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’

Thursday, September 28, 2017


Thought some of these might be of interest to readers of my Arthurian blog... most are free offerings of my various published books.  The Norse blog also incorporates some select reposts, while the Atlantis one contains posts on miscellaneous subjects, ranging from the ancient Maya to the Gilgamesh Epic. Enjoy!

Statement by Dr. Frank Giecco on the Date of the Timber Structure at Stanwix/Uxellodunum

The Stanwix Roman Fort Bathhouse

I finally managed to track down Dr. Frank Giecco, the author of the unpublished report on the dig by the Carlisle Archaeological Unit in 1999 at the Stanwix Primary School in Stanwix.  I asked him two questions: one, where the late timber structure was located within the old Roman fort and, two, what was the date of that structure.  He responded as follows:

“Dating is very hard, but a 5th century date seems likely if I had to choose based on evidence. Stanwix had very large stone post pads. A similar building is recorded at Birdoswald.  The Stanwix structure was built over the old Roman barracks.”

Dr. Giecco has found similar timber structures at Papcastle in Cumbria (the Roman fort where I have placed Pabo Post Prydyn of the Men of the North).  See

Other archaeologists have made similar findings in the Carlisle/Luguvalium Roman fort. Mark Brennand, Lead Officer Historic Environment and Commons, Environment and Regulatory Services,
Cumbria County Council, has passed along this information via private correspondence:

"There is evidence suggesting fifth century occupation within the fort at Carlisle, and also in the extra-mural settlement. Rachel Newman’s chapter on the early medieval period in The Making of Carlisle - From Romans to Railways (2011) summarises these quite well. Rachel is with Oxford Archaeology North."

I have more on such occupation at Carlisle from Dr. John Zant:

"Without anything more specific, I can only speculate that the buildings you have seen a reference to might have been excavated at Blackfriar's Street in the 1970s. Certainly, the sequence of timber 'strip buildings' excavated there, which began as early as the late 1st century AD, was thought to extend into (possibly well into) the 5th century, though there was no scientific dating (eg radiocarbon), so I imagine the idea that the occupation sequence continued this late was arrived at by 'stretching' the chronology of the latest building phase(s) beyond the latest datable pottery and/or coins that were sealed beneath them. The site is fully published as a monograph in the Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society's Research Series, no. 4 (1990), authored by Mike McCarthy. So far as I can recall, none of the late buildings was demonstrably of the 'hall' type (though the remains were fragmentary), but at least one was built using large post-pits.

Additionally, what may have been part of a post-built timber building was excavated at the cathedral treasury in the late 1980s. This post-dated the latest obviously 'Roman' archaeology and was sealed by a thick deposit of 'dark earth', which was itself cut by late 9th/10th-century graves. The building is, as ever, not independently dated, but its stratigraphic position suggests a very late Roman or early(ish) post-Roman date, but it is impossible to be more specific as to its chronology. The site is published (again by Mike McCarthy) in the Archaeological Journal, Vol 171 (2014).

You are welcome. By the way, I should have said that both the sites I mentioned were located within the settlement, not the fort. Parts of the fort itself were almost certainly occupied into the 5th century too, as the Millennium project of 1998-2001 demonstrated (published in OA North's 'Lancaster Imprints' series (Vol 14, 2009 - authored by me), but there is, as yet, no good evidence for substantial buildings of that date. As ever in this period, the precise chronology is unclear, though at least one phase of activity adjacent to the headquarters building appears to have occurred sometime between c AD 390 and c AD 440, and the final phase in the same area is seemingly even later."

Only just this year, the Roman bathhouse was discovered at Stanwix:


Dea Latis Altar from Fallsteads

Dea Latis Altar from Birdoswald/Banna

In my book THE MYSTERIES OF AVALON, I suggested that perhaps the goddess Latis, found at Burgh By Sands/Aballava/Avalana/"Avalon" might be the basis for the Lady of the Lake.  Two dedicatory inscriptions were found to this goddess.  One comes from Fallsteads, but is believed to have been moved from the Aballava Roman fort.  The other comes from Birdoswald, site of the Dark Age hall built within the ruins of the Banna Roman fort.  For details on these inscriptions, please see:

The goddess name is debated.  It comes from the following Proto-Celtic word:

liquor *lati-, SEMANTIC CLASS: body, Gaulish Are-late
‘(town) near the swamp’, Early Irish laith ‘beer, liquid,
swamp’, Welsh llat (Middle Welsh), llad ‘liquid, ale, grace,
blessing, goodness’, Cornish lad ‘gl. liquor’, Breton lat (Old
Breton); latar ‘gl. cr[a]pulam ‘intoxication (lit. ‘drink’)’;
humidity (of weather)

I've made an argument for 'lake, swamp' and the like for a very simple reason; the Aballava Roman fort was surrounded by the extensive Burgh Marsh.  In addition, we know of another deity from the same region who went by Ratis, and this last is certainly the Goddess of the Fort (cf. Irish rath).

It will be noticed that the Fallsteads altar was dedicated by a man whose father bore the name Urseius, a derivative of Latin ursus, 'bear.'

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Longsax (langseax) Replica

Years ago I treated of Arthur's sword, including the motif known as the 'Sword in the Stone', first found in the work of the 12th-13th century French romance writer Robert de Boron. This material can be found here (a chapter from my book THE MYSTERIES OF AVALON):

At that time I was fooling around with another idea - one that I didn't believe anyone would take seriously.  I've held that idea in abeyance ever since.  However, for the sake of engaging in "full disclosure", I've decided to go ahead and post what may be an interesting, if less viable explanation for the 'Sword in the Stone' story here on my blog site.  

Please note that I cannot even claim that the following theory is original.  It may once have been so, but as publication is all that matters, it is entirely possible another Arthurian researcher has beaten me to the punch.

