Friday, January 6, 2017


King Bladud with one of his pigs, Bath

Bladud is first introduced to us in the fanciful history of Geoffrey of Monmouth, where we learn he is credited with founding Bath.  Subsequent details were added to this early British king's legend, although most of the accretions appear to be quite late.  Some of these additions are also fraught with detectable error.  For example, the notion that Bladud founded a university at Stamford is baed solely on the fact that Stamford was originally OE stan, 'stone, plus ford, and there is a Stanford on Avon in Leicestershire next to a Swinford (Swine-ford).  This particular Swinford was identified by some folklorist with the Swineford on the Somerset Avon, which in typical aetiological fashion was explained as being the place where Bladud crossed the river with his pigs.

However, it was the tale of the founding of Stamford's school with philosophers brought from Athens that led me to investigate Bladud's real identity.  

Athens was famous for its Lyceum, a temple to Apollo that served as a great center of philosophical learning.  Scholars have before commented on the story of Bladud's flying the temple of Apollo in London, where he perished, as a borrowing from the Classical story of Daedalus and Icarus. Daedalus in one version of the Greek myth is given wings by Athena (the Greek form of the Roman Minerva, who was syncretized with Sulis at Bath) and he hangs them up as a dedication in the temple of Apollo. 

The Lyceum was named for Apollo Lyceus.  Now, while this sun god's divine epithet has been subject to varying interpretations both in ancient times and modern, it was and still is often associated with the Greek word lykos for 'wolf.'  This is curious, as Bladud is from the Welsh blaidd, 'wolf', plus udd, 'lord', for 'Wolf-lord.' 

Only a couple of miles north of Bath at Nettleton Shrub was a Roman period temple to Apollo Cunomaglus (Cunomaglos).  While it has been customary to translate cuno- as 'hound', Xavier Delamarre ( has shown that cuno- in these early contexts could mean 'wolf' as well. In fact, Delamarre renders Cunomaglus as "Seigneur-Loup" or Wolf Lord - an exact match to the name Bladud.

In my previous blog post on Cunedda at Bath (, I discussed Cunomaglus in another context:

"In this year [577] the English under Ceawlin defeated the British at Deorham, modern Dyrham in South Gloucestershire, where there is a hillfort now called Hinton Hill.  As a result of this victory, Ceawlin took the British cities of Gloucester, Cirencester and Bath.  Bath is, of course, Arthur's Badon, a battle the Welsh Annals places around 516 A.D.

One of the British kings who fell in the Battle of Deorham is named Conmail.  As Dyrham is very near Nettleton Shrub - in fact, only several kilometers distant - and both sites are only a few miles from Bath, I take this Conmail to either be the god Apollo Cunomaglos, whose shrine was at Nettleton Shrub or a local chieftain who had assumed the name of the god."

What I would propose, then, is this:  Bladud is a later substitute for the pagan god Cunomaglos the Wolf-Lord.  As Apollo the sun god, he was credited with the founding of Sulis's shrine at Bath.  This is appropriate, as the most accepted etymology for the divine name Sulis is an ancient Brittonic root meaning 'sun', cf. Latin Sol, genitive Sulis.  While other theories abound, the similarity of the names would have been sufficient to bring the goddess Sulis under the aegis of Apollo. 

Like Bladud, Apollo was a shepherd - twice, in fact.  

According to at least one early source, he transformed himself into a great boar:

"Erymanthos, son of Apollon, was punished because he had seen Aphrodite after her union with Adonis and Apollon, irritated, changed himself into a wild boar and killed Adonis by striking through his defenses."

- Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History Book 1 (summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 190) (trans. Pearse) (Greek mythographer C1st to C2nd A.D.)

Apollo is not otherwise brought into close connection with swine, so far as I've been able to determine.  As Apollo Maponus or Mabon he is associated very closely in early Welsh tradition with the monstrous boar Twrch Trwyth,  This god is the master of three hounds during the hunt of the boar:

"And Mabon son of Mellt went with the two dogs of Glythfyr Ledewig in his hand, and Drudwyn the whelp of Graid son of Eri."

- Culhwch and Olwen

Of course, we have no idea whether swine were a part of the cult of Apollo Cunomaglus.


Belief, Legend and Perceptions of the Sacred in Contemporary Bath
Marion Bowman
Vol. 109 (1998), pp. 25-31
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.

Bladud of Bath: the Archaeology of a Legend

Bladud: The Flying King of Bath
A. T. Fear
Vol. 103, No. 2 (1992), pp. 222-224
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.

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