Wednesday, August 10, 2016


                                                          High Rochester Roman Fort

Mount Breguoin, found only in late rescensions of the Historia Brittonum has been associated with the ‘cellawr Brewyn’ or cells of Brewyn where Urien of Rheged later fought, a site generally agreed to be the Roman fort of Bremenium at High Rochester on Dere Street. Kenneth Jackson, who thought the name might also be an interpolation, came to this conclusion (“Arthur’s Battle of Breguoin”, ANTIQUITY 23, Jan 1 1949, p. 48). Most scholars now think that the Breguoin battle was taken from the Urien poem and incorporated into the Arthurian battle-list in the HB.  As Arthur was linked to the Welsh word arth, ‘bear’, it may not be a coincidence that a bear god named Matunus was worshipped at Bremenium during the Roman period.

Mount Agned has hitherto escaped philological analysis. From Kenneth Jackson's time on, one original form proposed has been Angned. But this is an unknown word and has failed to produce a viable site. Most authorities feel that Agned is a corruption.

The simplest explanation for Agned as a corrupt form has been supplied by Dr. Andrew Breeze of the University of Navarre. Dr. Breeze proposed that the /n/ of Agned should be read as a /u/.  This is a brilliant solution to the problem, although his attempt to then identify Agned with Pennango or Penangushope near Hawick is seriously flawed.  I would see in this last a Pen, “headland”, plus the Gaelic personal name Angus.  As Alan James makes clear,

“We know in that area in the heart of the Southern Uplands, P-, Q-Celtic, Anglian and Scandinavian pers names were being used promiscuously, irrespective of the language or ethnicity of the bearers, and P-Celtic was probably still current late enough for a pen- to be named after an Angus.”

Penangushope would be ‘the narrow/enclosed valley of Angus’s Headland.’

Dr. Graham Isaac has the following to say on the idea that Agned could represent an original Agued:

“The n > u copying error is a common one. The word agued is a rare one, and is used only three times in the early materials. It means something like ‘dire straits, difficulty, anxiety’.”

The most important use of this word, for the present purpose, is found in Canu Aneirin line 1259, where it occurs in the phrase 'twryf en agwed', ‘a host in dire straits’. We will return to this phrase in a moment.

We have discussed the possibility that the Arthur section in HB represents a Latin retelling of an OW heroic poem. Such a poem could have had a line in it like 'galon in agued', 'the enemy in dire straits, great difficulty', much like the Canu Aneirin’s 'twryf en agwed'. It is conceivable that an author responsible for the Harleian recension of the HB (who may not have been entirely versed in the diction of OW heroic poetry) may have mistaken this 'agued' for a actual place-name, and wrongly placed the battle there: instead of 'the enemy in dire straits', he understood 'the enemy at Agued', easily miscopied.

Under this interpretation, the only location for the battle that was ever correct was Breguoin/Bremenium. This analysis at least solves the problem of 'Where was Agned?' with the answer, ‘There never was such a place, and so no need to look for it.’

What we may have in ‘Mount Agued’, then, is a confused reference to a battle at Mount Breguoin/Bremenium where the enemy found itself ‘in dire straits’. If so, we would have four, and possibly five battles said to have been fought by Arthur on Dere Street: York, Binchester, Devil’s Water, Celidon Wood and High Rochester.

The argument against Bremenium/High Rochester as an Arthurian battle, which relies upon the presence of gellawr brewyn, the ‘cells of Brem nium’, in the Urien battle poem list, ignores the very real possibility that more than one battle could have been fought at Bremenium at differ ent times. Bremenium is situated in a very strategic position, essentially guarding the pass over which Dere Street crosses the Cheviots. It is also true that Urien’s Brewyn could just as easily have been borrowed from the Arthurian battle-list as the other way around.

While it may well be that Agued/Agned is merely an error for Bregouin or a poetic name for the latter, there is a second possible identification for this Arthurian battle site. The ‘Twryf yn aguedd’ phrase mentioned above comes from the ‘Gwarchan Tudfwlch’, a poem appended to The Gododdin.

What is surprising about the ‘Gwarchan Tu fwlch’ example is that the phrase is preceded by two lines that copy part of a line found in Strophe 25 of The Gododdin proper:

“Arf anghynnull, Anghyman ddull, Twryf en agwed…”
“Arf anghynnull, anghyman ddull…”

Now, in the case of The Gododdin line, the poet Aneirin is referring to Graid son of Hoywgi’s prowess at the disastrous battle of Catraeth, Roman Cataractonium, modern-day Catterick on
Dere Street in Yorkshire. The Battle of Catraeth is, of course, the subject of The Gododdin poem.

The hero Tudfwlch hailed from the region of Eifionydd in Gwynedd, but he fought and died at
Catraeth. While he engaged in military actions in his homeland (the ‘Gwarchan’s’ ‘Dal Henban’ is almost certainly modern Talhenbont at Llanystumdwy in Eifionydd), it is probable that the lines borrowed from The Gododdin are meant to indicate that the following ‘Twryf yn aguedd’, ‘a host in distress’, is a reference to the British army at Catraeth.