It has long been recognized that words for Saxon, a particular kind of knife or short sword and for stone are either identical or very similar to each other in various languages.  Although it makes for a rather boring presentation, the easiest way to get this point across is to offer the spellings and etymologies in question:

Latin saxum

a large stone, rough stone, broken rock, boulder, rock

Anglo-Saxon seax

a knife, an instrument for cutting, a short sword, dagger

Saxon -

From Middle English *Saxon, Saxoun, from Old French *Saxoun, Saxon (“Saxon”), from Late Latin Saxonem, accusative of Saxo (“a Saxon”), from Proto-Germanic *Sahsô, probably originally a derivative of Proto-Germanic *sahsą (“rock, knife”), from Proto-Indo-European *sek- (“to cut”). Cognate with Middle Low German Sasse (“someone speaking Saxon, i.e. (Middle) Low German”), Old English Seaxa (“a Saxon”), Old High German Sahso (“a Saxon”), Icelandic Saxi (“a Saxon”), Old English seax (“a knife, hip-knife, an instrument for cutting, a short sword, dirk, dagger”). More at sax.


From Middle English sax, sex, from Old English seax (“a knife, hip-knife, an instrument for cutting, a short sword, dirk, dagger”), from Proto-Germanic *sahsą (“rock, knife”), from Proto-Indo-European *sek- (“to cut”). Cognate with North Frisian sax (“knife, sword”), Middle Dutch sas (“knife”), Middle Low German sax (“knife”), Middle High German sahs (“a knife”), Danish saks (“a pair of scissors”), Swedish sax (“a pair of scissors”), Icelandic sax (“a short heavy sword”), Latin secō (“cut”). See also Saxon, saw.

Latin Saxo , ŏnis, m.,

a Saxon;

From these we can easily understand how words for a short sword or long knife could become confused with the word for stone.

For a very nice article on the sax and its development into a sword-like weapon, please see  A sax was original a small tool or weapon and only later evolved into a sort of short sword.  By Robert de Boron's time, a sax could well have been described as a sword.  

Now while it is all well and fine to associate these words and suggest that a confusion may have taken place (e.g. a seax being pulled from a Saxon may have become, in folktale, a sword being extracted from a stone), we might be able to venture further into the realm of myth and ultimately, ancient religion.

In the HISTORIA BRITTONUM (Chapters 45-46), we are told of the treachery the Saxons committed against the Britons during  a peace meeting.  The Saxons hide their daggers, i.e. saxes, under their feet in their shoes.  When Hengist tells his men to draw their "saxas", they do so, setting upon their unsuspecting victims.  

The version in the HB is written thusly:

And here is Geoffrey of Monmouth's rendition:

We notice immediately that Geoffrey of Monmouth has caligas for shoes/boots, a word related to the Latin word for heel:

calx, calcis  N  C     3 1  C   [XXXBO]  
heel; spur; pad (dog); forefeet; kick (Roman toe was unprotected); butt (beam);

calceus, calcei  N  M     2 1  M   [XXXCO]  
shoe; soft shoe, slipper; [~ mullei/patricii => red shoe of ex-curule senator];

In addition, he locates the "Treachery of the Long-Knives" at the site of the future STONEHENGE.

At this point I would call attention to the so-called Heel Stone at Stonehenge.  From Aubrey Burl's "John Aubrey & Stone Circles: Britain's First Archaeologist From Avebury to Stonehenge":

The following diagram shows the location of Stone 14:

Gerald Hawkins and others describe the folktale associated with Stone 14.  As it is readily available online, I will allow my readers to search for it themselves, should they care to do so.  Some theorists have tried to make the case of Stone 14 being named the Heel Stone only after the real name for the current Heel Stone was misunderstood.  The current Heel Stone, which marks the entrance to the Avenue and upon which the Summer Solstice sunrise aligns itself to the center of the circle, could owe its name to the Welsh (or, perhaps, Cornish) word for the sun. 

Here is the GPC listing for the word haul, 'sun':

[H. Grn. heuul, gl. sol, Crn. C. houl, H. Lyd. houl, Llyd. Diw. heol: < Brth. *sāu̯l-; Llad. sōl] 
eg.b. (un. bach. heulyn, b. heulen) ll. heuliau, -oedd.

Y corff nefol y teithia’r ddaear o’i gwmpas, gan dderbyn gwres a goleuni oddi wrtho, y cyfryw wres a goleuni, huan, heulwen, hefyd yn ffig.:

sun, sunlight, also fig. 

10g. DGVB 141, di houl, gl. in aduerso.
13g. C 296-8, Dydav yr heul, or duyrein ir goglet.
id. 3810-11, Aun[a]eth tuim ac oer. a. heul a lloere.
14g. T 3719-20, Owres heul. Ac oeruel lloer.
id. 4026, heul haf ae rywres.
1346 LlA 20, Gloewach oed seithweith nor heul.
id. 91.
14g. GDG 340, Yno ’dd oedd, haul Wynedd yw.
id. 416, Hoywliw ddeurudd haul ddwyrain.
c. 1400 R 11557-8, a syr asygneu aheul a luna.
id. 14186-7, Pony welwch chwir heul yn hwylaw r awyr.
c. 1400 RB ii. 337, ac y bu diffyc ar yr heul.

In either case, what matters to us right now is the word "heel."  What I am proposing, ever so tentatively, is that the story of the Saxons hiding their knives or saxes under their feet, i.e. under their heels, is a misinterpretation of the Heel Stone.  In other words, there is no sword in the stone.  Instead, there is a stone wrongly taken for a sax/knife at Stonehenge, a place laden with Arthurian associations.  

