Quest for the Grave of Scotia, the Pharaoh’s Daughter Who Founded Scotland and Ireland
A short distance from the bustling Irish town of Tralee in County Kerry there is an otherworldly looking glen which is known as Scotia’s Grave. According to Irish folklore, the glen was the location of a battle known as Sliabh Mish which took place between the Celtic Milesians and a supernatural race called the Tuatha Dé Danann (tribe of the gods).
Although it was the Milesians who were victorious in battle it was a triumph at the expense of their queen, Scotia, who is reputed to have been buried in the glen.
Who Was Queen Scotia?
Queen Scotia appears in a chronical called the Book of Leinster, a medieval Irish manuscript which was compiled in around 1160 AD. The book was compiled by an abbot named Áed Ua Crimthainn who deeply respected the traditions and history of Ireland, even when they were at odds with his views as a Christian or his reasonable beliefs as a well-educated man.
Queen Scotia was the daughter of an Egyptian Pharaoh. (Rama / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Both Scotia and her husband King Gaythelos were exiled from Egypt for unspecified reasons during a time of great upheaval, and it is after this that they traveled to Europe where they founded both the Scots in modern day Scotland and the Gaels in Ireland. Scotia gave her name to the Scots and to Scotland and Gaythelos gave his name to the Gaels.
Scotia’s death in battle was supposedly the result of the pregnant woman attempting to jump a bank on horseback.
A Traditional Interpretation of the Myth of Scotia
The myth of Queen Scotia has traditionally been regarded by historians as entirely fictitious. It was recorded by an abbot at a time where people in Christian countries wanted to assert their ancient roots, and links to important Biblical figures. It is particularly noteworthy that Scotia’s husband was said to have been healed by Moses.
The site of Scotia’s Grave itself could be a way for a place so remote from the original locations in the Bible to steak a believable claim to having Biblical links. ‘Burial place of the wife of a man who once met Moses’ is vague enough to be believable and unremarkable enough that it does not warrant extensive investigation to verify it, while still referencing one of the more important figures in the Old Testament.
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The glen where Queen Scotia’s grave is said to be. (John M / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Although the myth of Queen Scotia (also Scota) is fantastical it is not out of the realms of possibility and controversial historian Ralph Ellis believes he has found evidence that Scotia really did exist.
The History of Egypt
Ellis claims the myth of Scotia does not originate in the Book of Leinster but far earlier, in a text called The History of Egypt (Aegyptiaca) written in 300 BC by a Greco-Egyptian author called Manetho. Evidence in Aegyptiaca may point to Scotia being an identity of Ankhesenamun, a daughter of Akhenaton and Nefertiti, and both half-sister and widow of Tutankhamen
According to Ellis, Ankhesenamun went on to marry a Pharaoh named Ay, whom he claims is actually Gaythelos. After Ay’s reign was cut short, the couple were sent in to exile where they made their way to Europe and settled in Iberia. Rather than Scotia herself making the journey to Ireland, Ellis believes it was her descendants who migrated, four generations after she settled in Iberia. Of course, this interpretation does not explain the existence of Scotia’s Grave or the references to Queen Scotia in Medieval Irish literature.
"Queen Scotia unfurls the sacred banner", illustration from an 1867 book of Irish history. (Nicknack009 / Public Domain)
Although Ellis’ bold claims are extremely controversial, he is not the only one to find evidence the myth may be at least partially true. Lorraine Evans, who studied Egyptology at one of the world’s top universities, also believes the myth of Queen Scotia cannot be entirely debunked.
She points to the remains of an ancient boat found in Yorkshire, which is of a type found in the Mediterranean at around the time the myth is set, as just one piece of archaeological evidence proving a link between Egypt and ancient Britain and Ireland.
Signpost of Scotia’s grave by-road, south of Tralee. (Fenitharbour / Public Domain)
It is often the case that myths and legends have a kernel of truth at their core and there is no reason the story of Scotia should be any different. The legend may have grown up around the desire to find links to Biblical figures but if you strip back the layers it becomes more plausible. Maybe Scotia didn’t ever meet Moses and maybe she was not an exiled Egyptian queen. Perhaps, if she was real, she was just an extraordinary woman who made an exceptional journey across continents almost 4000 years ago.
Top image: Queen Scotia was the daughter of an Egyptian Pharaoh and died in the battle of Sliabh Mish between the Celtic Milesians and the Tuatha Dé Danann. Source: Fernando Cortés / Adobe.
Atkinson, R. 1880. The Book of Leinster, sometimes called the Book of Glendalough. Royal Irish Academy Facsimile edition.
Ellis, R. 2006. Scotia: Egyptian Queen of the Scots. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Evans, L. 2001. Kingdom of the Ark. Pocket Books
Koch, J. 2006. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO.
Lydon, J. 1998. The Making of Ireland: From Ancient Times to the Present. Routledge.
Stair na hÉireann. 2016. Queen Scotia – from Egypt to Ireland. [Online] Available at: https://stairnaheireann.net/2016/03/21/queen-scotia-from-egypt-to-ireland/
The Scotsman. 2006. The pharaoh’s daughter who was the mother of all Scots. [Online] Available at: https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/the-pharaoh-s-daughter-who-was-the-mother-of-all-scots-1-466985
Waweru, N. 2018. Queen Scotia, the Egyptian pharaoh’s daughter who became the mother of modern-day Scotland. Face2Face Africa. [Online] Available at: https://face2faceafrica.com/article/queen-scotia-the-egyptian-pharaohs-daughter-who-became-the-mother-of-modern-day-scotland