Tuesday, July 11, 2017

CHAPTER FIVE: THE DEATH OF ARTHUR

I. The Site of Camlan

The purpose of this sub-chapter is to prove, once and for all, where Arthur’s Camlann battle site was located. Or, more accurately, where Welsh tradition happen to place it!  I once opted for the Roman fort of Camboglanna at the western end of Hadrian’s Wall as the place.  I was fairly certain of the identification, for the story of Arthur’s being taken to Avalon may have been influenced by the presence only a few miles west of Camboglanna of another Roman fort named Aballava or Avalana, the place of the Apple Orchard.  Alas, at the time I was not aware that Arthur was Ceredig of Ceredigion.  As the three Camlans in Wales are all in Merionethshire, once a kingdom called Meirionnydd, that bordered on Ceredigion, my focus came back to the Welsh tradition.

It is fairly well known that the Welsh record seven survivors of Camlann. Yet, to my knowledge, no one has sought to plot these personages out on a map. To do so may help us pinpoint a geographical region in which Camlann was believed to be situated.

One of the seven – Geneid Hir – it a difficult and otherwise unknown name. P.C. Bartram (in “A Welsh Classical Dictionary: People in History and Legend up to about A.D. 1000) suggests the name may be corrupt and offers an unlikely identification with a personage named Eueyd or Euehyd Hir (often rendered Hefeydd). However, I would see in Geneid ‘Cannaid’, “white, bright, shining, pure, clean, radiant,” an epithet substituted for the original title Ceimiad, ‘Pilgrim’, of St. Elian. Elian had churches on Mon/Anglesey and in Rhos, Gwynedd.

Sandde Bryd Angel looks to be a pun for the Afon Angell, Aberangell, etc., places immediately to the south of the Camlan on the Afon Dyfi in Merionethshire.

Morfran son of Tegid is from Llyn Tegid, now Bala Lake in Gwynedd.

St. Cynfelyn is of Llancynfelyn in Ceredigion just below the Afon Dyfi.

St. Cedwyn of Llangedwyn in Powys, while somewhat further removed than the rest, is still in NW Wales.

St. Pedrog of Llanbedrog is on the Lleyn Peninsula in Gwynedd, just opposite the three Camlans in Merionethshire.

St. Derfel Gadarn is at Llandderfel near Bala Lake in Gwynedd.

Needless to say, if we “triangulate” with all these names/places, we find at the center the three
Merionethshire Camlans.

So which one is the right one?

Only one way to know for sure: we must find the Camlann that is claimed as the gravesite of Osfran’s son. This reference comes from the ‘Stanzas of the Graves:’

Bet mab Ossvran yg Camlan,
Gvydi llauer kywlavan…

The grave of Osfran’s son is at Camlan,
After many a slaughter…

[“The Black Books of Carmarthen ‘Stanzas of the
Graves’, Thomas Jones, Sir John Rhys Memorial
Lecture, 1967, Critical Text and Translation.]

While –fran of Osfran looks like Bran or ‘Raven’, the Os- does not look at all right for a Welsh name. I suspected Ys- and after a first search failed, I defaulted to bryn or ‘hill’ as the original of –bran. Thus I was looking for an Ysbryn.

And I actually found him – or, rather, it - in “An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire: VI – County of Merioneth”, p. 98, RCAHMW, 1921.

On the Mawddach River in Merionethshire there is a Foel Ispri. It used to be Moel Ysbryn and was the legendary residence of Ysbryn Gawr or Ysbryn the Giant. If we go north on the Mawddach we run into its tributary the Afon Gamlan, i.e. the Water of the Crooked Bank.

II. Arthur’s Opponent at Camlan

I long ago successfully etymologized the name Medraut as deriving from Latin/Roman Moderatus. Years ago Professor Oliver Padel agreed with me on this and others have since fallen into line.  But I did not pursue the matter further - until now.

Here is the definition of moderatus from the online Perseus dictionary:

moderātus adj. with comp. and sup.

