The name  "Scotland" means the land of or belonging to the Scots. There's little disagreement that the "Scots" are a people who came to Scotland from Ireland and eventually took over the Pictish kingdom that much is clear, but who were these Scots? And what truth is there (if any) in the various legends connecting the Scots to Scota supposedly a princess of Egypt?

Scota appears in the Irish chronicle Book of Leinster. 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 founders of the Scots and Gaels after being exiled from Egypt

However this connection with Moses and Pharaoh doesn't sound credible because it is just too convenient, that the origin of the Scots should be linked to such a well known expulsion story of Moses story and the expulsion of the Jews from Egypt. It is one of the best known stories and an obvious source if making up an origin for a people. In the same way that anyone re-incarnated is always a king/queen, when even a seconds thought will tell us most people in the past were humble farm-workers, so any origin story mentioning one of the few well known "founders" (Moses), or even one of the well known countries in that region (Egypt) is highly likely to be fabricated in those details.

Because, when making up a story we always tend to draw on other similar stories to make it sound more credible (i.e. the bible), whereas real history tends to be full of incidental detail which we would not expect. So, the more it sounds like a made up story from common sources, the more likely it is just a made up story based on these sources.

When we use this sceptical lens, we find we have a story with very little which isn't easily made up: "Scota" which could easily have been back-formed from "Scot", that she was Royalty (like re-incarnation "experiences", every important person is assumed to have been important in their homeland), and Moses plus Pharaoh (clearly from the bible). So, almost all the details are clearly based on the bible leaving us nothing substantial.

However, a more credible source is given in the second paragraph of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, where the elite of Scotland make clear that they believe the claim of Scythia as the former homeland of Scots.

"Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they still live today. The Britons they first drove out, the Picts they utterly destroyed, and, even though very often assailed by the Norwegians, the Danes and the English, they took possession of that home with many victories and untold efforts; and, as the historians of old time bear witness, they have held it free of all bondage ever since."

Whilst various peoples have claimed Scythian descent, they are all based in the area of Scythia (between modern Greece and Russia), so this location is not an obvious one, although the similarity in sound of "sc-t-" does make it possible it was chosen just because it sounded similar. But this time, we have mentions of "the Red Sea" which clearly smacks of the biblical connection, but nowhere is there a specific mention of Moses or Pharaoh. This suggests some editing removing other biblical details which shows this connection was not credible even at that time. Now the focus is on Scythia.  Unfortunately, we cannot read too much into the various other assertions about "driving out" various peoples, because in a political document like this proclaiming Scottish sovereignty, we expect it to assert a claim over everyone else and so push such claims to the limit of credibility (even at the time).

However this still leaves us in the Arbroath declaration with much of the original story which those in power were prepared to say it was true, so it cannot be dismissed lightly. But, it may just have been lifted from Irish stories, on the basis that because the Scots came from Ireland, then the origin of the Irish would be the origin of the Scots. And we can find the story in the 11th-century Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), the 14th-century Auraicept na n-Éces and other Irish folklore, which say the Irish originated in Scythia and were descendants of Fénius Farsaid, a Scythian prince who created the Ogham alphabet and who was one of the principal architects of the Gaelic language.

But again, this Irish story is not credible. This time because so much is lumped together (language, alphabet and origin). We know that it takes a huge time to develop language, so this is at best a highly embellished amalgam of other stories.

However, all is not lost. Because if we look at English sources we find that Bede (8th century) gives very much the same story but this time suggests the "Scots" being referred to are not the Irish-Scots, but the preceding Pictish elite who eventually morphed into the Scottish elite:

"at first this island had no other inhabitants but the Britons, ... it happened, that the nation of the Picts, putting to sea from Scythia, as is reported, in a few ships of war, and being driven by the winds beyond the bounds of Britain, came to Ireland and landed on its northern shores. There, finding the nation of the Scots, they begged to be allowed to settle among them, but could not succeed in obtaining their request. ... the Picts then, ... arriving in this island by sea, desired to have a place granted them in which they might settle. The Scots answered that the island could not contain them both; but "We can give you good counsel," said they, "whereby you may know what to do; we know there is another island, not far from ours, to the eastward, which we often see at a distance, when the days are clear. If you will go thither, you can obtain settlements; or, if any should oppose you, we will help you." The Picts, accordingly, sailing over into Britain, began to inhabit the northern parts thereof, for the Britons had possessed themselves of the southern."

