the Britons of
Alt Clut, later the kingdom of Strathclyde, leaves little trace in the record. King Teudebur map Beli had ruled from Dumbarton Rocksince 722, and continued to do so until his death in 752 when his son Dumnagual succeeded him. [Anderson, "ESSH", pp. 240–241 & 243. "Rotri, king of the Britons", whose death is recorded in the "Annales Cambriae" s.a. 754, has sometimes been identified as a king of Alt Clut, but this notice refers to Rhodri Molwynog ap Idwal, King of Gwynedd.]
Rise to power
Irish genealogies make Óengus a member of the
Eóganachta, a kindred with its base in Munster. The branch of the kindred from which he came was located in an area known as Circinn, usually associated with modern Angusand the Mearns. [Forsyth, "Evidence of a lost Pictish source", pp. 27–28. The genealogy appears in the Rawlinson B 502 manuscript, ¶1083.] His early life is unknown; Óengus was middle-aged by the time he entered into history. [Woolf, "Carnifex tyrannus", p. 36.] His close kin included at least two sons, Bridei (died 736) and Talorgan (died 782), and two brothers, Talorgan (died 750) and Bridei (died 763). [Yorke, "Conversion", pp. 49–50, 54 & 288–289 discusses the reconstructed relationship between late Pictish kings. Talorgan is a hypocoristicform of Talorg; Anderson, "ESSH", p. 253, note 2.]
King Nechtan son of Der-Ile abdicated to enter a monastery in 724 and was imprisoned by his successor Drest in 726. In 728 and 729, four kings competed for power in Pictland: Drest; Nechtan; Alpín, of whom little is known; and lastly Óengus, who was a partisan of Nechtan, and perhaps his acknowledged heir. [For reports of events from 724 to 729, see Anderson, "ESSH", pp. 221–227. For Óengus as Nechtan's supporter, Henderson, pp. 155–156; Woolf, "Carnifex tyrannus", p.36.]
Four battles large enough to be recorded in Ireland were fought in 728 and 729. Alpín was defeated twice by Óengus, after which Nechtan was restored to power. In 729 a battle between supporters of Óengus and Nechtan's enemies was fought at Monith Carno (traditionally Cairn o' Mount, near
Fettercairn) where the supporters of Óengus were victorious. Nechtan was restored to the kingship, probably until his death in 732. [Woolf, "AU 729.2".] On 12 August 729 Óengus defeated and killed Drest in battle at Druimm Derg Blathuug, a place which has not been identified.
Percutio Dal Riatai
In the 730s, Óengus fought against
Dál Riatawhose traditional overlords and protectors in Ireland, the Cenél Conaill, were much weakened at this time. A fleet from Dál Riata fought for Flaithbertach mac Loingsig, chief of the Cenél Conaill, in his war with Áed Allánof the Cenél nEógan, and suffered heavy losses in 733. [Woolf, "Carnifex tyrannus", p. 36; Anderson, "ESSH", pp. 229–230.] Dál Riata was ruled by Eochaid mac Echdachof the Cenél nGabráinwho died in 733, and the king lists are unclear as to who, if anyone, succeeded him as overking. The Cenél Loairnof north Argyllwere ruled by Dúngal mac Selbaigwhom Eochaid had deposed as overking of Dál Riata in the 720s.
Fighting between the Picts, led by Óengus's son Bridei, and the Dál Riata, led by Talorgan mac Congussa, is recorded in 731. In 733, Dúngal mac Selbaig "profaned [the sanctuary] of
Tory Islandwhen he dragged Bridei out of it." Dúngal, previously deposed as overking of Dál Riata, was overthrown as king of the Cenél Loairn and replaced by his first cousin Muiredach mac Ainbcellaig. [Anderson, "ESSH", pp. 227–229.]
