Thursday, October 6, 2016



On Mynydd Margam in southern Wales, there is an interesting inscribed stone dated either 500-599 or 400-550 A.D..  Interesting chiefly because it bears the name Catotigirnus, a name we know from the Historia Brittonum of Nennius and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  A Cattigern, modern Caderyn, is said according to competing genealogies to be either the son of the great Vortigern or of Cadell Dyrnllwg.  While Catotigirnus may well have been a relatively common name in the period, the fact that we find it on a stone means that at least his son Bodvoc must have been someone of considerable importance.  Could the father of Bodvoc also have been an important man?  Could he have actually been THE Cattigern?

Here is the relevant inscription:

Of Bodvocus (PN) -- he lies here, the son of Catotigirnus (PN) and great-grandson of Eternalis (PN) Vedomavus (PN).
RCAHMW/1976 37 reading only 


We learn more about this stone from the Web page

"The earliest and perhaps most visual features of the pre-industrial landscape throughout the area are funerary monuments located within the uplands dating to the Bronze Age (2300-800BC); these features are arranged in two main clusters or groups; one towards the western end of the Mynydd Margam ridge including two Bronze Age Cairns, or round barrows at Ergyd Isaf (SAM Gm 160; PRNs 741 and 742; HLCA 004), and nearby at Ergyd Uchaf (SAM Gm 159; PRN 749w; HLCA 010), and a second grouping at the head of Cwm Cynffig, including a two cairns near Llyndwr Fawr (PRNs 751w and 752w; HLCA 010), a ring cairn (PRN 753w; HLCA 010), the 'supposed' original site of the early medieval inscribed Bodvoc stone (SAM Gm 443; HLCA 010), to the south the so called Port Talbot Tumulus (PRN 763w; HLCA 013) and at Waun Lluest-wen another ring cairn (PRN 115m; HLCA 013), and Twmpath Diwlith (PRN 00754w; excavation in 1921 revealed a cist burial; HLCA 013). Outliers include the possible barrow of Mynydd Margam Beacon (NPRN 307,286; HLCA 010), also considered to be a maritime defensive feature of medieval date, and to the south west the near destroyed Rhyd Llechws round barrow, just south east of the summit and the round barrow on Moel Ton mawr (PRN 00755w; HLCA 014). Several of these sites were excavated on behalf of the National Museum of Wales by Dr RE Mortimer Wheeler in 1921 (RCAHMW. Glamorgan Inventory, Volume 1, Part 1); the Royal Commission record that all of the barrows and cairns excavated had been previously damaged and that 'some of the the mounds had been built of irregularly cut turves, and yielded a few flint flakes during excavation.

Of particular interest is the barrow of Twmpath Diwlith (PRN 00754w; SS 8322 8879; HLCA 013), this was found to have been constructed of turf over a rough cist-burial containing fragmentary burnt bones', the site had later been enlarged with earth and a secondary interment (disturbed) inserted. The important 6th century Bodvoc stone (ECM 229; PRN 809w; replica, original in NMW) inscribed BODVOC-HIC IACIT / FILIVIS CATOTIGIRNI / PRONEPVS ETERNALI VEDOMAV ('the stone of Bodvocus-he lies here, the son of Catotigirnus and great grandson of Eternalis Vedomavus') is set into the adjacent ringcairn (PRN 753w; SAM Gm 443; SS 8306 8878; HLCA 010). The 1st edition 6'' OS map of 1884 shows the then location of the stone on the 'tumulus' immediately east of the ancient ridgeway route of Heol-y-moch (an extention of Ffordd-y-gyfraith), and names it as careg-lythrog (inscribed stone). There is a possibility that the Bodvoc stone may have originally have been associated with Twmpath Diwlith, especially in the light of the secondary burial; this is, however, largely speculative.

The significance of the Bodvoc stone is enhanced by its location close to a well-established civil and ecclesiastic boundary; the boundary between the parishes of Margam and Llangynwyd ('yr Hen Blwyf') and the boundary of main monastic lands of Margam during the medieval period (Rees 1932; Williams 1990), the stone's location is thought to reflect the even earlier boundary between the early medieval parochiae of Margam and Llangynnd (Knight 1995)."

