Monday, September 18, 2017

A Selection from Mike McCarthy's ROMAN CARLISLE AND THE LANDS OF THE SOLWAY (ref. Stanwix/Uxellodunum, etc.)

As those have been reading my posts (or books) now know, I have tentatively proposed the Stanwix Roman fort (Uxellodunum/'Petriana') as Arthur's headquarters on the west end of Hadrian's Wall.

I'm currently trying to get my hands on the unpublished report (or raw data?) concerning the sub-Roman or early Medieval timber structure(s) found there during a dig in 1999 at the Stanwix Primary School.  If I'm successful, and the material contains anything worth passing along here, I will do so.

For now, here is yet another summary of such findings at the Wall, prepared by the man who was the director of the archaeological group conducting the Stanwix Primary School dig, Dr. Mike McCarthy. The selection may be found in his book ROMAN CARLISLE AND THE LANDS OF THE SOLWAY:

"At Stanwix, Carlisle, little of the fort, the largest on Hadrian's Wall, has been investigated under modern conditions, and it is certain that much will have been destroyed. Excavations in the school playground, however, have provided tantalising hints that activities continued [past the Roman period], with the discovery of at least two phases of buildings represented by substantial post-pits cutting through earlier Roman deposits...

To summarize, modern investigations at several forts have yielded evidence for sub-Roman activity in key buildings. They include the granaries at Birdoswald, the commanding officers' houses at South Shields and Vindolanda, the bath-house at Binchester and the headquarters building at Carlisle.  The conclusion one might draw is that important buildings in important locations (forts) continud to have a function at the point where the old-style Roman military command structure no longer had any real force, and the pay chests needed for the soldiery had ceased to arrive; and we can see this at Carlisle where the barracks fell from use. Nevertheless, the continued use of formerly key buildings, as we can see in several forts, might allow us to infer that this is an element in the archaeology of lordship. If so, it is lordship in transition from a Roman command structure to one of sub-Roman leaders emerging as local chiefs or kings with military titles and authority derived from that of the late fourth century. They doubtless formed small private armies or warbands, and established territoria which could supply their provisions and over which they exercised a quasi-leadership role. They were not yet kings or princes, but neither were they members of the Roman army linked into a wide-ranging command structure.  Their authority was derived from the former prestige attached to the place, and their dwelings may, as is hinted in the late phases of the Commanding Officer's house at South Shields, be large and imposing, as the central range location of their buildings at Carlisle and Birdoswald may also suggest."

My Case for Uther Pendragon as Urien Rheged (from an earlier post)

Uther Pendragon, called gorlassar in a Taliesin poem (the origin of Geoffrey's 'Gorlois'), may well be Urien of Rheged, son of the Cynfarch (not Cynfor) who was the father of Eliffer's ("Constantine's") wife Efrddyl.  I long suspected this, as gorlassar is otherwise found only in two places - and on both occasions it is used of Urien, once for his person and once for his spear.  I resisted this conclusion for a long time because with Arthur as Urien's son I was forced not only to deal with the absence of Arthur in Cynfarch's line of descent, but also with a chronological impossibility: Urien is too late to be Arthur's father.  Still, I can no longer deny that Urien of Rheged is Uther Pendragon.  

The name may have come about as Uther Pen at first.  I say this because in a Llywarch Hen poem, the hero bewails the fall of Urien and is in possession of his slain lord's head. 

Professor John Koch once had a similar idea regarding the god Bran's severed head.  Here is what he has to say in CELTIC CULTURE: A HISTORICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA:

"One possibility is that the strange and strangely named yspyddawt urddawl benn (feast of the stately head) around Brân’s living severed head in the Mabinogi represents a garbling of a more appropriate ‘feast of the uncanny head’ (uthr benn); the marwnad would make sense as the words of the living-dead Brân mourning himself. For Geoffrey, the epithet Pendragon is ‘dragon’s head’, an explanation of a celestial wonder by Merlin (see Myrddin). This meaning is not impossible..."

