When the Vikings arrived in Orkney, it was already inhabited by a people known as the Picts. They were the descendants of Orkney’s Iron Age broch builders, and by 565 AD they had been incorporated into the larger Pictish kingdom of northern mainland Scotland. Though they took the name Pict (a derivative of Latin that refers to them as “the painted ones”) and were technically under Pictish rule, the extent of Pictish influence in their culture is still being studied. When the Vikings arrived, these “Picts” were primarily fishermen and farmers living relatively comfortable lives in stone houses that were often built around the older Iron Age settlements such as the Broch o’ Burness in Evie (Orkneyjar).
How the Vikings and the Picts interacted when the Vikings arrived from Norway is still up for debate. Many scholars, perhaps most, believe that the Norse take-over was abrupt and complete, perhaps even violent. Though some scholars have theorized that the Norse colonization was peaceful, there is little evidence that supports this theory. Rather, it is believed that the Norse quickly overtook existing Pictish settlements, renamed them, and replaced both the culture and language with their own native Norse (Vikings in Orkney Guide).
Though the Norse eradicated nearly all Pictish place-names, they did record something of the people that they encountered in Orkney. The Historia Norwegiae, written in the 11th and 12th centuries, mentions that the Picts “did marvels in the morning and in the evening, in building towns, but at mid-day they entirely lost all theirstrength, and lurked, through fear, in underground houses’” It later states: “But in due course…certain pirates…set out with a great fleet…and stripped these races of their ancient settlements, destroyed them wholly, and subdued theislands to themselves” (Vikings in Orkney Guide).