Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Maes Gwyddno/Cantre'r Gwaelod - Morecambe Bay?

While re-reading the story of Taliesin, I ran once again into the mystery of the whereabouts of the sunken kingdom of Gwyddno Garanhir.  There seemed to be a couple of good clues as to its location.  First, a chieftain named Seithenhin is mentioned in connection with the place.  Second, he is said to be buried between a Caer Genedr and the sea.

Seithenhin is said to be from Latin Septentinus and this may well be correct.  However, I would see it as a substitution for 'the Setantian', i.e. an eponym of sorts for the Setantii tribe.  This people, according to Rivet and Smith (see THE PLACE-NAMES OF ROMAN BRITAIN), lived between the Mersey (ancient Seteia) and Fleetwood at the mouth of the Wyre.

Genedr looks suspiciously like the River Kent in Cumbria, from an earlier Kenet, probably plus dwr, 'water'.  The 'Caer' in question is probably the Roman fort of Alauna on the Kent just a little south of Kendal.  The River Kent, like the Wyre of the Setantii, empties into Morecambe Bay, which is described thusly:

"It is the largest expanse of intertidal mudflats and sand in the United Kingdom, covering a total area of 310 km2 (120 sq mi). []

By saying that Seithenhin's grave was between the fort on the Kennet and the sea, we are being told that it is in Maes Gwyddno/Morecambe Bay, the Sunken Land.

That Gwyddno may have been relocated to Wales in later legend is suggested by his apparent identification with a Man of the North.  This entry is from P. C. Bartram's A CLASSICAL WELSH DICTIONARY:



Taliesin in his hide-covered basket

First, my apologies to my readers for pulling my earlier piece on the 'Marwnat Vthyr Pen' or 'Death-Song of Uther Pen[dragon]'.  I had relied overmuch on the faulty translations of others and was further misled by new suggested emendations.  As a result, the idea I presented in that particular blog was seriously flawed.

When I realized my error, I set to work to translate the critical lines of the poem myself - checking with Dr. Simon Rodway of The University of Wales as I went.  The result of this second attempt to analyze the poem was both exciting and somewhat disturbing.

The critical lines run as follow:

Neu vi tywyssawc yn tywyll:
It is I who’s a leader in darkness:

a’m rithwy am dwy pen kawell.

Neu vi eil kawyl yn ardu:
It’s I who’s a second kawyl in the gloom:
I began by asking Dr. Rodway if kawell and kawyl could actually be the same word.  He responded:

"That’s quite possible, in the light of frequent examples of e ~ y in MW, and occasional examples of ll ~ l."

The most obvious word then is "basket".  Long ago I wondered if this basket could have something to do with the hide-covered one (a coracle?) of Gwion Bach/Taliesin.  Going with this idea, I rendered the third, most problematic line as:

Our Lord transforms me, Chief of the Basket

It is this line which may have provided the impetus or inspiration to Geoffrey of Monmouth, who has Uther transformed by Merlin into Gorlois (from gorlassar in the Marwnat Vthyr Pen, a description for Uther himself).  'Chief of the Basket' is a title for Gwion Bach/Taliesin, who spent many magical years in his hide-covered basket.

The last line then reads:

It's I who's a second basket in the gloom

Seems nonsensical, until we remember that Elphin found Gwion Bach's basket in his weir AT NIGHT and that the moment he slit the basket open with his knife he beheld the "radiant brow" that gave Taliesin his name.  

In other words, Taliesin's radiant brow guides his warriors in the dark.  

But if this poem is an elegy pronounced by the dead Taliesin, why is it called 'Marwnat Vthyr Pen'?  And why does he refer to himself as the 'second basket'?

Because, as was the case with Bran the Blessed, it is Taliesin's decapitated head that is speaking - a truly "uthr" (fearful, dreadful, awful, terrible, tremendous, mighty, overbearing, cruel; wonderful, wondrous, astonishing, excellent) head.  The second basket is likely that in which his head is deposited after he is slain.  Marged Haycock in her edition of the poem had asked if the Pen Kawell were the chief basket used to collect the heads of the battle-slain.  Line 18 of the 'Marwnat Vythr Pen'  mentions the 100 heads Uthr cut off during his martial career. 

In other words, he was brought into life in a basket, and he leaves life in a second one.   

The metaphorical term dragon, as I surmised before when I thought Uther Pen might be a designation for Urien Rheged, was added by a copyist who wrongly interpreted Pen in the sense of leader, possibly in an attempt to prevent future confusion.  This act had the unintended effect of producing an entirely new personage, viz. Uther Pendragon, the Terrible Chief-warrior.

If I'm right about this poem, and my translation  is allowed to stand, then we are faced with a very curious conclusion:  the greatest British hero Arthur was a son of none other than the greatest British poet, Taliesin.  

I've drawn from P.C. Bartram's A CLASSICAL WELSH DICTIONARY for what little is known about Taliesin, historically speaking:

The poet's date seems to be a bit late for Arthur.  However, my work on Eliwlad as the 'Prince of Eli'  eagle from Powys (ancient Cornovia; cf. Kernyw/Cornwall, where Arthur was often placed in Welsh tradition) does point to an origin for Uther in that kingdom.  

It is always possible Taliesin of the Terrible Head was not the father of Arthur, of course.  This may have been an invention of just about anybody.  If Arthur's father were unknown, but someone came across his name in the 'Marwnat Vthyr Pen' elegy, such a relationship might well have been assumed.

In closing, I would like to include some of Marged Haycock's commentary on the poem.  Here she reflects upon the possibility that at least some of the lines may represent the voice of Taliesin himself:

The speaker of the present poem presents himself in lines 1-25 as a warrior
above all. In the second half, lines 26-35 the emphasis is on the speaker’s poetic
skill, and his ability as a harpist, piper and crowder (player on the crwth). Other
poems in this collection such as §5 Kat Godeu indicate that both martial and
artistic qualities (as well as others) coexist in the delineation of Taliesin himself,
and it is tempting to assume that he is the speaker of the whole poem.
Alternatively, the second half may have been originally a ‘Taliesin’ piece which
became attached to a soliloquy (?by Uthr) because of the very marked egocentric
nature of the two, and perhaps because Taliesin was imagined to have sung the
deathsong of Uthr (not necessarily the first part of our poem), just as he was the
putative author of Dylan’s elegy and the poem on Cunedda (§§22 and 23).


Friday, October 13, 2017


Coin of Emperor Constantine III

In the following blog post -

- I had discussed the "Galfridian framework" upon which at least part of the story of Uther Pendragon seemed to be based.  As it turns out, I should have pushed that particular exploration a bit further.

I had drawn a parallel between Uther and Julian, one of the two sons (the other being Constans) of Constantine III.  My reason was simple: Julian as a name was chosen because the famous emperor Julian the Apostate was the son of Julius Constantius, half-brother of Constantine the Great.  This first Julian was not only called a 'Dragon', but was noted for his favoring of the draconarii, the bearers of the dragon standard.  In fact, Julian was actually crowned by a draconarius (see

While some have argued against Geoffrey of Monmouth patterning his Constantine and Constans after Constantine the III and his son Constans, I was able to show a number of things which strongly suggests this is exactly what he did.  

First, Constantine's son Ambrosius is based upon the 4th century Prefect of Gaul, possibly fused with his son St. Ambrose:

Aurelius Ambrosius (337-340)
St. Ambrose (d. 397)

His other son, Constans, begins his career as a monk - which was true historically of Constans, son of Constantine III and brother of Julian.

