Thursday, November 1, 2018


North Queensferry, Fife, Scotland

As I've now settled on a sub-Roman Arthur in the North, I felt it might be elucidating to re-examine the Arthurian battles found in Nennius.  I had treated of these battles in detail in my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY, offered in its entirety here: 

I must take into into two new possibilities: 1) Arthur did not originate from the western end of Hadrian's Wall, but from Ribchester in Lancashire and 2) the late 2nd century Lucius Artorius Castus (assuming for the sake of argument that Linda Malcor's reading of the LAC inscription is correct) appears to have fought battles along Hadrian's Wall and perhaps as far north as that of the Antonine.  A complicating factor, as always, is the later Arthur of Dalriada - himself also of the North.

The following is a map showing my identification of the Northern battle sites.  [The Aballava Roman fort, also called Avalana in the early sources, is the obvious candidate for Arthur's "Avalon." There was a 'Goddess of the Lake' at Burgh Marsh.]

The first thing that will be noticed (and this is something I have pointed out a number of times in the past) is that the majority of the battles line up very nicely with the Roman Dere Street.  I had theorized that Dere Street in the 5th-6th centuries may well have been a sort of frontier zone between the Britons and the invading English.  After all, the HISTORIA BRITTONUM account insists that Arthur's battles were against the Germanic invaders.

Some outliers are conspicuous.  Badon at Buxton, the Roman Aquae Arnemetiae (the only Northern site actually given an English name that corresponds with the British form) if more centrally located, and is found pretty much right on the southern limit of what had been the ancient Brigantian territory.  The strangest of all the battles are those of the Tribruit and the Bassas, places found on the extreme northwestern edge of what had been the Votadini kingdom.   However, the Glein, Celidon and Breguoin/Agned battles lie squarely in Votadini lands.  The Celidon may have been roughly on the border with the Selgovae.

Camboglanna as an outlier is less ambiguous.  This is indisputably the Roman fort where the Dark Age Arthur from Ribchester died.  What he was doing up on the west end of Hadrian's Wall we cannot possibly.  I have made a case for the name Moderatus (= Modrat/Medraut) surviving in Cumbria, and we know that Dark Age forces from York in the guise of sons of Eliffer/Eleutherius were involved in military actions against or in support of both the Carrawburgh Roman fort on the Wall and Arthuret in Cumbria.  I've only recently discussed the exceptionally close relationship that existed between York and Ribchester in the Roman period.  If there is any truth to Arthur being buried at Aballava/Burgh By Sands, then clearly at least that fort could not have been in enemy territory.  

In THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY, I demonstrated that the Bassas (if correctly identified with Dunipace), happened to be directly between Dumyat and Myot Hill, these being hillforts belonging to the Maeatae or Miathi.  I postulated that it was here that Arthur of Dalriada had perished, for the Life of St. Columba tells us that this Arthur died fighting the Miathi.  

The Tribruit's location is confirmed without a doubt by the presence at North Queensferry of an early place-name that matches that of the Cynbyn or 'Dog-heads' said to be Arthur's opponents.  The literal meaning of Tribruit happens to match perfectly that of Latin trajectus, used of a river-crossing - like the one that was present anciently at Queensferry.  This battle is intimately associated with Manawydan son of Llyr because it lies just a little to the east of Clackmannan and Slamannan, two place-names that are relics of Manau Gododdin.  In fact, Queensferry is pretty much between Edinburgh, Arthur's Din Eidyn, and Manau Gododdin.  

This battle of North Queensferry seems a very unlikely site for Arthur of Ribchester.  It could be another battle properly belonging to Arthur of Dalriada or it might represent a dim folk memory of LAC's incursion north of the Antonine Wall.  I once tentatively suggested that Cynbyn, though definitely recorded in the North Queensferry place-name, may also be a distorted attempt at the Roman period Venicones tribe, who ruled just north of the Firth of Forth.  If V- had been taken for B- (a common error), and the first element thus related mistakenly to ben/pen, 'head', and -cones had been misinterpreted as cwn, 'hounds', then the original 'Dog-heads' could be the Venicones.  If so, this may well have been a LAC battle.  

