Thursday, December 15, 2016


River Avon Near South Charford, Hampshire

A decade or more ago, myself and others flirted with the notion that the famous founder of Wessex, Cerdic, was King Arthur.  One of the main champions of the Cerdic = Arthur theory is Joseph C. Rudmin, whose paper on the subject may still be found online here:

As Rudmin himself points out, there are a number of problems with the Arthur = Cerdic theory.  I resolved some of them when I showed (see my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY, Chapter 1, that Cerdic of Wessex was almost certainly Ceredig son of Cunedda.  But I was unable to reconcile the names.  Just how can we prove that Cerdic/Ceredig also bore the name Arthur?

The departure point for our continuing exploration of this subject is once again a comparison of the relevant chronologies. 

Cerdic of Wessex appears on the scene (according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) in 495 A.D.  His death is marked in 534.

Arthur's floruit is nicely bracketed from some time shortly after the accession of Aesc (ASC) to the kingdom of Kent in 488 (or Octha, according to the Historia Brittonum account) to the time of Ida, who according to the ASC succeeded  to the kingship of Northumbria in 547.  The Welsh Annals give Arthur's death at Camlan at c. 537.

The questions I've always asked myself are these: the Arthur of the Historia Brittonum clearly occupies the same time range as that of Cerdic of Wessex.  Both are national heroes, one of the Britons and one of the English.  Was Arthur merely "created" to provide the Britons with a propagandist substitute for the English Cerdic?  But, if so, why would the English have chosen for their kingdom-founding champion a man who was plainly Celtic, in Cerdic's case at least in origin Irish and possibly of mixed Irish-Briton ancestry?

As I've discussed in some detail before, Ceredig/Cerdic was the son of Cunedda, who appears as Ceawlin in the ASC.  This would seem to automatically disqualify Arthur as Cerdic, for as we all know the only father known for the early Arthur was Uther Pendragon.  I've literally chased Pendragon's tail for years, striving always to come up with a satisfactory identification of this most elusive character.  Only the other day did I finally realize that I'd missed something potentially important.

In my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY, I opted for what seemed a reasonable approach.  Uther, the Terrible or Horrible, with his epithet Pendragon, was most likely, so I surmised, a poetic designation for Ambrosius.  This war-leader (an anchronistic figure, as it turns out) was the 'dread' of Vortigern and had been brought into close connection with the red dragon of Dinas Emrys.  While this identification appeared to make sense, because of the chronological gap between him and Arthur, I reasoned that Uther Pendragon could not possibly have been Arthur's actual father.

However, as dragons/serpents/snakes are constantly linked to the kingdom of Gwynedd (see my piece THAT PESKY DRAGON, I thought it would behoove me to look there and see if any other figures were described in the early poems as being "fearful" or the like.  My search yielded two such references.  In the MARWNAD CYNDDYLAN, an unnamed ruler of Gwynedd is said to be the 'terror' (ffraw) of the Cadellings, the dynasty of North Powys.  The second example is far more interesting.  In the MARWNAD CUNEDDA, that great chieftain is said to be the cause of dread/fear/horror (ergrynawr).  We thus have Cunedda, the founder of the kingdom of the dragons, being the fear of those he opposes or attacks.  Cunedda took on the Welsh title of Wledig, 'prince, ruler', and as Ceawlin in the ASC was a 'Bretwalda', or 'ruler of the Britons.'  Such would be sufficient, then, to propose that Uther Pendragon was actually a poetic title for Cunedda himself.

Which brings us back, of course, to a consideration of the name Arthur and how this could possibly relate to that of Cerdic.  Obviously, we can simply state that Ceredig son of Cunedda had been given the usual three-part Roman style name and that on of these name elements was none other than Artorius.  My problem with this idea is two-fold.  First, Artorius was a very rare name even among the Romans.  We know of only one in Britain, the 2nd or 3rd century camp prefect at York.  We have no reason for seeing Lucius Artorius Castus of York as being any more famous that any other soldier serving in Roman Britain.  Second, why would an Irish-descended dynasty in the extreme north and west of Wales take the name Artorius from York?

An interesting fact I've called attention to before in Ceredig son of Cunedda's kingdom of Ceredigion is the presence there of the Afon Arth or Bear River, as well as its tributary the Nant Erthig or Little Bear Stream, and the Castell Dinerth or Castle of the Fort of the Bear (possibly the site of an earlier sub-Roman fortification).  In addition, these geographical bear-names seem to have spawned bear-names in the early genealogy of the Ceredigion princes as these are found listed in the Harleian MS.:

[G]uocaun map Mouric map Dumnguallaun map Arthgen map Seissil map Clitauc Artgloys map Artbodgu map Bodgu map Serguil map Iusay map Ceretic map Cuneda.

Artbodgu or Arthfoddw is 'Bear-Crow', Artgloys or Arthlwys is 'Beautiful or Holy Bear' and Arthgen (perhaps the most interesting of them all) is 'Bear-Born' or 'Born of the Bear.'  There is the very real possibility that the bear in question from which Arthgen was born is the Afon Arth itself, conceived of as a water deity.  