In 734 Talorgan mac Congussa was handed over to the Picts by his brother, and drowned by them. [Anderson, "ESSH", p. 232 & corrigenda, p. xviii.] Talorgan son of Drostan was captured near Dún Ollaigh. He appears to have been the King of
Atholl, and was drowned on Óengus's order in 739. [Talorgan was related to Nechtan, and is called his brother in 713, which may mean half-brother, foster-brother, or brother-in-law. Anderson, "ESSH", pp. 214 & 236.] Dúngal too was a target in this year. He was wounded, the unidentified fortress of Dún Leithfinn was destroyed, and he "fled into Ireland, to be out of the power of Óengus." [Anderson, "ESSH", p. 232.]
The annals report a second campaign by Óengus against the Dál Riata in 736. Dúngal, who had returned from Ireland, and his brother Feradach, were captured and bound in chains. The fortresses of Creic and
Dunaddwere taken. Muiredach of the Cenél Loairn was no more successful, defeated with heavy loss by Óengus's brother Talorgan, perhaps by Loch Awe. A final campaign in 741 saw the Dál Riata again defeated. This was recorded in the "Annals of Ulster" as "Percutio Dál Riatai la h-Óengus m. Forggusso", the "smiting of Dál Riata by Óengus son of Fergus". [AU 741.10, available [http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/G100001A/text311.html here] .] With this Dál Riata disappears from the record for a generation. [Anderson, "ESSH", pp. 182 & 232–238; Woolf, "Carnifex tyrannus", pp. 36–37; M.O. Anderson, "Kings and Kingship", pp. 184–186. Who led the Dál Riata in 741 is unclear: the sons of Fiannamail ua Dúnchadonamed by the "Annals of Ulster" may be unconnected, and the mention of Alpín son of Crup, sometimes taken to be the same person as the Alpín overthrown in 729, may be misplaced.]
It may be that Óengus was involved in wars in Ireland, perhaps fighting with Áed Allán, or against him as an ally of
Cathal mac Finguine. [Woolf, "Ungus".] The evidence for such involvement is limited. There is the presence of Óengus's son Bridei at Tory Island, on the north-west coast of Donegalin 733, close to the lands of Áed Allán's enemy Flaithbertach mac Loingsig. Less certainly, the " Fragmentary Annals of Ireland" report the presence of a Pictish fleet from Fortriufighting for Flaithbertach in 733 rather than against him. [Anderson, "ESSH", pp. 227–228; Woolf, "Carnifex tyrannus", p. 36. As already noted, most Irish annals say that Flaithbertach was supported by a fleet from Dál Riata.]
Alt Clut, Northumbria, and Mercia
In 740, a war between the Picts and the Northumbrians is reported, during which Æthelbald, King of
Mercia, took advantage of the absence of Eadberht of Northumbriato ravage his lands, and perhaps burn York. [Anderson, "SAEC", pp. 55–56.] The reason for the war is unclear, but it has been suggested that it was related to the killing of Earnwine son of Eadwulf on Eadberht's orders. Earnwine's father had been an exile in the north after his defeat in the civil war of 705–706, and it may be that Óengus, or Æthelbald, or both, had tried to place him on the Northumbrian throne. [Woolf, "Carnifex tyrannus", p. 37. For Earnwine, see Kirby, p. 150; Yorke, "Kings and Kingdoms", p. 90.]
Battles between the Picts and the Britons of Alt Clut, or Strathclyde, are recorded in 744 and again in 750, when Kyle was taken from Alt Clut by Eadberht of Northumbria. The 750 battle between the Britons and the Picts is reported at a place named Mocetauc (perhaps Mugdock, near
Milngavie) in which Talorgan the brother of Óengus was killed. [Anderson, "ESSH", pp. 238–239; Anderson, "SAEC", p. 56.] Following the defeat in 750, the "Annals of Ulster" record "the ebbing of the sovereignty of Óengus". [Anderson, "ESSH", p. 240.] This is thought to refer to the coming to power of Áed Find, son of Eochaid mac Echdach, in all or part of Dál Riata, and his rejection of Óengus's overlordship. [Woolf, "Carnifex tyrannus", p. 38; M.O. Anderson, "Kings and Kingship", pp. 186–187. The entry for 752 in the "Annals of Tigernach", recording "the battle of Asreth in Circinn", is thought to be misplaced.]