But Bede doesn't give his source and in general I don't find very reliable as a historian because he "tidies up" his history too much. This means we can be certain he heavily "corrected" or even "improved" his history but we have no idea how. As a result we don't know whether the facts he gives are what he was given, or what he thought he should have been given or even a total fabrication saying only what was politically prudent to say. And when we only have Bede as a source, there is no way of knowing how he "improved it".

Fortunately, we have a book attributed to "Nennius". Nennius is hated by many because his history is filled with incredible facts (such as a notorious account about a dragon). But this really means Nennius is a far better source because Nennius presents his history "warts and all". This means we often know what Nennius was told even if he personally did not believe it. So Nennius retains the essential incidental information which tells us the real state of knowledge and allows us to decide whether or not the facts are true or not:

According to the most learned among the Scots, if any one desires to learn what I am now going to state, Ireland was a desert, and uninhabited, when the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea, in which, as we read in the Book of the Law, the Egyptians who followed them were drowned. At that period, there lived among this people, with a numerous family, a Scythian of noble birth, who had been banished from his country and did not go to pursue the people of God. The Egyptians who were left, seeing the destruction of the great men of their nation, and fearing lest he should possess himself of their territory, took counsel together, and expelled him. Thus reduced, he wandered forty-two years in Africa, and arrived, with his family, at the altars of the Philistines, by the Lake of Osiers. Then passing between Rusicada and the hilly country of Syria, they travelled by the river Malva through Mauritania as far as the Pillars of Hercules; and crossing the Tyrrhene Sea, landed in Spain, where they continued many years, having greatly increased and multiplied. Thence, a thousand and two years after the Egyptians were lost in the Red Sea, they passed into Ireland, and the district of Dalrieta.

Here Nennius not also tells us the source of his story, but vouches for their credibility as "the most learned". I don't think we can get much better than that for the time period. Within this account we can see what is still likely to be an embellished story in the connection to Egypt and Moses, but this time we can explain why this might have occurred as part of a journey narrative that happened to include Egypt. (Also the 42 years is too much like Moses 40 years). There is enough detail in this story to suggest it is a pre-Christian origin narrative which has begun to be reformed to fit the Moses story which increasingly becomes the focus of the story in later versions.

Nennius also tells us about the origin of the Picts:-

After an interval of not less than eight hundred years, came the Picts, and occupied the Orkney Islands: whence they laid waste many regions, and seized those on the left hand side of Britain, where they still remain, keeping possession of a third part of Britain to this day.

Note this is very different from the supposed location of the "Picts" which we are usually given which is the North East coast of Scotland** but it fits very well with Bede's statement that St. Ninian went to Whitchurch (SW Scotland) and converted the southern Picts. The discrepancy between Bede's "Picts" and others who attribute the story to "Scots" may be because  Bede was using "Picts" not in reference to a specific racial or political group but instead to refer in general to the Scottish elite (who were at that time Picts).

**The location of the Picts is based as far as I can see on the supposed link to place name containing a "pit-" suffix which are common in NE Scotland and their presumed link to symbol stones which also occur in this area. Despite looking I have failed to find any credible link to the Picts. Instead it seems to me the link was probably suggested because "Pit" is close to Peohtas Old English for "Pict". But this link requires the NE to have been Germanic speaking which then means the area was not Gaelic speaking. As far as I can see the idea the NE was Germanic speaking went out of favour, but no one then questioned the supposed link between "Pit" and the Picts. Now many academics will swear blind that these are "Pictish" stones without even realising that there is not one piece of evidence that securely links them to the Picts.

