Whisky Magazine Issue 117
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In part seven of our series on special labels: how ancient clan life is represented on bottles of whisky
The word clan is as interwoven with Scottish history as the tartan is woven in a kilt. On the surface that might not seem entirely just, or at least incomplete, since clanning appeared in many forms and in many countries in a ‘tribal' sense. The etymology of the word however is solidly anchored in Irish-Scottish history. Clan stems from cland and clann, meaning ‘family' in Gaelic. So, in the context of this article I pass by the Chinese, Japanese, Polish or Israeli ‘clans'.
The origins of the Scottish clan were regional and feudal. A clan chief was considered a sort of armed mayor and protected his family and inhabitants of his village. He was allowed to adopt anyone into his clan, regardless whether he was a blood-relative or not. Often, but not always, the clan chief owned a large tract of land, sometimes with a farm or castle. In exchange for protection his clansmen worked and fought for him.
Clan history dates back to times far before the birth of Christ. In fact it was an early kind of community, in which the clan chief decided over right and wrong. He was considered the undisputed leader and judge. Loyalty to him among the clansmen went without saying. Slowly clans became more important and around the 13th century they became a major visibility, especially during the Scottish wars of independence. Not only Scottish warlords, but also English, Flemish and Scandinavians saw a chance to enrich themselves by taking larges plots of land, founding their own clan on t...