Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Which brings us back, of course, to a consideration of the name Arthur and how this could possibly relate to that of Cerdic.  Obviously, we can simply state that Ceredig son of Cunedda had been given the usual three-part Roman style name and that one of these name elements was none other than Artorius.  My problem with this idea is two-fold.  First, Artorius was a very rare name even among the Romans.  We know of only one in Britain, the 2nd or 3rd century camp prefect at York.  We have no reason for seeing Lucius Artorius Castus of York as being any more famous than any other soldier serving in Roman Britain.  Second, why would an Irish-descended dynasty in the extreme north and west of Wales take the name Artorius from York?

An interesting fact I've called attention to before in Ceredig son of Cunedda's kingdom of Ceredigion is the presence there of the Afon Arth or Bear River, as well as its tributary the Nant Erthig or Little Bear Stream, and the Castell Dinerth or Castle of the Fort of the Bear (possibly the site of an earlier sub-Roman fortification).  In addition, these geographical bear-names seem to have spawned bear-names in the early genealogy of the Ceredigion princes as these are found listed in the Harleian MS.:

[G]uocaun map Mouric map Dumnguallaun map Arthgen map Seissil map Clitauc Artgloys map Artbodgu map Bodgu map Serguil map Iusay map Ceretic map Cuneda.

Artbodgu or Arthfoddw is 'Bear-Crow', Artgloys or Arthlwys is 'Beautiful or Holy Bear' and Arthgen (perhaps the most interesting of them all) is 'Bear-Born' or 'Born of the Bear.'  There is the very real possibility that the bear in question from which Arthgen was born is the Afon Arth itself, conceived of as a water deity.

Given these bear names of the Ceredigion dynasty, is there any way in which Ceredig, the founder of the kingdom, may have been designated by 'Arthur?'  That is, by a name or title whose first element was taken from the name of the divine Bear River, the apparent ruling center of the dynasty?

The problem is coming up with a name that will satisfy linguists.  As things stand right now, they will allow nothing other than a derivation from Roman/Latin Artorius. This despite the fact that such a derivation makes little or no geographical or historical sense.  Granted, some names such as *Artori:x, 'Bear-king', or *Arto-wiros, 'Bear-man', may have been replaced early on with the purely Latin Artorius.  But this begs the question of WHY?  And it requires knowledge of the name Artorius, which as I've already mentioned was a very rare name even among the Romans.
What complicates the issue for us is the presence of the Irish language early on in western Wales.  It is possible that a British name became Arthur by being taken over into Irish and then, at a later date, being re-borrowed by the British in its new, Gaelic form.  The problem is coming up with a satisfactory explanation of how this may have happened.  Alternately, Ceredig may have been called Artur for 'Bear-king', for example, in Irish.  And this form of the name was retained in Welsh.  I would cite the example of the name Beccur(us), found on a 6th century memorial stone near Penmorfa in Gwynedd.  Patrick Sims-Williams has this as deriving from *Bikkori:x, 'small king'. Professor Peter Schrijver of Utrecht University says that *Bikko-wiro, 'little man', is also possible. The Irish Annals has a Bicoir father of a 7th century Arthur, and some have thought this Bicoir may be Beccur.  

Unfortunately, the Celtic linguists will not allow for anything like this to have taken place.

Dr. Simon Rodway of the University of Wales states that 

"If we were to allow regular *Bikkori:x > Beccur-, it would still not follow that *Artori:x would give Arthur - it would give **Arthwr, just as Beccur- would now be spelled *Bychwr or *Bechwr. In fact, of course, as has been well established, *Artori:x would give *Erthyr."

Schrijver adds

"By no stretch of the imagination could *artorix become MW Arthur. Beccur- is not comparable because it is early and inscriptional and could therefore conceivably reflect*bikkorix (Beccur- = late Proto-British /bExür/, with E = shwa and ü as the intermediate stage between *o and MW y). The difference between Welsh w and Irish u is purely graphic.

If a Brittonic written form was the input for Irish, *arthgur would be it. But if the input was a spoken form, it would be /arthur/ (with/u/ = Welsh written <w>). Both would have Irish –th- rather than –t-. It therefore seems that the Irish form with –t- reflects the Latinate form Artorius or the early Romance (French) Artür."

And so it goes.  We are forced to accept that if Cerdic were called a bear-name because of a sacred bear river at the heart of his kingdom, the name that was used was the Roman Artorius, which was ASSUMED TO BE A BEAR-NAME OF THE KIND FOUND IN IRISH AND WELSH WITH *ARTO-/ART-/ARTH- FORMS. Ironically, Professor Stefan Zimmer of the University of Bonn has proposed that the Roman name Artorius derives from a Celtic original meaning 'Bear-king' (see THE NAME OF ARTHUR - A NEW ETYMOLOGY, Journal of Celtic Linguistics 13(1):131-136 ·March 2009). 

On his WORDPRESS blogsite "In the Name of Arthur", Malcolm Wilson (The Arthurs of Ireland – kith and kin of the ‘Kernyw Kid’? – PART V) nicely summarizes such a use of Artorius as a Latin substitute for an earlier Celtic name:

"The name Arthur is generally argued to be from Brythonic or Latin. I would suggest that the only way in which it could possibly come from Gaelic is the same way in which it could have possibly come from Brythonic, and that is through the Latin decknamen[18] (pseudonym) of Artōrius for the Celtic name Artorix (from *Arto-rig(i)os = ‘Bear King’). The recipient of the name would then have to have become known by this Latin decknamen, which would morph to Insular Latin Artūrius – which is what Adomnán called Artúr mac Áedán in the Vita Sancti Columbae (The Life of St. Columba/Colm Cille) – and then contract to Artúr/Arthur.[19] It’s a complicated morphology, but not impossible. There could be an argument given that a Gael or Gaelo-Briton warrior might use a Latin decknamen instead of his own Celtic one, especially if fighting for more Latinised Britons."

When I discussed this possibility with Dr. Rodway his response was simply "This sounds perfectly plausible."

There is ample evidence for the substitution of Roman/Latin names for earlier Irish names in the various genealogies belonging to the Dessi-descended princes of Dyfed, as well as to the Ciannachta-descended princes of Gwynedd.  I personally have no trouble accepting an Irish or Hiberno-British *Artori:x (cf. Old Irish Artri) being replaced by Latin Artorius.  And if this did happen, the only Arthur we have who is early enough for the established dates, and whose father could be Uther Pendragon, is Ceredig son of Cunedda.  

For a good precedent that would allow us to view Ceredig as "king of the Arth [river]", we might look at Ceredig Wledig of Strathclyde, who in the early Irish sources is called Coroticus 'regis Aloo/regem Aloo', or 'King of the Rock.' Aloo is here an abbreviated form of Alclud, the Rock of the Clyde, the capital of the early Strathclyde kingdom. 

The Roman Bear-Soldiers

Those with a knowledge of Roman military history will recognize the image on the cover of this book as a signifer (more technically a vexillarius or vexillifer) wearing a bear pelt. 

Cunedda as the Terrible Chief-dragon or Uther Pendragon seems to have associated himself with the shield pattern of Segontium, viz. two crossed serpents.  Later legend confused this standard for the draco, and I once thought that Pendragon was literally a Welsh translation of the late Roman rank of magister draconum, the superior of the draconarii.  

Given that the Artri Ceredig assumed the Roman name Artorius, it is not impossible that he donned a bear pelt in a manner meant to mimic that of a signifer.  His father was the dragon, while he was the bear.  


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