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King Arthur – Man, Myth … or Both? – Part Seven

NB: There may be less citation than I would like in these current blogs because I’m in Austria, away from my books. I will try to add them when I return home in April.

UPDATED 14.5.12

ORIGINS

Nowhere in the early, pre-Galfridian (pre Geoffrey of Monmouth) Arthurian Welsh stories (excluding the genealogies for the moment) is there a mention of Arthur’s ‘biological’ origins. Unlike the mythological Fionn mac Cumhail or Gwyn ap Nudd (more below) he is given no patronym. He’s not ‘ap Uthyr’ – son of Uthyr. (Uthyr is not given as his father until Geoffrey of Monmouth). This could be a problem for both a historical and a mythical Arthur. If he’s mythical, this would mean he may have to be the first of his mythological line, so to speak. The Welsh, like their Anglo-Saxon counterparts, liked to show their descent from gods (even when they were Christians) and yet there are no mythical lineages back to an Arthur (unless you could the later MacArthur/Campbell genealogies), and, perhaps more importantly, no royal line trying to claim descent from him. This could be simply because he’d been historicised so well; it could also be because he existed but his origins weren’t preserved, just like Ambrosius’ weren’t. As for the lack of patronym, this may not have been something given in the 5th century. Gildas gives no patronyms for his historical British figures. If his exploits were only known from poems, these poems probably never mentioned his father. There is, however, a lineage given for Arthur back to the god Llyr. (More on that later).

GWYDION & ARTAIUS

Gods with similar traits were very often known by different names in different cultures. There is one from Wales, Gwydion, who had the same traits as the Gaulish god, Artaius (another bear god), who the Romans associated with Mercury (Mercurius Artaius). This god of the air had the same shapeshifting qualities as Gwydion … as well as those given to Arthur’s magician Menw ap Teirgwaedd in Culhwch, Merlin and, possibly later, Uthur. These qualities – the ability to shape shift into a bear for example – is what you might expect from a bear-derived sky god.

Tomas Green has tried to show an association with the Romano-British deity Mars Alator (possibly meaning “Huntsman” or “Cherisher”), known from an inscription at an altar at the Roman fort of ARBEIA (South Shields) and a silver-gilt votive plaque at Barkway, Hertfordshire. A huntsman would be more in keeping with Arthur. I mention the following elsewhere but will repeat it here.

Green has argued that the poem ‘The Chair of the Sovereign/Prince‘ or ‘The Chair of Teyrnon (‘Kadeir Teyrnon’), shows Arthur as a mythical figure because it relates him to the divine person of Teyrnon (from the Mabinogion) and of the god Alator: ‘echen aladwr’, (“of the family of Aladwr”). (“A Note of Aladur, Alator and Arthur”, STUDIA CELTICA, 41, 2007, 237-41 Available at http://www.arthuriana.co.uk/papers/Aladur.pdf). He also treats it as pre-Galfridian. However, as August Hunt points out in one of his blogs:

 “Arthur was of the family of the Breton Aldroenus, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth. In the Welsh genealogies, this Aldroenus becomes Aldwr. Uther’s father Constantine/Custennin was the brother of this Aldwr. ‘Aladwr’ is thus merely a slight misspelling or corruption of Aldwr.  Arthur is ‘of the family of Al(a)dwr’ and not of the god Alator [...] The poem is thus immediately shown to NOT be pre-Galfridian. We must, therefore, be extremely cautious in how we approach this material. Especially as components from earlier Welsh tradition and from Geoffrey can be mixed in the same composition.”

Available at http://darkavalonbooks.posterous.com/uther-dragon-ambrosius-aurelianus-and-the-rea

Had these shapeshifting sky-god qualities been something Arthur of the Welsh legends had, it would be an open-and-shut case. Instead, he has qualities more like the Irish character Fionn mac Cumhail.

A BRITISH FINN?