There were a couple of additional points I did not think to raise in the earlier post.  

First, Julian the Apostate - after whom Julian son of Constantine III was named - had been proclaimed Augustus.  The first Augustus, Octavian, was often of such poor health that he was carried about the battlefield on a litter - just as is said of Uther towards the end of his life.  A similar story is told of the 4th century B.C. general Eumenes in his conflict with Antigonus.  There may be other ancient examples of this motif; I've not bothered to search for more.  A more immediate influence may have come from the 9th century.  Guy Halsall (in "Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West 450-900) relates how at this time "a sick Breton commander had himself carried on a litter in front of battle-line rather than leave his troops leaderless."  The source Halsall derives this statement from (the late Karl Leyser's "Communications and Power in Medieval Europe") calls this Breton commander a duke, although his name is not given.  That name may be in Regino's CHRONICON (875), and I'm currently trying to find that source.*  Strictly from a chronological standpoint, the duke in question may have been Pascwetan, whose name resembles that of Pascent, a son of Vortigern.

Second, we are told Uther died at St. Albans, the ancient Verulamium, which was also known as Cair Mincip ('Fort Municipium) in the 28 Cities of Britain list appended to Nennius's HISTORIA BRITTONUM.  Rivet and Smith ("The Place-Names of Roman Britain") give the early forms of Municipium used for this Romano-British city.  Constantine III and his son Julian, after their defeat at Arles, were beheaded in 411 A.D. on the River MINCIO in Italy.

In his book THE EMPEROR AND THE ARMY IN THE LATER ROMAN EMPIRE, AD 235-395, Mark Hebblewhite has this to say about Julian's use of the draco standard.  The Labarum referred to here employed the chi-rho symbol of Constantine the Great.

This is the actual passage the author alludes to from Ammianus, Books XVI, Chapter XII, 39:

Quo agnito per purpureum signum draconis, summitati hastae longioris aptatum velut senectutis pendentis exuvias, stetit unius turmae tribunus et pallore timoreque perculsus ad aciem integrandam recurrit.

For as he was at once recognized by his purple standard of the dragon, which was fixed to the top of a long spear, waving its fringe as a real dragon sheds its skin, the tribune of one squadron halted, and turning pale with alarm, hastened back to renew the battle.

Ammianus  Book XVI, Chapter XII, 39.

'timoreque' can here be defined as  "fear, dread, apprehension, alarm, anxiety."  Here have a Terrible Chief-dragon, indeed!


My reading of this (poor though I am at Latin, and even poorer at medieval Latin) is that Pascwetan was, indeed, the duke who had himself born in a litter (lecto portari):

Nec illi animus minus in mortem invictus quam in hostem
fuit. Denique post peractam victoriam raorbo gravatus^ ad ex-
tremum deducitur^; cuius invalitudinem cum persensisset Pas- 
quitanus^, resumptis viribus fautores eius^ bello adgredi parat*.
Qui timore perterriti^ ad ducem confugiunt et cum lacrimis
ei minas Pasquitani^ aperiunt, petentes contra imminens^
periculum consilium. At ille hortatur, ut adversus hostem
audacter'^ procedant suum vexillum ferentes polliceturque
victoriam. Qui cum respondissent, sine eius presentia non
audere cum adversariis congredi, spiritum, qui una cum
viribus corporis iam pene eifugerat, resumens, quia nec
pedibus neque® equo poterat ire, iubet se in lecto portari 
et ante aciem inimicorum exponi et sic subire*' certamen.

According to the HISTORIA BRITTONUM (48), Pascent was given Buelth and Gwrtheyrnion by Ambrosius after his father, Vortigern, had died.  Geoffrey spins a very fanciful tale about Pascent's war with Uther.

On the similarity of the two names, I have the following from Professor Herve Bihan of the University of Rennes, Head of the Breton and Celtic Department:

The Old Breton Pascuuethen is from pasc + uuethen. Uuethen is one of the names of the battle in use in the proper names at that period, and pasc, aparently from the latin had a special meaning in that kind of names "strong". So you can translate "strong in the battle".
For the Welsh Pascent (with vairants as Pasken, etc), all the specialists see the Latin Pascentius.
Any way, both seem to have the same root, pasc "nuture" from the Latin.
As bibliographical references you can see :
Léon Fleuriot, Dictionnaire des gloses en vieux breton, Paris, 1964.
Peter C Bartrum, A Welsh Classical Dictionary - People in History and Legend up to about A.D. 1000, The National Library of Wales, 1993.
Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, University of Wales Press, cardiff, 2006.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Yet Another Argument for Uther Pendragon = Urien of Rheged

We should now look more closely at the gloss of the ‘Uther Pen’ poem.  John Koch tells us (in CELTIC CULTURE: A HISTORICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA) that

“…there is a weird elegy issuing from the mouth of the deceased titled Marwnat Vthyr Pen, with mar. vthyr dragon added in another hand at the margin.”

This poem, which I hold to be about the head of Urien, shows how the Pendragon title developed.  Pen was taken wrongly for “chieftain”, and the metaphorical dragon substituted for it.  Someone subsequently put the two together as ‘Pendragon’.  And thus an independent entity was born. 

For my full argument identifying Urien with Uther, please see my prior blog posts.

Line 18 of the Marwnat Vythr Pen mentions the hundred heads Uther took in battle:

neu vi a ledeis cant pen,

it was I who cut off a hundred heads,

Sunday, October 8, 2017


NOTE: Since writing this piece, I did more map work to make sure I had not missed anything.  Well, I did do so, unfortunately...
There is a Red Cleugh stream originating from a spring on Carruthers Fell.  This is a tributary of the Kirk Burn, upon which Carruthers sits.  The Red Cleugh flows into the Kirk Burn just a little north of Carruthers.

Thus we can safely derive this name from what Alan James has at his BLITON site:

IE *h1roudh- (o-grade of *h1reudh-‘(bright) red’) > early Celtic *roudo-/ā- > Br, Gaul *roudo-/ā-
> Old-MW rud > W rhudd, OCorn rud > MCorn ru[y]th > Corn ruth, OBret rud[d] > Bret ruz;
OIr rúad > Middle -MnIr rua, G ruadh, Mx ruy (from earlier oblique form); cogn. Lat rūfus,
Gmc *rauðaz > OE rēad > ‘red’, ON rjöðr, Skt rohita, and cf. (from zero-grade *h1rudh-) Lat
ruber, Gk erythros, Skt rudhira.
‘Red’. In the Celtic languages, especially ‘reddish-brown, ginger, ruddy, russet’.
a2) Names of the ‘Rother’ type are probably rö- + -duβr, see both these elements, but rūδ- + -ar
or –duβr is possible. 

I will leave this article here entire, just so that interested readers may see how tricky place-names can be.  

Burnswark Hillfort with Roman Siege Camps

Carruthers and Carrutherstown in Dumfriesshire have been derived by place-name scholars from Caer Rhydderch, 'the fort of Rhydderch [Hael, King of Strahclyde]'.  This may well be correct.

Carrothres 1334, Caer Ruther 1350, Carrotheris 1372, Carutheris 1495

Certainly, Jocelyn of Furness claimed that St. Kentigern/Mungo established an early monastery at Hoddom only a half dozen kilometers ENE of Carrutherstown.  While there is no further evidence for such an institution, it is undeniable that Rhydderch Hael plays a significant role in the Vita of the saint.  It is possible, therefore, that while Rhydderch was never present in this region, his association with the saint caused his name to be incorporated in a legendary sense during the development of local place-names. 