If we wish to wax mythological, would could choose to see the rays of the rising Summer Solstice sun as piercing the current Heel Stone.  Metaphorically, a solar sword is being driven into the rock.  The sun-sword is pulled from the stone with the passing of the Solstice, i.e. when the rays are no longer blocked by the Heel Stone at the time of sunrise.  NOTE:  According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, the slaughter of the Britons by the Saxons at Stonehenge happened on May Day (the ancient Celtic Beltine), not on the Summer Solstice.  A May Day slaughter smacks of the sacrificial.  

Summer Solstice Sunrise Over the Heel Stone

Of course, none of this has anything to do with some kind of real Arthurian "kingship legitimacy test".  The 'Sword in the Stone' is a late story, composed of equal part invention and equal part folklore.  A misinterpretation of 'Heel Stone' at Stonehenge may have contributed to the motif. It does not belong to sub-Roman or early Medieval British history.  


Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Final Word on 'Arthwys' as a Designation for the Irthing Valley

Irthing Valley

I've had new information from Prof. Paul Russell of Cambridge and Professor Richard Coates of the University of West England regarding the -wys ending of Arthwys, supposed father of Ceidio (my candidate for King Arthur).  The following is composed of a selection from my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY, with the additional comment plugged in:

The name Arthwys has frequently been brought into connection with that of Arthur/Artorius. This name is from Arth-, ‘Bear’, + -wys. Dr. Simon Rodway of The University of Wales tells me that 

“There is an element –wys found in a number of words of obscure meaning and derivation which could be present in Arthwys, cf. doublets like mam ~ mamwys, neuadd ~ neuaddwys (Ifor Williams, The Poems of Taliesin, trans. J. E. C. Williams (Dublin, 1968), p. 51).”

To which Prof. Russell adds: 

“Most of the other forms in -wys derive from Latin -ensis (thus also Powys) and that is what it is in mamwys, etc.” 

And Prof. Coates contribution:

"The accepted etymology valid in other names, or words derived from names, viz. < Latin -enses, is beyond dispute."

The best example of such a name is Glywys, the Welsh equivalent of Glevensis, ‘a man of Glevum’, i.e. Gloucester.  Glywys is thus merely an eponym for people who traced their origin to Gloucester. In this, sense, then, Arthwys would be ‘a man of Arth/the Bear.’

Thus Arthwys can be interpreted as a territorial designation, rather than strictly as a personal name. Welsh has a -wys suffix, which derives from Lat-in –enses.  A discussion of this suffix can be found in John T.  Koch's Celtic Culture, among other sources.  Regedwis, for example, is 'people of Rheged' - or maybe better, 'inhabitants of Rheged'. The entry for -wys (1) in the University of Wales Dictionary confirms it as a Latin borrowing and as a nominal plural ending, giving the examples of Gwennwys, Lloegrwys and Monwys. Could –wys, then, be a suffix used for the people who live on a certain river?  Like on an Arth or Bear River?

When I put this question to Dr. Delyth Prys of the place-name experts at The University of Wales, Bangor, he replied: “I've no independent evidence for this, but river names are sometimes used as the name for a more general area and by extension it could be the people of the Arth (area)." 

This all fits in nicely  with the Irthing Valley as a diminutive of the word arth (eirth), an etymology first proposed by place-name expert Dr. Andrew Breeze of The University of Pamplona. From his article “Celts, Bears and the River Irthing” (Archaeologia Aeliana, 5th series, volume XXXII):

"Irthing, which has early forms Irthin, Erthina, and Erthing, would also make sense as ‘little bear’, with a Cumbric diminutive suffix corresponding to Middle and Modern Welsh –yn (Old Welsh –inn), as in defynyn ‘droplet’ from dafn ‘drop’ or mebyn ‘young boy’ from mab ‘boy’.  As the th of Arth is pronounced like that of English bath, but that of Irthing like that of brother, the process of voicing here would take place after borrowing by English, not before.”

Both the Birdoswald Dark Age hall at the Banna Roman fort and the Camboglanna Roman fort are within the Irthing Valley.  Given Arthwys as the father of Ceidio, and Gwenddolau ("White Dales", itself perhaps originally a place-name) at Carwinley as the son of Ceidio, and given that Etterby hard by Stanwix was called 'Arthur's Burg', I hold to my original opinion that the Stanwix Roman fort of Uxellodunum/Petriana was the site of Arthur's ruling center. Arthur as Penuchel in a corrupt Triad could be a reference to Uxello- (Welsh uchel), while the reason the Dyfed king Petr named his son Arthur may be because the original Arthur was a sort of successor of the Petriana garrison.  

Friday, September 22, 2017


Lochmaben Stone


In Kychwedyl am dodyw o galchuynyd (Llyfr Taliesin XVIII), Owain son of Urien or the god Mabon or Owain in his incarnation as Mabon is referred to as 'rwyf dragon.'  The full phrase is actually 
'ri rwyf dragon', which Professor John Koch renders "king, leader of chieftains [lit. = 'dragons‘] (see*

Let us go to the GPC definition for rwyf, modern Welsh rhwyf:

rhwyf2, rhwy3 
[H. Grn. ruy, gl. rex, (gurhemin) ruif, gl. edictum, Llyd. C. ro(u)e, roy, Llyd. Diw. roue] 
eg. ll. rhwyfau, (geir.) rhwyon.
Brenin, arglwydd, rheolwr, pennaeth, arweinydd:
king, lord, ruler, chieftain, leader. 

Dragon, once again, had the following meanings:

[bnth. Llad. llafar dracŏn-em a’r ff. l. dracŏnes] 
eg. ac e.ll., hefyd ll. -au.
a  Ymladdwr, gwron, arweinydd rhyfel, pennaeth, tywysog; nerth milwrol:
warrior, hero, war leader, chieftain, prince; military power. 


head, chief(tain), leader, lord, master, ruler, director, senior member.