First another quote:

“In the Scotorum Historia, “History of the Scots,” compiled by Hector Boece (1527) and translated later into Older Scots by John Bellenden as the Chronicles of Scotland, the Irish hero Finn MacCool is depicted as a giant, and the narratives attached to him are compared to tales of Arthur. Boece and his translators contrast the “gestes [deeds] of Arthur” favorably with the “vulgar” traditions about Finn MacCool. It is easy to over-interpret such references, but Finn and Arthur as leaders of warrior bands have much in common, and both are endowed with gigantic stature (Nagy 1985). A series of Welsh tales gathered in the early seventeenth century with the specific purpose of defending Geoffrey’s history against the attacks of men like Hector Boece also characterized Arthur as a giant or a trickster/giant-slayer.” (Juliette Wood, A Companion to Arthurian Literature, Helen Fulton, 2009, p.107)

There have been similarities (although there are differences) shown between Fionn mac Cumhail (Finn McCool), the Irish mythical hunter-warrior-poet, and Arthur. (Fionn (Fair) was his nickname, his actual name was Deimne)A mythological Arthur (or one of the elements that made him up) could have been the British equivalent of Finn. Did his British counterpart have originally had a similar name, like other British/Irish gods, which then was changed to Arthur?

Cognate with Finn would be Gwyn (‘Fair’) or Gwen (‘White’). There is, of course,Gwyn ap Nudd (son of Nudd), and Finn’s grandfather’s name was Nuada, so was he Finn’s British counterpart? There is one reference to this Gwyn as a “magic warrior huntsman” – which he is in the hunt for the Twrch Trwyth – , but, in general, they are two very different characters and he seems different from the Arthur persona. There is a character called Gwen Pendragon (the only other early pendragon we know of) who supposedly held Arthur prisoner for three days.

There are six other gwen/gwyn (‘white’/‘fair’) association with Arthur: his wife Gwenhwyfar (‘White Phantom’); his ship Predwyn (‘Fair Form’); his magical cloak Gwenn (‘White’); the name of his feasting hall is Ehangwen (‘Broad-fair [white?]’); his dagger Carnwennan (‘White-hilted One’), and one could include his shield Wyneb Gwrthucher (‘Face Of Evening’).  Coincidences with the names Gwen/Gwyn most likely, but they still give pause for thought.

If Arthur was a version of Gwyn ap Nudd, his story, even pre-Galfridian, had changed somewhat since their divergence, but this would be expected. But I doubt very much if Arthur and Gwyn ap Nudd are one and the same, and they appear together in Culhwch ac Olwen.

It would be interesting if Arthur did replace Finn in Cambro-Irish southwest Wales, as he doesn’t seem to have done so in western Scotland, which could be an indication and just how much more British those of Demetia (modern day Dyfed and Ceredigion) where in comparison to those of the north.

No, honest, it’s true!

I have often read how like Finn the character of Arthur is in the early stories, but I thought I ought to look at this myself, and see just how similar they are. I’ll do this through a list:

  1. Outcast or outside of society: Finn is said to be, but I don’t see this in the stories. In history a fianna (warband) could be an outcast bunch of youths, but that’s not what Finn’s warband were. Arthur isn’t an outcast the early stories. This doesn’t seem to happen until the saints’ Lives.
  2. Not a king: Finn isn’t a ‘king’ but Arthur is ‘Sovereign Lord of Britain’ (pen tyrned).
  3. Hunter: Finn seems to mainly hunt dear, and is involved in the hunt for Green Boar of Beinn Gulbain. Arthur hunts the Twrch Trwyth.
  4. Poet: Finn yes and Arthur composes one englyn that satirises Cai.
  5. Has a magical dog: Finn has two dogs and both are also part human. Arthur’s dog is a dog but folk legend made it into a giant one.
  6. Encounter the Otherworld, sidhe/sidde (Faerie): Finn yes, Arthur yes.
  7. Fights known historical foes or other peoples of his own island: Finn yes. (The Norse and other Irish). Arthur no, except in one later Cornish tale.
  8. Death of one of his wives: Finn yes (Saba), Arthur no.
  9. Names his weapons: Arthur yes, Finn no. But Finn is given a magical spear.
  10. Requires his men to know poetry, be warriors and kind to woman; any member of his warband has to pass the three tests and learn the Twelve Books of Poetry: Finn yes. Arthur, no.
  11. Consorts with other mythical and historical characters from other times: Arthur yes, Finn no.
  12. Courts in three parts of the realm: Arthur yes, Finn, no.
  13. Kills giants: Finn yes, Arthur yes.
  14. Kills witches: Arthur yes, Finn no.
  15. Uses his men to do some of the dirty work: Arthur yes, Finn, no.
  16. Has warriors from abroad in his warband: Arthur yes, Finn no.
  17. Gets great wisdom from eating the Salmon of Knowledge and Nuts of Knowledge’: Finn yes, Arthur no, but Cai and Gwyrhr encounter a salmon of wisdom in the River Severn (Afon Hafren).
  18. Dispenses his wise words on the code of the warband: Finn yes. Arthur no.
  19. Captain of the High King’s warband: Finn yes. Arthur no. Arthur is the overall leader of his warband and a ‘Sovereign Lord’ himself. In fact, no pen teulu (the Welsh equivalent of the Irish ri fianna) is mentioned.
  20. Is given a mythical lineage: Finn yes. Arthur is only linked to Brân and his father Llŷr In the Mostyn MS 117 Genealogies, known as the Bonedd yr Arwyr (‘Descent of the Heroes’), but not in the stories.
  21. Relates to druids: Finn yes, Arthur no.
  22. Learn of his childhood: Finn yes, Arthur no.
  23. Hear of him as an old man: Finn yes, Arthur no.
  24. Christian references: Arthur yes, Finn no.
  25. Fights abroad: Arthur yes, Finn no.

