[NB The brief explanation given below has been drafted on the assumption that the reader is already familiar with the basic building-blocks used in Celtic topographical place-names (Chapter 1 of the Home menu), with the structure of compound place-names (Chapter 2) and with the structure of Celtic river-names (Chapter 19)]
This tribal name is referred to in the Geography of Ptolemy.
This name is based on a topographical place-name somewhat of the form Smerdion, a compound in the hill-letters s, m and r but where the hill-letters occur in the chronological order r, m, s. At one time the whole region from Inverness up to the north coast of Sutherland and Caithness was inhabited by a people who used the hill-letter r. It will have been these people who put the rd element (meaning ‘hill summit’) in the place-name which would one day become Smerdion, the name apparently referring to the Langwell hillfort (NGR: NC 410 009), a little to the east of Oykel Bridge in the Oykel valley. Then, Easter Ross was taken over by a people who used the hill-letter m (they had been displaced from the region around the lower reaches of the river Deveron by westwards migration from East Aberdeenshire of a people who used the hill-letter l1). It was these people who put the m in the place-name which would become Smerdion. Finally the Langwell hillfort was taken over by a people who used the hill-letter s and they added their hill-letter s to the place-name, this finally becoming Smerdion. The s-people had been living in the area between the rivers Spey and Findhorn but were displaced west and north by further westwards migration of the l1 -people mentioned above. We have no name for the r-people who had earlier inhabited Easter Ross but the m-people who took that area over are those referred to by Ptolemy as the Lugi (this name should actually be Mugi) and the people who used the hill-letter s are the ones Ptolemy calls the Smertae, this tribal name being based directly on the place-name Smerdion, though at some point the d changed to t. (The migration of tribes within the north of Scotland is described in detail in ‘The Celtic “Picts”’, which may be accessed directly from the main menu above). Note that the defences of the Langwell hillfort in the Oykel valley are said to comprise three circuits (see Lock, G. and Ralston, I. 2017). This may suggest three different occupation phases, these corresponding perhaps to the three hill-letters in the topographical place-name Smerdion.
[This page was last modified on 24 March 2021]