Tuesday, January 17, 2017

St. Aaron, the goddess Aeruen and the City of the Legion

Roman fort of Chester on the River Dee

The SS Julius and Aaron were said by Gildas to have been martyred in the City of the Legion[s], urbs legionis.  The question has always been "Which City of the Legion?"  For there were several such in Britain, although the Welsh of the time appear to have known about only two of them.  

From Keith J. Fitzpatrick-Matthews article on the Cities of Britain in the Historia Brittonum (http://digitalcommons.brockport.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1022&context=jlo:

Scholars have made their own cases for the City of the Legion being other than Chester or Caerleon. Andrew Breeze, for example, opts for Leicester (http://digitalcommons.brockport.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1024&context=jlohttp://onomastics.ru/sites/default/files/doi/10.15826/vopr_onom.2016.13.1.002.pdf), while P.J.C. Field prefers York (http://www.heroicage.org/issues/1/hagcl.htm).  Andy Seaman ("Julius and Aaron 'Martyrs of Caerleon': in search of Wales' first Christians," ARCHAEOLOGIA CAMBRENSIS 164, 2015, 201-219) maintains a more traditionalist approach, accepting the relatively late evidence for the presence of these saints at Caerleon-On-Usk.

If we do accept the notion that Gildas's City of the Legion had to be either Chester or Caerleon-on-Usk, is there a way that we can decide between the two?  I believe there is, although the argument in favor of one of these forts relies on accepting a hypothetical substitution of a fictional Christian saint for an authentic pagan goddess.

The following summary on the authoritative etymology for the name of the Chester Roman fort is drawn from http://marikavel.org/angleterre/chester/accueil.htm:

* Eilert Ekwall : 

Chester Chs.  ( Deoua c 150 Ptol, Deva 4 IA, ciuitas Legionum, Legacaestir, Brit Carlegion c 730 Bede, Legaceaster c 890 OEBede, 894 ASC, Ceaster 1094 ASC (E), Cestre DE]. Deva, the earliest name, is identical with the river-name DEE. Chester is on the Dee. Chester must also have been called Lat Castra legionum, which is the source of OE Legacaestir, and also, with substitution of Welsh caer 'fort, city' for castra, OW Cair Légion (or urbs Legionis) c 800 HB, Welsh Caerlleon. Later Chester supplanted the longer name Legacaestir.


* A.L.F RIVET & Colin SMITH, The Place-Names of Roman Britain, pages 336 / 337 : 

- Ptolémée, II,3,II : Dnoua; Legiwn K Nikeforos (DEVA, LEGIO XX VICTRIX); variante : Deouana ( = DEVANA). 

- Inscription CIL XIII.6221 (Worms) : ... DEVAS.

Itinéraire d'Antonin :

- 4692 (Iter II) : DEVA LEG. XX VICI

- 4825 (Iter XI) : DEVAM (forme accusative)

- 4828 (Iter XI) : DEVA.

Ravenna 10644 : DEVA VICTRIS.

These forms hardly call for comment, except DEVAS 'from Chester' in two of the inscriptions; Holder I. 1274 suggested that this is for Deva(ti)s. In Ravenna's form, presumably read from a map, it seems that the legionary adjective has transferred itself to the whole settlement (i.e. it is not simply a case of omission of 'Leg. xx'; compare its entry for Isca Augusta). Victris shows Vulgar Latin -s for -x ; no Greek transcription is involved, as R&C thought.

DERIVATION. The name is British *Deua 'the goddess (par excellence ?)', more properly the name of the river ( > Dee) transferred as often to the place. Older Celtic *deiuo-s 'god', Indo-European *deiuos are postulated; cf. Latin divus, and cognâtes in many languages. Jackson mentions derivatives : Old Welsh duiu, Welsh dwy as in Dubrduiu, Dyfrdwy 'water of Dwy' (= Dee), and discusses the development of the name in Anglo-Saxon (LHEB 375, 629). The name was very widespread : in Britain Deva 2 and Deva 3, Devionissum, Devona; abroad, numerous Deva rivers and settlements in Ireland, Gaul and Spain, also in compounds such as Deobriga; and in many personal names, especially of Gaul. Many names show divo- rather than devo-; there may in some cases have been assimilation to Latin divo-, but Ellis Evans GPN191-93 explains that apart from this, 'Gaulish è (from Indo-European ei) probably had a very close pronunciation, which could account for the -i-'; Whatmough DAG 456 thinks that 'ei giving è > i is possibly dialectal' within Gaulish. Many names show Deo-, Dio- after loss of -v-. The belief of the Celtic peoples in the divinity of water, or more strictly of the présence of a divinity in the water, is widely attested by these names. Other British Dee rivers, not recorded in ancient sources, have the same origin (see map).