Let us first tackle the name Vedomav-.  Celtic language specialists are in agreement that the second component is "servant."  To quote again from he CISP site:

"MAU is attested as the second element in the name Tutamau (CR no. 281), and also probably in Wormawi in ch. 14 of the Vita of Paul Aurelian), unless that is Uurm-/Uorm- `brown' plus the suffix -(i)au. Cornish has a common noun maw `young man, servant' from British *magus. Magu- is attested as a name element in Gaulish. These forms correspond to the OIr. common noun mug `slave, servant'. The same root is found in Breton maouez `woman', corresponding to Cornish mowes `girl', and probably in Breton mevel `domestic servant'. The Early Welsh collective maon (two syllables) is used with the meaning `subjects, a king's warband' (GPC sn.). The singular occurs in the Welsh fossilized phrase meudwy `hermit, monk', as if from *magus Dewi: `servant of God'. The same element occurs in two compound names in Late Romano-British spellings in inscriptions from Wales: MAVOHE[N-] from *Magu-senos (Llanboidy: ECMW no. 149) and VEDOMAV- (Margam: ECMW no. 229). If Gallmau is not simply a name that is servile in origin, it may contain the sense of meudwy as a name in faith, i.e. `Gallo-Roman Servant [of God]'."

Vedo- is from some word which in modern Welsh would appear as gwydd (information courtesy Dr. Simon Rodway).  I will present my reason below for choosing gwydd, 'tree(s), branches, twigs' (see Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru).

The second thing we notice about the Bodvoc Stone inscription is that the name of the father of Catotigirnus is left out.  We thus must be satisfied with the great-grandfather of Bodvoc, Eternalis Vedomavus.  Now, long ago I suggested that Vortigern was at least part Irish.  My article on this still exists on Robert Vermaat's pages:

There I listed the following IRISH Vortigerns:

1) Fortchern, the smith of St. Patrick (Annals of the Four Masters Year Entry 448); as this Fortchern is paired with another smith, Laebhan, i.e. St. Lomman (?), this Fortchern may be:

2) Foirtchern son of Fedelmid, who was for a short time bishop of St. Lomman's Trim. Fortchern of Trim, who was of mixed Irish and British blood, is said to have later retired to Killoughterane/Cill Fortchern in the parish of Muinebeag, Co. Carlow. However, we are told in the ancient Irish sources that Fortchern the smith is the same as Foirtchern of Rath Seimhne (see below). It may not be a coincidence that there is a Gobbin's Cliff, the Cliffs of the divine smith Goban Saor, in Seimhne/Island Magee.

3) Vortigern of Ballyhank, East Muskerry, Co. Cork (inscribed stone).

4) Vortigern of Knockboy in Decies Without Drum, Co. Waterford (inscribed stone dated c. 700-900 AD).

5) Foirtchern of Monte Cainle (probably the Hill of Conlig/Coinleac in north Co. Down), a contemporary of St. Columba.

6) Foirtchern of Rath Seimhne (Island Magee, south Co. Antrim).

7) Fortchern, brother of Cathchern (a name cognate with British Cattigern, a supposed son of Vortigern in the Historia Brittonum narrative), son of Tigernach of the Meic Carthind of the Lough Foyle region.

8) Fortcheirn son of Mael Rubae of the Ui Dicholla of the Dessi

9) Fortchern son of Iarlaith of the Ui Brigte of the Dessi

10) Fortchern son of Tigernach of the Ui Brigte of the Dessi

11) Clan Foirtchern in the Breadach genealogy on Inishowen, near the Lough Foyle Meic Carthind

At the time, I had not plugged the Bodvoc Stone into the equation.  As a result, I did not bother to check into the etymologies for Lomman and Fedelmid (Feidilmidh and other variants).

Lomman, as it turns out, means (see the eDIL) 'tree (or branch) stripped of its bark and/or leaves and/or twigs.'  He is given an epithet lainnech, meaning 'the Scaly' (perhaps for the appearance of bark?).  Ath Truim, his church, means "ford of the elder trees." According to, Foirtchern son of Fedelmid was a follower of Lomman.