Unlike the straightforward narrative of the attacks on Dál Riata, a number of interpretations have been offered of the relations between Óengus, Eadberht and Æthelbald in the period from 740 to 750. One suggestion is that Óengus and Æthelbald were allied against Eadberht, or even that they exercised a joint rulership of Britain, or
bretwaldaship, Óengus collecting tribute north of the River Humberand Æthelbald south of the Humber. This rests largely on a confused passage in Symeon of Durham's "Historia Regum Anglorum", and it has more recently been suggested that the interpretation offered by Frank Stenton—that it is based on a textual error and that Óengus and Æthelbald were not associated in any sort of joint overlordship—is the correct one. [Woolf, "Carnifex tyrannus", p. 38; Anderson, "SAEC", p. 56.]
In 756, Óengus is found campaigning alongside Eadberht of Northumbria. The campaign is reported as follows:
In the year of the Lord's incarnation 756, king Eadberht in the eighteenth year of his reign, and Unust, king of Picts led armies to the town of
Dumbarton. And hence the Britons accepted terms there, on the first day of the month of August. But on the tenth day of the same month perished almost the whole army which he led from Ouania to Niwanbirig. [After Forsyth, p. 29. See also Anderson, "SAEC", p. 57.]
That Ouania is
Govanis now reasonably certain, [Forsyth, pp. 29–30; Woolf, "Carnifex tyrannus", p. 39.] but the location of Newanbirig is less so. Although there are very many Newburghs, it is Newburgh-on-Tyne near Hexhamthat has been the preferred location. [Kirby, p. 150.] An alternative interpretation of the events of 756 has been advanced: it identifies Newanbirig with Newborough by Lichfieldin the kingdom of Mercia. A defeat here for Eadberht and Óengus by Æthelbald's Mercians would correspond with the claim in the Saint Andrews foundation legends that a king named Óengus son of Fergus founded the church there as a thanksgiving to Saint Andrewfor saving him after a defeat in Mercia. [Woolf, "Carnifex tyrannus", pp. 39–40. This version of the St Andrews foundation legend is given in M.O. Anderson, "Kings and Kingship", pp. 258–260.]
The cult of Saint Andrew
The story of the foundation of
St Andrews, originally "Cennrígmonaid", is not contemporary and may contain many inventions. The Irish annals report the death of "Tuathalán, abbot of Cinrigh Móna", in 747, making it certain that St Andrews had been founded before that date, probably by Óengus or by Nechtan son of Der-Ilei. [Anderson, "ESSH", p. 238; Forsyth, pp. 21–22; Foster, "Discovery", pp. 42–43; Woolf, "Ungus". The most recent study, Yorke, "Conversion", favours Óengus.] It is generally presumed that the St Andrews Sarcophaguswas executed at the command of Óengus. [Henderson, pp. 155–156; MacLean, pp. 200–201; Woolf, "Ungus". It is less certain whose remains the sarcophagus contained. Woolf and MacLean argue for Óengus while Henderson favours Nechtan mac Der Ilei. Clancy, "Caustantín", favours a 9th century date.] Later generations may have conflated this king Óengus with the 9th century king of the same name. [Foster, "Discovery", p. 42; Broun, pp. 80–81.] The choice of Davidas a model is, as Alex Woolfnotes, an appropriate one: David too was an usurper. [Woolf, "Carnifex tyrannus", p. 40.]
The cult of
Saint Andrewmay have come to Pictland from Northumbria, as had the cult of Saint Peterwhich had been favoured by Nechtan, and in particular from the monasteryat Hexhamwhich was dedicated to Saint Andrew. This apparent connection with the Northumbrian church may have left a written record. Óengus, like his successors and presumed kinsmen Caustantín and Eógan, is recorded prominently in the "Liber Vitae Ecclesiae Dunelmensis", a list of some 3000 benefactors for whom prayers were said in religious institutions connected with Durham. [Forsyth, pp. 25–26; Yorke, "Conversion", p. 167. Óengus is listed 43rd, Caustantín 80th and Eógan 100th.]
