Monday, October 10, 2016


Sites Discussed in the Article

Much has been made of the Pendragon name, and the presence of dragons in the story of Emrys/Ambrosius and Vortigern.  Although an attempt has been made to draw parallels with the Roman draco standard (introduced by the Sarmatians, who settled as veterans at the Ribchester fort), this has not been entirely successful. 

In this blog post I would like to explore the ‘pesky dragon’ one more time, with the aim of seeing if my identification of the name/title Uther Pendragon as a cipher for Ambrosius/Emrys holds any weight.

To begin, here are some interesting facts to consider:

1) Dragons of Dinas Emrys – with Emrys and Vortigern
            a) Amesbury connection
b) Center of Oxford (Lludd and Llefelys)
2) Crossed serpent standard of Segontium military unit in Notitia Dignitatum.  Segontium has strong associations with a Constantine. 
3) Maglocunus/Maelgwn as the ‘dragon of the isle’ (draco insularis)
4) The Pharoah’s (i.e. Vortigern’s) Red Dragon (standard? Metaphor for the Britons?) in the Gwarchan Maeldderw
5) In the Gorchan of Tudfwlch, the hero – from Eifionydd in Gwynedd, an area in north-west Wales covering the south-eastern part of the Llŷn Peninsula from Porthmadog to just east of Pwllheli  – is called the serpent with a terrible sting, and his place of origin is alluded to as the snakes’ lair.  Eifionydd, named for Ebiaun son of Dunod son of Cunedda, is the northern half of the kingdom of Dunoding and is hard by Dinas Emrys in Arfon. 
6) Owen Gwynedd is referred to by the poet Gwalchmai as the 'dragon of Mona' 
7) Arthur son of Bicoir 'the Briton' kills the Irish king Mongan with a dragon stone

So all of these ‘dragons’ cluster in Gwynedd.

[Admittedly, ‘serpent’, snake’, ‘dragon’, ‘drake’ are sometimes metaphorically used for heroes outside of Gwynedd.  For example, the son of Cynan Garwyn of Powys is one Selyf Sarffgadau, ‘Solomon Serpent of Battle.’  Cynan is likely the Aurelius Caninus of Gildas, which have led some to believe that Aurelius Ambrosius belonged to this family.  Cynan’s father was the great Brochwel (‘Badger-prince’) the Tusked. Maig Myngfras, brother of Brochwel, is in a 13th century poem compared to a later ruler who is referred to as “a valiant sharp dragon.”]

So am I right in seeing Uther Pendragon as a cipher for Emrys, for whom Vortigern has DREAD and who is called the Great King?

Let’s look towards Dinerth, ‘Bear Fort’ (Bryn Euryn hill fort), in Conwy, almost certainly the receptaculum ursi of Cuneglasus/Cyngils.  There is a church of Constantine here.  And let us not forget the Ceredigion Dinerth fort and river also – which was also part of Gwynedd.  See the Arth names in the Cerdigion genealogy, for example (Artbodgu, Artgloys, Arthgen). I’ve shown before that Ceredig son of Cunedda = Ceredic of Wessex.  The Arthur battles in Nennius’s Historia Brittonum fall exactly in the same chronological slot as the battles of Cerdic in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Some have tried to show that Cerdic IS Arthur.  I once explored this possibility myself and failed to produce anything convincing.  As with other theories on the historical identity of Arthur, none of the battles found in Nennius could be brought into accord with other Arthurian candidates. And it remained true that the name Arthur cannot have originated from northern or western Wales, as it derives ultimately from Artorius of York. 

If we want a “battle leader” and a Camlan, there is always Cadwaladr son of Meriaun of Merionydd.  No fewer than three Camlanns fall in his territory, and his name means ‘battle prince/ruler/leader.’