We must also take into account the Welsh tradition claiming that Rhydderch took part in the battle of Arderydd, now Arthuret in Cumbria.  Caerlaverock, i.e Caer Llywarch, not far to the SW of Carrutherstown, was said to have been the cause of the Battle of Arderydd.  Myddin/Llallogan of Arderydd is found in legendary tales of St. Kentigern and Rhydderch.

There are some other Ruther- place-names in Scotland, including Rutherglen in Glasgow and Rutherford in Tweeddale.  There is a "lost" Carruderes in Berwickshire (?), which I think may be The Camps fort near the Rutherford Burn.  St. Kentigern belonged to Glasgow, and was put in Tweeddale to convert Merlin. However, Alan James of BLITON makes is clear that there may be another etymology for these places that is to be preferred over Rhydderch:

a2) Names of the ‘Rother’ type are probably rö- + -duβr, see both these elements, but rūδ- + -ar or –duβr is possible. They include:
Glenruther Wig (Penninghame)  PNGall p. 150  + cūl- or *cǖl-, see both of these.
Riddrie Lnk (Glasgow: the area south of the Molendinar Burn)  see Durkan (1986) at p. 284.
Rother YWR  ERNp. 348, PNYWR7 p. 136.
Rutherglen Lnk influenced by Gaelic ruadh, = -*glïnn, early Gaelic –glenn, or Scots ‑glen.
Rutter Force, with Low Rutter, Wml (Drybeck)   PNWml2 p. 99, but see also rejadər and treβ.

(1) Culruther, Glenruther looks like a lost stream-name of the ‘Rother’ type, see rö- and rūδ-. Unless Culruther 1462 was a scribal error, this was presumably close to, but not necessarily the same place as, Glenruther; however, this was earlier Clonriddin (sic) 1137; on the basis of that form MacQueen, PNWigMM p. 112, proposes Gaelic cluain-ridir ‘knight’s meadow’, suggesting a possible association with the Templars or Hospitallers; it would also have been a strategic location during the period of division and conflict in the earldom of Galloway in the third quarter of the twelfth century (A. Livingston pers. comm.). 

On the surface of things, then, the identification of the Carruthers place-name with Caer Rhydderch does not necessarily stand on a firm footing. 

I would like to float another idea for Carruthers.  But before I do, we must ask what the Carruthers place-names are referring to GEOGRAPHICALLY.

When one goes to the map, the first thing that becomes immediately obvious is that between the two Carruthers sites is the mighty Burnswark hillfort with its adjacent Roman siege works.  Now, although some toponymists have tried to make a case for Burn- preserving a Celtic name for hill akin to Welsh bryn.  One advocate of this possibility is Alan James of BLITON.

The problem is that this explanation is simply not viable.  Why?  Carruthers is also right next to a Birrens Hill, and the place-name Birren is found at other sites in Dumfriesshire. An alternate spelling found for Burnswark is Birrenswark. In the words of May Williamson (THE NON-CELTIC PLACE-NAMES OF THE SCOTTISH BORDERS COUNTIES), "There are several other examples of the use of birren in Dmf., but all apply to Celtic or mediaeval fortifications."  She goes on to say:

"“Birren” seems to represent OE byrgen, “burial place, tumulus”: cf Birrens Hill, No. XXVII. “Burren”, which is also found in this area (Jam, sv), may be a dialectal variation, or may represent OE burg-æsn, (cf PN La, 85), ME burwain, burren, from which the form birren may have arisen with
the Southern Scots raising of the ME u to ModSc i. A cognate term, probably Irish in origin, is borran, which appears in NW England (PN CuWe, 135)."

Alan James would add this (via personal communication):

"OE byrȝen is literally 'a burial', so the names may refer to barrows, but the word seems to have been used for features (mounds, cairns etc.) that may not really have been burials. The word itself isn't connected with burh, byriȝ, nor any other word related to fortifications, though there may coincidentally have been forts at all these places. Nor is it a hill word, or only if you count mounds as hills."

If the Burns- element were from a Celtic word for hill, we would expect it to be used of other hills in the region that lacked fortifications.  As it happens, it is not. For this reason I'm disposed to believe that Burnswark (with -wark being the English name for a fortification) is a thoroughly non-Celtic name.

This being so, Carruthers - whatever its origin - may well represent a relic of the earlier Celtic name for the Burnswark fort.  But was the fort called Caer Rydderch from the beginnng?  Or could Rhydderch only have become associated with the place at a later date?

Here is my theory - which may well be an untenable one.  Still, I think it at least worth considering.  Let us first look at the Carruthers place-names and that of Burnswark in relation to the Mabon sites in Dumfriesshire:

The reader may recall that earlier I suggested that the reason that Mabon was said to be the servant of Uther was because Uther reigned where Mabon-worship was centered.  We can see on the map that the Burnswark - or, rather, Caer "Rhydderch" - is between Lochmaben and the Lochmaben Stone at Gretna Green.

Suppose the Burnswark was originally CAER UTHER.  And this place-name was at some point wrong taken for a Caer Rhydderch.  This confusion not only led to the spurious tradition that St. Mungo founded Hoddom nearby, but may even have contributed to the Welsh claim that Rhydderch was involved at the Battle of Arderydd.  I have always had a major problem with Rhydderch fighting in this area, a region controlled by his contemporary Urien of Rheged.  According to P.C. Bartram, the earliest date for Urien's death would be 585-6.  Arderydd was fought in 573.  Urien's powerful successor was his son, Owain, much praised in the early poetry. Yet Urien, mysteriously, is not implicated in the events leading up to the Battle of Arderydd.  Nor is he numbered among the combatants. In fact, he is nowhere to be seen.  This seems truly inexplicable to me - unless we accept the possibility that Rhydderch is an error for Uther.  The Welsh Annals say only that the conflict at Arderydd was between the sons of Eliffer and Gwenddolau.   Later tradition imported famous heroes from all quarters. Even Aedan of Dalriada was made party to the devastating military action, possibly because of his c. 603 battle at Degsastan/Dawston in Liddesdale.

As with Gwenddolau son of Ceidio, Uther (whom I've elsewhere identified with Urien of Rheged) may not have been a personal name, but a place-name.  The latter is thought to come from a British word akin to Irish uachtar, meaning 'high, lofty.' Gwenddolau is, transparently, 'White Dales', and may well be a personification of a place-name.  Caer Uther may, then, have been not the Fort of Uther, but merely the 'High Fort.'

I should hasten to add that we have no evidence the Burnswark continued to be inhabited after it was destroyed by the Romans.  It is the suspected oppidum of the Novantae tribe.

P.S.  Alan James provided me with this explanation for the terminal -s of the Carruthers place-name:

"Suffice to say, -(i)s gets added to place-names in southern Scotland very frequently, apparently by Scots speakers, the evidence coming mainly from the late medieval/ early modern period. The conventional explanation is that at some time the landholding was divided into two or more parts, and this is supported by documentary evidence in some cases. But that's not always likely. I raised the question myself recently in the Facebook Scottish Place-Names group and there was some lively discussion, certainly sensible place-name scholars taking part agreed that it's a phenomenon that needs fuller investigation. So I wouldn't consider the -s in Carruthers in isolation."

