Friday, December 29, 2017

My Last and Best Guess for the Name of the Uley Shrine God

I've remarked in an earlier blog post that I'm not privy to the British cult title or epithet given to Mercury/Mars/Silvanus at the Uley Shrine next to Uley Bury (quite possibly *Cambolanda/Camlan).  As a result, I've had to resort to a very careful study of the RAVENNA COSMOGRAPHY place-names as those relate to the environs of Gloucester and the Severn estuary.  I've also gleaned whatever scant clues I could from the few curse tablet translations that have been published.

In Curse Tablet 75, the god (dei) is referred to as 'potentissimus' (powerful, strong, mighty and the like). If (and this is a HUGE 'if') this is a Latin attempt at the god's cult title, then the only place worth looking at, really, is *Magalonium.

Rivet and Smith have *Magalonium for the RAVENNA COSMOGRAPHY'S Macatonion.  Here are the sections in R&S dealing with both *Magalonium and *Maglona:


* Rivet & Smith, p 405 :


-  Ravenna, 10629 : MACATONION ?

DERIVATION. R&C propose to emend this to *Magalonion, reasonably enough (with c for g by scribal confusion, as often; although Mac- may accurately represent the same root, as in Hispanic personal names Macilo / Magilo, ELH I. 359, and Macalu, a divine name in a graffito of Seraucourt (Bourges, France : DAG 354). This *Magalonium they then derive from a river-name *Magalona, which with British *-io- derivational suffix gives for the whole name a sense 'place on the noble river'. Their base is an Indo-European root *mak- 'to grow' (Holder II. 362), from which Welsh magu and Breton maga 'to feed' ultimately come, as do Latin magnus and Greek megalos. Among place-names closely related are then British Maglona and its précise equivalent Magalona > Maguelonne (Hérault, France), Magalonnum > Moulons (Charente-Maritime, France). The origin of many personal names related to these lies in *maglo-s, perhaps 'great one', from which derive Old Irish mal, Welsh and Breton mael 'prince', present in such ancient names as Magalos, Magilos, Magilius; in Britain, Brigomaglos on a subRoman tombstone at Chesterholm (RIB 1722). Based on the mag- root are the divine name Magusanus, associated with Hercules in a dedication at Mumrills, Stirlingshire (RIB 2140); also DAG 943 (many) ; and the Gaulish place-name Magdunum > Méhun-sur-Yèvre (Cher, France) and Meung-sur-Loire (Loiret, France), together with British Magantia, Magiovinium and perhaps Maia.

Whether R&C's speculation about *Magalona river is warranted can be judged from the Continental analogues, for which no such supposition has to be made; and from the fact that no modem river-namc derives from this. It seems simplest to see the name as built on *magal- with suffixes *-on- io-, as in CANONIUM; and as meaning 'high, outstanding place' or the like, possibly 'noble place'.

It might turn out that Ravenna's Macat- is right after all. A name Macato (reading of the first a being doubtful) is recorded in CIL XIII 5806 (Langres), and other names, mostly personal, are known with Mac(c)-; see GPN 364-65.

IDENTIFICATION. Unknown, but apparently not far from Gloucester.

* Rivet & Smith : Old Carlisle, Cumberland.


- Inscription : RIB899, which may belong here : see MAGIS

- ND XL13 (pictura) : MAGLOUE
- ND XL28 (text) : Praefectus numeri Solensium, MAGLONE (var. MAGLOUE)

ND's forms with u have a common copying fault of u for n. Final -e may simply be -a miscopied, or a first-declension locative.

DERIVATION. Maglona belongs with the names listed under *Magalonium, based on the root *mag-. Gaulish Magalona > Maguelonne (Hérault, France) is an exact equivalent of the British name, which has lost the unstressed vowel by elision. A similar sense, 'high, out-standing place', perhaps 'noble place', is appropriate.

IDENTIFICATION. Probably the Roman fort at Old Carlisle, Cumberland (NY 2646).


There is a Gaulish god (and also a chieftain) named Magalos on the Continent.  A place named for such a god in Britain could have taken a form such as *Magalonium.   For the etymology of Magalos we may compare maglos, from the PIE root *meg'h2- meaning 'great' or 'mighty.' (1)

Magalonium is thought to have been somewhere in the vicinity of Gloucester, and this would fit the location of the Uley shrine.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough that this idea is based in ignorance of the actual cult name found in the Uley shrine curse tablets.  For now, the only person in the world who has possession of that information is Professor Roger Tomlin of Oxford - and he is not in a sharing mood at present.  We shall have to wait for his future publication of a definitive edition of translations with the Institute of Classical Studies, London.


*maglo- 'noble, chief [Noun]
GOlD: Olr. mal [0 m], Ogam CUNA-MAGLI
W: MW mael [m] 'chieftain, lord'; MW -mael, -fael (in PN) (e.g. Brochfael
< *Brocco-maglos);
BRET: MBret. -mael (in PN, e.g. Tiernmael)
GAUL: Magalos, -maglus [PN]
PIE: *megh2- 'great' (IEW: 709)
COGN: Gr. megas, Go. mikils
ETYM: If the etymology is correc~ the a-vocalism in Celtic should be
explained by Schrijver's rule (*mCvolced- > *maCvOIced-), but this rule is not
beyond doubt. Gaul. Magalos, if related, might represent PIE *mgh2-lo- with
the expected vocalization of the laryngeal (which was, for some reason, lost
in Insular Celtic and in Gaul. -mag/us).
REF: LEIA M-13, GPC III: 2305, Delamarre 213, Ziegler 1994: 112


A New Identification for Argistillum in the RAVENNA COSMOGRAPHY

While re-examining sites in the Severn Valley region for anything that may pertain to Arthur, I happened to have a thought regarding the Argistillum of the RAVENNA COSMOGRAPHY.

Here is the entry for the site from Rivet and Smith's THE PLACE-NAMES OF ROMAN BRITAIN:

- Ravenna, 10630 : ARGISTILLUM.

DERIVATION. Williams finds the origin of this name in a British word which has given Welsh gwystl (Irish giall) 'hostage', drawing attention to Holder I, 1993 (*geislos, *geistlos), and the modern Welsh place-name Arwystli; there is prefixed *are- *ar- ' in front of ' (as in Arnemetia - see AQUAE ARNEMETIAE - and Ariconium). The meaning is thus perhaps 'at the hostage', 'with a folklore reference now lost'. This seems possible, and we have nothing better to offer, even though this makes difficult sense. It should not be forgotten that in a gravely miscopied text like Ravenna there are no certainties when this text alone gives us a name. The present entry could be a garbled version of Ariconium, on the ground that this stands next to Gloucester in Iter XIII of AI, just as in Ravenna Argistillum stands next to Gloucester at 106,29. It is also possible that a root in Celtic *arganto- 'silver', which is common in place-names, is involved.

IDENTIFICATION. Unknown, probably near Gloucester.

Arwystli, while it looks attractive, is scarcely possible, as this Welsh cantref is quite a ways from Gloucester (see map below).

The other suggestions are not very good, either.

If we can allow in this one instance for a sort of hybrid Latin-British name, could this not be for *Ar-castellum?  If in full Latin, it would read 'juxta castellum', i.e. 'near, close to, near by, hard by, by the side of' the castle.  Castellum here would, of course, designate a Roman fort or fortified settlement. Castellum is attested earliest in Welsh with spellings such as cestill, kestyll, gestyll.