Then there is Enniaun girt map Cunedda. Enniaun has only his epithet to recommend him. Girt or gyrth can have the meaning of ‘dread’; (GPC) gyrth - garw, caled; aruthr, ffyrnig; cryf, cadarn; wedi ei yrru, curedig; trawiad, hwrdd, gwth, ‘rough, hard; dread, fierce; strong, mighty; driven, beaten; blow, push, thrust.’  This would roughly correspond to Uther.  But Enniaun was not of Eifionydd, the 'snakes' lair,' nor is there reason to connect him to Segontium.  And a further discussion of Enniaun's nickname by Andrew Hawke, editor of the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, does not support the idea that Enniaun should be seen as 'the Terrible', etc.:
"...'gyrth' is both an adjective and a noun. It is well attested in Middle Welsh but has no known etymology (?possibly from an old verbal form, perhaps from gyrru, which is from gyr meaning 'drive, thrust, blow, push; rush, onset, attack; compulsion; impulse, impetus'). The only indication of its meaning is the examples of its use which have survived. As you say, Bartrum is very dependable. From what he says in his Classical Dictionary, Einion was renowned for being slaughtered - hence 'stricken' or 'beaten' (as in GPC). There is also a verb, 'gyrthio' meaning 'to strike, beat; butt, push; shake, stir; touch' - which is probably the source of 'touched' as a possible meaning.

Dafydd ap Gwilym ( poem 48 line 54) refers to a "Brychan Yrth   Literally 'Brychan the Mighty', probably Brychan Brycheiniog".
The epithet could mean 'mighty' or 'fierce' in relation to Einion also, I suppose. The context is really all we have to go on, together with similarities between different usages and references to the characters in the literature (Bartrum's particular strength)."
In my book THE MYSTERIES OF AVALON, I make my case for the Tintagel headland being the Roman period Promontory of Hercules.  It is occurred to me that the two crossed serpents of Segontium may have something to do with Hercules.  At Silchester was found a Roman stone dedicated to a god named Hercules Saegon-.  This divine epithet is from the same word we find in Segontium and means ‘vigorous’ or the like.  In the case of Hercules, it may be a native god with whom the Classical divinity was identified.  The river at Segontium is called the Seiont to this day. 

Two serpents appear in the myth of Herakles.  And in this myth, Herakles as an infant IS SLEEPING ATOP A SHIELD.  Here is the entire account from Theocritus:

INFANT HERAKLES (Theocritus 24: 1 - 63)

Once when Herakles was 10 months old,
Alkmena of Midea bathed him and Iphikles,
his brother younger by a night and nursed them both,
then laid them in the fine bronze shield
Amphitryon had stripped from Pterelaos as he died.
Gently the oman stroked their hair and spoke to them:
"Sleep, my babies, sleep sweet and refreshing sleep.
Sleep, my soul, two brothers, blessed children.
Blest be your slumber, blessed your awaking at dawn."
So speaking she rocked the great shield and sleep took them.
But at midnight when the Bear turns to the west
down after Orion, and shines against his mighty shoulder,
Then Hera the Devisor sent two deadly monsters forth,
two gleaming snakes with blue-black coils,
urging them across the broad threshold, the hollow doorposts
of the house,
directing them to devour the infant Herakles.
Along the ground, coiling high their bellies the two serpents
slithered, an evil fire shown from their eyes as they came,
and they spat forth an evil poison.
But when they came near the children, forking their tongues...
then the dear children of Alkmena awoke-for all was known to Zeus-
and a sudden light filled the house.
At once Iphikles cried out, as he saw the evil beasts above his
hollow cradle and saw their deadly teeth, and he kicked away his
woolly blanket, struggling to run away.
But Herakles put out his hands, gripped their necks with deadly force,
holding fast their throats of deadly poison, a poison even the gods feared.
The two snakes wound about the child, this new-born baby
who never cried. He tightened his grip again, then released it,
striving to ease the pain of the dreaded bond.
Alkmena first heard the cry and awoke.
"Get up, Amphitryon! Sheer terror holds me fast!
Get up, don't tie your sandals on!
Don't you hear how our younger child is screaming?
Don't you see the light, like dawn, but at night, about the walls?
There is something strange in the house, my husband!"
So she spoke. And he, in answer to his wife, got out of bed,
He grabbed his great sword which hung always above
their cedar bed, he snatched his strong scabbard lotus wood,
while with his other hand he belted on his new baldric.
Suddenly darkness enveloped the room again.
He called out the servants stretched out in heavy sleep.
"Bring a torch quickly, taking it from the hearth!
My servants, break down the door, break the bolts!"
There was a Phoenician housemaid sleeping near the mill;
suddenly she heard him and called out the other servants
sleeping throughout the house. They came running, bringing
torches: the house was full of running people.
Then as they saw Herakles, the baby, holding the two monsters
in his baby hands, they cried out in amazement. He held them out
to his father Amphitryon, and raising the serpents high above the earth
he laughed and laid the snakes, now slumbering in death, at his
father's feet.
Alkmene took in her arms Iphikles, still stiff with fright.
Amphitryon laid his other child, Herakles, back under his blanket,
and then returning to his bed thought about the strange event.