'rwyf dragon' is found used in several other medieval Welsh praise poems, although, so far as I've been able to determine, its earliest use is in Llfyr Taleisin XVIII.  Rhwyf corresponds quite nicely with pen, and if dragon were to be rendered in a similar fashion in both honorifics, then the conveyed sense would be the same. 

I'm not saying that Owain as rwyf dragon should be identified with Uther Pendragon.  I still hold to the view that the latter is his father, Urien (see  The point I'm trying to make is that a title very much like that of Pendragon was used in an early poem on Urien's son.

In passing, I would revise Koch's translation somewhat.  'Dragon' is not plural in the text, and so there is no reason to make it so.  Instead, I would simply put down "King, Warrior/Chieftain-leader" or some such.    

*There is an edition and translation of the Book of Taliesin poem with useful notes by Marged Haycock, Prophecies from the Book of Taliesin (Aberystwyth, 2013), poem 3. There is also a translation by John Koch in The Celtic Heroic Age, ed. John T. Koch and John Carey, second edition (Andover + Malden, MA, 1995), pp. 349—51, cf. pp. 347-48 for notes on Mabon and Modron and their connection with Owain.  Information courtesy Dr. Simon Rodway of The University of Wales.


In a MS. 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.

The head I carry on a pole,
the Head of Urien, dragon-like lord...

I translate dragonol thusly, 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 oddly 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’

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Rheged was a very important Dark Age kingdom of North Britain.  It is best known for its being ruled by Urien of Rheged and his son, Owain.

Lochmaben Castle

Burnswark Hillfort

There has been a tendency in the past to link the Dark Age kingdom name Rheged with the Romano-British period polis of the Novantae tribe, RERIGONIUM.  According to Rivet and Smith’s “The Place-Names of Roman Britain”, Rerigonium should be seen as “a latinization of British *ro-rigonio- ‘very royal (place)’.  Under their entry for the place-name Regulbium, the authors cite British *ro- ‘great’ (a prefix… rendered in Latin as heard or adapted by Latin speakers, re-, a common prefix).  –rigonio- is from British *rig- *rigon ‘king’ with *-io- derivational suffix.

For a full discussion of what past authorities have surmised in regards to the location of Rheged and its possible etymology, see pp. xxxviii-xlii in Sir Ifor Williams' edition of THE POEMS OF TALIESIN.

In my opinion, Rheged is rather easily derived from a Welsh ged, ‘gift’, and the Re-/Rhe- can again be accounted for if we allow the original Ro- to have been altered due to Roman influence.  The meaning would be something like ‘Great Gift’ and may have been formed, originally, after the model provided by nearby Rerigonium.

It would be nice to suggest that Ptolemy made a mistake, and his Rerigonium should instead be something like *Rereconion, *re-rec- meaning 'great gift'.  Welsh rheg, like ged, means ‘gift.’ Rerec[onion] would exactly match my proposed meaning for Reged.  Unfortunately, we are not justified in assuming that Ptolemy made such an error.

Alternately, Rheged could be from rheg (from Brth. *-rek).  The -ed is likely the Welsh suffix -ed1. From the standpoint of the philologist, relying on rheg- is a better bet than requiring the *ro- to become *re-.  Regularly, we would expect Ro + ged to become Rhyged (I have this confirmed from Dr. Simon Rodway of The University of Wales). According to Professor Koch in CELTIC CULTURE: A HISTORICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA, "The name [Rheged] is Celtic and is related to Welsh rheg ‘gift’, explaining the artful poetic theme of its rulers’ renowned generosity." I would agree with Koch on the etymology, but not on its application as a kingdom name.

We must remember that Urien is linked to Modron and Mabon.  Lochmaben is near the Annan, which is thought to derive from a goddess name like the Irish Anu, which has the same root as the Welsh word anaw.  One of the meanings of anaw is 'gift.' The Lochmaben Stone is on the other side of the Annan near Gretna Green.  The great Burnwark hillfort is nearby and this is believed to have been the oppidum of the Novantae.

From the GPC:


[H. Wydd. anae, yr e. lleoedd Brth. a Gal. Anava, yr e. prs. Gal. Anavos; cf. yr e. prs. H. Gym. Anaugen, Anauoc, yr e. prs. H. Grn. Anaoc, Anaudat, a’r e. prs. H. Lyd. Anaugen]

eg. a hefyd gyda grym ansoddeiriol.
Cyfoeth, golud, budd, rhodd, trysor, hefyd yn ffig.:
wealth, riches, benefit, gift, treasure, also fig. 

Perhaps the nucleus of Rheged was found on the Annan?  This tribe may possibly be descended from the Roman period  Anavionenses, thought to be a sub-group of the Novantae.  I would guess that the 'Anna' found at the head of the Men of the North genealogies is for the Annan.  She is the wife of Beli, father of Afallach.  This is the same Afallach made the father of Modron, wife of Urien.  I have no doubt this Afallach is intended as the eponym for the Aballava Roman fort which lies only a half dozen kilometers south of the Lochmaben Stone. 

This does leave open the problem of the small Dunragit hillfort near Stranraer and the Rhinns of Galloway.  If  Rheged refers to the River Annan, why do we find an apparent Rheged name so far to the west? My guess is that at some point the kingdom name Rheged was wrongly identified with Rerigonium.  As such, Dunragit as a place-name may be fairly recent.  The other polis of the Novantae mentioned by Ptolemy is Leukopibia or, rather, Leucovia, which has been identified with the Roman fort at Glenlochar.  However, the Water of Luce quite close to Dunragit makes for a much better Leucovia.

Before closing, I should refer the interested reader to my recent identification of Urien with Uther Pendragon:

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Selection from Mike McCarthy's ROMAN CARLISLE AND THE LANDS OF THE SOLWAY (ref. Stanwix/Uxellodunum, etc.)