My guess for such an Ar-castellum in the vicinity of Gloucester would be the Kingsholm vexillation fortress:

Kingsholm North of Gloucester, the Site of a Later Saxon Palace

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Another Proposed Etymology for Metambala: Nodens as Anvalos?

Dedication to the God Anvallos

It has occurred to me that Metambala - if we assume this place-name is properly *[Ne]metambala - could be etymologized in a new and different way.

First, we must recall that the Lydney Park Nodens temple, often cited as a candidate for *Nemetambala, was in Ercing, a kingdom bordering on the Hwicce tribe (supplanters of the Dobunni). According to Professor Della Hooke (personal correspondence),

"The whole of that area [Lydney Park] lay outside the kingdom of the Hwicce (as suggested by the diocesan boundary) and must originally have been within Welsh district of Ergyng, a district around the Roman centre of Ariconium (?Cantref Coch. This is discussed by Bruce Coplestone-Crow in his BAR book (British Archaeological Reports, British series 214, 1989) Herefordshire Place-Names."

Readers of my blog will recall my discussion of the Anblaud made an ancestor of Arthur and other notable figures in Wales.  This personage is associated with Ercing.  The name means something like 'the very terrible [one]', from an intensifying prefix plus Clt. *blad-.   What I'm wondering is if this Anblaud could be a relic of or substitution for an earlier Celtic god name known from Autun on the Continent.

-ambala, if we allow for some of the usual form and copying errors encountered in the RAVENNA COSMOGRAPHY (see Rivet and Smith's The Place-Names of Roman Britain), could ultimately derive from Anval(l)os:

We would then be looking at a Nemeto Anvalo or similar.  Granted, this doesn't make much sense in the context of the Lydney temple, as we know the god worshiped there was named Nodens.  But it could be that Anvalos was being used as a cult title or epithet for Nodens. Alternately, Metambala may be another site and not a designation for Lydney Park.

I emphasize that this notion is highly speculative and just as likely to be wrong as the other proposed etymologies for Metambala.  I mention it only because, to date, it's really all I can come up with for this place-name.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Metambala According to Sir Ifor Williams (Via Richmond and Crawford)

As I've not been able to come up with anything better for this place-name myself, I think it wise to fall back on the meaning of "sacred apple-grove."  We still don't know for certain exactly where this nemeton was situated.  I've suggested Ashbury and the Spital Meend fort, but others have made the case for Lydney Park's Temple of Nodens.

If I'm right about Uley Bury being Arthur's Camlan (*Cambolanda), then the proximity of an 'Avalon' to that fort is possibly significant.  Still, archaeology does not favor the survival of Lydney as a center of worship during Arthur's floruit.  On the other hand, the West Hill/Uley nemeton literally next to Uley Bury was a major religious shrine from the Neolithic up into the 8th century, with a Christian church being built on the site at the right time.  It is likely, then, that Arthur was taken to West Hill, and that the nemeton or 'sacred grove' name here lent itself to an association with the *Nemetabala just across the Severn from the mouth of the River Cam.

I regret to inform readers that my fairly extensive efforts to obtain the Celtic cult title of the god of Uley have been unsuccessful.  The relevant information is in the possession of Professor Roger Tomlin of Oxford and he refuses to be forthcoming with it until it  is published at some unknown future date.  The texts of the defixiones from Uley have been released with agonizing slowness.  The Romano-British name of the place must remain a mystery until and if the cult title is made available through the auspices of an academic journal.  While I understand and appreciate the need for such scholarly caution, the proprietary nature of the material can be incredibly frustrating to other researchers who happen to have a keen interest in the West Hill shrine.  

As I've mentioned in a previous blog, the existence of a nemeton place-name at Nympsfield (certainly for the shrine at West Hill) still has me wondering whether the *Nemetabala should be placed here rather than at Lydney Park.  The ordering of sites in the RAVENNA COSMOGRAPHY suggests only that *Nemetabala is on one side or the other of the Severn Valley. 

METAMBALA 50. In South Wales, near CAERWENT.
The word is probably corrupted from NEMETAMBALA,
and refers to a famous holy grove.
[nejmet-, see NEMETOTATIO.
-ambala, cf. Gk. omphalos, 'navel', 'boss of shield',
'centre of the earth', Ir. imblim, 'navel', Lat. umbo,
umbilicus. I.W.]
It is, however, possible that this element is corrupt.
Nennius records (Hist. Brit. 70), among the marvels of
Britain, 'juxta fiumen, quod vocatur Guoy, poma
inveniuntur super fraxinum in proclivo saltus qui est
prope ostio fluminis'. That is, a freak apple-tree
existed at the mouth of the Wye. If the final element
here was abala, instead of ambala, the reference would
remarkably suit the situation. For the sanctity of
apples, cf. MANNA.
Meaning: 'The sacred grove of the navel', or more
probably 'The sacred apple-grove'.

The British Section of the Ravenna Cosmography1
By I. A. RICHMOND, ESQ., LL.D., F.B.A. Vice President, AND

"The explanations here furnished are for the most part due to Professor Ifor Williams, whose qualifications require no introduction."

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

REPOST - The Identity of Uther Pendragon Revealed


An Artist's Conception of the Lydney Park Temple

I've been struck by something odd about the story of the apple-bearing ash tree in the 'Mirabilia' appended to the 9th century HISTORIA BRITTONUM.  

Although the 'Mirabilia' are thought to have been composed somewhat later than the HB proper, we would still have had an important differentiation between two words in Welsh at this time:  the ash would be onn, while the rowan would be cerd(d)in.  As far as I can tell, the rowan was not referred to as the 'wild ash' in Welsh ('onn wyllt') until the 17th century.  So the idea that this apple-bearing ash is a mountain ash with berries is not tenable (poma being a word originally used in Latin for any tree fruit, including berries).

Where, then, did this idea of the magical ash tree originate?

Well, I've had a crazy idea.  Suppose whoever wrote this story had before him Afal(l)on/Abal(l)on.  He then chose to interpret it, either through ignorance or perversity, as Afal-onn, i.e. 'Apple-ash.'  This may seem silly, until we ask ourselves whether Avallonis could have existed before Geoffrey of Monmouth's time.  To quote on this notion from p. 274 of Rachel Bromwich's TRIADS:

On this Burgundian 'Avalon', the DICTIONARY OF CONTINENTAL CELTIC PLACE-NAMES has the following to say:

Aballo LN LN: Avallon (FRA). Aballo TP 1,5; Aballone (var. abollone) IA 360, 4;
ABALLONE, AVALLONE Meroving. coins. Celtic, to aballo- on-.

The Proto-Celtic to English word list at


*aballon- apple-orchard

From noted Brythonic place-name expert Alan James:

"Early Celtic -on- is common as a nominative or locative suffix, i.e. in place names it just means 'N-place'. *Aball-onā- would just be 'appletree-place'."

Let us now take another look at the "Mirabilia" entry:

Iuxta flumen, quod vocatur Guoy, poma inveniuntur super fraxinum in proclivo saltus, qui est prope ostio fluminis.

"By the river called Wye, apples are found on an ash-tree, on the hillside by the river estuary."

