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Scota (left) with Goídel Glas voyaging from Egypt, as depicted in a 15th-century manuscript of the Scotichronicon of Walter Bower; in this version Scota and Goídel Glas (Latinized as Gaythelos) are wife and husband.

Scota, in Irish mythology, Scottish mythology, and pseudohistory, is the name given to two different mythological daughters of two different Egyptian Pharaohs. The Gaels traced their ancestry to the Irish invaders of Argyll and Caledonia, which became known as Scotland, allegedly named after Scoti – the name the Romans gave to the Irish raiders.

History of the Scota legends

Early Sources

Edward J. Cowan has traced the first appearance of Scota in literature to the 12th century.[1] Scota appears in the Irish chronicle Book of Leinster (containing a redaction of the Lebor Gabála Érenn).[2] However, a recension found in an 11th-century manuscript of the Historia Brittonum contains an earlier reference to Scota.[3] The 12th-century sources state that Scota was the daughter of an Egyptian pharaoh, a contemporary of Moses, who married Geytholos (Goídel Glas), and became the eponymous founder of the Scots and Gaels after being exiled from Egypt.[4] The earliest Scottish sources claim Geytholos was "a certain king of the countries of Greece, Neolus, or Heolaus, by name," while the Lebor Gabála Érenn Leinster redaction in contrast describes him as a Scythian. Other manuscripts of the Lebor Gabála Érenn contain a variant legend of Scota's husband, not as Goídel Glas, but instead Mil Espaine, and connect him to ancient Iberia.[5][6]

Another variant myth in the redactions of the Lebor Gabála Érenn states that there was another Scota who was the daughter of an Egyptian Pharaoh named Cingris, a name found only in Irish legend. She married Niul, son of Fenius Farsaid, a Babylonian who traveled to Scythia after the collapse of the Tower of Babel. Niul was a scholar of languages and was invited by the pharaoh to Egypt and given Scota's hand in marriage. They had a son, Goídel Glas, the eponymous ancestor of the Gaels, who created the Gaelic language by combining the best features of the 72 languages then in existence (see also Geoffrey Keating). Although these legends vary, they all agree that Scota was the eponymous founder of the Scots and that she also gave her name to Scotland.

Scota and the Stone of Scone

Baldred Bisset is first credited to have fused the Stone of Scone with the Scota foundation legends in his Processus (1301) putting forward an argument that it was Scotland and not Ireland which was the original Scoti homeland.[7]

Bisset was keen to legitimize a Scottish (as opposed to English) accession to the throne when Alexander III of Scotland died in 1286. At his coronation in 1249, Alexander himself heard his royal genealogy recited back generations to Scota. Bisset, therefore, attempted to legitimize a Scottish accession by making Scota significant, as having transported the Stone of Scone from Egypt during the exodus of Moses to Scotland. In 1296, the Stone itself was captured by Edward I and taken to Westminster Abbey. Robert the Bruce, in 1323, used Bisset's same legend connecting Scota to the stone in an attempt to get the stone back to Scotland's Scone Abbey.[8]

The 15th-century English chronicler John Hardyng later attempted to debunk Bisset's claims.[9]

Later sources

Andrew of Wyntoun's Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland and John of Fordun's Chronica Gentis Scotorum (1385) are considered major sources on the Scota legends, alongside Thomas Grey's Scalacronica (1362). Walter Bower's 15th-century Scotichronicon included the first pictures of the legends. Hector Boece in his 16th century Historia Gentis Scotorum ("History of the Scottish People") also mentions Scota and the foundation myth.

Grave of Scota

Signpost on by-road, south of Tralee

The grave of Scota (or Scotia's Grave) reputedly lies in a valley south of Tralee town, Co. Kerry Ireland. The area is known as Glenn Scoithin, "Vale of the little flower", and more popularly as Foley's Glen. Indicated by a County Council road signpost, a trail from the road leads along a stream to a clearing where a circle of large stones marks the grave site.



  1. Myth and Identity in Early Medieval Scotland, EJ Cowan, Scottish Historical Review lxiii, No. 176 (Oct. 1984) pp.111–35.
  2. "Lebor Gabála Érenn".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. The Irish identity of the kingdom of the Scots in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Dauvit Broun, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1999, p. 78.
  4. W. Matthews, "The Egyptians in Scotland: the Political History of a Myth", Viator 1 (1970), pp.289–306.
  5. A dictionary of Celtic mythology, James MacKillop, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 330.
  6. The daughter of the pharaoh (Scota) is named "Nectanebus" (a name which might be meant to identify either Nectanebo I or Nectanebo II), and in another variant myth it was the sons of Mil and Scota that settled in Ireland.
  7. The Irish identity of the kingdom of the Scots in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Dauvit Broun, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1999, p. 120.
  8. Reading the medieval in early modern England,Gordon McMullan, David Matthews, Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 109.
  9. Glastonbury Abbey and the Arthurian tradition, James P. Carley, Boydell & Brewer, 2001, p. 275 ff.