P. of moderor, within bounds, observing moderation, moderate : senes: Catone moderatior: consul moderatissimus: cupidine victoriae haud moderatus animus, S.—Plur m . as subst: cupidos moderatis anteferre.— Within bounds, moderate, modest, restrained : oratio: convivium: doctrina: ventus, O.: amor, O.: parum moderatum guttur, O.

The reader will note 'modest' is one meaning assigned to this word.

I will now turn to the pages of Gildas, where we are told Ambrosius Aurelianus was a 'viro modesto', a MODEST man.

For the sake of comparison, here is the same dictionary's definition for modestus:

modestus adj. with comp. and sup.

modus, keeping due measure, moderate, modest, gentle, forbearing, temperate, sober, discreet : sermo, S.: adulescentis modestissimi pudor: plebs modestissima: epistula modestior: voltus, T.: verba, O.: mulier, modest , T.: modestissimi mores: voltus modesto sanguine fervens, Iu.—As subst: modestus Occupat obscuri speciem, the reserved man passes for gloomy , H.

Both Latin modestus and moderatus are found the Indo-European root med-,'to measure, to allot, to mete out':

3. Suffixed form *med-es-.
a. modest; immodest from Latin modestus, "keeping to the appropriate measure" moderate;
b. moderate; immoderate from Latin moderārī, "to keep within measure" to moderate, control. Both a and b from Latin *modes-, replacing *medes- by influence of modus

Thus the words modestus and moderatus are consonant in meaning.

Now, I’m not for a moment suggesting that Ambrosius Aurelianus and Medraut were the same personage.  Far from it.  However, could it be that part of the reason Ambrosius the modest man (a figure based upon the 4th century Ambrosii of Gaul, wrongly transplanted to Britain in folk tradition) was placed at the Dinas Emrys fort in Gwynedd was because this place in reality belonged to Medraut?  In other words, the name Moderatus became confused with that of the modest man Ambrosius.

In Welsh tradition (whether due to Geoffrey of Monmouth or not!), Medraut was the son of Lleu - the very god who was anciently claimed as Lord of Gwynedd in the Mabinogion. So we may have a chieftain named Medraut whose main citadel was Dinas Emrys, and who claimed descent from the god Lleu.  This chieftain fought at the Camlann which lay between his kingdom and that of Ceredigion and at that battle he and Arthur/Ceredig both fell.

Granted, the apparent correlation between Moderatus/Medraut and Ambrosius the modest man may be nothing more than coincidence.  Still, the idea that Medraut may have been the lord of Dinas Emrys is intriguing.

III. Arthur’s Grave

The Welsh sources record two separate traditions for an Arthurian grave in the vicinity of the Afon Gamlan.  One is fairly early, the other one late.

In the Welsh 'Stanzas of the Graves', we are told 'anoeth bin u bedd arthur'.  This has been translated in various ways.  But some (myself included) have noticed that anoeth in this line may be an oblique reference to both the teulu  (household warriors) of oeth and anoeth and Cair ('fort') Oeth and Anoeth. In Triad 52 we are told Arthur was a prisoner in Caer Oeth and Anoeth and the context suggests this was a sort of death-prison or Otherworld location.

We know where this fort was located: Gwanas, a mountainous region situated exactly between the Welsh Camlanns (see map below).

As it happens, there are two Roman camps in this area, a fortlet at Brithdir and a marching camp at Gwanas-fawr. If, as seems likely, Arthur's 'anoeth' is a poetic (or confused) reference to this fort, then his grave is might be sought in the vicinity of either at Brithdir (the most promising candidate, as the fortlet here is on the Roman road) or at Gwanas-fawr.

A detailed investigation of the region reveals an interesting candidate for the so-called 'beddau hir' or long graves of Gwanas. The best account of this candidate is found on the COFLEIN site:

"A small square earthwork set upon a ridge summit has been identified as a possible Roman military tower. It is set on the crest of a south-facing ridge, commanding extensive views across the upland basin below Pen-y-Brynnfforchog and the course of the Roman road between Caer Gai and Brithdir.