If this magical ash = Avallonis, where is it to be found, exactly?  In a previous blog piece, I suggested the ash could be a reference to Ashberry (Ashbury) right next to the Spital Meend promontory fort and Offa's Dyke.  Yet there is no evidence of an apple place-name here, nor of any kind of Romano-British temple.

Richmond and Crawford suggested the Lydney Park Nodens temple, despite it being a fair distance from the mouth of the Wye.  They guessed that the RAVENNA COSMOGRAPHY'S Metambala should be *Nemetabala, the 'Nemeton of the Apple Trees.'    If they are right, the temple of Nodens would make for an ideal Avalon.

NOTE: Unlike the nemeton at West Hill/Uley/Nympsfield, the Lydney Park temple did not continue in use during Arthur's floruit.

Excavations at the Roman Temple in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire in 1980 and 1981, P J Casey, B Hoffmann and J Dore, 1 April 2011


Re-examination of the published evidence from the excavation of the Temple of Nodens at Lydney, Gloucestershire, by R E M Wheeler, FSA suggested a more complicated structural sequence than that postulated by the excavator, whilst detailed study of the numismatic evidence threw doubt on the traditional chronology. In the light of new phasing hypothesized from the theoretical work based on re-examination of the published data, selective re-excavation of coin dated features was undertaken. The results, confirming the theoretical work, suggest that the religious buildings had their inception in the second half of the third rather than in the middle of the fourth century, that there was a refurbishment in the fourth century but that there was serious deterioration of the structures after the middle of the century. Features attributed to the post-Roman period are seen to fall within a Roman chronology.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Is Arthur's Avalon a Nemeton Near Uley Bury?

Temple of Nodens, Lydney Park, Gloucestershire

Uley Shrine, Artist's Conception

In an earlier blog post, I made my case for Arthur's Camlan being the Uley Bury hillfort on the River Cam in Gloucester shire (  Here I wish to discuss a more likely Avalon than the one at Glastonbury, which appears to derive from very late tradition.  

Prior to the altering the River Cam's course to funnel it into the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, it debouched at Frampton Pill (near Frampton on Severn; see map at the bottom of this post).  From here someone could easily take a boat down the Severn to Lydney, where a Roman period temple to Nodens was situated.  This temple was within both the Dobunni and Hwicce tribal areas.  Furthermore, there is the possibility that its Roman period name was *Nemetabala, the 'Sacred Grove of Apple Trees.'  If this is the place's name, a connection with Geoffrey of Monmouth's Avallonis is obvious.

The idea for *Nemetabala comes from Richmond and Crawford, for noticed the following from Chapter 70 of Nennius's HISTORIA BRITTONUM:

Iuxta flumen, quod vocatur Guoy, poma inveniuntur super fraxinum in proclivo saltus, qui est prope ostio fluminis.

"By the river called Wye, apples are found on an ash-tree, on the hillside by the river estuary."

Now, to begin, Lydney Park is some 15 kilometers from the mouth of the Wye.  So to identify this magical ash/apple tree with the site of the Nodens temple is more problematic than Richard and Crawford seem to imply.  The viability of the form *Nemetabala has also been called into question.  I've culled from various respectable sources for everything I could find on the linguistic analysis of the original Metambala name, as found in the RAVENNA COSMOGRAPHY:

From Rivet and Smith's The Place-Names of Roman Britain:

e -am-) because the analogues show this in other names which have *nemeto- as first element.

DERIVATION. For *nemeto- 'sacred grove', see AQUAE ARNEMETIAE. R&C think that the second element could be *ambala 'navel', but this is hardly likely in place-names. They speculate also that -abala 'apple' might be involved, and cite Nennius on a freak apple-bearing ash-tree which grew at the mouth of the Wye; but on scribal grounds this emendation is hazardous, and the use of such an *abala as a second element in compounds is nowhere attested. It seems that we should first associate the present name with its only possible British analogue, Vindobala. Several roots bal- bail- are assembled by Ellis Evans in GPN 147-48, mostly in personal names which have bal (l)- with suffix or as first element in a compound. Of the various senses of these diverse roots, that in the name Balista in Liguria, perhaps 'white-peaked', is the most promising; possibly Celtic *balma 'pointed rock, peak', which must have existed in British in view of Welsh bal 'peak, summit', Breton bal 'steep beach, steep slope'. In the present name 'grove-hill' or 'hill-sanctuary ' would make good sense; but there can be no certainty of it.

IDENTIFICATION. The position of the name in the list indicates a location in Monmouthshire or Gloucestershire west of the Severn; a possibility is therefore the sacred site, with a Roman temple in an Iron Age hill-fort, at Lydney, Gloucestershire (SO 6102).

From Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews

Metambala is possibly for *Nemetobala (Rivet & Smith 1979, 424, who wrongly credit it to Richmond & Crawford 1949, 41, who preferred *Nemetaballa) and it may perhaps be identified with the religious complex at Lydney, important until the beginning of the fifth century as the major cult-centre of Nodens, given the religious associations of the word *nemeton (‘sacred grove’). Dillemann’s (1979, 67) suggestion that it represents Μεταβολη (meaning something like ‘crossing’, a translation of the Traiectus of the Antonine Itinerary Iter XIV), while ingenious, cannot be right: there are no traces of a Greek source for the British section (Rivet & Smith 1979, 201 contra Richmond & Crawford 1949, 3 and Dillemann 1979, 64).

From Trees in Anglo-Saxon England: Literature, Lore and Landscape
By Della Hooke

*Nemetobala 'walls of the sacred grove, sanctuary walls' (*nemeto- with gwawl from Irish fala, 'rampart'), a site perhaps to be identified as Lydney Park hillfort, a sanctuary subsequently to be rededicated to the Roman god Nodens-Mercury when a temple complex was built within the ramparts. [Nodens was identified with Mars, not Mercury, and British *ual- would have been the correct derivation, not Irish fál]

In passing, I note on earlier maps an Ashbury, 'fort of the Ash-trees' (now Ashberry), near the mouth of the Wye, hard by the Spital Meend promontory fort and Offa's Dyke.

On the Spital Meend place-name, see

It is possible the name of this place - originally in Welsh, of course - was transferred from the fort itself.  If so, the ash of the HISTORIA BRITTONUM near the mouth of the Wye may have been a reference to Spital Meend.


As with many of the names in the RAVENNA COSMOGRAPHY, Metambala looks to be terribly corrupt.  Any emendation of it is, therefore, fraught with peril.  However, I do think the first element of the name does stand for *Nemeto-.

(passage from Della Hooke)

Some of these places mentioned by Hooke are the Nympsfield Long Barrow and the Uley Long Barrow, otherwise known as Hetty Peglar's Tump.  

From Ekwall:  

"Nymdesfeld 872...Nimdesfelle DB. Nimedesfeld 1236... 'FELD by a holy grove or place.  No doubt the Brit name of the place was Nemeto- 'holy place.'"

The Nemeton name applied to Nympsfield just to the NE of Uley Bury hillfort (my candidate for Arthur's Camlan) must, in my opinion, be seen in a transferred sense.  The nemeton itself was not at Nympsfield.  Instead, it is a short distance away at West Hill, very near Uley Bury.  The site in question is nicely described in the following Websites:

The actual monograph on the site can be found in entirety here:

This monograph contains the following passage under its 'Synthesis' section:

The continuity of worship at this site is astonishing.  More importantly, at exactly Arthur's time the pagan nemeton was converted into a Christian church.  Yet the nemeton or 'sacred grove' name persisted.

