Monday, June 11, 2018


I may have solved the mystery of Medrawd...

If I'm right about my recent identification of Camlan 
(see, then I think I can now flesh out exactly whose Arthur's/Cerdic's chief opponent was in southern England.

Many - myself included - have discussed the interesting substitution in Welsh tradition of Dinas Emrys in Gwynedd for Amesbury on Wiltshire Plain.  Although many have held stubbornly to the notion at the personal name component in Amesbury represents the Roman/Latin name Ambrosius, the evidence is rather in support of this being a later English name for the place.  And, indeed, I've supplied a great many reasons why Ambrosius Aurelianus was never even in Britain  (see, for example,  Instead, he seems to be a transplant from Gaul who through the usual folkloristic processes achieved a fair degree of fame.

Still, there may be something to Ambrosius.  I've elsewhere pointed out the interesting coincidence that in Gildas's DE EXCIDIO, Ambrosius is referred to as 'vir modestus', a modest man
(see  This description of Ambrosius happens to match the meaning of the name Moderatus - the Roman name that underlies the Welsh Medrawt and the Cornish Modred.  

Vespasian's Camp at Amesbury doubles nicely for the Welsh Dinas Emrys.  It even has a notable (and probably sacred) spring associated with it.  It's proximity to Stonehenge was exploited by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his HISTORY OF THE KINGS OF BRITAIN.  The Camp is only 20 kilometers from Danebury Ring near the Wallop Brook, the likely site of the battle between Ambrosius* and one Vitalinus (who may be a Latinized form of the Irish name Fedelmid, father or grandather of Fortchern/Vortigern, the half Irish-half British high king in Wales).  

What I believed happened is this:

The ruler who held the Wiltshire area for 36-7 years
(see was one Moderatus.  Or perhaps he was simply one of the princes of this region.  In any case, his center of power was Amesbury.  Because this English place-name was fairly early on wrongly identified with the Gaulish Ambrosius, Moderatus was taken as merely a descriptor - the 'vir modestus' of Gildas - and he was referred to, incorrectly, as A.A.

Years ago I wrote the following about the etymology of Amesbury on Robert Vermaat's Vortigern Studies site:

Ambresbyrig c AD 880 charter then various spellings to Amblesberie in Domesday. Almost certainly a personal name Ambre or Aembre cognate with the Old German Ambri, hence Ambre's burgh. [Chris Chandler of the RCAHME.]

The Place-Names of Wiltshire (EPNS, 1939) says this of Amesbury (on p. 359):

"It is impossible to go beyond the suggestion . . . that we have to do with a personal name Ambre, Æmbre [the Æ is OE aesc] cognate with the recorded OGer [Old German] Ambri. Hence possibly 'Ambre's burh' . . . "

This etymology is accepted by A.D. Mills in his Dictionary of English Place-Names (Oxford, 1991).

Andrew Deathe, Salisbury Museum, adds the following:

“From what I can find it would appear that the earliest manuscript mention is a document from around 1000 AD that is actually a copy of a manuscript from around 880 AD. This gives the name Ambresbyrig. This would point to a person known as Æmbre or similar as you know. Ekblom suggests Eammer or Eanbeorht as other possibilities to Ambri. All are Saxon names. The idea that Amesbury derives from Ambrosius first occurs in the late Medieval period and, to my mind, is bound up with the Geoffrey of Monmouth story that Stonehenge is a memorial to the Britons who fought the Saxons nearby. Personally I think that it is very unlikely to have any foundation in truth. Medieval writers tended to look for a story to fit the facts when writing history, rather than facts to fit the story!”

Paul Cavill, The English Place-Name Society, concludes:

“All the early forms for Amesbury have the medial -b-, but no form has any extension that would justify derivation from Ambrosius. The person., if it is one, would seem to be Ambre, cf. Ombersley."

I also pointed out that there is an Old English amber, the genitive singular of which is ambres. This word means ‘a vessel with one handle, a tankard, pitcher, pail, cask’, and is thought to be a descendent of a borrowing into Germanic as *ambr-ia or *aimbr-ia of a Latinization of the Greek word amphoreus, ‘an amphora, jar, urn’. According to place-name expert Professor Richard Coates of The University of West England, “a solution [for the etymology of Ambresbyrig] involving ambres/’vessel’ is not formally impossible.” Needless to say, this would be significant, as the vessels of Dinas Emrys play an important part in that place's story.