From Koch on the head of Urien:

"... another 30 lines describe Urien’s decapitated corpse. In the former, there is much penetrating wordplay on the multiple senses of pen (head, chief, leader) and porthi (carry, support [e.g. of a poet by his patron]). The situation is reminiscent of that in Branwen, in which seven survivors, including the poet Taliesin, return from Ireland with the severed head of their king, Brân, and the englynion may intentionally echo this story:

Penn a borthaf ar vyn tu,
penn Uryen llary—llywei llu—
ac ar y vronn wenn vran ddu.

The head I carry at my side, head of generous
Urien—he used to lead a host, and on his white
breast (bron wen) a black crow (brân).

Arthur's Breguoin battle = the Brewyn of Urien.  This may suggest either that they both fought at the place, together or separately on different occasions.  It is not necessarily the case (as I discuss in my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY) that Brewyn was copied from Urien's battles onto the Arthurian battle-list.  In the "Marwnat Uthyr Pen", Uther claims that his ‘champion’s feats partook in a
ninth part of Arthur’s valour’.

I would add that the 'Pa Gur' poem's phrase "Mabon son of Modron servant of Uther Pendragon" at last makes sense.  For the center of Mabon worship, the locus Maponi of the Classical sources, was at the heart of Urien's kingdom in the North, and in the early poetry his son Owain is referred to as an incarnation of Mabon.  

Saturday, September 16, 2017


Staffordshire Moorlands Patera Showing Uxellodunum
on the Right Side Below the Rim

From Professor Anthony Birley on the Ala Petriana at Stanwix:

That the praef. alae Petrianae at Stanwix was the "senior officer" of the Wall garrison is simply a statement of fact: he was the only prefect of an ala milliaria in the entire province and thus was in the quarta militia, the elite highest grade for equestrian officers, probably only created in the early 2nd century. For the regiment see e.g. M.G. Jarrett in the journal Britannia for 1994. Whether this officer ex officio "controlled" the Wall is another matter; but he no doubt at least had the authority to give orders in an emergency without having to wait for authorization from the legionary legate at York (from Caracalla = at the same time the governor of Britannia Inferior) or the consular governor of undivided Britain further south.

The place-name: this is a conjecture by Mark W.C. Hassall, in Aspects of the Notitia (1976), 112f., edd. R. Goodburn and P. Bartholomew, who convincingly restores [Banna] after tribunus cohortis primae Aeliae Dacorum in line 44 in the Duke's list and inserts [tribunus cohortis secundae Tungrorum] before [C]amboglanna, making Banna the name of Birdoswald and Camboglanna that of Castlesteads; and replacing Petrianis after alae Petrianae in line 45 with Uxel(l)oduno, and Axeloduno in line 49 with Mais. This is now generally accepted, see e.g. A.L.F. Rivet & C. Smith, The Place-Names of Roman Britain (179) 220f. Cf. also in Britannia for 2004 on the Staffordshire pan, with another list of place-names from the western sector of the Wall.

And from M.G. Jarrett's article, cited by Prof. Birley above:

It [the unit] was in Britain in the Flavian period, probably arriving with the other reinforcements brought by Cerealis in 71. A tombstone (RIB 1172) which lacks the titles milliaria c.R. presumably relates to the first occupation of Corbridge or that of the earlier site at Beaufront Red House... An inscription from Carlisle which records a single torque (RIB 957) has no intrinsic dating evidence; but by a date late in the reign of Trajan a second torque had been awarded.  We have, therefore, evidence that under Trajan at the latest the unit was at Carlisle; by that time it had become milliaria... In the second scheme for Hadrian's Wall the ala Petriana was probably moved to a new fort at Stanwix, across the Eden from Carlisle. It is not attested on any inscription, though there is a lead seal (RIB 2411.84); the size of the fort is appropriate to an ala milliaria and there was no other such unit in Britain.  Nothing suggests that the ala ever left Stanwix... The ala Petriana was still at Stanwix when the Notitia was compiled.