Had Arthur been buried at this place after falling at Uley Bury, the legend that this particular nemeton was Avalon, the Otherworld apple orchard, could easily have developed.

I would argue for the West Hill nemeton, not Lydney Park, as the RAVENNA COSMOGRAPHY'S Metambala. However, there is a title/epithet attached to both Mars and Mercury at Uley on the lead curse tablets.  This title has not been published, as it is apparently yet to be analyzed.  It may contain a clue as to the name of the Celtic deity worshipped at the Uley shrine, and hence to the name of the place itself.  I'm trying to obtain this title from Professor Roger Tomlin at Oxford, so that I can try my hand at it.  Any new information forthcoming will be offered as a new blog post here.

"More interesting than this, however, is a title which is applied to Mars in both those tablets, and to Mercury in four other tablets (28, 40, 62 and 78). Its use confirms that the same god is meant. It occurs in two cognate forms, of Celtic etymology like other cult titles of Mercury in Britain and Gaul, and was certainly of local significance, since another tablet (Tablet 75) refers to 'the temple of Mercury' at a place name which incorporates the same word. Unfortunately the reading and its etymology require further study, and it would be premature to publish it here. In due course it will be possible to make a minor addition to the toponymy of Roman Britain, and even to make a guess at the Celtic name of the god of Uley." - R.S.O. Tomlin

Map of the Hwicce Kingdom (Courtesy Della Hooke)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Arthur sites on the map

Arthur on the map.  Green push pin is Barbury Castle. The yellow pins are for battles (with Bath and Badbury/Liddington Castle both marked, as well as two possible 'Gleins' ).  Blue is Camlan (Uley Bury hillfort), and red is for the (probably) mythological burial spot at Glastonbury.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


Uley Bury and the upper River Cam (Ewelme)

Uley Bury Hillfort, Aerial View

When searching for a Camlan (either Camboglanna/'Crooked Bank' or Cambolanda/'Crooked Enclosure') in southern England, we must keep some ground rules in mind.

First, it is very easy to fall victim to a reliance on modern forms of the various Cam names.  The earliest forms (spellings) must be found, if they exist.  Indulging in this exercise helps us avoid choosing the Cam in Somerset (a back formation from Camel, found as Cantmael in 995), the Camel River in Cornwall (Cambula in 1147) or the Cam Brook in Somerset (Cameler or Camelar in 1073; perhaps Crooked Eleri. Thomas, in Enwau afonydd a nentydd Cymru, notes a stream Eleri, in Ceredigion, which has been associated with alar ‘excess, too much’ (p. 142).  Eleri is a girl's name in Welsh. Dr. Simon Rodway has suggested to me that Eleri might have originally been a goddess name.).  

Second, we must avoid opting for an English place-name with a similar or identical meaning, as we have no we of knowing if an earlier British Camlan underlies it.  

And, third, we must seek for a site that lies within what appears to be Arthur's sphere of military action.  

Obviously, it may well be that Camlan is a "lost" name in the sense that this place now bears an English, Norse or Norman name.  If this is the case, then the site will never be found.

Fortunate for us, there remains just one candidate which holds significant potential: the River Cam in Gloucestershire.  This river is demonstrably from British *cambo- (Camma in 1086).  The upper course of this stream is now called the Ewelme.  The following selection is from Water and the Environment in the Anglo-Saxon World by Maren Clegg Hyer:

In other words, a word at first used to describe the source of the Cam later became the name for this stretch of the River Cam.  The Ewelme is simply the river-spring or source of the River Cam.  

One of the springs that feeds the headwaters of the Cam actually lies on the slope of the great hillfort of Uley Bury.  Uley is 'Yew Wood', from the OE, named for what was anciently considered the tree of death.  This fort has a peculiar curved or bent shape (see map and aerial photo above).  It lies opposite Cam Peak and Cam Long Down.  The Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru lists the meanings of cam as: crooked, bent, hunch-backed, distorted, wry, bowed, curved, looped, winding.

I would tentatively identify Uley Bury as the "Cam Enclosure" or "Crooked Enclosure", viz. Cambolanda/Camlan.  One possibility is that the River Cam name derives from that of the fort.   If the fort were originally named after the river, then we must assume a meaning "Enclosure of the [River] Cam."  It is not impossible that Cam Long Down betrays a later English substitution for Camlan Down (although, to be honest, the hill is long).

Uley Bury lies well within what was the tribal kingdom of the Hwicce, and so Arthur could easily have fought here. 

Monday, December 11, 2017


Maelduin's Boat

The secret to unlocking the truth about the Glastonbury Mystery resides in identifying the Melwas of the Life of St. Gildas. I had tried unsuccessfully to do this several times in the past.  As with the Hwicce etymology, I realized only recently that I've been trying TOO hard.  We need to ignore the usual derivation from W. mael, 'prince', and gwas, 'boy, servant.'  He is not found in any of the royal genealogies attached to Glastonbury, nor is he to be related to any Cornish or Breton personages.  Some have sought to identify him with Gwynn son of Nudd, who is also placed at Glastonbury, but there is no real justification for doing so. The idea that the name represents Maelwys son of Baeddan ('Prince Pig son of Little Boar') of CULHWCH AND OLWEN is slightly more attractive, given the foundation story of Glastonbury involving a sow (see The Archaeology and History of Glastonbury Abbey: Essays in Honour of the Ninetieth Birthday of C.A. Ralegh Radford, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1991).  However,

"This theory has been more recently rejected most notably by Proinsias Mac Canna, Rachel Bromwich, and D. Simon Evans in favor of John Rhys's 1891 assertion that the name derives from the Irish Mael Umai mac Baitan—an early seventh century king who fought with the Scottish king of Dal Riata Aedan mac Gabrain (d. 608) against the English invader Aethelfrith at the battle of Degsastan (SAL, pp. 51, 344, CaO, p.69, DAB, p. xxxiv)."


Melwas could be (given the ease with which w/v and m could be substituted in many medieval MSS.), the Malmes- of Malmesbury.  In fact, we have examples of spellings for this place-name such as 'Malves-' and 'Malues-'.  The spelling as Malmesbury is found in the Domesday Book, with coins (1016-66) showing forms Mealmas, Melmes.  Many variants of the place-name are known (see The Place Names of Wiltshire by J.E.B Gover, Allen Mawer and F.M. Stenton Volume XVI published in 1939).  The actual personal name preserved in the first component of Malmesbury is Maeldu(i)b, later wrongly conflated with Maelduin.  Both are Irish names, and we are reminded that in the SANAS CORMAIC Glastonbury is referred to as 'Glasimpere na nGaedel' or "Glastonbury of the Irish."   

The 7th century St. Maeldub was considered the founder of the monastic settlement at Malmesbury.  

If this identification is correct, then why did Caradog of Llancarfan, the author of the Vita of St. Gildas, place this saint at Glastonbury?