So, out of twenty-five comparisons, there are four or five similarities. That’s hardly similar at all. There would, of course, be divergence from a common source but this looks more like some basic folkloric commonalities.

If Arthur did have another name, we may never know what it was, unless Gwen Pendragon was it, but I don’t think it was Finn.

THE NAMING GAME

With regards to these other historical Arthurs and their naming, I will reiterate something I have said in another blog: There’s a quote I’d like to make from Thomas Green’s book, ‘Concepts of Arthur first:

“To have all four [of these historical Arthurs] ‘named after ‘the historical Arthur’ … would be a type of commemoration for which Celtic tradition tradition offers no parallel,’ as no less an authority than Rachel Bromwich has made clear (1975-6: 178-9). So what can the solution be?” (p.49)

Now, I haven’t read this particular work Green cites, and far be it from me to refute the late, great Rachel Bromwich, but there are some other names that seemed to have been used on a number of occasions. Royal houses generally liked to use the names of great leaders, not mythical figures. Here are some of those (British used) name:

  1. Constantine/Constantin/Costentyn/Custennin/Custennyn (and many other variations)
  2. Caraticus/Coroticus/Ceretic/Caratawc/Caradog/Cerdic (?)
  3. Geraint, Gereint
  4. Cadwallon/Catguolaun
  5. Rodri/Rhodri
  6. Ewein/Owein
  7. Dumnagual/Dumngual/Dumnguallaun

The first two names on that list became legendary, but were not mythical. These are names used by the British, but the Irish reused names also, and a look at the king list of Connacht alone will demonstrate this ( http://rootsweb.ancestry.com/~irlkik/ihm/conkings.htm ), with Aed, Ailill and Cathal being popular. Interestingly, they did not use the mythical name Fionn/Finn. (The fact that the Irish didn’t name their sons Fionn is used as evidence for the British not using the name Arthur – more on that in other parts). As for the Picts, they turned this reusing of names into an art form!

If two, or even possibly three of these other historical Arthurs were named around the same time, and one of these was the original, we still have to explain why the others were given the name at the same time, if there was no ‘original’ Arthur of Badon before them. Fashion? Named after a popular mythical or folkloric figure? That’s what Higham and Green suggest.

In the next part we’ll look in greater detail at Arthur’s twelve battles and the arguments for and against their historicity.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your thoughts, comments and corrections.

Mak

 

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Dark Age Durham – Part One

I’m writing this mainly for my very large extended family who live in Northwest County Durham (the Stanley area of Derwentside), but I hope there will be others that may find it of interest.

Like many regions of the UK we are taught so little in our history lessons about this period. It’s as if nothing happened before the Romans came, or between them leaving at the formation of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. I hope to readdress this in some way.