Death and legacy
Óengus died in 761, "aged probably more than seventy, ... the dominating figure in the politics of Northern Britain". [Forsyth, p. 21.] His death is reported in the usual brief style by the annalists, except for the continuator of Bede in Northumbria, possibly relying upon a Dál Riata source, who wrote:
Óengus, king of the Picts, died. From the beginning of his reign right to the end he perpetrated bloody crimes, like a tyrannical slaughterer. [Forsyth, p. 22; Anderson, "ESSH", p. 244; Anderson, "SAEC", p. 57; Woolf, "Carnifex tyrannus", p.37.]The
Pictish Chronicleking lists have it that he was succeeded by his brother Bridei. His son Talorgan was later king, and is the first son of a Pictish king known to have become king. [Yorke, "Conversion", p. 49. Sons of kings became kings more frequently in the 9th century, but it was not until the 11th century that kings were succeeded by their descendants rather than their brothers or cousins.]
The following 9th century Irish praise poem from the
Book of Leinsteris associated with Óengus: [Forsyth, pp. 27–28.]
Good the day when Óengus took Alba,
hilly Alba with its strong chiefs;
he brought battle to palisaded towns,
with feet, with hands, with broad shields. [Forsyth, pp. 27–28.]
An assessment of Óengus is problematic, not least because annalistic sources provide very little information on Scotland in the succeeding generations. His apparent Irish links add to the long list of arguments which challenge the idea that the "Gaelicisation" of eastern Scotland began in the time of Cináed mac Ailpín; indeed there are good reasons for believing that process began before Óengus's reign. [Nechtan son of Der-Ilei and his brother Bridei are thought to have had a Gaelic father, Dargart mac Finguine of the
Cenél Comgaill. See Clancy, "Nechtan"; Yorke, "Conversion", pp. 54–55.] Many of the Pictish kings until the death of Eógan mac Óengusa in 839 belong to the family of Óengus, in particular the 9th century sons of Fergus, Caustantín and Óengus. [Broun, passim; Woolf, "Carnifex tyrannus", p. 40. Arguing otherwise, see Bannerman, passim. The arguments are compared in Yorke, "Conversion", pp. 49–50, 54 & 288–289.]
The amount of information which has survived about Óengus compared with other Pictish kings, the nature and geographical range of his activities and the length of his reign combine to make King Óengus one of the most significant rulers of the insular Dark Ages. [The strongest claims are made in those accounts which take Óengus to have been joint Bretwalda with Æthelbald, such as Charles-Edwards, Forsyth and Yorke. Other, such as Broun and Woolf, make less sweeping claims, but make Óengus among the most powerful Pictish kings and the dominant force in northern Britain. For Óengus's significance on a cultural and artistic level see Henderson & Henderson, p. 12; MacLean, pp. 200–201.]
Primary sources:"see also" External links "below for online editions."
*Anderson, Alan Orr, "Early Sources of Scottish History AD 500 to 1286, Volume One." Reprinted, with corrections by Marjorie O. Anderson, Stamford: Paul Watkins, 1990. ISBN 1-871615-03-8
*Anderson, Alan Orr, "Scottish Annals from English Chroniclers A.D. 500–1286." London: D. Nutt, 1908.
Bede, " Ecclesiastical History of the English People." Translated by Leo Sherley-Price, revised R.E. Latham, ed. D.H. Farmer. London: Penguin, 1990. ISBN 0-14-044565-X
*Anderson, Marjorie Ogilvie, "Kings and Kingship in Early Scotland." Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh, revised edition 1980. ISBN 0-7011-1604-8
*Aitchison, Nick, "Forteviot: a Pictish and Scottish royal centre." 2006.