This reminded me immediately of Vedomavus as "Tree-servant."

Could Eternalis be a Latin rendering of Fedelmid?  We have examples in stone and in MSS. of Latin being used as "translations" of Celtic names.  In Dyfed we have the Voteporigas Protictoris stone, while Gildas wrongly renders Cuneglasus as 'tawny butcher'.

I went to look for an etymology for Fedelmid.  One possibility wasn't helpful:

Fedelm is the Irish equivalent of the Gaulish name Uidluia (for *Uidlmia). The first element is based on the root "to see" (Uid-). The name likely means "seeress." [Christopher Gwinn via the Old Irish listserv]

According to Professor Jurgen Uhlich of Trinity College, a derivation from a word similar to Gaulish Uidluia is not possible:
"And finally re the connection you propose with Gaulish Uidluia, even IF < *vidlmia (which, however, seems a phonotactically impossible formation). Be that as it may, such a preform could not possible lead to the vocalism of the first syllable of Fedelm(-id), where the e must either be original or the result of Primitive Irish lowering, which however only happens before *a or *o in the following syllable. Also, a group *dl could not have survived into Old Irish, but would regularly lose the d with ensuing compensatory lengthening, thus yielding something like *file, or if really with an original *m, *fílme (all of this a purely formal exercise, of course). So while words beginning with, or containing, the sequence <vid> make one think of the IE root ‘to see’ (though there are other formal possibilities), one can still not be sure that even the apparently appellative Gaulish word containing this must have meant ‘seer(ess)’, unless it can be argued plausibly have that meaning in its transmitted Larzac context. But this would still do nothing for Fedelm etc., unless the formal concerns could be addressed, and even then it is attested as a context-free name, not an appellative noun."

The second possibility for Fedlemid, however, was quite remarkable:

Sabine Ziegler, "Die Sprache der altirischen Ogam-Inschriften", referring to various authorities (Pedersen, Frisk, Pokorny, Mac Néill), p. 242, derives Fedelm and Fedelmid from the adjective feidil "enduring, lasting".

I went to the eDIL for feidil (or fedil) and derivatives and found these meanings:

lasting, enduring, long-lived, constant, continuous, perpetual

Prof. Jurgen's opinion on this derivation is as follows:

"...the only formal connection available indeed appears to be the Irish word feidil... All of this leaves us at best with feidil, for no other reason that this is the most similar word the Irish dictionary can come up with (albeit a very similar one in the present case, admittedly)... I will restate that that connection with feidil seems more suggestive than some other, shorter, root-etymologies... "

What I propose is this: whoever carved the Bodvoc Stone had rightly or wrongly interpreted Fedelmid to mean the same as Latin Eternalis and so he "translated" the name.

Prof. Jurgen commented on this idea thusly: "...the latter “meaning” would only have been the one that the translator assumed the name to have by his own reinterpretation (which may have been historically “correct” or incorrect), not the actual meaning of the name at the time, which again would have been limited to denoting a particular person. This is the realm of folk-etymology (usually called that only when the contemporary interpretation of a form can be shown by modern linguists to be historically wrong, but the approach is the exact same when the explanation happens to be “correct”, a criterion that would have made no sense to the folk-etymologiser)."
Eternalis = Fedelmid
Vedomavus = Tree-servant (i.e. Fedelmid, who was, as is made plain in the hagiographical account, a follower of the "tree" Lomman)

If I'm right about this, the Vortigern of Wales was indeed Foirtchern son of Fedelmid by a British wife.  This Foirtchern eventually carved out a kingdom for himself called Gwrtheyrnion, located in southern Powys.  The rival Powysian dynasty was in the north, founded by Cadell Ddynrllwg, which according to P.C. Bartram was

"...probably the country surrounding the fortress of Benlli which was one of the heights in the Clwydian range. The district was called Iâl, on either side of the upper reaches of the river Alun, and was the central stronghold of Northern Powys.”

I realize some may challenge my reading of this stone.  Still, I feel that what I have come up with is more than merely provocative.  In truth, it may point to the actual historical existence of Vortigern and allow us to trace his ancestry back to an Irish king.




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