The answer is straight-forward and simple: as Maelduin, Maeldub was associated with the Irish hero of that name from the Immram Maele Dúin or the Voyage of Máel Dúin, who had visited 1) an island with the branch of an apple tree, where they are fed with apples for 40 nights and 2) an island of apples, pigs, and birds. Hence, this saint of Malmesbury was linked in story with the Isle of Apple Trees, viz, Avalon, and placed at Glastonbury.  Guinevere, Arthur's queen (= the Irish Sovereignty Goddess Findabair), is abducted by Melwas. 

Now, while the Roman period Dobunni kingdom seems to have extended to the Brue, with Glastonbury on the border between the former tribal territory and that of the Durotriges, the Hwicce kingdom, a sort of successor state, only went as far south as the Bristol Avon, so far as we know.  Interestingly, Malmesbury itself was well within the Hwicce kingdom. There was an Iron Age hillfort at Malmesbury:

The excavator of Malmesbury, Mr. Mark Collard of Rubicon Heritage, has kindly provided me with additional information on the age of the town:

We have found nothing in the town itself of the sub-Roman period as yet but there is a very important Anglo-Saxon site nearby in a field at a place called Cowage Farm, Foxley – it was subject to very limited excavation and dating evidence was scarce but the form of the buried archaeological remains is very similar to royal sites of the earlier to Middle Saxon period found elsewhere in the UK, though the date of its origins are as yet unknown.

A summary is here:

The investigations were published in the Archaeological Journal:

The question naturally becomes, if Melwas = the founder of the monastery at Malmesbury, who was relocated in legend to Glastonbury, might the former site be the actual burial place of Arthur?

There was a medieval tradition concerning a Caer Bladon at Malmesbury.  The following selections are from Charters of Malmesbury Abbey, S. E. Kelly, OUP/British Academy, 2005:

Sad to say, while Malmes- would appear to be a good candidate for Melwas, there is a better possibility.  This is found in The Chronicle of Glastonbury Abbey: An Edition, Translation and Study of John of Glastonbury's "Cronica Sive Antiquitates Glastoniensis Ecclesie by James P. Carley, Boydell & Brewer, Apr 20, 2009.  In that source we are told that St. Patrick discovered among the monks at Glastonbury two named Weslicas (an eponym for the nearby town of Wells?) and Swelwes.  An elaborate story is told about Weslicas or Wellias:

The Charter of St Patrick the Bishop.

'In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I Patrick, the humble servant of God, in the year of His Incarnation 430, was sent into Ireland by the most holy Pope Celestine, and by God's grace converted the Irish to the way of truth; and, when I had established them in the Catholic faith, at length I returned to Britain, and, as I believe, by the guidance of God, who is the life and the way, I chanced upon the isle of Ynsgytrin, wherein I found a place holy and ancient, chosen and sanctified by God in honour of Mary the pure Virgin, the Mother of God: and there I found certain brethren imbued with the rudiments of the Catholic faith, and of pious conversation, who were successors of the disciples of St Phagan and St Deruvian, whose names for the merit of their lives I verily believe are written in heaven: and because the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance, since tenderly I loved those brethren, I have thought good to record their names in this my writing. And they are these: Brumban, Hyregaan, Brenwal, Wencreth, Bamtonmeweng, Adelwalred, Lothor, Wellias, Breden, Swelwes, Hin Loernius, and another Hin. These men, being of noble birth and wishing to crown their nobleness with deeds of faith, had chosen to lead a hermit's life; and when I found them meek and gentle, I chose to be in low estate with them, rather than to dwell in kings' palaces. And, since we were all of one heart and one mind, we chose to dwell together, and eat and drink in common, and sleep in the same house. And so they set me, though unwilling, at their head: for indeed I was not worthy to unloose the latchet of their shoes. And, when we were thus leading the monastic life according to the pattern of the approved fathers, the brothers showed me writings of St Phagan and St Deruvian, wherein it was contained that twelve disciples of St Philip and St James had built that Old Church in honour of our Patroness aforesaid, instructed thereto by the blessed archangel Gabriel. And further, that the Lord from heaven had dedicated that same church in honour of His Mother; and that to those twelve three pagan kings had granted for their sustenance twelve portions of land. Moreover in more recent writings I found that St Phagan and St Deruvian had obtained from Pope Eleutherius, who had sent them, ten years[21] of indulgence. And I brother Patrick in my time obtained twelve years from Pope Celestine of pious memory.

'Now after some time had passed I took with me my brother Wellias, and with great difficulty we climbed up through the dense wood to the summit of the mount, which stands forth in that island. And when we were come there we saw an ancient oratory, wellnigh ruined, yet fitting for Christian devotion and, as it appeared to me, chosen by God. And when we entered therein we were filled with so sweet an odour that we believed ourselves to be set in the beauty of Paradise. So then we went out and went in again, and searched the whole place diligently; and we found a volume in which were written Acts of Apostles, along with Acts and Deeds of St Phagan and St Deruvian. It was in great part destroyed, but at the end thereof we found a writing which said that St Phagan and St Deruvian, by revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, had built that oratory in honour of St Michael the archangel, that he should have honour there from men, who at God's bidding was to introduce men to everlasting honour. And since that writing pleased us much, we sought to read it to the end. For that same writing said that the venerable Phagan and Deruvian abode there for nine years, and that they had also obtained indulgence of thirty years for all Christian folk who visit that place with pious intent for the honour of the blessed Michael. Having found therefore this great treasure of divine goodness, I and brother Wellias fasted three months, engaged in prayer and watching, and controlling the demons and beasts that in divers forms appeared. And on a certain night, when I had given myself to sleep, the Lord Jesus appeared to me in a vision, saying: Patrick my servant, know that I have chosen this place to the honour of My name, and that here men should honorably invoke the aid of My archangel Michael. And this shall be a sign to thee, and to thy brethren, that they also may believe: thy left arm shall wither, till thou has told what thou hast seen to thy brethren which are in the cell below, and art come hither again. And so it came to pass. From that day we appointed that two brethren should be there continually, unless the pastors in the future should for just cause determine otherwise.

'Now to Arnulf and Ogmar, Irish brethren who had come with me from Ireland, because at my request they were the first to make their humble dwelling at that oratory, I have entrusted this present writing, keeping another like unto it in the ark of St Mary as a memorial for those who shall come after. And I Patrick, by counsel of my brethren, concede a hundred days of pardon to all who shall with pious intent cut down with axe and hatchet the wood on every side of the mount aforesaid, that there may be an easier approach for Christian men who shall make pious visit to the church of the Blessed Ever- Virgin.'

Wellias or Swelwes could easily have been corrupted by Caradog of Llancarfan into Melwas.  Or someone could have misread the name, had a portion of it, over time, eroded from the pyramid. For example, /S/welwas > Melwas, with the same common change from w/u/v to m that I've already mentioned above.  As these monks were contemporary with St. Patrick, who was not far removed from Arthur's time, there is little difficulty in fitting them into the flexible chronology of hagiographical legend. 

Wellias and Swelwes are also brought into connection with the two great pyramids at Glastonbury:

These pyramids are interesting, for two such are mentioned in the context of the grave of Arthur and Guinevere.

Glastonbury, therefore, remains the only holy site to have claimed Arthur's grave - although, we must remember that as far as the Welsh were concerned, his final resting place was unknown.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

COMING SOON: Arthur at Glastonbury - not nonsense, after all?