Saturday, October 7, 2017

COMING SOON: Carruthers in Dumfriesshire - Caer Rhydderch or Caer Uther?

The Burnswark, with Roman Siege Camp in Foreground


Ward Law, Castle O'er and the River Annan

In recent years, scholars have preferred to identify the Uxellum of the Selgovae tribe with Ward Law in Dumfriesshire (see, for example, Rivet and Smith's THE PLACE-NAMES OF ROMAN BRITAIN).  However, given that I've recently made a case for Annandale being the heartland of Rheged, which itself lay within the ancient Novantae territory, it seems more reasonable to follow earlier antiquarians who sought to place Uxellum at Castle O'er.  

Castle O'er and Deil's Jingle

Castle O'er is strategically situated between the White Esk and the Black Esk.  It may also be associated with the earthwork boundary known as Deil's Jingle, of indeterminate date (though CANMORE suggests medieval).  The River Esk probably served as the bounday between the Selgovae and their neighbors the Novantae to the west.

For more information on Castle O'er, see:

The Liddel Water may have been the southern boundary of the Selgovae, as Gwenddolau (whether a person or a location, as his name means 'White Dales') immediately to the south of this river was the son of Ceidio/Arthur of Uxellodunum.  And, yes, the Uxello- in Uxellodunum is the same word found in Uxellum.  One is the High Fort, the other merely the High [Place].  

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Twelfth Battle: Mount Badon (from my book, THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY)

St. Ann's Well, Buxton, Derbyshire

Badon is a difficult place-name for an unexpected reason. As Kenneth Jackson proclaimed:

"No such British name is known, nor any such stem." [To be briefly mentioned in the context of Badon is the Middle Welsh word bad, 'plague, pestilence, death' (GPC; first attested in the 14th century), from Proto-Celtic *bato-, cf. Old Irish bath. Some have asked me whether this word could be the root of Badon - to which Dr. Graham I. Isaac, of the National University of Ire-land, Galway, responds emphatically, "No, absolutely no. A (modern) W form _bad_ etc. would have been spelt in the W of the ancient period as _bat_ and there can be no connection since _Bad(on)_ is what we find." Other noteworthy Celtic linguists, such as Dr. Simon Rodway of Aberystwyth University, Dr. Richard Coates of the University of the West of England and Professor Ranko Matasovic of the University of Zagreb, agree with Isaac on this point. Matasovic adds: “Professor Isaac is right; since we have references to Badon in Early Welsh sources, the name would have been spelled with –t- (for voiced /d/). The spelling where the letter <d> stands for /d/ and <dd> for the voiced dental fricative was introduced in the late Middle Ages.”]

Graham Isaac has the following to say on the nature of the word Badon, which I take to be au-thoritative.

His explanation of why Gildas's Badon cannot be derived from one of the Badburys (like Liddington Castle, often cited as a prime candidates for Badon) is critical in an eventual identification of this battle site. Although long and rather complicated, his argument is convincing and I have, therefore, opted to present it unedited:

"Remember in all that follows that both the -d - in Badon and the -th- in OE Bathum are pronounced like th in 'bathe' and Modern Welsh - dd-. Remember also that in Old English spelling, the letters thorn and the crossed d are interchangeable in many positions: that is variation in spelling, not in sound, and has no significance for linguistic arguments.

It is curious that a number of commentators have been happy to posit a 'British' or 'Celtic' form Badon. The reason seems to be summed up succinctly by Tolstoy in the 1961 article (p. 145):

'It is obviously impossible that Gildas should have given a Saxon name for a British locality'.

Why? I see no reason at all in the world why he should not do so (begging the question as to what, exactly, is the meaning of 'British locality' here; Gildas is just talking about a hill). This then becomes the chief crutch of the argument, as shown on p. 147 of Tolstoy's article: 'But that there was a Celtic name ‘Badon’ we know from the very passage in Gildas under discussion'.

But that is just circular: ' "Badon" must be "Celtic" because Gildas only uses "Celtic" names'. This is no argument. What would have to be shown is that 'Badon' is a regular reflex of a securely attested 'Celtic' word. This is a matter of empirical detail and is easily tested; we have vast resources to tell us what was and was not a 'Celtic' word. And there is nothing like 'Badon'.

So what do we do? Do we just say that 'Badon' must be Celtic because Gildas uses it? That gets us nowhere.

So what of the relationships between aet Bathum - Badon - Baddanbyrig? The crucial point is just that OE Bathum and the Late British / very early Welsh Badon we are talking about both have the soft -th- sound of 'bathe' and Mod.Welsh 'Baddon'. Baddanbyrig, however, has a long d-sound like -d d- in 'bad day'. Both languages, early OE and Late British, had both the d-sound and the soft th-sound. So:

1) If the English had taken over British (hy-pothetical and actually non-existent) *Badon (*Din Badon or something), they would have made it *Bathanbyrig or the like, and the modern names of these places would be something like *Bathbury.

2) If the British had taken over OE Baddanbyrig, they would have kept the d-sound, and Gildas would have written 'Batonicus mons', and Annales Cambriae would have 'bellum Batonis', etc. (where the -t- is the regular early SPELLING of the sound -d-; always keep your conceptions of spellings and your conceptions of sounds separate; one of the classic errors of the untrained is to fail to distinguish these). 

I imagine if that were the case we would have no hesitation is identifying 'Baton' with a Badbury place. But the d-sound and the soft th -sound are not interchangeable. It is either the one or the other, and in fact it is the soft th -sound that is in 'Badon', and that makes it equivalent to Bathum, not Baddanbyrig. 

(That applies to the sounds. On the other hand there is nothing strange about the British making Bad-ON out of OE Bath -UM. There was nothing in the Late British/early Welsh language which corresponded to the dative plural ending - UM of OE, so it was natural for the Britons to substitute the common British suffix - ON for the very un-British OE suffix -UM: this is not a substitution of SOUNDS, but of ENDINGS, which is quite a different matter. That Gildas then makes an unproblematic Latin adjective with -icus out of this does not require comment.)

To conclude:

1) There is no reason in the world why a 6thcentury British author should not refer to a place in Britain by its OE name.
2) There was no 'British' or 'Celtic' *Badon.
3) 'Badon' does not correspond linguistically with OE Baddanbyrig.
4) 'Badon' is the predictably regular Late British / early Welsh borrowing of OE Bathum.

Final note: the fact that later OE sources occasionally call Bath 'Badon' is just a symptom of the book-learning of the authors using the form. Gildas was a widely read and highly respected author, and Badon(-is) (from Gildas's adjective Badon -icus) will quickly and unproblematically have become the standard book-form (i.e. pri-marily Latin form) for the name of Bath. Again, all attempts to gain some sort of linguistic mile-age from the apparent, but illusory, OE variation between Bathum and Badon are vacuous."

It is thus safe to say that 'Badon' must derive from a Bath name. However, we must not restrict ourselves to the Southern Bath, which makes no sense in the context of a Northern Arthur.

For as it happens, there is a major Northern ‘Bath’ site that has gone completely unnoticed!

In the the High Peak District of Derbyshire we find Buxton. This town had once been roughly on the southernmost boundary of Brigantian tribal territory (thought to lie along a line roughly from the Mersey in the west to the Humber in the east). It was also just within Britannia Inferior (that part of northern Britain ruled from York), whose boundary was again from the Mersey, but probably more towards The Wash. 