But Nennius appears to have a second source regarding the Scots as he also says:

Long after this, the Scots arrived in Ireland from Spain. The first that came was Partholomus, with a thousand men and women; these increased to four thousand; but a mortality coming suddenly upon them, they all perished in one week. The second was Nimech, the son of...,who, according to report, after having been at sea a year and a half, and having his ships shattered, arrived at a port in Ireland, and continuing there several years, returned at length with his followers to Spain. After these came three sons of a Spanish soldier with thirty ships, each of which contained thirty wives; and having remained there during the space of a year, there appeared to them, in the middle of the sea, a tower of glass, the summit of which seemed covered with men, to whom they often spoke, but received no answer. At length they determined to besiege the tower; and after a year's preparation, advanced towards it, with the whole number of their ships, and all the women, one ship only excepted, which had been wrecked, and in which were thirty men, and as many women; but when all had disembarked on the shore which surrounded the tower, the sea opened and swallowed them up. Ireland, however, was peopled, to the present period, from the family remaining in the vessel which was wrecked. Afterwards, other came from Spain, and possessed themselves of various parts of Britain.

Generally this fits the narrative of an Irish (elite) crossing from Spain, but it contains something interesting when it mentions the separate ships of wives:

After these came three sons of a Spanish soldier with thirty ships, each of which contained thirty wives;

Whilst, Bede's account is generally less credible (when dealing with what was probably seen even then as half fable), it does provide some interesting details:

Now the Picts had no wives, and asked them of the Scots; who would not consent to grant them upon any other terms, than that when any question should arise, they should choose a king from the female royal race rather than from the male: which custom, as is well known, has been observed among the Picts to this day. In process of time, Britain, besides the Britons and the Picts, received a third nation, the Scots, who, migrating from Ireland under their leader, Reuda, either by fair means, or by force of arms, secured to themselves those settlements among the Picts which they still possess. From the name of their commander, they are to this day called Dalreudini; for, in their language, Dal signifies a part.

Clearly the two accounts are different. In Bede the Picts/Scots ask the Scots for wives (and Bede then seems to infer that this led to the descent through the female line of Pictish kings). In Nennius each ship has 30 wives. They appear to be entirely different, but in each origin account the wives are separated out for special mention. This suggests to me that an original story has morphed into two different versions where in each the wives still have a prominent role but only because they were important in some way in the original story.

The fact we have the same basic element, but it has diverged, is I think good evidence that both stories stem from a much older original. Because when stories are made up, they tend to converge toward the familiar. So, they tend to sound more and more like each other because we ignore details we don't understand and embellish with things that are familiar. Therefore, when stories contain details that are not easily understood, it often indicates that these are "fossil" details from a very old form of the story - details which are on the way to extinction because no one understands why they are in the story. And if two different stories derive from one original, we might find that these "fossil details" are kept in the story but are used in different ways.

As such, it is quite possible this story in Nennius in large part derives from an actual story relating the settlement of Ireland or Scotland (but not necessarily of the Scots - as often people "take over" origin stories). It may even be possible to date this from the way it is being embellished by reference to "Moses" by the turn of the 1st Millennium. It is therefore likely to be pre-Christian (< mid 1st Millennium). And more, if it had changed at a similar rate before then, then it is possible to guess its date of origin and I would suggest that at the same rate of change it probably originates at the time of or before the Romans and possibly hundreds (or just possibly thousands) of years before.

But I would not want to leave it there. The Pictish kings may have morphed into the Scots, but they may have been very distinct and separate racial groups (although another suggestion is that the Picts were a political grouping). So, just as the "origin" story of the Jews was included in later versions of the Scottish story, it is quite possible that the story we now have is an amalgam of a "Pictish" origin story and a "Scottish" one.

Indeed, it is not impossible that the reason the Irish stories are so similar to the Scottish one, is that the original story narrating the origin of the Picts (first recorded 297AD) was then narrated to the Irish-Scots who then through cultural links took it back to Ireland from Scotland and then combined with similar Irish stories.

But there are clearly Irish elements, because we learn from Roman writers like Tacitus that the Irish were "like the Spanish". The Roman name for Ireland (Hibernia) was like that of Spain (Iberia). As such it is very likely that there is a Spanish connection as the story suggest. And just to add one last twist - it is also very suspicious that the Picts are first recorded in Britain when there is unrest in the area of Scythia.