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A mapping of the Roman divisions of Ireland and Scotland with the Scoti shown as a tribal grouping in the north of Ireland

Scotia was originally a Roman name for Ireland, inhabited by the people they called Scoti or Scotii. Use of the name shifted in the Middle Ages to designate the part of the island of Great Britain lying north of the Firth of Forth, the Kingdom of Alba. By the later Middle Ages it had become the fixed Latin term for what in English is called Scotland.

Etymology and derivations

The name of Scotland is derived from the Latin Scoti, the term applied to Gaels.[1] The origin of the word Scoti (or Scotti) is uncertain. It is found in Latin texts from the 4th century describing a tribe which sailed from Ireland to raid Roman Britain.[2] It came to be applied to all the Gaels. It is not believed that any Gaelic groups called themselves Scoti in ancient times, except when writing in Latin.[2] Old Irish documents use the term Scot (plural Scuit) going back as far as the 9th century, for example in the glossary of Cormac úa Cuilennáin.[3]

Oman derives it from Scuit; a man cut off, suggesting that a Scuit was not a Gael as such but one of a renegade band settled in the part of Ulster which became the kingdom of Dál Riata.[4]

The 19th century author Aonghas MacCoinnich of Glasgow proposed that Scoti was derived from a Gaelic ethnonym (proposed by MacCoinnich) Sgaothaich from sgaoth "swarm", plus the derivational suffix -ach (plural -aich)[5] However, this proposal to date has not been met with any response in mainstream place-name studies. Pope Leo X (1513–1521) decreed that the use of the name Scotia be confined to referring to land that is now Scotland.[6][7]

Virtually all names for Scotland are based on the Scotia root (cf. French Écosse, Czech Skotsko, Zulu IsiKotilandi, Māori Koterana, Hakka Sû-kak-làn, Quechua Iskusya, Turkish İskoçya etc.), either directly or via intermediate languages. The only exceptions are the Celtic languages where the names are based on the Alba root, e.g. Manx Nalbin, Welsh Yr Alban.

Medieval usage

A map from 1654 illustrating the latter use of Scotia for Scotland and Hibernia/Ivverna for Ireland

Scotia was a way of saying "Land of the Gaels"; compare Angli, Anglia; Franci, Francia; Romani, Romania; etc. It originally was used as a name for Ireland, as when Isidore of Seville in 580 CE says "Scotia and Hibernia are the same country" (Isidore, lib. xii. c. 6)", but the connotation is still ethnic. This is how it is used, for instance, by King Robert I of Scotland and Domhnall Ua Néill during the Scottish Wars of Independence, when Ireland was called Scotia Maior, and Scotland Scotia Minor.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the coasts on the Irish Sea were raided by pirates either from Eastern Ireland or Western Scotland. They did gain power in Western Scotland, originated new small kingdoms, and reinforced the idea of a common origin and that Scotland was somehow populated (or re-populated) by Gaelic Irish.

However, after the 11th century, Scotia, when Scotland was already stabilised as a nation-kingdom, was used mostly for northern Great Britain, and in this way became the fixed designation. As a translation of Alba, Scotia could mean both the whole Kingdom belonging to the rex Scottorum, or just Scotland north of the Forth.

Pope Leo X of the Roman Catholic Church eventually granted Scotland exclusive right over the word, and this led to Anglo-Scottish takeovers of continental Gaelic monasteries (e.g. the Schottenklöster).

In Irish sources

In Geoffrey Keating's Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, Ireland's ninth appellation, named it Scotia, likewise based from the sons of Milesius's of whom's mother's name, Scota, who was the daughter of Pharaoh Nectanebo I, king of Egypt; or perhaps from themselves, they being originally of the Scythian race."

According to the Middle Irish language synthetic history Lebor Gabála Érenn she was the daughter of Pharaoh Necho II of Egypt. - see entry on Scota.

Other sources say that Scota was the daughter of Pharaoh Neferhotep I of Egypt and his wife Senebsen, and was the wife of Míl, that is Milesius, and the mother of Éber Donn and Érimón. Míl had given Neferhotep military aid against ancient Ethiopia and was given Scota in marriage as a reward for his services. Writing in 1571, Edmund Campion named the pharaoh Amenophis; Keating named him Cincris.

See also

Other uses

In Geography the term is also used:

The term also is used

  • to describe a piece of wood millwork that is used at the base of columns and in stair construction
  • Scotiabank, a trade name for the Bank of Nova Scotia
  • (rarely) as a feminine first name
  • Scotia Gas Networks (SGN) is the holding company of Scotland Gas Networks, Southern Gas Networks, SGN Connections, SGN Contracting and SGN Metering, in the UK
  • Scotland's national LGBT pride festival is named Pride Scotia and involves a March and a community based festival held in June.


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Online Etymology Dictionary: "Scot"
  3. ^ Meyer, K. (editor) Sanas Cormaic: an Old-Irish Glossary compiled by Cormac úa Cuilennáin, King-Bishop of Cashel in the ninth century, retrieved from eDil ([1] 24 February 2010)
  4. ^ Sir Charles Oman: A History of England before the Norman Conquest
  5. ^ MacCoinnich, Aonghas Eachdraidh na h-Alba (Glasgow 1867)
  6. ^
  7. ^ Benedict's Fitzpatrick's Ireland and the Foundations of Europe, pp. 376-379

External links

  • A history of Romans in Scotland
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