Early in the fifth century a series of petty kingdoms began to emerge in south-west Scotland. The principal kingdoms were Strathclyde - which stretched from Loch Lomond to Upper Clydesdale - and Rheged - modern Dumfries and Galloway and Cumbria. The inhabitants were Britons who spoke a language similar to Welsh.
Early in the fifth century a series of petty kingdoms
began to emerge in south-west Scotland. The principal kingdoms were
Strathclyde - which stretched from Loch Lomond to Upper Clydesdale
- and Rheged - modern Dumfries and Galloway and Cumbria. The
inhabitants were Britons who spoke a language similar to
Christianity was well established across much of southern Scotland by 450AD. Christian communities such as Whithorn and Kirkmadrine in Wigtownshire were centres for missionaries working in central Scotland and possibly in Ireland. Recent excavations at Whithorn, long associated with Scotland's first saint, Ninian, have revealed a large monastic site which during the sixth and seventh centuries AD was wealthy enough to import wine and other luxury goods from Gaul and the Mediterranean. Similar evidence for trade with continental Europe has been found at the Mote of Mark near Dalbeattie, a small hill fort that was probably the court of one the princes of Rheged.
By the eighth century Rheged had been absorbed into the powerful Anglian kingdom of Northumbria. Dumfries and Galloway was now culturally and politically part of the Anglo-Saxon world. Whithorn was within the diocese of York and Northumbrian silver coins were in circulation in the town, a major Anglian monastery was built at Hoddom in Dumfriesshire and a series of spectacular crosses carved in an Anglo-Saxon style were raised at Ruthwell, Hoddom, Closeburn and at other church sites across the region.
Towards the end of the ninth century Dumfries and Galloway came under increasing Irish and Scandanavian (Hiberno-Norse) influence. The Irish Sea was the centre of a new political force based on cultural and trading links between Dublin, north-west England, the Isle of Man, the Western Isles and the Solway coast of southern Scotland. It was during this period that Irish Gaelic replaced British as the local language.
Strathclyde was able to resist the advance of Northumbria and was less influenced by Hiberno-Norse culture Remaining a strong British kingdom, it grew in importance and power and by the tenth century had expanded to include Annandale, Nithsdale and much of Cumbria. Strathclyde became part of the kingdom of the Scots in 1018.
The main early medieval monuments surviving in south-west Scotland are carved stones. A number of fifth century inscribed memorial stones can be seen at Whithorn and Kirkmadrine in Wigtownshire and include the earliest Christian stones in Scotland. Carvings in the Northumbrian style are found at a number of sites in the Dumfries and Galloway and include the magnificent Ruthwell cross, one of the most important pieces of Anglo-Saxon carving in Britain. The locally unique carvings of the Whithorn School, with their distinctive circular cross heads and interlace decoration, date from the tenth century and examples can be seen at both The Whithorn Story Visitor Centre and the Whithorn Priory Museum.