The Fifth Romano-British Province of Valentia – Part Three

07 Apr

Ann Dornier’s Theory

In Part Two I briefly describes Ann Dornier’s theory on the placing of Valentia and in this blog we’ll look more closely at it and what it might mean for later history if she’s right.

Below are quotes from Dornier’s paper:



Ann Dornier (Britannia, Vol. 13, (1982), pp. 253)

“The section on S. Sulian in the Lion Breviary of 1516 begins thus: Fuit igitur beatus Sulianus Jilius Bromailli regis nobilissimi qui regnum Britanniae quod Gualentius dicitur suo quondam tempore strenuissime noscitur g~be rnas s e(.The blessed Sulian was the son of the most noble king Bromaillus [sic Brochmael] who is known to have ruled most energetically the kingdom of Britain which formerly in his day was called Gualentius [sic Valentia]).  Gualentius is clearly a Latinized Breton rendering of the name Valentia.”

What is most interesting is Brochmael is not called the ruler of Powys, when the compiler would have known this was where he was from. This could indicate that the information was from an early date.  It may also show that this was the transitional name for Powys. The quote could make it seem as if this part of Wales, and perhaps all of Wales, was once Valentia, be we must be cautious.

Also, interestingly, Geoffrey of Monmouth makes his Brocmail the consul of Chester (Legecester) – ‘History of the Kings of Britain’, Book 11, Chapter 13. Could he actually have got this right? Did he have access to that same Breton document, or its predecessor, that tells us he was the ruler of Gualentius? (See below).

What is extremely odd about this is why Valentia has even been remembered at all.  There is no evidence of Britons identifying with their province of origin on any memorial stones.  If any location is identified it is their civitas (tribal) origin.

Provincial Capital

Ann Dornier Britannia, Vol. 13, (1982), pp. 255

“Although there are several places which might be properly considered, the weight of evidence seems in favour of Chester.  It has been pointed out that by the early third century at the latest the civil settlement of Chester had acquired independent status.  It was probably the civitas capital of the Deceangli; and by the fourth century the civitas of the Deceangli may have absorbed that of the Cornovii, thus increasing Chester’s administrative importance.  There is a growing body of archaeological evidence that in the late Roman period Chester was more than just a legionary base with a modest civil settlement: there was clearly a very prosperous civilian population living to the west and south of the fortress; and there is the possibility that in the west at least this area was bounded by a defensive perimeter, marked by the circuit of the medieval west wall.  This would bring it into line with such places as York and Lincoln.  Moreover, there are hints from post-Roman sources that Chester may have been a late/ sub-Roman ecclesiastical metropolitan, and therefore by definition a provincial capital.  Finally, the fortress of Chester may have been of greater military importance in the late period than has hitherto been thought (see below, pp. 257-8), and this may have been a contributory factor in the choice of Chester as the provincial capital of Valentia.”

Whilst the geographer Ptolemy (2nd century) tells us that Chester (Deva) was part of the Cornovii civitas, there are those who doubt this on archaeological grounds.   (Actually it wouldn’t be part of any civitas as it was a military region). The status and size of Deva (pronounced ‘Dee-wa’) and the civitas of the Cornovii would have changed through time and depended on whether or not the legion was in the city and, as argued by Webster (‘The Cornovii’, 1975, p.17) and by Keith Matthews – aka Bad Archaeology blogger -  (Arthurnet, March 2003), no one can be certain where the Cornovian northern boundary may have ended. Although many have placed its territory as far north as the Wirral Peninsular and the River Mersey based on Ptolemy, Webster guesses it ended much further south, somewhere between Whitchurch and Chester, south of Holt, based on the archaeological evidence.  This ‘boundary’ could have changed many times depending on many factors.  However, this too could fit in with Valentia’s southern border, which may have stopped at the Cornovii’s northern ‘frontier’.  (More blow)


Ann Dornier (Britannia, Vol. 13, (1982), pp. 257)

“Why and in what context would a second consular province have been considered necessary or desirable, and why Valentia?  Several possibilities present themselves.  First it may have had something to do with the imperial ego.  If the creation of Valentia was the work of Constans in 343 and if it was originally called Constantia after him, it may have been given consular status at its inception, befitting for a new province named after the victorious emperor.  Alternatively, if originally equestrian, its elevation may have gone hand in hand with its renaming after the reigning emperor(s) in 369, perhaps as a way of underlining how great was the imperial victory in recovering the province. Secondly, military considerations may have been the important factor …”

There is still the question raised by Mann, that any such status would have gone to the second most important city: this thought to be York. If Dornier is right, however, would this mean that the diocese capital would be moved to Chester (or wherever it was), if there still was a diocese capital after London, or Maxima Caesariensis, was lost?

Troops at Chester

The one fly in the ointment could be the lack of evidence for any major garrisoning of troops at Chester at the time.  There appears to be archaeological evidence of use, but the Notitia mentions no troops there.  However, this could have been patrolled by the Comes Britannium as well as the troops at Segontium (Caernarfon) and other stations along the north coast of Wales.  This might not have lasted long as Magnus Maximus may have taken them with him to Gaul, although I believe there is evidence that it was still in use after 383

Provincial Boundaries

So where were its boundaries, if Dornier is right? Well, firstly, let us address a problem that Dornier does not: if Chester was in Valentia, and Valentia was a division of Britannia Secunda, then that province’s border could not have ended at the River Mersey; if indeed it ever did. It would had to have already encompassed Chester … unless they redrew the provincial borders when it was created. If they did, that would indeed be unique as all known divisions of Roman provinces have been just that: divisions. (Mann, 1998)

This means the division of Britannia before Constantia/Valentia was created would have to have been something like that suggested by the map below, whether it be Secunda or Flavia that is in the north, with this northern province also encompassing North Wales.

Depending on who’s right about where the northern Cornovian territory actually ended – at Holt or at the River Mersey – the redrawing of the boundary shown left could mean it dissected the tribal area, something the Romans tried to avoid. It also means that most of what is now Cheshire wouldn’t have been in a civitas, as far as we know.  Of course, it’s always possible that this area remained under direct military rule, just like that of North Wales to the west. There may be a number of very good reasons for wanting to keep Cheshire under military jurisdiction: the three major salt mines at Northwich, Middlewich and Nantwich, as well as the ports on the Dee and Mersey.

This theory does answer the question of Powys being part of Valentia, and Valentia also being below the Wall.  What it doesn’t answer, and it needs scholars to debate it rather than a layman like myself, is whether or not it would be possible for Chester to take the mantle from York and for the provincial boundaries to be organized this way.

In the final blog in this series I’ll look at the possible later consequences if this hypothesis was followed through.

Thanks for reading,


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