Celidon is a tricky one.  There is no doubt that the medieval Welsh placed this great forest in the central Scottish Lowlands - even though the name originates from either side of the Great Glen in the Highlands with the tribe(s) of that name.  I have shown that the Caddon Water has early forms/spellings all but identical with Celidon/Caledon, and this river is just a little west of Trimontium and Dere Street.  In my opinion, therefore, the Celidon Wood of the Nennius list is to be sought here.  If so, the battle could belong to either LAC or the Dark Age Arthur from Ribchester.  I do not think it likely at all that LAC thrust so far North as to enter the actual territory of the Caledonians in the Highlands.  Most scholars are doubtful whether he made his way north of the Antonine Wall, and even that far is pushing matters.[1]  

Of the remaining battles, again, they could belong to either the Dark Age Arthur or to LAC.  We might be able to say that York (the City of the Legion) is safely assigned to the Ribchester Arthur.  LAC held York and doubtless launched his forces North from that city.  It is not credible to put forward a legionary fortress north of the Forth-Clyde Isthmus as the scene of this battle.  A battle against English at York, with a Ribchester Arthur as the victor, makes perfect sense in this context.

Glein is very near to the Yeavering hillfort, which early on became an English stronghold.  It is also well off of Dere Street, more towards the coast via the Devil's Causeway.  This looks more like a battle against the English to me, as it would be difficult to account for LAC's leaving Dere Street in his march north to deal with a problem in this direction. 

Bremenium and the Dubglas are pretty much up for grabs.  LAC's presence at a Bremenium battle is, however, more likely than his being at the Dubglas.  I say this only because by LAC's tenure at dux, Hadrian's Wall was probably back under Roman control.  In addition, archaeology has confirmed that in the North the English made their first major inroads up the Tyne.  The Devil's Water is very close to the vitally important Corbridge Roman fort, the supply base and "jumping off" point for missions north of the Wall.  If LAC were having to fight a battle or battles south of Corbridge, then his situation really was dire, and must assume Corbridge itself had been compromised.  I don't think this was the case.  Instead, it makes more sense to see the Dubglas battle(s) as belonging to the Ribchester Arthur.

Guinnion/Binchester does not look like a LAC battle.  Once again, if by LAC's tenure as governor the Romans were still having trouble this far south of the Wall, then they were in serious trouble indeed - despite the efforts of previous governors. Instead, this battle looks like another one for Arthur of Ribchester.

And that's really the best I can do.  I realize there are those who select different locations for the Nennius battle sites.  In most cases these identifications do not bear up to linguistic scrutiny and/or cannot be brought into accord with historical and archaeological facts.  For example, one might opt for the River Douglas in Lancashire, not far from Ribchester, as Arthur's Dubglas.  But if so, one is immediately faced with the question "Who was Arthur's opponent there?"  It would be unlikely to be the Irish, as Arthur's father Sawyl was married to an Irish princess.  It wasn't against the English (as Nennius insists it was).  

Similarly, Breguoin (Brewyn in the poem on Urien of Rheged) is not Bremetannacum/Ribchester.  Yes, this initial element in Bremetannacum and Bremenium is the same.  But one cannot possibly derive Breguoin from Bremetannacum.

Badon is the normal British reflex of English bathum - plain and simple.  Trying to find some other meaning for it is an exercise in futility.  Yet people continue to try and place it where the name was never attested.  

For these reasons (and others, most of which can be found detailed in my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY), I stand by my battle site identifications.  Even if, as I've made clear above, I'm not always sure who actually fought at them!

[1] According to my The Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain (p. 156), after the punitive expedition of Ulpius Marcellus in 184/5 -

"The outpost forts of Birrens, Newstead, Risingham, and probably Cappuck and High Rochester [Bremenium/Breguoin/Agned], which had been retained after the Antonine Wall was given up, had been lost and were not reoccupied after the victory. It may have been felt that the successes themselves were enough, without assuming either the burden of permanently occupying Scotland or even of holding large outposts beyond the Wall."

Furthermore, the period just before LAC's command in Britain seems to have been taken up by dealing with disaffection among the troops, a mutiny and a couple of attempts to raise usurpers. This period was immediately followed by yet another Roman civil war.  An account of these woes can be found in the source I just cited (see pp. 159-60 and Chapter 10).  LAC may have had more than a bit of housecleaning to attend to in Britain and, if so, it is questionable just how much campaigning north of the Wall was really undertaken during his governorship. 

However, it is literally "set in stone" that he did have command of the three British legions, and that he took them "against armed men."  These armed men could have been barbarians from beyond or around the Wall or they could even have been rebellious Roman soldiers. Alas, we simply can't say what exactly it was that he was doing in Britain, where he was doing it or precisely to whom.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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