I would very tentatively propose, therefore, that the insignia of two crossed snakes at Segontium, which would have been on shields, represented the two snakes of the Herakles myth, and that Saegon- was a native version of Herakles whose name is preserved at Segontium.

Notitia Dignitatum showing the Segontium insignia at top, second from the left

Also in my book THE MYSTERIES OF AVALON, I had discussed the true nature of the vases found at Dinas Emrys.  These accord perfectly with two funeral urns placed mouth to mouth, the cremated bones inside of which – representing the remains of two chieftains or “dragons” – were wrapped or sealed in cloth. The description of these urns perfectly matches actual archaeological discoveries.  For more details on this, I urge readers to see the full account in my book.

At some point the two serpents of Dinas Emrys were converted in genii loci, protective spirits of the place.  From that point they further evolved into the genii of the British and the Saxons.  Finally, they may have taken on lunar characteristics.

I suspect that somehow the story of the urns and the dragons/chieftains they contained got mixed up with the two serpents of Segontium.  It is even possible that the cloth which sealed the urns or wrapped the cremated remains bore faint traces of the Segontium insignia, as this would likely have been used on standards as well. 

In any case, the Segontium serpents may be the origin of the Gwynedd dragons.

Does any of this help us with Uther Pendragon?

Eigr, the later Igerna, is from a Celtic root that is cognate with that of the Greek akraia, an epithet of Hera.  The name refers to a promontory or headland exactly like that of Tintagel.  The snakes of the Herakles story belong to Hera.  If I’m right and the Tintagel headland is the Promontory of Herakles, and Segontium Roman fort can be identified as a place sacred to Hercules Saegon- with its two snakes, we must ask the next rather obvious and logical question: was Arthur born not at Tintagel, but at Segontium?  Or even at Dinas Emrys, which is not far distant from Caernarfon (see attached map)?

Of course, the whole story of Arthur’s birth at Tintagel is the invention of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and the reasons why he may have placed the infant hero there have been written about in detail before. Given the 12 Herculean battles of Arthur found in Nennius, we can understand how a story-teller like Geoffrey would seek to place Arthur on the Promontory of Hercules!

If Arthur is being likened to Hercules, is Uther meant to be Zeus, father of Hercules?  Geoffrey used the story of Manannan mac Lir’s transformation into the Irish king Fiachra to beget Mongan for his tale of Arthur’s begetting. And we are told in the Pa Gur poem that the god Mabon son of Modron (Maponos son of Matrona) is the servant (gwas) of Uther. This last has caused Arthurian enthusiasts and even a few scholars to wonder whether Uther was himself a god.  My identification of Uther with Ambrosius Aurelianus automatically begs the question as to which Ambrosius is meant – the geographically and temporally displaced personage of that name (Governor of Gaul, father of St. Ambrose) or the ‘divine/immortal golden one’ who is none other than Lleu/Mabon.

If we want to stick to names that belonged (if not exclusively) to mortals, then Uther Pendragon can designate only one of three men, all of whom were traditionally associated with Gwynedd:

1) Emrys
2) Vortigern
3) Cunedda

Vortigern, as I’ve recently demonstrated, was at least half Irish.  He was centered in southern Powys.

Emrys, once again, is an anachronistic personage of Gaul who came to be identified in legend with Lleu/Mabon of Gwynedd.  If he is Uther Pendragon, there is no way he was also Arthur’s father.

Cunedda was also Irish (see my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY); he was not from Manau Gododdin in the extreme North, but from Drumanagh across the Irish Sea.  He is called Ceawlin in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – and was called a Bretwalda, ‘Ruler of the Britons.’  As the person supposedly in charge of the conquest of Gwynedd, he could well have been referred to as the Pendragon.  Dinas Emrys was in Arfon next to Eifionydd, the latter being named for Dunod son of Cunedda’s son Ebiaun, as we’ve already seen above.  And Eifionydd was referred to as the ‘snakes’ lair.’ 