I also hope to dispel a few myths, such as the Danes being the origin of the very distinct north-east dialect and that it was the Picts who lived the other side of Hadrian’s Wall.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with where County Durham is, and you’d be surprised at how many people in England don’t know where it is, it lies in the north-east of England above Yorkshire and below Northumbria between the rivers Tyne and Tees.

This county is of interest to me because it is the place of my birth and where I spent the first 17 years of my life.  When I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s it was a county in decline as its main industries of coal mining, shipbuilding and steelmaking were on the wane.

There is very little known about the county in the fifth and sixth centuries, as there is indeed for the UK as a whole.  It’s not called the ‘Dark Ages’ for nothing … although academia prefers us to call it the Early Medieval Period. County Durham’s Dark Age history is overshadowed somewhat by the county of the Northumbria and Hadrian’s Wall to the north and York (Ebrauc) to the south.  It is thought to have originally been part of the Brigantes territory, but this doesn’t mean its inhabitants were Brigantian; they could have been under its hegemony. We only have the 2nd century geographer Ptolemy and epigraphical (carved on stones) evidence to go on for the identification of tribal regions. Ptolemy obviously got this wrong on a number of occasions, and it’s only by the chance find of inscribed stones that we know that tribal areas such as the Carvetii in modern day Cumbria existed, and the Setantii were in Lancashire because Ptolemy mentions PORTVS SETANTIORVM (Fleetwood, Lancashire): the Port of the Setantii. Otherwise we would have thought this was all Brigantian territory.

What have the Roman’s ever done for us?

Before we get to the Dark Ages in Part Two, let’s have a quick reminder of what happened before this:

The Romans, of course, had a number of forts in this area, namely Piercebridge (MORBIVM) Lanchester (LONGOVICIVM), Chester-le-Street (CONCANGIS), Binchester (VINOVIA), Ebchester (VINDOMORA) and South Shields (ARBEIA).

Of course, there were people living in County Durham and the north-east in general long before the Romans arrived in the area around 80AD. What these tribes were called is another matter. As I mentioned above Ptolemy puts Durham area under ‘rule’ of the Brigantes and certainly places Binchester in their territory, but it’s my guess that there may have been smaller tribal regions here who were under their rule. Rivers became tribal boundaries and with the Tyne to the north, the Tees to the south, and the Wear through the centre I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re were two tribal nations in the area divided by the River Wear.

There maybe clues to certain parts of Durham not being in Brigantia by a Roman inscribed stone found at Lanchester, dedicated to the goddess Garmangabis. The inscription reads:  DEAE GARMANGABI ET N GORDIANI AVG N PRO SAL VEX SVEBORVM LON GOR VOTVM SOLVERVNT M (To the goddess Garmangabis and the divine spirit of our lord, Giordanus, for the health of the detachment of Suevi in Gordian’s lingones [who] deservedly fulfilled their vow). The Suevi were a Germanic tribe from the right bank of the Rhine, but this doesn’t mean the goddess was Germanic as the usual Roman practice was to worship the local god or goddess. Those in Brigantia are usually defined by dedications to the British goddess Brigantia. The dedicator might have been Seuvian but his mounted legion, the Cohors Primae Lingonum Gordiana – The First Cohort of Gordian’s Own Lingones – were from central Gaul (France). This is a perfect description as to how Roman units were originally formed in tribal regions but through time became manned by people form all over the Empire. This makes it hard to know the ethnic identity of the units.  It’s slightly different for the feoderati (federates) units who were from outside the Empire and fought for them for cash.  Basically groups of mercenaries, they came to dominate the late Roman military machine. They may have kept some kind of ethnic identity.

We all know about Hadrian’s Wall, built somewhere between 122 and 128 A.D., but very few people are aware of why it was built and how long it lasted as a defensive barrier against those to the north. The first thing to mention is that those north of the Wall where not Picts. Well, not in the true sense, although the Romans possibly called anyone who painted or tattooed themselves from this region, ‘Picts’. The true Picts, or rather Picti, lived many miles to the north, way past the Antonine Wall beyond Glasgow and Edinburgh. Those to the north of the Wall were Britons just the same as those to the south and, in fact, the Wall divided some of these tribes just as the Berlin Wall did to the people of Germany.