In the Roman period, Buxton was the site of Aquae Arnemetiae, ‘the waters in front of (the goddess) Nemetia’. To the best of our knowledge, Bath in Somerset and Buxton in Derbyshire were the only two ‘Aquae’ towns in Britain.

But even better, there is a Bathum name extant at Buxton. The Roman road which leads to Buxton from the northeast, through the Peak hills, is called Bathamgate. Batham is ‘baths’, the ex-act dative plural we need to match the name Bathum/Badon. -gate is ‘road, street’, which comes from ME gate, itself a derivative of OScand gata. Bathamgate is thus ‘Baths Road’.

The recorded forms for Bathamgate are as fol-lows:

Bathinegate (for Bathmegate), 1400, from W.
Dugdale's Monasticon Anghcanum, 6 vols, London

Bathom gate, 1538, from Ancient Deeds in the
Public Record Office

Batham Gate, 1599, from records of the Duchy of Lancaster Special Commissions in the Public
Record Office.

Buxton sits in a bowl about one thousand feet above sea level surrounded by mountains and is itself a mountain spa. The natural mineral water of Buxton emerges from a group of springs at a constant temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit and is, thus, a thermal water. There are also cold springs and a supply of chalybeate (iron bearing) water. The evidence of Mesolithic man suggests a settlement dating to about 5000 BCE and archaeological finds in the Peak District around the settlement show habitation through the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages to the time of the Romans. 

From the historical evidence we can say that Buxton was a civilian settlement of some importance, situated on the intersection of several roads, and providing bathing facilities in warm mineral waters. In short, it was a Roman spa. Place-names in and around Buxton, and Anglo-Saxon finds in burial mound excavations, suggest a continuing inhabitation of the area and probable use of the mineral waters.

It has long been speculated that we should expect to find a military installation at Buxton. However, subsequent archaeological fieldwork, including excavations, in and around suggested locations at the spa town have singularly failed to establish a military presence. A 'ditch feature' identified initially through resistivity survey and then from aerial photography above Mill Cliff, Buxton, gave rise to the almost confident interpretation of this site as being that of the fort: subsequent evaluation in advance of development, however, has shown that these features were geological rather than man-made, and the absence of Roman finds of any description from a series of evaluation trenches suggests that if
Buxton had a fort it was located elsewhere.

Today, the site of the probable Roman baths is covered by the Georgian Crescent building. In this area during the seventeenth and eighteenth century discoveries of lead lined baths, red plaster and building remains were made at some considerable depth in the sediments which surround the area of St Anne's well. In the eighteenth century, Pilkington investigated a mound overlooking the site of the previous discoveries. Here he found a structure which has been interpreted as a probable classical temple - one of only three known from Britain. In the mid-seventies, following the removal of a 20th century swimming pool, a brick structure was exposed and a deposit containing 232 Roman coins, 3 bronze bracelets and a wire clasp ranging in date from the 1st to the end of the 4th century CE was excavated.

This intriguing series of early discoveries lends tangible support to the interpretation of Buxton as the 'Bath of the North', but the character and extent of civilian settlement - and whether this was in association with a military installation or not, remains obscure. A considerable range of small finds, together with occasional glimpses of apparently Roman contexts, from the backgardens of houses has failed to provide a clear sense of the extent of Roman Buxton, let alone a soundly based understanding of its chronology and development. The dating of coinage in the 'votive' deposit from near the Crescent might be seen to indicate heightened frequencies of offer-ings during the third and fourth centuries. To what extent this might correlate with the development of settlement at Buxton is a matter of some conjecture.

At Poole's cavern, Buxton, excavations between 1981 and 1983 by Peakland Archaeological Society and Buxton Archaeological Society produced a large Romano-British assemblage containing a considerable body of metalwork including coins and brooches, rolls of thin sheet bronze, along with ceramics, a faunal assemblage and burials. The dating of the coins and fibulae point to use between the late 1st and 3rd centuries, with the majority being of 2nd century date. Indeed, reanalysis of the material has suggested that the cave saw its principal period of use between 120 and 220 CE. The excavators appeared to reveal some spatial separation of the coin and fibulae finds from the pottery and faunal remains, although this has been questioned.

Discussing the possible character of the use of the site Bramwell and Dalton draw attention to the comparative absence of spindle whorls, loom weights and bone hairpins which might be expected from a domestic site. Instead, they see the evidence as supporting the interpretation of the site as that of a rural shrine or sanctuary.

This too has subsequently been questioned and rejected. Instead, Branigan and Dawley interpret the site as essentially domestic, but with the additional refuse from a metalworker’s activities. They see a link between Poole's Cavern and the growth of Buxton as a spa centre providing a ready local market for small decorative trinkets.

The general trend of the evidence suggests that the Roman site may have consisted of a temple overlooking a set of Roman baths. At Bath we have a clear idea of the layout of a significant bath/water shrine complex which consisted of two major ranges: a temple and a religious precinct, within which lay the sacred spring; along-side this range were a line of three baths within a major building, at one end of which lay a typical Roman bathhouse or sauna. The Bath buildings were lavishly built in a classical style and the whole complex attracted visitors from outside the province.

In essence the Buxton layout mirrors that a Bath: parallel to the spring line is a temple and alongside the springs is a range of possibly Roman baths. As the Buxton temple is two-thirds the size of that at Bath we could assume the Buxton complex was somewhat smaller.

If the grove of the goddess Nemetia continued as an important shrine well into Arthur’s time (and the presence of St. Anne’s Well at the site of the town’s ancient baths shows that the efficacy of the sacred waters was appropriated by Christians), there is the possibility the Saxons targeted Buxton for exactly this reason. Taking the Britons’ shrine would have struck them a demoralizing blow. If the goddess or saint or goddess-become-saint is herself not safe from the depredations of the barbarians, who is?

A threat to such a shrine may well have galvanized British resistence. Arthur himself may have been called upon to lead the British in the defense of Nemetia's waters and her templegrove.

There may be a very good reason why Gildas (or his source, or a later interpolator) may have opted for English Bathum (rendered Badon in the British language of the day). The two famous 'baths' towns were anciently known as Aquae Sulis and Aquae Arnemetiae for the two goddesses presiding over the hot springs. As Arthur is made out to be the preeminent Christian hero, who in the Welsh Annals has a shield bearing the Cross of Christ that he carries during the Battle of Badon, it would not do for the ancient Romano-British name to be used in this context. To have done so would inevitably have referred directly to a pagan deity. Hence the generic and less “connotation-loaded” Germanic name for the place was substituted. This explanation might do much to placate those who insist on seeing Badon as a Celtic name.

And where is the most likely location for the monte/montis of the Baths/Batham/Badon, where the actual battle was fought?

I make this out to be what is now referred to as The Slopes, at the foot of which is the modern St. Ann’s Well, and the Crescent, under which the original Roman bath was built. The Slopes were once called St. Ann’s Cliff because it was a prominent limestone outcrop. The Tithe map of 1848 shows that the upper half of the Cliff was still largely covered in trees. I suspect the spring was anciently thought to arise from inside the Cliff, and that the trees covering it marked the precincts of the nemeton or sacred grove of Arnemetia.

The three days and three nights Arthur bore the cross (or, rather, a shield bearing an image of a cross) at Badon in the Welsh Annals are markedly similar to the three days and three nights Urien is said to have blockaded the Saxons in the island of Lindsfarne (British Metcaud) in Chapter 63 of the HB. In Gildas, immediately before mention of Badon, we have the following phrase: "From then on victory went now to our countrymen, now to their enemies…" Similarly, just prior to mention of Urien at Lindisfarne, we have this: "During that time, sometimes the enemy, sometimes the Cymry were victorious…" It would seem, therefore, that either the motif of the three days and three nights was taken from the Urien story and inserted into that of Arthur or vice-versa.