Arthur's Battles in the Context of a "Dobunnic" Theater


Dobunni Tribal Territory

The first thing new readers will notice when reading the following blog post is that there seems to be major chronological problems with my treatment of the Gewissei battles.  However, I've discussed this in my books and in previous posts.  In brief, the order of the leaders of the Gewissei in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are consistently presented to us IN REVERSE ORDER.  I opted to accept the veracity of the Welsh sources in this regard.  So reigns and martial activities of Gewissei chieftains, as well as supposedly precise dates cited in the ASC, must be held to be extremely suspect.  We need to adopt a sort of  "backwards viewing" of the dates of the battles as these are to be found in the ASC.

The Gewissei, to summarize, were Irish or Hiberno-British 'federates' (or mercenaries) who had de facto possession of NW Wales.  They were recognized by the so-called High King of Wales (himself of partial Irish descent) and offered retention of their lands in return for service against enemies of that High King.  To aid in their efforts, the Gewissei allied themselves with the English against a powerful British kingdom that was considered a threat to the High King of Wales.  If I'm right, this kingdom was the successor state to the Dobunni, called the Hwicce by the English of a later period.  The chief champion of this successor state in the fight against the Gewissei and the English was none other than Arthur. His father was Illtud, styled the "terribilis miles" or Uther [Pen] Dragon, born in the Vale of Leadon to a king or prince of that successor state. Wherever his actual power base may have lain, Arthur was remembered as the "bear" of Barbury Castle, the "Bear's fort", near to Liddington Castle, one of the Badbury forts long proposed as Arthur's Badon.  

It now seems to me not only possible, but probable, that Arthur was the war-leader responsible for temporarily stemming the conquest of southern England by the English.  Obviously, when we compare the victories of Cerdic of Wessex/Ceredig son of Cunedda with those of Arthur, we are faced with a serious conundrum: who won these victories?  Was it the English, who claimed Cerdic as the victor, or was it Arthur?

Either side may have concocted a national hero out of their respective 'battle-leaders.' One side may have conjured a hero as a direct reaction to the glory assigned to the dux erat bellorum of the other.  Alas, we will probably never know what the truth is here. Certaintly, the Gewissei had notable successes and were considered by the English to be the founders of Wessex.  Yet the British, too, had their champion, and it seems almost inconceivable that the indigenous population would not have had its fair share of victories against the enemies who threatened it after the Roman withdrawal.  

As a historian, all I can do if offer this conflicting portrait of what may have happened in sub-Roman/early medieval/Dark Age Britain.  As they say, history is written by the victors, and there is no doubt that the ultimate victors in the battle for Britain were the English.  How long their conquest of the island was delayed, by whom and for how long, well, I do not feel qualified to say.  The only factual answer to the question lies in the hands of the archaeologists.  And while great strides have been made in that field in the last few decades, its knowledge base is still far from complete.

From Chapter Two of my book THE BEAR KING:

Years ago I played around with trying to equate some or all of the battles of Arthur and those of Cerdic of Wessex.  Alas, my knowledge of place-name development and of the languages involved was insufficient to the task.  Having once again brought up the very real possibility that Arthur = Cerdic in my previous blog post here, it occurred to me that I should take a second look at the battles listed in the Historia Brittonum and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

First, those of Arthur:

Mouth of the river Glein
4 battles on the Dubglas River in the Linnuis region
River Bassas
Celyddon Wood
Castle Guinnion
City of the Legion
Tribruit river-bank
Mt. Agned/Mt. Breguoin (and other variants)
Mt. Badon c. 516
Camlann c. 537

And, secondly, those of Cerdic (interposed battles by other Saxon chieftains are in brackets):

495 - Certicesora (Cerdic and Cynric arrive in Britain)
[Bieda of Bedenham, Maegla, Port of Portsmouth]
Certicesford - Natanleod or Nazanleog killed
[Stuf, Wihtgar - Certicesora]
Cerdicesford - Cerdic and Cynric take the kingdom of the West Saxons
Cerdicesford or Cerdicesleag
537 - Cerdic dies, Cynric takes the kingship, Isle of Wight given to Stuf (of Stubbington near Port and opposite Wight) and Wihtgar

As Celtic linguist Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson pointed out long ago, 'Glein' means 'pure, clean.'  It is Welsh glân.  However, there is also a Welsh glan, river-bank, brink, edge; shore; slope, bank.  This word would nicely match in meaning the -ora of Certicesora, which is from AS. óra, a border, edge, margin, bank.  If we allow for Glein/glân being an error or substitution for glan, then the mouth of the Glein and Certicesora may be one and the same place.

Ceredicesora or "Cerdic's shore" has been thought to be the Ower near Calshot.  This is a very good possibility for a landing place.  However, the Ower further north by Southampton must be considered a leading contender, as it is quite close to some of the other battles.

Natanleod or Nazanleog is Netley Marsh in Hampshire.  The parish is bounded by Bartley Water to the south and the River Blackwater to the north.  Dubglas is, of course, 'Black-stream/rivulet.' Linnuis contains the British root for lake or pool, preserved in modern Welsh llyn.  Netley is believed now to mean 'wet wood or clearing', and this meaning combined with the 'marsh' that was present probably accounts for the Linnuis region descriptor of the Historia Brittonum. 

W. bas, believed to underlie the supposed river-name Bassas, meant a shallow, fordable place in a river.  We can associate this easily with Certicesford/Cerdicesford, modern Charford on the Avon. Just a little south of North and South Charford is a stretch of the river called “The Shallows” at Shallow Farm. These are also called the Breamore Shallows and can be as little as a foot deep. An Anglo-Saxon cemetery was recently uncovered at Shallow Farm:

“A Byzantine pail, datable to the sixth century AD, was discovered in 1999, in a field near the River Avon in Breamore, Hampshire. Subsequent fieldwork confirmed the presence there of an early Anglo-Saxon cemetery. In 2001, limited excavation located graves that were unusual, both for their accompanying goods and for the number of double and triple burials. This evidence suggests that Breamore was the location of a well-supplied ‘frontier’ community which may have had a relatively brief existence during the sixth century. It seems likely to have had strong connections with the Isle of Wight and Kent to the south and south-east, rather than with communities up-river to the north and north-east.” [An Early Anglo-Saxon Cemetery and Archaeological Survey at Breamore, Hampshire, 1999–2006, The Archaeological Journal 
Volume 174, 2017 - Issue 1, David A. Hinton and Sally Worrell]

Cerdicesleag contains -leag, a word which originally designated a wood or a woodland, and only later came to mean a place that had been cleared of trees and converted into a clearing or meadow. I suspect the Celyddon Wood was plugged in for this site. Celyddon contains the word later found in Welsh as called, ‘hard.’.  

Cerdicesleag or "Cerdic's wood" I would identify with Hardley on Southhampton Water.  I pick this location not only because it originally meant ‘Hard Wood’, but because of the mention of Stuf (= Stub/b) both before and after the Cerdicesleag battle. Hardley is just across Southhampton Water from Stubbington, the settlement of the descendents of Stuf/Stubb.  It is also just across the Solent from the Isle of Wight, which was given to both Wihtgar and Stuf.  