Dr. Graham agrees with me on this assessment, saying that

“Phrases like twryf yn aguedd are characteristically used in early Welsh poetry to set up a general atmosphere of warrior violence, but, to judge from the final lines of the poem, it would seem to be primarily concerned with the 'Battle of Catraeth'.”

Part of the Roman fort at Catterick was built on the rising ground above the River Swale known as Thornbrough Hill. And Arthur is mentioned in Line 972 of The Gododdin. Whether this is an interpolation or not, it is generally thought to be one of the earliest occurrences of his name in the written records:

“He fed black ravens on the rampart of a fortress
Though he was no Arthur.
Among the powerful ones in battle,
In the front rank, Gwawrddur was a palisade.”

Are we to see as a coincidence Arthur’s being mentioned in the context of the Battle of Catraeth when it is in this same battle, alone among all battles of the period, that a host finds itself in ‘agued’?

There are two possible ways to read this passage on Arthur in The Gododdin. First, the hero Gwawrddur, while a great warrior, was not nearly as great as Arthur. This is the standard interpretation. But let us suppose that what is really meant is that Arthur had fought at Catterick as well, a generation earlier, only he proved more powerful than Gwawrddur and won a victory over the Saxons on Thornbrough Hill, i.e. Mount Agned.

In this context, the Arthurian Mount Agned of the HB could be an anachronistic reference to the hill at Cataractonium, where the British army of Gwawrddur’s time found itself in ‘distress’ or ‘dire straits’ just prior to its annihilation by the Saxon foe.

So if we assume Agned = Agued = Catterick, where did Arthur fight – at High Rochester or Catraeth?

Well, the simple answer is ‘Either, both or neither.’ If Breguoin is indeed borrowed from the Urien poem, then Arthur did not fight at High Rochester. If Agned is Thornborough Hill at Catterick, then the site may have been chosen merely because his name was mentioned in The

Almost the entire defensive circuit of the High Rochester/Bremenium fort is preserved, with the remains of the western gateway being particularly fine. There is also evidence of several periods of rebuilding in the western intervaltower of the south side. The ditches are well preserved to the north and east, outside which the line of Dere Street marches north-west. Between the thick stone ramparts the fort measures around 440 ft north-south by about 420 ft east-west, giving an occupation area of about 4.25 acres. There are inner stone buildings.

On the north, the remains of as many as thirteen ditches can be distinguished. On the east and south, four, and six ditches curve around the north-west angle. It is unknown how many ditches were on the west side of the fort.

The Roman fort at Catterick was likely founded during the early 70 CE's to guard the crossing of
Dere Street over the River Swale. At the very latest, the fort must have been in place by 79 CE, in order to guard the northern supply route of Agricola's Scottish campaigns. After an undetermined period of neglect, it would appear that the fort was recommissioned during the administration of Gnaeus Julius Verus in the aftermath of the Brigantian revolt of 155 CE, at which time the Antonine Wall was abandoned and the troops pulled back to Hadrian’s Wall in order to control the Brigantes. No trace of the fort remains, as it was overlain by the town of Catterick. A crop-mark east of Catterick Rac course has been identified as a Roman temporary camp not far from the fort.

Geoffrey of Monmouth and Agned/Breguoin

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s treatment of the Agned name has led to further confusion – although at least in one sense he made have been on the righ track.  

To begin, he calls Agned both Maiden Castle and the Dolorous Mountain. While there are many Maiden Castles in Britain, because Edinburgh came to be called this in the medieval period it has been customary to identify the latter with Agned. Geoffrey’s thinking here may be identical with that of later antiquarian writers who saw in Agned the Latin Agnetis for St. Agnes, the virgin martyr-saint.

Dr. Simon Rodway of the University of Wales agrees that Agned as found in the HB could have quite regularly and perfectly developed from Agnetis. 

The Dolorous Mountain of Geoffrey may well represent his attempt to render Breguoin.  Welsh has the following words (GPC listing) which have meanings similar to Latin dolorosus (dolor, doleo):


[?o’r gwr. *u̯en-, u̯enə- ymegnïo am; chwennych, caru, ymfodloni; ymdrechu, llafurio’ fel yn y Llad. venus, -eris]

eg.b. ll. gwyniau, gwniau.

Poen, gofid, dolur, brath, artaith; nwyd, angerdd, anian, mympwy; sêl, serch; chwant, drygchwant, anlladrwydd; eiddigedd, dicter, digofaint, llid, cynddaredd:

pain, trouble, ache, smart, pang; passion, emotion, humour, whim; zeal, affection; desire, lust, wantonness; jealousy, displeasure, wrath, rage, fury.


[Gwydd. cóine ‘wylofain’]

eb.g. ll. cwynion, cwynau.

a  Achwyniad, datganiad o anghyfiawnder neu o gam, o ofid neu o alar, achos anghydfod neu ofid; galar, gofid:

complaint, plaint, grievance, lament, cause of contention or grief; grief.” 