According to the MABINOGION, Lleu is given Dunoding by Math (the ‘Good One’, a taboo name for ‘Bear’) and lives/rules from Mur Castell, modern Tomen-y-Mur, site of a Roman fort.  Lleu had been raised at Dinas Dinlle(u) on the coast.  All these places are close to Caernarfon/Segontium.  Dinas Emrys is exactly between the two Lleu forts.  Nantlle(u), the place where Lleu exists for a time as the death-eagle in the oak and where Mabon’s grave is located, is exactly between Dinas Dinlleu and Dinas Emrys.

Maponus was always identified with Apollo the sun god. Apollo, of course, is famous for his defeat of the great serpent Python at Delphi.  Both Herakles and Apollo were sons of Zeus.  In Welsh tradition, Lleu’s father is Gwyddion (earlier Gwyddien, “Tree or Wood-born”) son of Don. Mabon is said to be the son of variously Modron or Mellt (“Lightning”).  As for Mellt, Zeus Astrapaios ‘of the lightning’ and Jupiter Fulgur, Fulgurator, Fulmen, Fulminator come to mind.

What is important to keep in my mind is that the center of Mabon worship in Britain was in the Scottish Lowlands not far to the northwest of the western portion of Hadrian’s Wall. We also find the name Lleu (or Lugos) at Carlisle/Luguvalium (Welsh Caer Liwelyd), the Roman fort that was ‘Lleu-strong.’ And it is on the western part of the Wall (Irthing Valley) where I have placed Arthur (Ceido son of Arthwys).  His brother Gwenddolau (of Merlin/Myrddin fame) was even closer to the Maponos/Mabon sites of Lochmaben, the Clochmabenstane hard by Gretna Green on the Solway and the Maporiton or ‘Ford of the Son’ at Ladyward.

Mabon features largely in the Taliesin poetry devote to Owain son of Urien.  Owain’s mother was said to be Modron, and the references in the relevant tradition seem to suggest that Mabon in this context should be seen as a poetic term for Owain himself.  I’ve mentioned elsewhere that the word gorlassar, which became Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Gorlois, is found used of only two heroes: Urien himself and Uther Pen (dragon). As a Llywarch Hen poem speaks of Urien’s head after death, some have thought Uther Pen, the ‘terrible head’, to be not a personal name, but a reference to Urien’s head after the latter fell in battle.  Alas, Urien is too late to be Arthur’s father.

Another northern Mabon, apparently a chieftain, is known as the son of Idno son of Meirchion. Meirchion was the father of Cynfarch (the ‘Mark’ of the Mote of Mark fort in Dumfriesshire), father of Urien. 

Finally, the Northern Myrddin or ‘Merlin’ appears to either be Lleu or, more likely, a sacred Lleu warrior, a sort of Lleu avatar.  He is said to have served Gwenddolau brother of Ceidio/Arthur.

So we have the well-attested presence of Lleu/Mabon not only in Gwynedd, but in northwestern Cumbria and adjacent Dumfriesshire.

Does ANY OF THIS HELP WITH DETERMINIG WHY UTHER WAS MADE ARTHUR’S FATHER? Or, indeed, with determining who Uther was (if someone other than Emrys/Ambrosius)?  Are we dealing with something as simple here as the Ambrosius of Gildas being made the father of Arthur, as Arthur was traditionally the victor at Badon, a battle mentioned right after Ambrosius in the De Excidio?  In other words, the two most famous military figures of the age were linked for this reason and this reason alone?  And then someone decided to forge for them a genealogy which bond them to the royal family of Dumnonia?

A question that has always intrigued me was this: what was Dinas Emrys called before it was called Dinas Emrys?  Welsh tradition records that it was called simply Dinas Ffaraon Dandde, the Fort of the Fiery Pharaoh, a name for Vortigern derived from Gildas.  There is no reason to believe, however, that Vortigern was ever really present at Dinas Emrys.

There is another tradition recorded at Dinas Emrys.  This is the battle between Owain Finddu son of Macsen Wledig (Maximus the Tyrant, a name which could easily have been confused for Vor-tigern) and a giant.  From P.C. Bartram’s entry on Owain F.:

"Plant Maxen Wledic: Cwstenin, Peblic ac Ywain vinðu yr hwn y claðwyd i benn ai gorff
o uewn Nanhwynyn ymhlwyf Beð Celert yNghoed Ffaraon. Yr hwn Ywain a laðoð Eurnaχ gawr;
yn yr unrhyw goed Eurnaχ ai llaðoð yntau.