Castle Guinnion is composed of the Welsh word for 'white', plus a typical locative suffix (cf. Latin -ium).  Wihtgar as a personage is an eponym for the Isle of Wight.  Wihtgarasburh is, then, the Fort of Wihtgar.  But it is quite possible Wiht- was mistaken for OE hwit, 'white', and so Castellum Guinnion would merely be a clumsy attempt at substituting the Welsh for the English.  /-gar/-garas/ may well have been linked to Welsh caer, 'fort, fortified city', although the presence of -burh, 'fort, fortified town' in the name may have been enough to generate Castellum.  Wihtgara is properly Wihtwara, 'people of Wight', the name of the tribal hidage.  Wihtgarasburh is traditionally situated at Carisbrooke.

Arthur's City of the Legion battle may well be an attempt at the ASC's Limbury of 571, whose early forms are Lygean-, Liggean- and the like.  The Waulud’s Bank earthwork is at Limbury. 

Tribruit is a Welsh substitute for the Latin word trajectus (see my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY for the full etymology).  Rivet and Smith (The Place-Names of Roman Britain, p. 178) discuss the term, saying that in some cases "it seems to indicate a ferry or ford..." The Welsh rendered 'litore' of the Tribruit description in Nennius as 'traeth', demanding a river estuary emptying into the sea. However, in Latin litore could also mean simply a river-bank.

If I were to look at Tribruit in this light, and provisionally accepted the City of the Legion as Limbury, and Badon as Bath (which the spelling demands, and which appears in a group of cities captured by Cerdic's father Ceawlin/Maquicoline/Cunedda), then the location of the Tribruit/Trajectus in question may well be determined by the locations of Mounts Agned and Breguoin.  These last two battle-sites fall between those of the City of the Legion and Bath, and after that of the Tribruit. 

I decided to take a fresh look at Agned, which has continud to vex Arthurian scholars.  I noticed that in the ASC 571 entry there was an Egonesham, modern Eynsham.  Early forms of this place-name include Egenes-, Egnes-, Eghenes-, Einegs-.  According to both Ekwall and Mills, this comes from an Old English personal name *Aegen.  Welsh commonly adds -edd to make regular nominative i:-stem plurals of nouns (information courtesy Dr. Simon Rodway, who cites several examples).  Personal names could also be made into place-names by adding the -ydd suffix.  –ed1 (see the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru) is the suffix in the kingdom name Rheged. The genitive of Agnes in Latin is Agnetus, which could have become Agned in Welsh - as long as <d> stands for /d/, which would be exceptional in Old Welsh (normally it stands for what is, in Modern Welsh, spelled as <dd>). I'd long ago shown that it was possible for Welsh to substitute initial /A-/ for /E-/.  What this all tells me is that Agned could conceivably be an attempt at the hill-fort named for Aegen.

But what of Mount Breguoin?  Well, I had remembered that prior to his later piece on Breguoin ('Arthur's Battle of Breguoin', Antiquity 23 (1949) 48—9), Jackson had argued (in 'Once Again Arthur's Battles', Modern Philology, Vol. 43, No. 1 (Aug., 1945), pp. 44-57) that the place-name might come from a tribal name based on the Welsh word breuan, 'quern.'  The idea dropped out of favor when Jackson ended up preferring Brewyn/Bremenium in Northumberland for Breguoin.

So how does seeing breuan in Breguoin help us?

In the 571 ASC entry we find Aylesbury as another town that fell to the Gewessei.  This is Aegelesburg in Old English.  I would point to Quarrendon, a civil parish and a deserted medieval village on the outskirts of Aylesbury.  The name means "hill where mill-tones [querns] were got". Thus if we allow for Breguoin as deriving from the Welsh word for quern, we can identify this hill with Quarrendon at Aylesbury.

All of which brings us back, rather circuitously, to Tribruit.  This can only be the Romano-British Trajectus on the Avon of the city of Bath.  Rivet and Smith locate this provisionally at Bitton at the mouth of the Boyd tributary.  The Boyd runs past Dyrham, scene of the ASC battle featuring Ceawlin which led to the capture of Bath.  Bitton is "farmstead [tun] on the river Boyd" (see Mills). 

If we accept all this, then we cannot very easily reject Badon as Bath.  In truth, with Bath listed in the ASC entry for 577, and made into a town captured by Ceawlin, we simply are no longer justified in trying to make a case for the linguistically impossible Badbury, such as the one at Liddington Castle in Wiltshire.  This is true despite the fact that Ceawlin/Cunedda is said to have fought at Beranbyrig/ Barbury Castle, the “Bear’s Fort” only a few kilometers distant from Liddington.  I’ve made the case in the past for Barbury being an English reference to Arthur, as the Welsh word arth means “bear.” There remains the possibility, of course, that Badon, a Welsh form of English bathum, was merely confused with and thus substituted for Baddanbyrig/Badbury. Arthur may indeed have won a major victory at Liddington Castle, while Bath may have fallen separately as a result of the action at Deorham/Dyrham.

There is one possible clue to identifying Badon. It lies in a comparison of the Welsh Annals entry for the Second Battle of Badon and the narrative of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  The actual year entry for this Second Battle of Badon reads as follows:

665 The first celebration of Easter among the Saxons.  The second battle of Badon. Morgan dies.

The "first celebration of Easter among the Saxons" is a reference to the Synod of Whitby of c. 664.  While not directly mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, nor the Anglo-Saxon version of Bede, there is an indirect reference to this event:

664 … Colman with his companions went to his native land…

This is, of course, a reference to Colman's resigning of his see and leaving Lindisfarne with his monks for Iona.  He did so because the Roman date for Easter had been accepted at the synod over the Celtic date.  

While there is nothing in the ASC year entry 664 that helps with identifying Badon, if we go to the year entry 661, which is the entry found immediate prior to 664, an interesting passage occurs:

661 In this year, at Easter, Cenwalh fought at Posentesburh, and Wulfhere, son of Penda, ravaged as far as [or "in", or "from"] Ashdown…

Ashdown is here the place of that name in Berkshire. It is only a half dozen miles to the east of Badbury and Liddington Castle.  A vague reference to ravaging in the neighborhood of Ashdown may well have been taken by someone who knew Badon was in the vicinity of Ashdown as a second battle at Badon.

Arthur's Battles Against the Gewissei

I will deal with Arthur's last and fatal battle at Camlan in a future blog post.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

COMING SOON: Arthur's Battles in the Context of a "Dobunnic" Theater

Liddington Castle from Barbury Castle (photo courtesy


Liddington Castle near Badbury, Wiltshire

Readers of my blog will know by now that I've made what I feel to be a truly valid identification of Uther [Pen]Dragon with Illtud, the terribilis miles.  Illtud was the son of Bicanus of  'Brittany', in this case the Vale of Leadon. Illtud's wife came from this 'Llydaw'.  The military man served the king of Penychen in Glamorgan at the hillfort of Dinas Powys.

I've also made a case for the later English designation of Hwicce being for the kingdom of the Dobunni, both of which included the Vale of Leadon.  Illtud/Uther's father married a princess of Ercing, bordering on Leadon Vale, and other Arthurian connections are placed in Ercing.