What is fascinating about this parallel is that Lindisfarne or ‘Holy Island’, as it came to be known, was an important spiritual centre of Northern Britain. The inclusion of the three days and three nights (an echo of the period Christ spent in the tomb) in the Badon story suggests that we can no longer accept the view that Arthur's portage of Christian symbols at Badon was borrowed solely from the Castle Guinnion battle account in the HB. Aquae Arnemetiae, like Lindisfarne, was a holy place. Arthur's fighting there may have been construed as a holy act.

Supposedly, 960 Saxons were slain by Arthur at Badon. In the past, most authorities have seen in the number 960 no more than a fanciful embellishment on the Annals' entry, i.e. more evidence of Arthur as a ‘legend in the making’. But 960 could be a very significant number, militarily speaking. The first cohort of a Roman legion was composed of six doubled centuries or 960 men. As the most important unit, the first cohort guarded the Roman Imperial eagle standard.

Now, while the Roman army in the late period no longer possessed a first cohort composed of this number of soldiers, it is possible Nennius's 960 betrays an antiquarian knowledge of earlier Roman military structure. However, why the Saxons are said to have lost such a number cannot be explained in terms of such an anachronistic description of a Roman unit.

The simplest explanation for Nennius's 960 is that it represents 8 Saxon long hundreds, each long hundred being composed of 120 warriors. To quote from Tacitus on the Germanic long hundred:

"On general survey, their [the German's] strength is seen to lie rather in their infantry, and that is why they combine the two arms in battle. The men who they select from the whole force and station in the van are fleet of foot and fit admirably into cavalry action. The number of these chosen men is exactly fixed. A hundred are drawn from each district, and 'the hundred' is the name they bear at home. What began as a mere number ends as a title of distinction." [Germania 6]

Curiously, in the Norse poem Grimnismal, 8 hundreds of warriors (probably 960) pass through each of the doors of Valhall, the Hall of the Slain, at the time of Ragnarok or the Doom of the Powers.

Osla or Ossa Big-Knife and Caer Faddon

It has often been said that the Welsh Caer Faddon is always a designation for Bath in Avon.

However, at least one medieval Welsh tale points strongly towards the ‘Baths’ at Buxton as the proper site.

I am speaking, of course, of the early Arthurian romance ‘The Dream of Rhonabwy’, sometimes considered to be a part of the Mabinogion collection of tales. Rhonabwy is transported back in time via the vehicle of a dream to the eve of the battle of Caer Faddon. Arthur has apparently come from Cornwall (as he is said to return thither after a truce is made) to mid-Wales and thence to Caer Faddon to meet with Osla or Ossa, a true historical contemporary of Arthur who lies at the head of the royal Bernician pedigree. 

As Arthur is said to progress from Rhyd-y-Groes to Long Mountain, he is traveling to the north-east via the Roman road. In other words, he is headed in the direction of Buxton in the High Peak.

While the romance is entirely fanciful, the chronological accuracy in the context of choosing Osla/Ossa is rather uncanny. Furthermore, it is quite clear that in the tradition the author of the romance was drawing from, Caer Faddon is most certainly not Bath. Ossa is known in English sources for being the first of the Bernicians to come to England from the Continent. Under his descendants, Bernicia became a great kingdom, stretching eventually from the Forth to the Tees. In the 7th century, Deira – which controlled roughly the area between the Tees and the Humber - was joined with Bernicia to form the Kingdom of Northumbria.

In its heyday, Northumbria shared a border with its neighbor to the south – Mercia – at the River Mersey or ‘Boundary River’. The Mersey flows east to Stockport, where it essentially starts at the confluence of the River Tame and Goyt. The Goyt has its headwaters on Axe Edge, only a half a dozen kilometers from Buxton in the High Peak.

If we allow for the story’s author to have properly chosen Ossa as Arthur’s true contemporary, but to have viewed Northumbria in an anachronistic fashion – i.e. as extending to the River Mersey – then Ossa coming from Bernicia in the extreme north of England, and Arthur coming from Cornwall in the extreme southwest, meeting for a battle at Buxton makes a great deal of sense. In fact, Buxton is pretty much exactly equidistant between the two locations.

Ossa would have been viewed as engaging in a battle just across the established boundary.

If I am right about this, the Welsh knew of the ‘Bathum’ or Badon that was Buxton.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Aerial View of the Site of Castlesteads/Camboglanna Roman Fort

I've never really had cause to search a map for the Castlesteads fort.  Why?  Because there is no fort at the site anymore.  It was completely destroyed during the modern period.  The other day, however, I was curious about the situation of the fort in relation to both the River Irthing and the Cambeck.  So, I went to to take a look.  

Kellwood by Camboglanna

What I found was both exciting and disturbing.  Assuming, of course, I had actually found anything at all!

I'm talking here about the presence very near the fort of a place called Kellwood.  Why should this place matter to anyone?

Well, it occurred to me immediately that as there were other Cumbric names in the area, Kell- might preserve a word like celli (GPC: grove, corpse, woodland).  This brought to mind Arthur's court at Kelliwic, supposedly in Cornwall.  -wood could easily have spawned the (g)wig (GPC: wood, forest, grove) of Kelliwic.  Or, although it is a stretch, -wood could be an English substitute for an earlier (g)wig.  According to O. J. Padel (CMCS 8, p. 19), Kelli Wic is 'the forest grove'.

To investigate this possibility, I had to first gather the early forms of the Kellwood place-name.  The following information comes courtesy Stephen White of the Carlisle Library:

The Placenames of Cumberland, Volume 1, CUP, 1950, simply says
KELLWOOD is Kelwood, Parish Registers Lanercost, 1731. It is also noted as Kilewood in 1794
The placename elements in volume three of this work contains the Old Norse Kelda for spring

Thomas Denton’s Perambulation of Cumberland 1687-88 notes under Walton
Henry [Dacre] is now lord thereof. He hath a demesn within this mannor called the  Kellwood, worth 50 li a year, the countrey being hereabouts covered with wood on each side of irthing

I next had to go to Brythonic place-name expert Alan James.  He was kind enough to pass along his ideas for this place-name:

"A Cumbric origin is quite likely here, but the very late documentation leaves it uncertain: Kelwood 1731, Kilewood 1794. It could be celli, or MIr/Gaelic coille, or indeed Cumbric *cīl (Mn Welsh cil) 'a nook'.

However, Kelwood is a place near - now a suburb in - Dumfries, with better, earlier documentation: Kelwode 1323, Kellwod 1342, Keldewod 1370, Keldwod 1433, so probably ON kelda 'a spring', and of course the Cumbrian Kellwood could have had the same origin. 

Still I think celli might be behind Kellwood..."

Tautologies are fairly common in British place-names.  What this means is that two elements are present in a place-name, both from different languages, but both indicating the same kind of feature.  You end up with a formula that reads something like 'Hill-hill.' The Welsh kelliwic or gelliwig is an unusual form in and of itself, a sort of reduplication, and as Alan James reminded me in a separate communication, a -wic ending would probably precipitate an English ending such as wick (cf. Latin vicus).  Unless the meaning of Cumbric -wic/-wig were known to the non-Cumbric speakers of the area.