Because the chronology of the Welsh Annals and the ASC clash in terms of the ordering of the princely generations of the Gewissei 
(see, it is difficult if not impossible to determine with any degree of certainty what battle dates are right and who fought at the various battles.  Yet if we do not get too caught up in this problem, we can propose that Moderatus and possibly other princes of his line managed to keep the Saxons and their Gewissei allies at bay for almost 40 years.

The irony here is not lost on the writer.  As Nennius was writing with a Gwynedd bias, and Gwynedd wasa founded by the Irishman Cunedda and his sons, when he searched for a British hero he naturally settled on Ceredig son of Cunedda/Arthur.  And this is true despite the fact that this Arthur was a mercenary fighting for the High King of Wales in alliance with English against other Britons.  

The real hero, as is so often the case in history, is the villain - 'Mordred' himself.  He died fighting the continuing southern incursions of Cerdic/Ceredig/Arthur.  Yet the villain became hidden, in an even more ironic way, within the purely fictional character of A.A.  Ambrosius himself, thanks to Geoffrey of Monmouth's misidentification of him with Myrddin/Merlin, became even more famous.  The connection with Amesbury and nearby Stonehenge was not forgotten.  As Myrddin is intimately bound up with the gods Lleu and Mabon, the sun god - perhaps once a presiding deity over Stonehenge - was returned, albeit by a very strange route, to his rightful place of worship.**

* The Ambrosius who fought at the Wallop Brook or at Danebury Ring was a sort of imaginary title for whoever was ruling from Amesbury at the time.  Ambrosius means the 'Divine or Immortal One.'  He may have been an ancestor of Moderatus. 

** I wrote the following in my book THE MYSTERIES OF AVALON about a god associated with the Stonehenge area:

"In the 12th century, Johannes Cornubiensis identified Caer Beli or the Fort of Beli with Ashbury Camp near Week St. Mary in Cornwall. This fort he also termed the ‘Fatale Castrum’ or Deadly Castle. However, this is an error, as Ashbury Camp is an unremarkable hill-fort. Instead, Ashbury, Oxfordshire is the actual site of the original Cair Beli. This is where we find the famous Neolithic chambered tomb now known as Wayland’s Smithy. Wayland was the smith-god of the invading Saxons. The Smithy is near the Uffington White Horse and one of the primary symbols of Belenos in Gaul is the horse.

Beli as Apollo is associated with Stonehenge, as Geoffrey of Monmouth has the Britons slain by the Saxons at this great ritual centre on May 1st or Beltane, the day of ‘Beli’s Fire’. Stonehenge, of course, is just a little south of the Wayland’s Smithy chambered tomb and the Uffington White Horse."

Some of these statements are made with a bit too much authority.  It is not certain, for example, that Beltine (Beltaine, etc.) contains a divine name element.  It may mean simply "bright fire."

bright *belo-, beleno- (?), SEMANTIC CLASS: sensation, British -belino-, SEMANTIC CLASS: 6 ‘bright’, Gaulish Belenos ‘bright’, Early Irish Bel(-tene) ‘bright (fire)’, Scottish Gaelic bealtuinn ‘May-day’, Welsh Ri-uel-gar, Beli [not in GPC] ‘bright’

Recently, John Koch proposed a different etymology for Beli.  From CELTIC CULTURE: A HISTORICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA:

"The Celtic personal name Bolgios, also Belgios, is
recorded as that of a commander who invaded
Macedonia in 280 bc (see Brennos of the Prausi).
It is likely that the hero bearing this name had been
thought of as the legendary founder of the Belgae.
This name is probably also the source of the early
Welsh male personal name Beli, which occurs in the
Old Welsh genealogies as that of an important
legendary ancestor of great antiquity, Beli Mawr
(Koch, CMCS 20.1–20)."

This is interesting, as Amesbury and Stonehenge were within the tribal territory of the British Belgae.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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