Hwicce covered much of the region controlled by the Dobunni in the Roman period.  The following map on the Dobunni tribal territory is from Iron Age Communities in Britain: An Account of England, Scotland, and Wales from the Seventh Century BC Until the Roman Conquest by Barry W. Cunliffe (Psychology Press, 1991):

When I asked Professor Cunliffe if the Vale of Leadon were within Dobunni territory, and whether the Wiltshire hillforts of Liddington Castle and Barbury Castle were also (more on these forts below),  he responded:

"The Vale and forts in question were in the territory of the Dobunnni as it was defined in the early first century AD. The forts are not known to have been occupied after the Middle Iron Age at which date there is no evidence that the Dobunni actually existed as a tribe. If they did the extent of their territory at that date is unknown."

Over the years, I've gone back and forth on whether Arthur's Badon battle was Bath of the Badbury at Liddington.  Some may be familiar with my various arguments for both.  Essentially, I have believed for some time that Badon linguistically speaking can only be Bath.  However, other factors point to Badbury and there is no reason why Bath/Badon couldn't represent a later (accidental or intentional) substitution for Baddanbyrig/Badbury.

I've also written about the Barbury fort near Liddington.  From Ekwall's time on, this has either been interpreted as the 'Bear's fort' or the fort of a man named Bera (unrecorded in OE).  As the name Arthur would have, from fairly early on, been associated with the Welsh word arth, 'bear', it seemed reasonabl to at least ask whether the bear toponym here could be a memory of Arthur's presence at the fort.

When I asked Tom Sunley, Historic Environment Record Data Manager, Archaeology Service, Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, about later reuse of Barbury Castle, he responded thusly:

"While we obviously have data and records relating to the site itself – which was a hillfort of Iron Age date (800 BC – 42 AD) there is some evidence both within the area of the hillfort and its immediate surroundings for activity in the latter periods of interest (encompassing 450-550 AD). Amongst other things, there is a Roman villa nearby, a few Saxon burials and a medieval trackway/droveway."

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records a battle at the hillfort in 556.

In this same context, I had pointed to Durocornovium at Nythe Farm, Wanborough, a mere 3.5 miles from Liddington Castle.  Arthur is pretty much always associated with Cornwall/Kernyw in Welsh tradition, and this is generally believed to be because he was foisted onto the Dumnonian royal pedigree.  But Durocornovium is the 'Fort of the Cornovii', the same tribal name that yields Kernyw. We don't know if these were actually Cornovii people from somewhere else or a Roman military unit.  It is even possible some local horn-like landscape feature contributed to the name.  As Wanborough lies at the foot of the scarp slope of the Marlborough Downs, with its coombes, my guess is that a horn-shaped, projecting hill gave the place its name.  Upper and Lower Wanborough are themselves separated by a steep hill.

It was once thought the Durocoronovium name was an error for that of the Corinium Dobunnarum that is Cirencester, but so far as I know this notion has been abandoned.


For those of you who would enjoy a nice drone flyover video of Barbury Castle, go here:

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

COMING SOON: From Leadon to Liddington - Arthur of the Dobunni?

The Territory of the Dobunni from Barry Cunliffe's
Iron Age Communities in Britain: An Account of England, Scotland, and Wales from the Seventh Century BC Until the Roman Conquest


Directly between the Williton and Carhampton locations of the Life of St. Carannog is Daw's or Dane's or Dart's Castle (  Excavations here show the fort to be of Saxon origin (  The name Daw(e) is supposedly from a landowner in the 16th century.  Dane's Castle is self-explanatory - and, in fact, the archaeologists believe this fort was built to defend the coastline from Viking marauders.

The fort is built right on the cliff edge and is actually missing a large portion that has fallen or eroded away onto the shore below.  Fairly extensive mud and sand extend below it and to its east and west. It thus qualifies particularly well as a Din, fort, plus OCo. plur. *traitou, 'beaches, strands' (see Charles Thomas, Note 24, p. 325, And Shall These Mute Stones Speak?) or 'Dindraithou.'

Dart could be another family name, perhaps based on the name of the River Dart of Dartmoor fame in Devon.  However, it could also represent a simple metathesis of trait, 'beach, shore':  Trait > Dra(i)t > Dart. I'm now checking with all the relevant authorities in Somerset regarding the Dart name and if any new information is forthcoming from those sources, I will add it to this blog post.

When on reads the story of Carannog's floating altar, which Arthur wishes to use as a table, one is struck by the fact that it washes up first at Carhampton and then at the Guellit stream (Williton).  Arthur's interaction with the saint and this altar demands that Dindraithou be close to these places AND on the shore of the sea, flanked by sands associated with the mouths of rivers.  The only fort that fits this description is Dart's Castle.

We need not insist on finding an actual sub-Roman or early medieval site for Arthur in this instance.  Obviously, we are dealing with a story found in a saint's life.  Hagiography can hardly be considered historical and, indeed, we must expect more than a little poetic license.  It is quite possible the author of St. Carannog's Life knew of this fort near the Carannog sites and simply decided for dramatic effect to insert Arthur into the fiction.  He may have been ignorant of the fact that the fort went back no further than the Anglo-Saxon period.

And interesting point about the altar/table:  "whatever was placed upon it was thrown to a distance."  This suggests a confusion on the part of the author.  Dolmens (Breton dolmen means 'table stone')/cromlechs are, in folklore, often referred to as quoits.  This is because it was believed that giants (or great heroes) had flung the rocks that made up the funeral monuments, including their capstones, during such a game.  So the notion that objects were "thrown" from the table is a reference to the table itself - or the table's legs (= orthostats) - being thrown, thus creating a quoit.

There appear to have been such monuments near Williton.  The following is from An Exploration of Exmoor and the Hill Country of West Somerset by John Lloyd Warden Page (1890):

"A mile inland, close to Wiliton, is a field, or rather several fields, known as Battlegore, traditionally, as its name implies, the scene of a battle. In them are the remains of three large mounds, though one is now ploughed nearly level with the field, and another has been reduced by one-half by a hedgerow. The largest is close to the road.

From time immemorial the tale has been handed down that here the Danes fought with the Wessex men. A tradition, also unfortunately dating from time immemorial, states that much armour and many weapons have been discovered in these fields. But who found them, and what became of them, is as unknown as their period and fashion. The only weapon taken from the spot that I have seen is a remarkably fine bronze celt which would go some way to show that it was a British rather than a Danish battleground.

Collinson refers to 'several cells composed of flat stones, and containing relics,' as having been found in these tumuli, to which he gives the name of Grab-barrows. From this it would appear that they were chambered tumuli. I venture to think, however, that he is mistaken, except perhaps with regard to the mound now nearly levelled, inasmuch as neither of the existing barrows have been properly explored.

Close to the barrow near the road are two enormous stones, the one lying on its side, the other leaning against the hedge, as well as a third and smaller block, nearly concealed by brambles. As there are no similar blocks in the vicinity, they must have been brought here for some definite purpose, perhaps to mark the grave of some notable chieftain. Or, perchance, they are, as certain antiquaries opine, the supports of a British cromlech. The local story is that they were cast there from the Quantocks by the devil and a giant, who had engaged in a throwing match. The print of Satan's hand still marks the leaning stone.

This stone was upright some forty or fifty years since. It was toppled against the hedge by some young men anxious to test the truth of the legend that it was immovable."

[For additional information on this barrow cemetery, see the Pastscape entry at]

Diagram and text from British Fortifications Through the Reign of Richard III: An Illustrated History by Jean-Denis G.G. Lepage (McFarland, Dec 1, 2011)