As those have been reading my posts (or books) now know, I have tentatively proposed the Stanwix Roman fort (Uxellodunum/'Petriana') as Arthur's headquarters on the west end of Hadrian's Wall.

I'm currently trying to get my hands on the unpublished report (or raw data?) concerning the sub-Roman or early Medieval timber structure(s) found there during a dig in 1999 at the Stanwix Primary School.  If I'm successful, and the material contains anything worth passing along here, I will do so.

For now, here is yet another summary of such findings at the Wall, prepared by the man who was the director of the archaeological group conducting the Stanwix Primary School dig, Dr. Mike McCarthy. The selection may be found in his book ROMAN CARLISLE AND THE LANDS OF THE SOLWAY:

"At Stanwix, Carlisle, little of the fort, the largest on Hadrian's Wall, has been investigated under modern conditions, and it is certain that much will have been destroyed. Excavations in the school playground, however, have provided tantalising hints that activities continued [past the Roman period], with the discovery of at least two phases of buildings represented by substantial post-pits cutting through earlier Roman deposits...

To summarize, modern investigations at several forts have yielded evidence for sub-Roman activity in key buildings. They include the granaries at Birdoswald, the commanding officers' houses at South Shields and Vindolanda, the bath-house at Binchester and the headquarters building at Carlisle.  The conclusion one might draw is that important buildings in important locations (forts) continud to have a function at the point where the old-style Roman military command structure no longer had any real force, and the pay chests needed for the soldiery had ceased to arrive; and we can see this at Carlisle where the barracks fell from use. Nevertheless, the continued use of formerly key buildings, as we can see in several forts, might allow us to infer that this is an element in the archaeology of lordship. If so, it is lordship in transition from a Roman command structure to one of sub-Roman leaders emerging as local chiefs or kings with military titles and authority derived from that of the late fourth century. They doubtless formed small private armies or warbands, and established territoria which could supply their provisions and over which they exercised a quasi-leadership role. They were not yet kings or princes, but neither were they members of the Roman army linked into a wide-ranging command structure.  Their authority was derived from the former prestige attached to the place, and their dwelings may, as is hinted in the late phases of the Commanding Officer's house at South Shields, be large and imposing, as the central range location of their buildings at Carlisle and Birdoswald may also suggest."

My Case for Uther Pendragon as Urien Rheged (from an earlier post)

Uther Pendragon, called gorlassar in a Taliesin poem (the origin of Geoffrey's 'Gorlois'), may well be Urien of Rheged, son of the Cynfarch (not Cynfor) who was the father of Eliffer's ("Constantine's") wife Efrddyl.  I long suspected this, as gorlassar is otherwise found only in two places - and on both occasions it is used of Urien, once for his person and once for his spear (see John Rhys, STUDIES IN THE ARTHURIAN LEGEND).  I resisted this conclusion for a long time because with Arthur as Urien's son I was forced not only to deal with the absence of Arthur in Cynfarch's line of descent, but also with a chronological impossibility: Urien is too late to be Arthur's father.  Still, I can no longer deny that Urien of Rheged is Uther Pendragon.  

The name may have come about as Uther Pen at first.  I say this because in a Llywarch Hen poem, the hero bewails the fall of Urien and is in possession of his slain lord's head. 

Professor John Koch once had a similar idea regarding the god Bran's severed head.  Here is what he has to say in CELTIC CULTURE: A HISTORICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA:

"One possibility is that the strange and strangely named yspyddawt urddawl benn (feast of the stately head) around Brân’s living severed head in the Mabinogi represents a garbling of a more appropriate ‘feast of the uncanny head’ (uthr benn); the marwnad would make sense as the words of the living-dead Brân mourning himself. For Geoffrey, the epithet Pendragon is ‘dragon’s head’, an explanation of a celestial wonder by Merlin (see Myrddin). This meaning is not impossible..."

From Koch on the head of Urien:

"... another 30 lines describe Urien’s decapitated corpse. In the former, there is much penetrating wordplay on the multiple senses of pen (head, chief, leader) and porthi (carry, support [e.g. of a poet by his patron]). The situation is reminiscent of that in Branwen, in which seven survivors, including the poet Taliesin, return from Ireland with the severed head of their king, Brân, and the englynion may intentionally echo this story:

Penn a borthaf ar vyn tu,
penn Uryen llary—llywei llu—
ac ar y vronn wenn vran ddu.

The head I carry at my side, head of generous
Urien—he used to lead a host, and on his white
breast (bron wen) a black crow (brân).

Arthur's Breguoin battle = the Brewyn of Urien.  This may suggest either that they both fought at the place, together or separately on different occasions.  It is not necessarily the case (as I discuss in my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY) that Brewyn was copied from Urien's battles onto the Arthurian battle-list.  In the "Marwnat Uthyr Pen", Uther claims that his ‘champion’s feats partook in a
ninth part of Arthur’s valour’.

I would add that the 'Pa Gur' poem's phrase "Mabon son of Modron servant of Uther Pendragon" at last makes sense.  For the center of Mabon worship, the locus Maponi of the Classical sources, was at the heart of Urien's kingdom in the North, and in the early poetry his son Owain is referred to as an incarnation of Mabon.  

Saturday, September 16, 2017


Staffordshire Moorlands Patera Showing Uxellodunum
on the Right Side Below the Rim

From Professor Anthony Birley on the Ala Petriana at Stanwix:

That the praef. alae Petrianae at Stanwix was the "senior officer" of the Wall garrison is simply a statement of fact: he was the only prefect of an ala milliaria in the entire province and thus was in the quarta militia, the elite highest grade for equestrian officers, probably only created in the early 2nd century. For the regiment see e.g. M.G. Jarrett in the journal Britannia for 1994. Whether this officer ex officio "controlled" the Wall is another matter; but he no doubt at least had the authority to give orders in an emergency without having to wait for authorization from the legionary legate at York (from Caracalla = at the same time the governor of Britannia Inferior) or the consular governor of undivided Britain further south.