A range of alternative interpretations can be advanced, notably that this is a Roman or early Medieval square ditched barrow, such as are found at Druid beyond Bala (NPRN 404711), and Croes Faen near Tywyn (NPRN 310263). As such it would, with Tomen-y-Mur (NPRN 89420), be a rare surviving earthwork example, most sites being known only from cropmarks. This monument might be compared to the small practice work at Llyn Hiraethllyn (NPRN 89703), otherwise the smallest example of its type known in Wales.

It is a square platform about 5.0m across with a shallow ditch up to 2.8m across on the south-east, 1.1m wide on the north-east and south-west and not discernable on the north-west. The platform has low banks on the north-east and south-west sides. As a Roman work the earthwork has been associated with a road or track passing below the ridge to the south-east (NPRN 91903), suggested as part of the Roman road between Caer Gai and Brithdir (Rigg & Toller 1983, 165; Britannia XXVIII (1997), 399), although this has been disputed as it is a modern feature (Browne 1986) and is depicted on the 1st edition OS 1" map of 1837 (sheet 59 north-east). A tower on this site would command extensive views of the tributary valley to the south-east, but not of the main Wnion valley on the north-west and the Brithdir military settlement (NPRN 95480) may be out of sight. The earthwork is intervisible with the 'Rhyd Sarn' works 11.5km to the north-east towards Bala Lake (NPRN 303162-3)."

The 'low banks' of this monument (if that is what it really is!) nicely answer for the 'long graves' of Gwanas.  Caer Oeth and Anoeth would be the Brithdir fort itself. Whether Arthur was thought to have been buried at the fort or at the adjacent funeral monument is not a question we can answer.

There are no other candidates for the beddau hir.  Of course, time and the combined ravages of Man and Nature may long since have destroyed any other such monuments in the region.

The modern champions of the notion that Arthur was buried in northwest Wales are Steve Blake and Scott Lloyd, whose book PENDRAGON: THE DEFINITIVE ACCOUNT OF THE ORIGINS OF KING ARTHUR, was released in 2003 by Lyons press.

Blake and Lloyd place their trust in a very late medieval source, the VERA HISTORIA MORTE DE ARTHURI, a work dated in extant MSS. to c. 1300, although perhaps to originals dating between 1199 and 1203. According to Blake and Lloyd, the VERA HISTORIA probably was written in Gwynedd. I will not contest this point, as it may well be correct.

The importance of the VERA HISTORIA lies in its placement of Arthur’s interment – and thus of Avalon – in Gwynedd. Although Blake and Lloyd are familiar with the Gwynedd tradition which places Arthur’s grave at Carnedd Arthur near Cwm-y-llan or Cym Llan (an error for Cwm Llem, the Valley of the river Llem), they choose to ignore this bit of folklore and instead settle on Tre
Beddau near Llanfair, well to the east on the Conwy River, as the actual burial place of the king. They deduce this from the fact that the VERA HISTORIA states that the grave is near a church of St. Mary (in Welsh, Llan-fair), and that archaeologists have recently uncovered a Dark Age or 6th century cemetery at Tre Beddau.

[Note: Cwm Llan is a very clumsy attempt at rendering Camlan, and is obviously spurious tradition.]

Unfortunately, the authors of PENDRAGON also choose to ignore the description of the burial place of Arthur as preserved in the VERA HISTORIA. In their own words, the burial of Arthur after Camlan is told as follows:

“ …the VERA HISTORIA describes the funeral of Arthur as taking place at a chapel dedicated to the Virgin, the entrance to which was so narrow that the mourners had to enter by first forcing their shoulder into the gap and then dragging the rest of their body through the opening. While the funeral took place inside the chapel, a large storm blew up and a mist descended, so thick that is was impossible to see the body of Arthur – which had been left outside, as it would not fit into the chapel. Following the storm the mourners came out to find that the body had gone and the tomb prepared for Arthur was sealed shut, ‘such that it rather seemed to be one single stone’.”

Now, this passage quite obviously DOES NOT portray a 6th century Christian cemetery. Rather, it is a fitting description of a ‘chapel’ comparable to the “Green Chapel’ of SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT. In other words, the said ‘chapel’ is a Neolithic chambered tomb, whose passage is so tight as to barely allow the entrance of the mourners.