We know of at least four tribal nations, or kingdoms, to the north of the Wall, they being the Votadini (pronounce Wotadini) of what is now eastern Northumbria, Lothian and southwestern Fife. The Selgovae of central Northumbria and Lothian. The Carvetii of north Cumbria and part of Dumfries & Galloway. The Novantae of Dumfries and Galloway and the Damnonii of Clydesdale. (There is still some scholarly debate about the exact placing of these, but this is roughly where they were). Of course, this is what the Romans called them, not what they called themselves. This would be something more like the Guodothin, Selkow, Carguet, Nowanth and Damnon of Davnon.

The political situation at the time is also probably oversimplified and just like any country that has been under an empirical thumb; there would have been those happy to have them there, those hating them being there, and those who didn’t care either way as they just had their British masters replaced by Roman ones. Either way they were there, and would be for the next 340 years or so. But the occupation and situation in the area would have changed greatly in that time as legions were withdrawn to other areas and then replaced. The military situation also changed in the fourth century when the troops were allowed to marry local women.

It is also wrong to imagine a bunch of Italians patrolling the area and the Wall. They were from all over the Empire and in later years were dominated by feoderati and not legionaries. Also get out of your mind the idea of the military regalia of the Hadrianic period, these guys could very often be covered head to foot in chain mail and carry large oval shields.

So, why was the Wall built? Well it wasn’t just to keep the Picts or the northern Britons out. Both could sail around it if they wanted to raid. It was as much as a policing post where the Romans could keep an eye on who (and what) was passing between northern Britain and the diocese of Britannia.    It would also have prevented that great Celtic past time of cattle raiding.(Britannia by the mid 4th century was in fact five provinces: Maxima Caesariensis, Valentia (possibly called Constantia first), Flavia Caesariensis, Britannia Prima, Britannia Secunda. Durham would have either been in Britannia Secunda or Valentia, depending on whose theory you go with).

It would appear that northern Britannia was as much trouble to the Romans as those north of the Wall hence why there were so many forts and camps in the area. It was indeed a military region in the same way that what is now Mid and North Wales were, and never really truly became Romanised like the east and southeast of England. Ironically, however, the North is where a great many vici (villages) sprouted up next to forts, so the locals probably had a great deal of contact with the military.  Later, when they were allowed to marry, the vici disappear and the inhabitants of them probably moved into the forts.

Hadrian, who had the Wall built, decided it was time to stop expanding their British territory, and their territories in general, and pulled it back to the Solway/Tyne isthmus.  However, it must be stressed that it was the most heavily garrisoned border in the whole of the Empire.

What is slightly odd about County Durham is the lack of Roman and civilian settlements on the coast. There have been a number of small finds but nothing major. Of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as the archaeological saying goes and it may be just that the haven’t been found yet.

We mustn’t forget good old Newcastle in all this; or ‘The Toon’ as it is affectionately known. The Romans called it Pons Aelius, and it was just another fort on the Wall. It was home to the Cohort Prima Cornoviorum, possibly the only British formed Roman unit at one point.  The Cornovii (Corno-why-ee) in question (as there were two other tribes of the same name) would be those of what is now Shropshire (where I now live) and parts of Heredfordshire and Cheshire.

Binchester was the largest fort in the region, one of a chain built in the late 70s of the first century AD to guard Dere Street, the main north-south Roman road east of the Pennines and the principal route to Scotland. It controlled the crossing of the River Wear. Inscriptions show that the units stationed here at one time or another included a squadron of Spanish cavalry (Ala Vettonum civium Romanorum), a unit of Dutch cavalry (Cuneus Frisiorum) and possibly a detachment of the Sixth Legion.

In Part Two we’ll get to the Dark Age bit!

Thanks for reading,

Mak

 

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In Search of the ‘Original’ Arthur – Part Nine

UPDATED 1.6.12

WAS THE WRITING ON THE WALL?

(I was hoping this would be the last blog in this series, so I could end on that auspicious ‘Celtic’ number 9 (3×3), but I’m afraid it’s become even longer!)

There are alternatives, of course, to those regions outlined in the previous blogs. One is put forward as a possibility by Christopher Gidlow in his latest book Revealing King Arthur.  Beside being an excellent rebuttal to the likes of Green, Higham and Dumville, his argument (or one of them, as he forwards several) that there could have been an Arthur based in the north of Britannia is well thought out.  (Of course, he’s not the first to have this theory).