*Bannerman, John. "The Scottish Takeover of Pictland and the relics of Columba" in Dauvit Broun and Thomas Owen Clancy (eds.) "Spes Scotorum: Saint Columba, Iona and Scotland." Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1999 ISBN 0-567-08682-8
*Broun, Dauvit. "Pictish Kings 761–839: Integration with Dál Riata or Separate Development" in Sally Foster (ed.) "The St Andrews Sarcophagus: A Pictish masterpiece and its international connections." Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1998. ISBN 1-85182-414-6
*Charles-Edwards, T.M., "'The Continuation of Bede', s.a. 750: High-Kings of Tara and 'Bretwaldas'", in Alfred P. Smyth (ed.), "Seanchas: Studies in Early Medieval Irish Archaeology, History and Literature in Honour of Francis J. Byrne", Dublin & Portland: Four Courts Press, 2000. ISBN 1-85182-489-8
*Clancy, Thomas Owen. "Caustantín son of Fergus (Uurgust)"
*Clancy, Thomas Owen, "Nechtan son of Derile" in M. Lynch (ed.) "The Oxford Companion to Scottish History." Oxford & New York: Oxford UP, 2002. ISBN 0-19-211696-7
*Foster, Sally. "Discovery, Recovery, Context and Display." in Sally Foster (ed.) op. cit.
*eadem. "Picts, Gaels, and Scots: Early Historic Scotland." Second edition, London: Batsford, 2004. ISBN 0-7134-8874-3
*Forsyth, Katherine. "Evidence of a lost Pictish source in the "Historia Regum Anglorum" in Simon Taylor (ed.) "Kings, clerics and chronicles in Scotland, 500–1297: essays in honour of Marjorie Ogilvie Anderson on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday." Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000. ISBN 1-85182-516-9
*Henderson, George & Isabel Henderson. "The Art of the Picts." London: Thames and Hudson, 2004. 0-500-23807-3
*Henderson, Isabel. "Primus inter Pares": the St Andrews Sarcophagus and Pictish Sculpture" in Sally Foster (ed.) op. cit.
*Kirby, D.P. "The Earliest English Kings." London: Unwin Hyman, 1991. ISBN 0-04-445692-1
*MacLean, Douglas. "The Northumbrian Perspective" in Simon Taylor (ed.) op. cit.
*Woolf, Alex. "AU 729.2 and the last years of Nechtan mac Der-Ilei" in "The Scottish Historical Review, Volume 85, Number 1." Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006. ISSN 0036-9241
*idem. "Dún Nechtain, Fortriu and the geography of the Picts" in "The Scottish Historical Review, Volume 85, Number 2." Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006. ISSN 0036-9241
*idem. "Onuist son of Uurguist : tyrannus carnifex or a David for the Picts ?" in David Hill & Margaret Worthington (eds.) "Aethelbald and Offa : two eighth-century kings of Mercia" (British Archaeological Reports, British series, no. 383). Oxford: Archaeopress, 2005. ISBN 1-84171-687-1
*idem. "Ungus (Onuist), son of Uurgust" in M. Lynch (ed.) op. cit.
*Yorke, Barbara. "The Conversion of Britain: Religion, Politics and Society in Britain c. 600–800." London: Longman, 2006. ISBN 0-582-77292-3
* [http://celt.ucc.ie/index.html CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts] at
University College Corkincluding the Annals of Ulster, the Annals of Tigernach, the Chronicon Scotorum and genealogies from Rawlinson B 502
* [http://historical.library.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/cul.cdl/docviewer?did=cdl360 Annals of Clonmacnoise] at
Cornell University, see [http://historical.library.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/cul.cdl/docviewer?did=cdl360&seq=129&frames=0&view=50 p. 113ff] .
* [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bede/history.pdf Bede's Ecclesiastical History and the Continuation of Bede (pdf)] , at [http://www.ccel.org CCEL] , tr. A.M. Sellar
* [http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/annalescambriae.html Annales Cambriae (translated)] at the [http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook.html Internet Medieval Sourcebook] .
* [http://sul-derivatives.stanford.edu/derivative?CSNID=00003251&mediaType=application/pdf The Rolls edition of the Brut y Tywyssogion] (pdf) at [http://library.stanford.edu/ Stanford University Library]
NAME = Óengus I
ALTERNATIVE NAMES = Óengus mac Fergusso (Old Irish)
SHORT DESCRIPTION = King of the Picts
DATE OF BIRTH =
PLACE OF BIRTH =
DATE OF DEATH = 761
PLACE OF DEATH =
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.