IDENTIFICATION. The Roman legionary fortress at Chester (SJ 4066). Victrix reflects the cognomen of the XX Légion, acquired in the suppression of the Boudican Revolt.

Note. Bede in II, 2, gives evidence of a possibly alternative ancient name which continued in use for some centuries : ...ad civitatem Legionum, quae a gente Anglorum Legacaestir, a Brettonibus autem rectius Carlegion appellatur. If this had endured, it would clearly have produced a *Caerleon like that of Monmouthshire. Watson CPNS 383-84 does indeed mention that Chester was Caer Lleon in Old Welsh. O. G. S. Crawford in Antiquity, IX (1935), 287, argues that Arthur's ninth battle as recounted by Nennius, in urbe Legionis, took place at Chester, because Caerleon-on-Usk was always so described in Welsh literature, while York - the third and last legionary centre - was never called 'city of the legion'. The proposal is certainly attractive. (Bede's mention of Caerleon by a similar name is taken from Gildas, a different case.)

Why is all this important?  Because, as it happens, we know the actual name of the deva/goddess of the River Dee.  Her name was AERFEN, found also as Aeruen as early as the 12th century.

I have found a mention of Aerfen in Celtic Folklore Welsh & Manx Vol II by J. Rhys page 441:

“The Dee has in Welsh poetry still another name, Aerfen, which seems to mean a martial goddess or the spirit of the battlefield, which is corroborated and explained by Giraldus, who represents the river as the accredited arbiter of the fortunes of the wars in its country between the Welsh and the English.”

In Celtic Britain also by J. Rhys on page 68 he refers to the Dee or Deva of North Wales as having another name in Welsh literature; Aerven or the genius of war; it was supposed to indicate the frequent wars between the Welsh and the English by eating away its bank on the Welsh or on the English side, as the case might be."

We might assume that if the goddess Aerfen were indeed ancient, she served the same purpose during the warfare that ensured between the Welsh and the Romans.

Welsh place-name expert Professor Hywel Wyn Owen (in his 'Dictionary of the Place-Names of Wales') says that Llyn Tegid/Bala Lake was called Llyn Aerfen in the 15th century.  The Afon Dyfrdwy flows into and out of Llyn Tegid.

Here is the GPC listing for the name Aerfen:


[aer1+elf. anh. (?cf. tynghedfen)] 


?Clodfawr mewn brwydr:

?renowned in battle. 

12g. GCBM i. 192, Baranres aeruleit, aeruen—y waedlafyn / A’e waedlan disgywen.

15g. GLGC 391, Efô a orfydd a fo aerfen, / efô a esyd cyfraith Foesen [i Domas ap Rhys].

Digwydd Aerfen fel e. duwies ac e. ar Afon Dyfrdwy, cf. D, Aerfen, Dyfrdwy, Dea fluvius. Aerfen bengrech felen fawr, a gw. B vii. 123-4.

The 'renowned' meaning here must relate to Welsh ban,   "high (of status, standing, &c.), lofty, exalted, dignified, excellent, renowned, conspicuous; tall, high."  But this strikes me as a poor derivation.

We might think Aerfen is not a goddess name at all, but merely a locative.  -fen could be for Welsh man, men, myn, "particular place or spot, location, position, part", making for a 'Slaughter-place', a sort of nickname for the Dee.  

However, in my opinion the best etymology for Aerfen might well be (Dr. Simon Rodway) Proto-Celtic *Agro-bena, "Slaughter-woman."  To this name we may liken the Welsh goddess Cerridwen. As stated by P.C. Bartram in his A CLASSICAL WELSH DICTIONARY:

"Ifor Williams thought that the original and authentic form of the name [Cerridwen] was Cyrridfen, meaning ‘crooked woman’, [Kyrridven in the Black Book (BBC 9.6 and 15.2)], rather than Ceridwen, ‘fair and loved’ (Chwedl Taliesin, pp.3-4; TYP p.308)."

 Marged Haycock agrees that the last element of the divine name Cerridwen is ben - 'woman'.

What I would propose is that a form of the Dee goddess's name Aerfen/Aeruen led to the substitution by Christians at Chester of the Biblical name Aaron.  Please understand I am not here in any way suggesting a linguistic relationship between the two names!  Far from it.  Instead, the superficial similarity was enough to warrant the replacement of the goddess with the saint.

As for Aaron's companion Julius, well, who can say?  In the Roman period Julius was an incredibly common name.  However, if I might speculate further one cannot help but recall that the Chester Roman fort was founded by the then-governor Sextus JULIUS Frontinus (http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/ches/vol5/pt1/pp9-15).  Frontinus was himself a priest, a distinguished member of the College of Augurs.  Could it be that in Julius and Aaron of Chester we have a folk memory of Frontinus, builder of the original fort on the Dee, and of Aerfen, the goddess of the river?

River Dee (Aerfen) Northeast of Glyndyfrdwy

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.