The sons of Macsen Wledig: Custennin, Peblig and Owain Finddu whose head and body
were buried in Nanhwynan in the parish of Beddgelert in Coed Ffaraon. That Owain slew Eurnach Gawr; in the same wood Eurnach slew him."

To this day on the maps the ‘bedd’ or grave of Owain is marked as existing between Llyn Dinas and Dinas Emrys.

Owain is probably meant to be the Roman usurper Eugenius.  St. Ambrose “upbraided Eugenius for acquiescing to the demands of the senatorial order, but he was so afraid of the growing influence of the pagans that he fled Milan when the court of Eugenius entered Italy (”  The full letter written by Ambrose to Eugenius may be found here:  As an emperor at Dinas Emrys, Owain would qualify as a ‘Pendragon.'  However, there is no reason to believe he was ever at the fort.

But what of Eurnach the Giant?  What is his origin? John Rhys thought he was the giant Gwrnach or Wrnach of the MABINOGION.  Others have guessed he is Awarnach/Afarnach from the Pa Gur poem (a name I've identified with Abernethy in Scotland; see THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY)Bartram is of the opinion that the name Eurnach does not seem to be one of Iolo Morganwg's forgeries

I can only say this about Eurnach: Eur- is probably from Aur-, 'gold.'  Dr. Simon Rodway agrees with me on this, saying: "that is exactly what eur- is, a composition form of aur 'gold'."  Which brings to mind once again our AURelius Ambrosius.  He continues:

"As for the ending, -ach in Welsh has negative connotations (cf. papurach ‘useless paper, bumf’, sothach ‘rubbish’, petheuach ‘worthless things’ etc). This may be because it sounded Irish (cf. many Irish adjectives in –ach), and therefore uncouth! This accounts for the semantic development of Welsh gwrach ‘witch’ < ‘woman’ (cf. Old Irish fracc ‘woman’). Giants and monsters often have names in –ach in Welsh literature (Wrnach, Diwrnach, Duach, Brathach, Nerthach etc). This is discussed by Patrick Sims-Williams, Irish Influence on Medieval Welsh Literature (Oxford, 2011), 183-84."

Why this “gold” giant as Owain’s adversary?  Well, it is perhaps not a coincidence that Eugenius was Flavius Eugenius, his general Arbogast was Flavius Arbogast and another man who served under the Western Roman Emperoro was named Flavianus.  All these names derive from Latin flavus, “golden yellow, reddish yellow, flaxen-colored, blonde.” Flavianus committed suicide when Eugenius perished at the battle of the Frigidus River, and Arobogast, after escaping into the mountains, committed suicide a few days later. 

Yet if one or both of these men with “golden” hair names lie behind Eurnach, why the name change?  It seems more logical to question the supposed paternity of Owain.  There were other early Owains in Welsh tradition.  If Eurnach is Irish in origin, the Irish name Eogan (‘born of the yew’) was Latinized as Eugenius as early as the Old Irish period.  Thus it could be that Owain should actually be Eogan.

The founder of the Irish Eoganachta was one Eogan Mor ‘the Great’ (Mor having the same meaning as Latin Maximus, as in Owain son of Macsen).  He had a brother named Eochaid Orainech.  While Welsh linguists would not like the idea much, Eurnach looks suspiciously like Orainech.  The name means ‘Gold-face’, and is found used also of a mysterious personage called Orainech Uisnech, who has been tentively linked to the god Lugh (see  Geoffrey of Monmouth told the story of Merlin Emry’s bringing the stones of Stonehenge from the Hill of Uisnech.  Stonehenge is hard by Amesbury, which doubles for Dinas Emrys. 

But why two early Eoganacht brothers would be battling at Dinas Emrys I cannot possibly hazard a guess!

Bartram touches upon a late legend that has Myrddin stay at Dinas Emrys for a long time before going away with Emrys Ben-aur, that is Ambrosius the Golden-headed.  
An even later legend tells of Merlin hiding a treasure on/in Dinas Emrys.  This was only to be expected, as Geoffrey identified Emrys with Myrddin/Merlin.  The person who goes searching for the treasure is a golden-haired boy.

So where do we stand regarding Uther? As far as I can determine, he is still a cipher for Ambrosius.  And he is NOT the real father of Arthur.

Perhaps we have finally fought our way clear of the obscuring smoke of the dragons. 

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