In conclusion, if - as many leading archaeologists now believe - there was some kind of attempt along the Wall by local Dark Age warlords to retain a level of Roman military practice - and Arthur was, as I've theorized, situated someplace on the western end of the Wall, I can think of no better place than Stanwix for such a powerful leader to reside.   

Friday, September 15, 2017


Because in the 'Dialogue of Arthur and the Eagle' Uther is said to have a son Madog, I would point out that Emyr Llydaw was said to have a son of the same name.  Here is the relevant entry on Emyr from P.C. Bartram's A CLASSICAL WELSH DICTIONARY.  Bartram stresses in this entry that the real Llydaw may have been somewhere in SE Wales.  I've recently shown this to be the Vale of Leadon (

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY and THE MYSTERIES OF AVALON, Updated/Revised Versions, Soon to be Released...

... plus, at some point in the near future, I will be re-releasing THE BEAR KING (my newest book) under a new title:


I now feel pretty strongly that what we have in Arthur vs. Cerdic/Ceredic are two opposing heroes. By that I mean on the one hand we have Arthur, a true British hero fighting Saxons in the North.  On the other hand we have Ceredig, who while Hiberno-British was, nonetheless, a hero of the Saxons. We find both touted by their particular sides, and they were contemporaries.  One occupies the same time period in the Historia Brittonum as the other does in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  This fact has led several Arthurian researchers astray (including your's truly).  I now feel confident in saying that Ceredig son of Cunedda was not in fact Arthur.  However, he was an extremely important sub-Roman/Dark Age figure and, as such, deserves a thorough accounting of his military feats.  THE BEAR KING is being retired as a separate title, but rest assured that all the relevant material it contains concerning Ceredig/Cerdic of the Gewissae and of Irish involvement in Britain during his floruit will be retained.

Thank you all for your continued interest.  I will make publication announcements as the various refurbished titles become available on Amazon.

These three books are to be the culmination of my many years of Arthurian research.  

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


View from the Stanwix Roman Fort, Hadrian's Wall

In my previous blog, I offered Professor Patrick Ford's translation of 'Penuchel' as 'Overlord.'  This is almost certainly a proper rendering of the Welsh word.  Understand that Penuchel is found in a corrupt version of a Triad, so is suspect to begin with!  I'm writing about it more now only because it is just barely possible the substitution of Penuchel for the original Penasgell, and the former's application to Arthur, may have been a sort of correction, rather than a mistake.  If so, the epithet is worth exploring in more detail. Still, this major caveat should be kept in mind by the reader.

To begin, it had occurred to me that if Arthwys was a real name, and he belonged specifically in the Irthing Valley, and Ceidio son of Arthwys's son Gwenddolau (if this 'White Dales' is also more than just a place-name) belonged at Carwinley, that Ceidio might have held a region or fort between these two locations.

Part of my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY dealt with a place hard by Stanwix near Carlisle called Etterby.  It was once known as 'Arthur's burg [or fort].'  As it turned out (see below), Etterby was surely a mistake for Stanwix itself, site of the largest cavalry force in all of Britain and the command center for much of Hadrian's Wall.

The Roman name for Stanwix was Uxellodunum, the 'High Fort.'  As it happens, British uxello- becomes in Welsh uchel - the exact same word we find in Penuchel.

Could it be that Penuchel means the 'Chief of Uchel[-dunum]'?  

Stanwix was also called after the unit that garrisoned the fort, the Ala Petriana (named for Pomponius Petra).  This reminds us of the fact that the later Arthur of Dyfed was the son of one Petr.

Probably far-fetched, and I'm not placing any emphasis on these apparent correspondences. But as I already have the following material on Stanwix prepared, I might as well repost it here entire.