The notion that Kellwood could be the original Kelliwic is intriguing, even if unprovable.  But the Arthur name (from Artorius) was definitely associated with the Celtic word for 'bear', and the Irthing Valley of Ceidio's/Arthur's father Arthwys ('man of the Arth', perhaps an eponym) was a 'Little Bear' River.  I've in the past tried to make a case for Uxellodunum/Petriana at Stanwix being his headquarters, but that argument is really based only on the fairly late tradition that Etterby hard by Stanwix was known as "Arthur's burg" and by the proximity of other Arthurian sites. We might surmise that Birdoswald/Banna with its Dark Age timber hall was Arthwys's fort, while Camboglanna belonged to Arthur.  

I will say in closing that I feel Kellwood's proximity to Castlesteads seems too coincidental.  Yet a coincidence is all it may be.

POSTSCRIPT:  This would appear to be a false alarm.  I accessed earlier maps, like the following from  They clearly show a small stream originating from Kellwood.  And this means that a derivation from Old Norse kelda is preferable.  Alternately, as the farm sits in a bend of the river, Cumbric cil is also possible here, as this last word has the sense of corner as well as nook.  I would say, geographically speaking, that celli is last on the list of possibilities for the place-name Kellwood.

Early maps also shows a woodland called 'Kellwood Alders' on both sides of the Irthing River.  See  According to Alan James, Kellwood Alders "looks like a plantation, probably no earlier than 18th ct and not necessarily a guide to where the eponymous wood was."


On February 26, 1996, I received a letter from Professor Oliver Padel of Cambridge. This was in response to a query I had sent him some time earlier in which I proposed that the name Medrawt – born by the personage who died with Arthur at Camlann – may represent the Roman name Moderatus. What Padel had to say on this possibility is important enough for Arthurian studies to be reprinted in full below:

“Not much has been done on the name of Medrawt or Mordred… In an article on various words in Welsh with the root med, Medr-, Ifor Williams suggested that the name might be connected with the Welsh verb medru ‘to be able, to hit’; but he did not develop the idea, only mentioned it in passing.

Middle Welsh Medrawt cannot formally be identical with Old Cornish Modred, Old Breton Modrot (both of which are recorded, indicating an original Old Co.Br. *Modrod), since the Welsh e in the first syllable should not be equivalent to a Co.Br. o there.

What people do not seem to have asked is what this discrepancy means: we can hardly say that Welsh Medrawt is a different name, since it clearly belongs to the same character as Geoffrey’s [Geoffrey of Monmouth] Modredus < Co.Br. Modrod.

Which is ‘right’? I would suggest that the Co.Br. form is the ancient one, and that the Welsh form has been altered, perhaps indeed by association with the verb medru.

That was already my conclusion, but I did not have a derivation for Modrod. However, Modrod would be the exact derivative of Latin Moderatus, as you suggest. Your suggestion is most attractive, and neither I nor (so far as I know) anyone else has previously thought of it.

Like you, I should be relucatant to say that Modrod couldn’t have a Celtic derivation; but it fits so well with Moderatus that I personally don’t feel the need to look further.”

If Medrawt or, rather, Modrod, is Moderatus, this may be significant for a Medraut at Cambloglanna on Hadrian’s Wall, for we know of a Trajanic period prefect named C. Rufius Moderatus, who left inscriptions at Great Chesters on the Wall and Brough-under-Stainmore in Cumbria (CIL iii. 5202, RIB 1737, 166-9, 2411, 147-51). The name of this prefect could have become popular in the region and might even have still been in use among Northern British noble families in the 6th century CE.

Saturday, September 30, 2017


A Hypothetical Family Tree

                               Cynfarch                                                                        Arthwys

             Urien             Lleu             Efrddyl--------------------------------------Eliffer Gosgorddfawr

                                Medraut                                   Arthur Penuchel     

In my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY, I suggested that the name of Medraut's father (the Loth of Geoffrey of Monmouth, properly rendered as Lleu in the Welsh sources; Lothian is derived from Middle Welsh Lleudinyawn, Brittonic *Lugudunianon, land of ‘Lugh's/Lleu's Fortress’) should perhaps be attached to Carlisle, the Romano-British Luguvalium,  This was principally because the latter, whether interpreted as a place-name or a description of the fort, meant 'Lleu-strong.'  

However, in going back over the Triads I realized that I'd missed something: Triad 70 lists as a son of Cynfarch, and thus brother of Urien and Efrddyl, a certain Lleu.  As it happens, the Welsh version of Geoffrey of Monmouth's tale makes this Lleu son of Cynfarch the father of Medraut. For the fun of it, I drew up the family tree presented above, as the various family relationships placed Medraut and Arthur Penuchel in the same generation.  Furthermore, in this scheme Arthur and Medraut are first cousins.

Lleu son of Cynfarch's mother was Nefyn - a name universally held to be cognate with the Irish goddess name Nemhain.  Nemhain, in turn, often appears as the trio of battle goddesses which includes the Morrigan.  In my THE MYSTERIES OF AVALON I made my case for the Welsh Morgan being a substitute for the Morrigan in Arthurian story.  If I'm right, then Nemhain wife of Cynfarch could also be seen as the Morrigan/Morgan, grandmother of Medraut.

In Geoffrey's story, Medraut's mother is Anna, Arthur's sister.  This points once again to the Annan River (from a British form of the Irish goddess name Anu, or at least from the same root).  According to the "Gorhoffedd" of Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd, Caerliwelydd, i.e. Carlisle in Cumbria, was in Rheged (see John Koch's CELTIC CULTURE: A CULTURAL ENCYCLOPEDIA).  I've recently shown that the heartland of Rheged was, in fact, Annandale, just across the Solway Firth from Carlisle.   But it is not impossible that at some point Rheged did hold Carlisle, and that it was Cynfarch's son Lleu whose name may serve as a sort of partial eponym for that city.  Medraut, then, would be from Luguvalium.

The Welsh name Gwyar as Medraut's mother, as she was the mother of Medraut's supposed brother Gawain.  But I've shown in my THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY that Gwyar's people belonged at the pre-Saxon Bamburgh. 

Now, once again, accepting Arthur Penuchel as the son of Eliffer poses a rather grave problem chronologically - even though the connection with York (which is where the Artorius name came from to begin with!) is most attractive. It also relies upon a corruption of Triad 70 - although in the past I have been willing to entertain the notion that perhaps, at least as far as Arthur Penuchel is concerned, the corruption in question may represent a correction.

From the standpoint of chronology, there is some "wriggle room", as any reigns for these various Men of the North are conventional approximations.  While it is true that Medraut son of Lleu son of Cynfarch and Nemhain-Morrigan/Morgan looks very promising, we are still stuck with the c. 537 date for his passing with Arthur at Camboglanna.  According to Bartram, 585 or 586 are the most likely years to have seen the death of Urien, Medraut's uncle.  

Urien is thought to have been born about 510 (again, see Bartram).  Arthur fought at Badon c. 516.  While such a date for Badon fits Ceidio son of Arthwys (who was born around 490), my candidate for Arthur 'dux erat bellorum' (as Ceidio is a hypocorism for something like Cadwaladr, Cadwal, etc.), it cannot be reconciled with an Arthur Penuchel son of Eliffer.  Eliffer's sons Gwrgi and Peredur fought at Arderydd in 573 and perished at Carrawburgh on the Wall in 580 (see my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY).  