The place-name: this is a conjecture by Mark W.C. Hassall, in Aspects of the Notitia (1976), 112f., edd. R. Goodburn and P. Bartholomew, who convincingly restores [Banna] after tribunus cohortis primae Aeliae Dacorum in line 44 in the Duke's list and inserts [tribunus cohortis secundae Tungrorum] before [C]amboglanna, making Banna the name of Birdoswald and Camboglanna that of Castlesteads; and replacing Petrianis after alae Petrianae in line 45 with Uxel(l)oduno, and Axeloduno in line 49 with Mais. This is now generally accepted, see e.g. A.L.F. Rivet & C. Smith, The Place-Names of Roman Britain (179) 220f. Cf. also in Britannia for 2004 on the Staffordshire pan, with another list of place-names from the western sector of the Wall.

And from M.G. Jarrett's article, cited by Prof. Birley above:

It [the unit] was in Britain in the Flavian period, probably arriving with the other reinforcements brought by Cerealis in 71. A tombstone (RIB 1172) which lacks the titles milliaria c.R. presumably relates to the first occupation of Corbridge or that of the earlier site at Beaufront Red House... An inscription from Carlisle which records a single torque (RIB 957) has no intrinsic dating evidence; but by a date late in the reign of Trajan a second torque had been awarded.  We have, therefore, evidence that under Trajan at the latest the unit was at Carlisle; by that time it had become milliaria... In the second scheme for Hadrian's Wall the ala Petriana was probably moved to a new fort at Stanwix, across the Eden from Carlisle. It is not attested on any inscription, though there is a lead seal (RIB 2411.84); the size of the fort is appropriate to an ala milliaria and there was no other such unit in Britain.  Nothing suggests that the ala ever left Stanwix... The ala Petriana was still at Stanwix when the Notitia was compiled.

In conclusion, if - as many leading archaeologists now believe - there was some kind of attempt along the Wall by local Dark Age warlords to retain a level of Roman military practice - and Arthur was, as I've theorized, situated someplace on the western end of the Wall, I can think of no better place than Stanwix for such a powerful leader to reside.   

Friday, September 15, 2017


Because in the 'Dialogue of Arthur and the Eagle' Uther is said to have a son Madog, I would point out that Emyr Llydaw was said to have a son of the same name.  Here is the relevant entry on Emyr from P.C. Bartram's A CLASSICAL WELSH DICTIONARY.  Bartram stresses in this entry that the real Llydaw may have been somewhere in SE Wales.  I've recently shown this to be the Vale of Leadon (

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY and THE MYSTERIES OF AVALON, Updated/Revised Versions, Soon to be Released...

... plus, at some point in the near future, I will be re-releasing THE BEAR KING (my newest book) under a new title:


I now feel pretty strongly that what we have in Arthur vs. Cerdic/Ceredic are two opposing heroes. By that I mean on the one hand we have Arthur, a true British hero fighting Saxons in the North.  On the other hand we have Ceredig, who while Hiberno-British was, nonetheless, a hero of the Saxons. We find both touted by their particular sides, and they were contemporaries.  One occupies the same time period in the Historia Brittonum as the other does in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  This fact has led several Arthurian researchers astray (including your's truly).  I now feel confident in saying that Ceredig son of Cunedda was not in fact Arthur.  However, he was an extremely important sub-Roman/Dark Age figure and, as such, deserves a thorough accounting of his military feats.  THE BEAR KING is being retired as a separate title, but rest assured that all the relevant material it contains concerning Ceredig/Cerdic of the Gewissae and of Irish involvement in Britain during his floruit will be retained.

Thank you all for your continued interest.  I will make publication announcements as the various refurbished titles become available on Amazon.

These three books are to be the culmination of my many years of Arthurian research.  

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


View from the Stanwix Roman Fort, Hadrian's Wall

In my previous blog, I offered Professor Patrick Ford's translation of 'Penuchel' as 'Overlord.'  This is almost certainly a proper rendering of the Welsh word.  Understand that Penuchel is found in a corrupt version of a Triad, so is suspect to begin with!  I'm writing about it more now only because it is just barely possible the substitution of Penuchel for the original Penasgell, and the former's application to Arthur, may have been a sort of correction, rather than a mistake.  If so, the epithet is worth exploring in more detail. Still, this major caveat should be kept in mind by the reader.

To begin, it had occurred to me that if Arthwys was a real name, and he belonged specifically in the Irthing Valley, and Ceidio son of Arthwys's son Gwenddolau (if this 'White Dales' is also more than just a place-name) belonged at Carwinley, that Ceidio might have held a region or fort between these two locations.  Stanwix is also between Camboglanna/Camlann and Aballava/Avalon.

Part of my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY dealt with a place hard by Stanwix near Carlisle called Etterby.  It was once known as 'Arthur's burg [or fort].'  As it turned out (see below), Etterby was surely a mistake for Stanwix itself, site of the largest cavalry force in all of Britain and the command center for much of Hadrian's Wall.

The Roman name for Stanwix was Uxellodunum, the 'High Fort.'  As it happens, British uxello- becomes in Welsh uchel - the exact same word we find in Penuchel.

Could it be that Penuchel means the 'Chief of Uchel[-dunum]'?  

Stanwix was also called after the unit that garrisoned the fort, the Ala Petriana (named for Pomponius Petra).  This reminds us of the fact that the later Arthur of Dyfed was the son of one Petr.

Probably far-fetched, and I'm not placing any emphasis on these apparent correspondences. But as I already have the following material on Stanwix prepared, I might as well repost it here entire.