An imagined Bre, ‘hill’, plus this gwyn or cwyn would give a Hill of Pain or Lamentation Mountain.  If I’m right about this, then Geoffrey had before him one of the MSS. of the HB which listed both Breguoin and Agned. As the MSS. can identify the two places, Geoffrey followed suit.  Thus Agned became Maiden Castle and Breguoin became the Dolorous Mountain.

None of this helps us with the location of Agned, however – if we accept the name as a W. form of L. Agnetis.  The few St. Agnes place-names in Britain are all of recent origin.  One such exampl is a farm in Scottish Borders, at the confluence of the Whiteadder and Bothwell rivers, near Cranshaws, called St. Agnes.  Only a quarter mile of so from this St. Agnes there is a hillfort.  What follows is from the CANMORE database:

“NT 682 632 Fort, St Agnes (Stenton). A curvilinear fort with double ramparts and ditches on the end of the spur that lies between the Whiteadder Water and the Bothwell Water, a quarter of a mile WNW of St Agnes. At some former time the Whiteadder has washed into the base of the spur at this point, and the ensuing landslips have destroyed the whole of the south side of the fort. It seems probable, however, that the work was oval on plan and measured internally 300ft from E to W by some 250ft from N to S. The ramparts which are still visible (just) on the ground at the W end of the fort, are 50ft apart measured from crest to crest, but their original widths can only be determined by excavation.”

David N. Haire, an expert in East Lothian history, kindly forward the following information to me concerning St. Agnes in Scottish Borders:

“The first appearance that I have found is St Agnus (not Agnes) on William Forrest’s ‘Map of Haddingtonshire’ 1799/1802.  This map associates the place with Sir James Sootie Bart.  It is St Agnes on John Ainslie’s ‘Map of the Southern Part of Scotland’ 1821 and on the first Ordnance Survey 6 inches to one mile map.  This baronet (usually spelled Suttie) was apparently an undistinguished and reactionary parliamentarian, described as 4th baronet of Balgone and Agnes (without the St). . 

Earlier baronets apparently had only the title ‘of Balgone’ .

Given that St Agnes is in a very sharp point between the Bothwell and Whiteadder Waters, my extremely tentative guess was that the name was originally a minor topographical name, possibly Scots aik-ness, meaning ‘oak promontory’; and that the ambitious but apparently rather dim baronet tried to add to his status  by glorifying his patch of hill land with the prefix St which happened to fit the name.  However, the probability of a wholly whimsical name is raised by this family tree which shows that the fourth baronet’s mother was Agnes née Grant.”

Agned from Agnetis would, in this context, reside only in Geoffrey’s imagination.   

Does it make sense, though, to conclude that Mount Agned is a mistake for the agued/agwed of the Gododdin poem?  Alas, attractive though this solution is, it does not seem very likely.  If one had access to the Gododdin, why not simply say Arthur fought at Catraeth?

Well, as it happens there another very exciting candidate for Agned available to us. A Roman inscription was found at Bremenium/High Rochester with the word EGNAT clearly carved upon it.  The full reading of this stone is as follows (from

“To the Genius of our Lord and of the standards of the First Cohort of Vardulli and of the Unit of Scouts of Bremenium, styled Gordianus, Egnatius Lucilianus, emperor's propraetorian legate, (set this up) under the charge of Cassius Sabinianus, tribune.”

This Egnatius was the governor of Britannia Inferior, i.e. Northern Britain, and as such would have been based at York.  He is known from another stone as well, found at Lanchester (

“The Emperor Caesar Marcus Antonius Gordianus Pius Felix Augustus erected from ground-level this bath-building with basilica through the agency of Egnatius Lucilianus, emperor's propraetorian legate, under the charge of Marcus Aurelius Quirinus, prefect of the First Cohort of Lingonians, styled Gordiana.”

There has been some speculation concerning this man, who may have been of very famous stock (see Inge Mennen’s “Power and Status in the Roman Empire, AD 193-284, note 79, p. 101).  In any case, as a governor and a rebuilder of forts, his name may have been become attached to that of Bremenium in a sort of nickname fashion – ‘the hill of Egnatius’ or, as it came down to us in the HB, Mount Agned.  Such a nickname may have been purely a local or even legendary development.  A good comparison to Bremenium as Egnatius’s hill would the Uxellodunum fort at Stanwix, called Petriana after its military garrison.

According to Dr. Simon Roday of the University of Wales,

“Agned cannot derive regularly from Egnatius, but I don't think it's impossible - as you say, there are examples of a- ~ e- in Welsh (agwyddor ~ egwyddor etc). Perhaps a sort of metathesis?”

The examples I had cited were merely a handful I had culled from some of the early Welsh poems:

engai, angai, engis, angwy, etc.

edewi, adaw, adawai, edewid

endewid, andaw

ail, eil

Doubtless more such instances of /a/ for /e/ could be found in other texts.

In answer to the criticism that the Egn- of Egnatius would have undergone a sound change to Ein- by the 9th century, Dr. Rodway added: "Old Welsh spelling was conservative in this respect, so it would be quite regular for the g to still be written."

If I’m right about this, then the Breguoin and Agned place-names both designate the same site – the Bremenium Roman fort at High Rochester.

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