Etterby as Arthur’s Burg (i.e. Stanwix)

Etterby, in the parish of Stanwix near Carlisle, was called Arthur’s burg, according to Joseph Nicolson and Richard Burn’s History and Anti uities of the County of Westmorland and Cum-berland, Vol. 2:

“Etterby in old writings is called Arthuriburgum, which seems to imply that it had been a consid-erable village. Some affirm, that it took its name from Arthur king of the Britons, who was in this country about the year 550 pursuing his victories over the Danes and Norwegians. But there are no remains of antiquity at or near this place to justify such a conjecture.”

Nicolson and Burn may have been correct in their assessment of Etterby as wholly lacking ‘remains of antiquity’. The evidence from excavation has been too slender to confirm a tentative suggestion as to what kind of Roman camp – if any - may once have existed at Etterby. While it has been suggested that there might be a Roman camp at Etterby, no evidence for this has been found.

However, there is some evidence for the neigh-boring Stanwix Roman fort continuing into the post-Roman period. Thus, if there is a connec-tion with 'Arthur', it should be attached to Stanwix, rather than to Etterby.

The timber features at Stanwix are fairly recent discoveries. Most of the excavations there have been unpublished, so when archaeologists talk about the timber buildings these may be more examples of timber hall-like structures (such as those from the Birdoswald Roman fort). There is always a hope that the Stanwix excavations revealing the late Roman/sub-Roman timber structures will be published, but in the mean-time it is interesting to know that the Carlisle Millenium Project excavation report will be avail-able in the near future (the Carlisle Roman fort being just a stone’s throw across the river from Stanwix), and very late timber structures were also found there.

The truly amazing thing about the 9.79 acre fort of Stanwix, whose Romano-British name was Uxellodunum, the ‘High Fort’, is that it is exactly between the forts of Camboglanna, where Arthur died, and Aballava on the western end of the Wall (see Chapter 7 below for my discussion of Aballava as ‘Avalon’).

This large fort also housed a force of one-thousand cavalry, the Ala Petriana, the only mil-liary ala (‘wing’) in the whole of Britain. The Petriana’s presence at Stanwix accounts for the name of this fort in the late 4th/early 5th centu-ry ‘Notitia Dignatatum’ – Petrianis. Titus Pomponius Petra, a distinguished former commander of the unit, gave his name to the ala.

Fell Pony, Cumbria

Roman historian Sheppard Frere nicely sums up the strategic importance of this fort:

“The western sector of the Wall was the most dangerous… both on account of the nature of the ground and because of the hostile population beyond it. It is not surprising to find, then, that at Stanwix near Carlisle was stationed the Ala Petriana… Such regiments are always found on the post of danger; and the prefect of this Ala was the senior officer in the whole of the wall garrison. Here, then, lay Command headquarters, and it has been shown that a signaling system existed along the road from Carlisle to York, which would enable the prefect at Stanwix to communicate with the legionary legate at York in a matter of minutes.”

The fort lay on a fine natural platform today occupied by Stanwix Church and Stanwix House, a little over 8 miles from Castlesteads (Camboglanna).

To the south lies the steep bank falling to the River Eden, while the land falls somewhat more gently to the north. Little is known about the fort apart from its defences. The south-west an-gle tower, south wall and east wall were traced in 1940, with the north wall being located in 1984. This was uncovered in the grounds of the Cumbria Park Hotel. A length of wall was subsequently left exposed for public viewing and the line of the wall marked out by setts; the exposed portion of wall lies close to the north-west corner of the fort. This and the south-west corner, a low rise in the churchyard, are the only remains visible today. Brampton Road lies more or less on the line of the south defences, with Well Lane marking the east defences. 

The northern end of Romanby Close lies approximately at the north-east corner of the fort. The northern defences consisted of a stone wall with a clay rampart backing, fronted by two ditches; an interval tower was also found. The north wall was 5 ft 8 in wide with a chambered base course above the footings on the north side; the rampart backing was at least 11 ft 6 in wide.