Etterby as Arthur’s Burg (i.e. Stanwix)

Etterby, in the parish of Stanwix near Carlisle, was called Arthur’s burg, according to Joseph Nicolson and Richard Burn’s History and Anti uities of the County of Westmorland and Cum-berland, Vol. 2:

“Etterby in old writings is called Arthuriburgum, which seems to imply that it had been a consid-erable village. Some affirm, that it took its name from Arthur king of the Britons, who was in this country about the year 550 pursuing his victories over the Danes and Norwegians. But there are no remains of antiquity at or near this place to justify such a conjecture.”

Nicolson and Burn may have been correct in their assessment of Etterby as wholly lacking ‘remains of antiquity’. The evidence from excavation has been too slender to confirm a tentative suggestion as to what kind of Roman camp – if any - may once have existed at Etterby. While it has been suggested that there might be a Roman camp at Etterby, no evidence for this has been found.

However, there is some evidence for the neigh-boring Stanwix Roman fort continuing into the post-Roman period. Thus, if there is a connec-tion with 'Arthur', it should be attached to Stanwix, rather than to Etterby.

The timber features at Stanwix are fairly recent discoveries. Most of the excavations there have been unpublished, so when archaeologists talk about the timber buildings these may be more examples of timber hall-like structures (such as those from the Birdoswald Roman fort). There is always a hope that the Stanwix excavations revealing the late Roman/sub-Roman timber structures will be published, but in the mean-time it is interesting to know that the Carlisle Millenium Project excavation report will be avail-able in the near future (the Carlisle Roman fort being just a stone’s throw across the river from Stanwix), and very late timber structures were also found there.

The truly amazing thing about the 9.79 acre fort of Stanwix, whose Romano-British name was Uxellodunum, the ‘High Fort’, is that it is exactly between the forts of Camboglanna, where Arthur died, and Aballava on the western end of the Wall (see Chapter 7 below for my discussion of Aballava as ‘Avalon’).

This large fort also housed a force of one-thousand cavalry, the Ala Petriana, the only mil-liary ala (‘wing’) in the whole of Britain. The Petriana’s presence at Stanwix accounts for the name of this fort in the late 4th/early 5th centu-ry ‘Notitia Dignatatum’ – Petrianis. Titus Pomponius Petra, a distinguished former commander of the unit, gave his name to the ala.

Fell Pony, Cumbria

Roman historian Sheppard Frere nicely sums up the strategic importance of this fort:

“The western sector of the Wall was the most dangerous… both on account of the nature of the ground and because of the hostile population beyond it. It is not surprising to find, then, that at Stanwix near Carlisle was stationed the Ala Petriana… Such regiments are always found on the post of danger; and the prefect of this Ala was the senior officer in the whole of the wall garrison. Here, then, lay Command headquarters, and it has been shown that a signaling system existed along the road from Carlisle to York, which would enable the prefect at Stanwix to communicate with the legionary legate at York in a matter of minutes.”

The fort lay on a fine natural platform today occupied by Stanwix Church and Stanwix House, a little over 8 miles from Castlesteads (Camboglanna).

To the south lies the steep bank falling to the River Eden, while the land falls somewhat more gently to the north. Little is known about the fort apart from its defences. The south-west an-gle tower, south wall and east wall were traced in 1940, with the north wall being located in 1984. This was uncovered in the grounds of the Cumbria Park Hotel. A length of wall was subsequently left exposed for public viewing and the line of the wall marked out by setts; the exposed portion of wall lies close to the north-west corner of the fort. This and the south-west corner, a low rise in the churchyard, are the only remains visible today. Brampton Road lies more or less on the line of the south defences, with Well Lane marking the east defences. 

The northern end of Romanby Close lies approximately at the north-east corner of the fort. The northern defences consisted of a stone wall with a clay rampart backing, fronted by two ditches; an interval tower was also found. The north wall was 5 ft 8 in wide with a chambered base course above the footings on the north side; the rampart backing was at least 11 ft 6 in wide.

To the south of the tower lay a feature tentatively identified as an oven. The fort appears to be an addition to the Wall which was located in 1932-4 a little to the south of the north fort wall, with the north lip of its ditch found in 1984 to lie under the interval tower. A few meters further south, a turf deposit, probably a rampart, was recorded in 1997. No other trace has been dis-covered at Stanwix of a turf-and-timber fort, but the known fort is clearly later than the replacement of the Turf Wall in stone. 

The causeway over the south ditch was located beside Brampton Road in 1933. This was placed centrally in the southern defences, but this in itself gives little indication of the internal ar-rangements, which might have been unusual in such a large fort. Little is known of the interior buildings. A series of four parallel walls, possibly representing two barracks-blocks and lying to-wards the north fort wall, were examined in the school yard in 1934. A large granary was located further south in 1940.

The Archaeological Evidence for Stanwix as Arthur’s Power Center

In this section I will be discussing the case that has been recently made by Ken Dark of the Uni-versity of Reading for the sub-Roman (i.e. 5th-6th century CE) re-use of Hadrian’s Wall, as well as of forts along the Wall and in the adjacent tribal territory of the ancient Brigantian kingdom.

Location of Stanwix Roman Fort

According to Dark, from whose paper I will liberally quote:

“… eight fourth-century fort sites on, or close to, the line of Hadrian’s Wall have produced, albeit sometimes slight, evidence of fifth -sixth-century use. Nor is this simply a reflection of a pattern found father north; for no Roman fort site in what is now Scotland has any plausible evidence of immediately post-Roman use. Thus the situa-tion to the north of the Wall is similar to that found in Wales.

