December 16, 2015
It was only relatively recently that Dr Alex Woolf put forward the persuasive argument that the Pictish Kingdom of Fortriu (the name itself a hypothecated back formation) was actually based in the North rather than Strathearn and that the name is a corruption of the tribe known to the Romans as the Verturiones.
We are left with the question of what to make of the name “Verturiones”
Despite the fact that the Romans’ experience was long before Gaels got a look in in Scotland, the “normal” way people have looked at this is to look to Gaelic. The best of the traditional efforts towards explanation suggest that the root of the name lies in Gaelic “tùr” referring to “fortress” or “stronghold” (albeit Welsh “tŵr” has the same meaning and W. “twr” means “heap”). The case for this is that while the Caledonians took advantage of their highland landscape to build hill forts, the Verturiones were largely based in lower lying areas; so although they did have some hill forts, they also needed to build strongholds on low land - at places like Ruthven Barracks, Rothiemurchus and even Turriff.
There are problems with this explanation, however. The “obvious” tower builders in Pictland are responsible for the brochs - but these are overwhelmingly in Caithness and Orkney - and they were already in decline as an architectural form long before this. Not only that, but etymologically this is unsatisfactory as it overlooks the “i” in “-turiones”. So can we do better?
Cassius Dio states specifically that the Caledonians had no tilled fields. [In a sense we should not be too surprised as they lived mostly in mountainous country.] By contrast the Verturiones lived in fertile lowland regions. The modern Welsh verb “Turio” means to burrow or to root up (and the cognate word “troi” means specifically to plough). [Even in Gaelic “treabh” means “to plough”.] So my best guess is that “Verturiones” really means “the ploughmen”/farmers.
[A linguistic comparison may be seen in the Welsh “bwrdio” which means “to mock”. Someone who does this is a “bwrdiwr” - so we might expect “Turio” and “Turiwr” (“turio” and “gwr”). What I am proposing here is no more than the reversal of the two elements in the word to gwr-turio - and we already know that the Pictish equivalent of a Welsh word would normally lose the initial “g”.]
This is blue sky thinking - so it could be wrong! Does anyone have a 'killer fact' which would prove that this is a blind alley?
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