But let's consider for a moment that Ceidio the Battle-leader, son of Arthwys, and Arthur are, indeed, the same man.  If we do, something marvelous happens.  We can retain the Morrigan/Morgan as Medraut's grandmother, but as Ceidio (because Efrddyl was Eliffer's wife) was Lleu's brother-in-law, Medraut would be Arthur's nephew by marriage.   The kernel of the Arthur and Medraut story as found in both Geoffrey of Monmouth and the later romances would be present in this very early genealogical relationship.

Yet Medraut as son of Lleu son of Cynfarch suffers from the same chronological problem as Arthur Penuchel son of Eliffer.  It would be impossible to place this Medraut at a Camlann in 537. 


On February 26, 1996, I received a letter from Professor Oliver Padel of Cambridge. This was in response to a query I had sent him some time earlier in which I proposed that the name Medrawt – born by the personage who died with Arthur at Camlann – may represent the Roman name Moderatus. What Padel had to say on this possibility is important enough for Arthurian studies to be reprinted in full below:

“Not much has been done on the name of Medrawt or Mordred… In an article on various words in Welsh with the root med, Medr-, Ifor Williams suggested that the name might be connected with the Welsh verb medru ‘to be able, to hit’; but he did not develop the idea, only mentioned it in passing.

Middle Welsh Medrawt cannot formally be identical with Old Cornish Modred, Old Breton Mo-drot (both of which are recorded, indicating an original Old Co.Br. *Modrod), since the Welsh e in the first syllable should not be equivalent to a Co.Br. o there.

What people do not seem to have asked is what this discrepancy means: we can hardly say that Welsh Medrawt is a different name, since it clearly belongs to the same character as  Geoffrey’s [Geoffrey of Monmouth] Modredus < Co.Br. Modrod.

Which is ‘right’? I would suggest that the Co.Br. form is the ancient one, and that the Welsh form has been altered, perhaps indeed by association with the verb medru.

That was already my conclusion, but I did not have a derivation for Modrod. However, Modrod would be the exact derivative of Latin Moderatus, as you suggest. Your suggestion is most attractive, and neither I nor (so far as I know) anyone else has previously thought of it.

Like you, I should be relucatant to say that Modrod couldn’t have a Celtic derivation; but it fits so well with Moderatus that I personally don’t feel the need to look further.”

If Medrawt or, rather, Modrod, is Moderatus, this may be significant for a Medraut at Cambloglanna on Hadrian’s Wall, for we know of a Trajanic period prefect named C. Rufius Moderatus, who left inscriptions at Greatchesters on the Wall and Brough-under-Stainmore in Cumbria (CIL iii. 5202, RIB 1737, 166-9, 2411, 147-51). The name of this prefect could have become popular in the region and might even have still been in use among Northern British noble families in the 6th century CE.



Aerial View of Modern Carlisle, Showing Position of the Roman Fort of Luguvalium

Friday, September 29, 2017



UDD DRAGONAWL: The Head of Urien, 'Dragon-like Lord'

Celtic Stone Head, St. Michael's Church, Burgh By Sands

In some MSS. of the CANU LLYWARCH HEN (see note on page 122 of Sir Ifor Williams' edition), the following strophe is found in the 'Pen Urien' section of 'Marwnad Urien Reged':

Pen a borthav o du pawl,
Pen Urien, udd dragonawl;
A chyd dêl dydd brawd, ni'm tawr.

Translated by Dr. Simon Rodway, this reads:

‘I bear a head beside a stake/ the head of Urien, a dragon-like lord/ and although Doomsday come, it is not important to me [beside the death of Urien]’.

Professor Jenny Rowlands wrote to me with details on this strophe:

"Information on this can be found in Early Welsh Saga Poetry, 557.  Since it's not readily available I'll summarize. The verse comes from NLW 4973, an early modern ms. of John Davies, Mallwyd. It includes two copies of the englynion. One is a copy of the Red Book of Hergest, the other an independent copy of part of the englynion which was not noticed before I checked it. This is closer to the White Book copies, but has independent readings. Corrections and marginalia were added to the RB copy from this earlier copy, and that is probably the source for the Myvyrian verse. Since Ifor Williams did not have a reliable source it was put in the notes. O du means 'from around, beside', so probably not on a stake."

Dragonol can be translated as Dr. Rodway renders it, although more metaphorical meanings are offered by the GPC:

a. a hefyd fel eg.
Ffyrnig, dewr, gwrol; rhyfelwr, ymladdwr dewr:
ferocious, brave, valiant; warrior, brave fighter. 

And udd in the GPC:

[< *iudd (cf. e. prs. H. Gym. Iudhail (> Ithel), Gripiud (> Gruffudd), e. prs. H. Grn. Iudprost, Bleidiud, e. prs. H. Lyd. Iudcant) ?< *i̯oudh-, ?cf. Llad. iubeō ‘gorchmynnaf’]
eg. ll. (prin) uddydd, a hefyd gyda grym ansoddeiriol.
Arglwydd, pennaeth, brenin, hefyd am Dduw ac yn ffig.:
lord, chief, king, also of God and fig. 

What we have in 'udd dragonawl', then, is an honorific very much like Pendragon.  The strophe in question is also interesting in that the head of a dragon-like lord on a pole is eerily reminiscent of the dragon-head carried by Uther in Geoffrey of Monmouth's HISTORIA REGUM BRITANNIAE.

I've not been able to find Welsh uthr or aruthr being applied to Urien.  However, there is the epithet 'oruchel wledig' for Urien (see  The GPC has aruchel as meaning "(very) high, tall, lofty, elevated; exalted, supreme, splendid, majestic; lofty (of language, style, feeling, &c.), sublime, noble."  According to John Koch, "uthr means ‘awful’ or ‘awesome’, originally something ‘high, lofty’; cf. Old Irish úachtar ‘height’ < Celtic *ouctro-, Modern Irish meanings include ‘cream’ (note also uachtarán ‘president’)."  With uchel being Welsh for 'high, tall', etc., it may be that Uthr as a name should be seen as a rough equivalent of aruchel.

In fact, the root for uchel and uthr are the same:

higher *ouxtero-, SEMANTIC CLASS: measure, Early Irish óchtar, úachtar ‘higher part’, Welsh uthr ‘fearful, dreadful, awful, terrible, tremendous, mighty, overbearing, cruel; wonderful, wondrous, astonishing, excellent’, Cornish euth (??) (Pok.: not cogn.) ‘dread, horror, terror’, Breton euz (Middle Breton), euzh ‘abomination, atrocity, horror’

high *ouxselo-, SEMANTIC CLASS: measure, British Uxel(l)a ‘high place’, Gaulish Uxello- ‘high’, Early Irish úasal ‘high, noble’, Scottish Gaelic uasal ‘noble, proud’, Welsh uchel ‘high, tall; high(-ranking), exalted, important, solemn, sublime, splendid, excellent, noble, stately, respectable, commendable’, Cornish huhel- (Old Cornish), ughel ‘high’, Breton uchel, uhel (Old Breton), uhel ‘high’

over *ouxs(V) (?), SEMANTIC CLASS: measure, Early Irish ós, úas ‘over’, Scottish Gaelic os ‘above’, Welsh uwch ‘above, on top of, over, on, beyond, also fig., ?after, in front of; above, more than; higher, farther up, taller, higher(-ranking), better, greater’, Cornish a-ugh ‘over’, Breton a-uc’h ‘above’