What is more surprising still is the character of the reuse found on the line of the Wall. Two sites, Housesteads and Corbridge, have evidence not only of internal occupation, but of refortification; at Birdoswald there are the well known ‘halls’, while at Chesterholma Class-I inscribed stone of the late fifth or early sixth century come from the immediate vicinity of the fort. At South Shields there is also evidence of re-fortification, and there is an external inhumation cemetery. Another Class-I stone was identified by C.A.R. Radford at Castlesteads [I have rendered the inscription of this stone above in Chapter 3]. 

At Binchester immediately to the south of the Wall, and at Carvoran, Benwell and Housesteads on its line, there are early Anglo- Saxon burials or finds, while at Chesters and Chesterholm (perhaps sixth century) Anglo - Saxon annular brooches come from within the forts, although these may be somewhat later in date than the other material so far mentioned.

At the western terminal of the Wall, a town-site, Carlisle, though not necessarily primarily military in the Late Roman period, has also produced substantial evidence of sub-Roman occupation, with continued use of Roman-period buildings into the fifth, if not sixth, century.

Many scholars accept that Carlisle was part of the late fourth-century Wall-system, perhaps even its headquarters, and at Corbridge, the other town-site intimately connected with the Wall, fifth -and sixth century material has also been found, including, perhaps, evidence of continuing British and Anglo-Saxon use. In the North as a whole, fifth- or sixth-century evidence from what had been Late Roman towns is not common. York, Aldborough, Malton, and Catterick are our only other examples. Two of these sites (York and Malton) were part of the same Late Roman military command as Hadrian’s Wall: that of the Dux Britanniarum.

It is interesting that, of the sites at Manchester and Ribchester– between the Mersey and Carlisle the only fort-sites known to have possible fifth or sixth -century evidence – Ribchester was not only part of the command of the Dux Britanniarum, but also listed as per lineum valli in the Notitia Dignitatum. It is, therefore, remarkable that out of the twelve fourth-century Roman military sites in northern and western Britain to have produced convincingly datable structural, artefactual, or stratigraphic evidence of fifth-or sixth-century occupation, eleven were, almost certainly, part of the Late Roman military command.

Eight of these were probably within the same part of that command, and eight comprise a linear group (the only regional group) which stretches along the whole line of Hadrian’s Wall from east to west. The two more substantial late fourth- century settlements adjacent to the Wall – Carlisle and Corbridge– have also produced fifth- and sixth-century evidence and two of the other towns with such evidence were also late fourth-century strategic centres under the military command of the Dux.”

Flavinus. Signifer of the Ala Petriana, Hexham Abbey

After setting forth these facts, and discussing them, Dr. Dark offers a rather revolutionary idea:

“Although it is difficult, therefore, to ascertain whether the military project which I have described was the work of an alliance or a north British kingdom or over-kingdom, there does seem to be reason to suppose that it may have represented a post-Roman form of the command of the Dux Britanniarum…

This archaeological pattern, however it is interpreted, is of the greatest interest not only to the study of the fifth-and sixth- century north of Britain, but to that of the end of Roman Britain and the end of the Western Roman Empire as a whole. It may provide evidence for the latest functioning military command of Roman derivation in the West, outside the areas of Eastern Imperial control, and could be testimony to the largest Insular Celtic kingdom known to us.”

In another paper, Ken and S.P. Dark rebut P.J. Casey’s argument for a reinterpretation of the reuse and re-fortification of the Wall and its associated forts. His conclusion for this paper reads as follows:

“If one adopts the interpretation that the Wall forts were reused in the later fifth-early sixth century for a series of sub-Roman secular elite settlements, then the associated problems involved in explaining this new evidence of occupation at that time disappear…

So, the interpretation that the Wall became a series of secular elite settlements, discontinuous from the Late Roman activity at the forts within which they were sited, is compatible with the evidence of pollen analysis, while the alternative interpretations are both rendered unlikely by it.

This does not, of course, make the suggestion that this reoccupation represents the sub- Roman reconstruction of the Command of the Dux Britanniarum any more likely, but the pattern on which that interpretation is based has been strengthened, rather than weakened, by the new archaeological data, whilst the evidence also hints at a similar reoccupation with regard to the signal stations of the Yorkshire coast and their headquarters at Malton.

Perhaps, then, at last one is able to see answers to many of the most pressing questions regarding what happened in north Britain, and more specifically on Hadrian’s Wall, in the fifth and sixth centuries…

The answer to all of these questions may lie in the rise and fall of a reconstructed Late Roman military command, unique in Britain, which was organized in a sub-Roman fashion reliant upon the loyal warbands of warrior aristocrats (and Anglo-Saxon mercenaries) rather than paid regular soldiers. The organizing authority of this system, probably a king of the sub-Roman Brigantes, assigned a politico-military role to the defended homesteads of these elites, and (as in the location of churches at disused forts, through land-grants?) positioned these at what had been Roman fort sites, but which were (at least substantially) deserted by the time when they were reused in this way. Thus, the ‘Late Roman’ Wall communities dispersed during the first half of the fifth century, but the Wall – and perhaps the north generally – was redefended in the later fifth and early-mid sixth century on very different lines, yet not completely without regard for the Late Roman past.”

I would add only that it is my belief this ‘king’ of the sub-Roman Brigantes whom Dr. Dark proposes was none other than the dux bellorum Arthur.

An Arthur placed at Stanwix makes a great deal of sense when we place these two forts in the context of the Arthurian battles as I have out-lined those in Chapter 3 above. These battle site identifications (taken from the list in the HB, supplemented by the Welsh Annals) shows a range of conflict extending from Buxton in the south to a the Forth in the north, with the majority of the contests against the enemy being fought along or just off the Roman Dere Street from York northwards. The site of Arthur’s death is in a fort only a few miles to the east of Stanwix and we will see in the next chapter that the location of his grave is most likely at a Roman fort [Aballava] just a few miles west of Stanwix.