To the south of the tower lay a feature tentatively identified as an oven. The fort appears to be an addition to the Wall which was located in 1932-4 a little to the south of the north fort wall, with the north lip of its ditch found in 1984 to lie under the interval tower. A few meters further south, a turf deposit, probably a rampart, was recorded in 1997. No other trace has been dis-covered at Stanwix of a turf-and-timber fort, but the known fort is clearly later than the replacement of the Turf Wall in stone. 

The causeway over the south ditch was located beside Brampton Road in 1933. This was placed centrally in the southern defences, but this in itself gives little indication of the internal ar-rangements, which might have been unusual in such a large fort. Little is known of the interior buildings. A series of four parallel walls, possibly representing two barracks-blocks and lying to-wards the north fort wall, were examined in the school yard in 1934. A large granary was located further south in 1940.

The Archaeological Evidence for Stanwix as Arthur’s Power Center

In this section I will be discussing the case that has been recently made by Ken Dark of the Uni-versity of Reading for the sub-Roman (i.e. 5th-6th century CE) re-use of Hadrian’s Wall, as well as of forts along the Wall and in the adjacent tribal territory of the ancient Brigantian kingdom.

Location of Stanwix Roman Fort

According to Dark, from whose paper I will liberally quote:

“… eight fourth-century fort sites on, or close to, the line of Hadrian’s Wall have produced, albeit sometimes slight, evidence of fifth -sixth-century use. Nor is this simply a reflection of a pattern found father north; for no Roman fort site in what is now Scotland has any plausible evidence of immediately post-Roman use. Thus the situa-tion to the north of the Wall is similar to that found in Wales.

What is more surprising still is the character of the reuse found on the line of the Wall. Two sites, Housesteads and Corbridge, have evidence not only of internal occupation, but of refortification; at Birdoswald there are the well known ‘halls’, while at Chesterholma Class-I inscribed stone of the late fifth or early sixth century come from the immediate vicinity of the fort. At South Shields there is also evidence of re-fortification, and there is an external inhumation cemetery. Another Class-I stone was identified by C.A.R. Radford at Castlesteads [I have rendered the inscription of this stone above in Chapter 3]. 

At Binchester immediately to the south of the Wall, and at Carvoran, Benwell and Housesteads on its line, there are early Anglo- Saxon burials or finds, while at Chesters and Chesterholm (perhaps sixth century) Anglo - Saxon annular brooches come from within the forts, although these may be somewhat later in date than the other material so far mentioned.

At the western terminal of the Wall, a town-site, Carlisle, though not necessarily primarily military in the Late Roman period, has also produced substantial evidence of sub-Roman occupation, with continued use of Roman-period buildings into the fifth, if not sixth, century.

Many scholars accept that Carlisle was part of the late fourth-century Wall-system, perhaps even its headquarters, and at Corbridge, the other town-site intimately connected with the Wall, fifth -and sixth century material has also been found, including, perhaps, evidence of continuing British and Anglo-Saxon use. In the North as a whole, fifth- or sixth-century evidence from what had been Late Roman towns is not common. York, Aldborough, Malton, and Catterick are our only other examples. Two of these sites (York and Malton) were part of the same Late Roman military command as Hadrian’s Wall: that of the Dux Britanniarum.

It is interesting that, of the sites at Manchester and Ribchester– between the Mersey and Carlisle the only fort-sites known to have possible fifth or sixth -century evidence – Ribchester was not only part of the command of the Dux Britanniarum, but also listed as per lineum valli in the Notitia Dignitatum. It is, therefore, remarkable that out of the twelve fourth-century Roman military sites in northern and western Britain to have produced convincingly datable structural, artefactual, or stratigraphic evidence of fifth-or sixth-century occupation, eleven were, almost certainly, part of the Late Roman military command.