Furthermore, we are talking about TWO conjoined passage tombs – one that is the chapel of the Virgin, and the other which mysteriously receives the body of King Arthur. In all of Gwynedd, there is only one such ancient monument: that of the double chamber tomb of Dyffryn Ardudwy not far west of the Afon Gamlan.

One of the two chambers of Dyffryn Ardudwy is actually known as Coetan Arthur or Arthur’s Quoit. The “Virgin” is here a Christian embellishment on what would have been a pagan goddess associated with the Otherworld site.

The grave of Arthur discussed in the VERA HISTORIA is thus a product of folklore only. It can thus be dismissed as an actual grave of Arthur.

Granted, we cannot so easily dismiss the Camlans/Gamlans in northwestern Wales. Since writing this, Dr. Jessica Hughes of CADW has sent me information via snail-mail that adds important details to the description of the Dyffryn Ardudwy chambered tombs. To quote Dr. Hughes:

“The Chambered tomb at Dyffryn Ardudwy has been known as Coetan Arthur in the past, indeed antiquarian reports of the site refer to Dyffryn as ‘Coetan Arthur’. However, the name appears to refer to the whole of the monument as opposed to a particular chamber. Interestingly (and maybe somewhat confusingly), one mile to the east of Dyffryn lies another chambered tomb known as ‘Cors-y-Gedal’. This was also known in the past as ‘Coetan Arthur’… Regarding whether there is a church of St. Mary in proximity to Dyffryn Ardudwy, I have found a church 4 miles north of Dyffryn in the village of Llanfair. “

The enclosed Detail Report on this Church of St. Mary states that Llanfair was dedicated to Mary “by at least the 12c when Gerald of Wales and Archbishop Baldwin stayed there in 1188…”

Here is the COFLEIN listing for the second chambered cairn:

“A rather tapering rectilinear cairn, c.31m NESW by 14.5m, showing at its eastern end a number of orthostats, partly supporting a tipped capstone, c.3.6m by 3.0m & 0.45m thick: a spindlewhorl, thought to be IA, is said to have come from under the capstone.”

Both of these chambered tombs are directly west of the Afon Gamlan.

IV. The Real Grave of Arthur

My own opinion is that Arthur is not buried near the Afon Gamlan.

I suspect he was interred in one of two places: either at his capital in Ceredigion (the hillfort above Llanddewi Aberarth?) or at Viroconium.  This last is the most likely candidate. Cunorix son of Cunedda was buried at the latter place, and if the records are any indication Ceredig was far more famous than his brother.

I suppose that if Camlan were the kind of disaster that tradition claims, a hasty battlefield burial could have occurred.  Still, that would be odd, for no one wants their great leader to be left on enemy territory or even in a disputed border region the enemy may exhume and desecrate the body. Rather, he would have been carried off and laid to rest in a place of honor.

Pastscape briefly discusses the whereabouts of the Roman cemetery at Viroconium under its discussion of the Cunorix Stone:

“Roman cemetery identified from finds of inscribed tombstones and excavations. The cemetery may be the principal cemetery for the Roman town of Virconium Cornovirum and probably occupied both sides of the road. The tombstone of Cunorix was ploughed up here in 1967. He was Irish and possible leader of group of mercenaries. The tombstone is dated to around 470 AD.

SJ 5711 0925. Site of Roman burial ground.

This appears to have been the site of the principal cemetery of the Roman town. It probably occupied both sides of the road, but it is only on the east side that any important discoveries have been made. Inscribed tombstones were first discovered here by workmen in 1752, and others have been found subsequently.

Excavations were begun on the Cemetery site in 1923, but with somewhat disappointing results, very few and ill-preserved interments being found.

The exact location of the Roman Burial Ground could not be determined and there is no trace on the ground.”

NEXT – AFTERWORD: THE UNENVIABLE FATE OF A REVISIONIST or THE INEVITABLE CONSEQUENCES OF DIMINISHING A HERO

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