Given these bear names of the Ceredigion dynasty, is there any way in which Ceredig, the founder of the kingdom, may have been designated by 'Arthur?'  That is, by a name or title whose first element was taken from the name of the divine Bear River, the apparent ruling center of the dynasty?

The problem is coming up with a name that will satisfy linguists.  As things stand right now, they will allow nothing other than a derivation from Roman/Latin Artorius. This despite the fact that such a derivation makes little or no geographical or historical sense.  Granted, some names such as *Artori:x, 'Bear-king', or *Arto-wiros, 'Bear-man', may have been replaced early on with the purely Latin Artorius.  But this begs the question of WHY?  And it requires knowledge of the name Artorius, which as I've already mentioned was a very rare name even among the Romans.
What complicates the issue for us is the presence of the Irish language early on in western Wales.  It is possible that a British name became Arthur by being taken over into Irish and then, at a later date, being re-borrowed by the British in its new, Gaelic form.  The problem is coming up with a satisfactory explanation of how this may have happened.  Alternately, Ceredig may have been called Artur for 'Bear-king', for example, in Irish.  And this form of the name was retained in Welsh.  I would cite the example of the name Beccur(us), found on a 6th century memorial stone near Penmorfa in Gwynedd.  Patrick Sims-Williams has this as deriving from *Bikkori:x, 'small king'. Peter Schrijver says that *Bikko-wiro, 'little man', is also possible.  The Irish Annals has a Bicoir father of a 7th century Arthur, and some have thought this Bicoir may be Beccur.  

Unfortunately, the Celtic linguists will not allow for anything like this to have taken place.

Simon Rodway states that 

"If we were to allow regular *Bikkori:x > Beccur-, it would still not follow that *Artori:x would give Arthur - it would give **Arthwr, just as Beccur- would now be spelled *Bychwr or *Bechwr. In fact, of course, as has been well established, *Artori:x would give *Erthyr."

Schrijver adds

"By no stretch of the imagination could *artorix become MW Arthur. Beccur- is not comparable because it is early and inscriptional and could therefore conceivably reflect*bikkorix (Beccur- = late Proto-British /bExür/, with E = shwa and ü as the intermediate stage between *o and MW y). The difference between Welsh w and Irish u is purely graphic.
If a Brittonic written form was the input for Irish, *arthgur would be it. But if the input was a spoken form, it would be /arthur/ (with/u/ = Welsh written <w>). Both would have Irish –th- rather than –t-. It therefore seems that the Irish form with –t- reflects the Latinate form Artorius or the early Romance (French) Artür."
And so it goes.  We are forced to accept that if Cerdic were called a bear-name because of a sacred bear river at the heart of his kingdom, the name that was used was the Roman Artorius, which was ASSUMED TO BE A BEAR-NAME OF THE KIND FOUND IN IRISH AND WELSH WITH *ARTO-/ART-/ARTH- FORMS. Ironically, Professor Stefan Zimmer has proposed that the Roman name Artorius derives from a Celtic original meaning 'Bear-king' (see THE NAME OF ARTHUR - A NEW ETYMOLOGY, Journal of Celtic Linguistics 13(1):131-136 ·March 2009). 
On his WORDPRESS blogsite "In the Name of Arthur", Malcolm Wilson (The Arthurs of Ireland – kith and kin of the ‘Kernyw Kid’? – PART V) nicely summarizes such a use of Artorius as a Latin substitute for an earlier Celtic name:

"The name Arthur is generally argued to be from Brythonic or Latin. I would suggest that the only way in which it could possibly come from Gaelic is the same way in which it could have possibly come from Brythonic, and that is through the Latin decknamen[18] (pseudonym) of Artōrius for the Celtic name Artorix (From *Arto-rig(i)os = ‘Bear King’). The recipient of the name would then have to have become known by this Latin decknamen, which would morph to Insular Latin Artūrius – which is what Adomnán called Artúr mac Áedán in the Vita Sancti Columbae (The Life of St. Columba/Colm Cille) – and then contract to Artúr/Arthur.[19] It’s a complicated morphology, but not impossible. There could be an argument given that a Gael or Gaelo-Briton warrior might use a Latin decknamen instead of his own Celtic one, especially if fighting for more Latinised Britons."

When I discussed this possibility with Dr. Simon Rodway of the University of Wales (, his response was simply "This sounds perfectly plausible."
There is ample evidence for the substitution of Roman/Latin names for earlier Irish names in the various genealogies belonging to the Dessi-descended princes of Dyfed, as well as to the Ciannachta-descended princes of Gwynedd.  I personally have no trouble accepting an Irish or Hiberno-British *Artori:x being replaced by Latin Artorius.  And if this did happen, the only Arthur we have who is early enough for the established dates, and whose father could be Uther Pendragon, is Ceredig son of Cunedda.  

For a good precedent that would allow us to view Ceredig as "king of the Arth [river]", we might look at Ceredig Wledig of Strathclyde, who in the early Irish sources is called Coroticus 'regis Aloo/regem Aloo', or 'King of the Rock.' Aloo is here an abbreviated form of Alclud, the Rock of the Clyde, the capital of the early Strathclyde kingdom.  


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