Eight of these were probably within the same part of that command, and eight comprise a linear group (the only regional group) which stretches along the whole line of Hadrian’s Wall from east to west. The two more substantial late fourth- century settlements adjacent to the Wall – Carlisle and Corbridge– have also produced fifth- and sixth-century evidence and two of the other towns with such evidence were also late fourth-century strategic centres under the military command of the Dux.”

Flavinus. Signifer of the Ala Petriana, Hexham Abbey

After setting forth these facts, and discussing them, Dr. Dark offers a rather revolutionary idea:

“Although it is difficult, therefore, to ascertain whether the military project which I have described was the work of an alliance or a north British kingdom or over-kingdom, there does seem to be reason to suppose that it may have represented a post-Roman form of the command of the Dux Britanniarum…

This archaeological pattern, however it is interpreted, is of the greatest interest not only to the study of the fifth-and sixth- century north of Britain, but to that of the end of Roman Britain and the end of the Western Roman Empire as a whole. It may provide evidence for the latest functioning military command of Roman derivation in the West, outside the areas of Eastern Imperial control, and could be testimony to the largest Insular Celtic kingdom known to us.”

In another paper, Ken and S.P. Dark rebut P.J. Casey’s argument for a reinterpretation of the reuse and re-fortification of the Wall and its associated forts. His conclusion for this paper reads as follows:

“If one adopts the interpretation that the Wall forts were reused in the later fifth-early sixth century for a series of sub-Roman secular elite settlements, then the associated problems involved in explaining this new evidence of occupation at that time disappear…

So, the interpretation that the Wall became a series of secular elite settlements, discontinuous from the Late Roman activity at the forts within which they were sited, is compatible with the evidence of pollen analysis, while the alternative interpretations are both rendered unlikely by it.

This does not, of course, make the suggestion that this reoccupation represents the sub- Roman reconstruction of the Command of the Dux Britanniarum any more likely, but the pattern on which that interpretation is based has been strengthened, rather than weakened, by the new archaeological data, whilst the evidence also hints at a similar reoccupation with regard to the signal stations of the Yorkshire coast and their headquarters at Malton.

Perhaps, then, at last one is able to see answers to many of the most pressing questions regarding what happened in north Britain, and more specifically on Hadrian’s Wall, in the fifth and sixth centuries…

The answer to all of these questions may lie in the rise and fall of a reconstructed Late Roman military command, unique in Britain, which was organized in a sub-Roman fashion reliant upon the loyal warbands of warrior aristocrats (and Anglo-Saxon mercenaries) rather than paid regular soldiers. The organizing authority of this system, probably a king of the sub-Roman Brigantes, assigned a politico-military role to the defended homesteads of these elites, and (as in the location of churches at disused forts, through land-grants?) positioned these at what had been Roman fort sites, but which were (at least substantially) deserted by the time when they were reused in this way. Thus, the ‘Late Roman’ Wall communities dispersed during the first half of the fifth century, but the Wall – and perhaps the north generally – was redefended in the later fifth and early-mid sixth century on very different lines, yet not completely without regard for the Late Roman past.”

I would add only that it is my belief this ‘king’ of the sub-Roman Brigantes whom Dr. Dark proposes was none other than the dux bellorum Arthur.

An Arthur placed at Stanwix makes a great deal of sense when we place these two forts in the context of the Arthurian battles as I have out-lined those in Chapter 3 above. These battle site identifications (taken from the list in the HB, supplemented by the Welsh Annals) shows a range of conflict extending from Buxton in the south to a the Forth in the north, with the majority of the contests against the enemy being fought along or just off the Roman Dere Street from York northwards. The site of Arthur’s death is in a fort only a few miles to the east of Stanwix and we will see in the next chapter that the location of his grave is most likely at a Roman fort [Aballava] just a few miles west of Stanwix.