Basing his proposal on evidence given by such credible names as Dark, Wilmott and even Dumville he shows that the north – that is the provinces of Britannia Secunda and possibly Valentia (see THIS blog) – could have survived under Roman military type rule for quite a long time.  Those Roman frontier troops left behind wouldn’t all have decided to take up farming; some would have set up their own petty kingdoms or decided to make a living out of protecting the locals, many of whom had married them.  (This is if the Romans hadn’t left the protection to the locals). This may have amounted to extortion in some cases.

The following quotes are from a paper called ‘The Post-Roman archaeology of Hadrian’s Wall AD 400-1000’ from Durham Archaeology, about the Roman forts of BANNA (Birdoswald – 1), VINDOLANDA (Chesterholm – 2), ARBEIA (South Shields – 3) and VINOVIA (Binchester – 4 -not on the Wall but 30 miles south of it):

“ [...] The south granary was clearly reused, possibly as a hall building, with the hearths at the western end provided for the leading figures in the fort community. If the timber structures were the functional successors of this building, as seems likely, the TPQ for the first is c 388-95. As the Theodosian coin was worn, however, this could be assumed to be later, perhaps c 420. An estimated life of 50 years for each building would bring the close of occupation to c 520.”

A very interesting closing date of occupation.  If the information about the Battle of Camlan is correct, and it happened 21 years after Badon, that could place Arthur’s fall between 511 and  521, depending on whose dating you go with. Could be a complete coincidence of course.

Though Birdoswald and South Shields are the only detailed sequences on the Wall line itself, there is another similar sequence in the Wall hinterland at Binchester (Ferris and Jones 1996, 58). These sequences clearly demonstrate continuity of occupation within at least some Wall forts beyond the conventionally understood end of the Roman period in Britain, and into the fifth century. Further, the character of this occupation clearly changes during the fifth century.

Also at Vindolanda the early Christian tombstone of Brigomaglos dating to c. 500 indicates a late Roman / early post-Roman Christian presence (Jackson 1982, 62), as does other recently discovered artefactual evidence.”

It’s worth reading more about what Tony Wilmott of English Heritage himself has to say.  The following is from an article that appeared on the BritArch website:

Roman commanders Dark Age kings

http://www.britarch.ac.uk/ba/ba63/feat1.shtml

“[...] It may be that the kind of commander-patronus attested by the large commanders’ houses in the late forts continued to be an important figure as the 5th century went on. These men may have been of sufficient influence to become imperceptibly more like chieftains in control of warbands than Roman commanders. Such an idea would explain the use of the hall as a centre to the settlement. Birdoswald may have become the centre of a small petty kingdom indistinguishable from others with totally different antecedents north of the Wall, or to the west of Britain.”

Birdoswald Roman Fort

Both Christopher Gidlow and, more surprisingly, Francis Prior, have commented that if ever there was a place crying out for an Arthur, it was Birdoswald.

(There could be evidence of many more post-Roman forts on the Wall, many not having their finds published yet, and I’d point anyone wanting to know more to August Hunt’s article on the subject at Robert Vermaat’s Faces of Arthur website. August himself puts forward nearby Etterby (once known as Arthuriburgum) as the site of Arthur’s ‘court)’.

As another proponent for an Hiberno-British or Irish Arthur, Gidlow realises that such positions in the north could have lead to Arthur either rising to a command position or inheriting one.  His ethnic background wouldn’t have mattered a jot, just as those around him could have been descended from any number of ‘nationalities’.   By this point they all would be, essentially, Britons.  Of course, some of these areas would eventually have morphed into kings and kingdoms, as mentioned above.

One does have to wonder how a powerful Hiberno-Briton might have come about here, especially since military service was hereditary; as the same became with later kingdoms in the area.  Historians might be able to leave it floating, but for a story or screenplay you need to have more than that.  If Gaelic blood came from his father, then how would he become part of this military society?  There are only a few possible Hiberno-British units that we know of: those derived from the Attacotti after the so called Barbarian Conspiracy of 369. The Attacotti (Atticoti, Attacoti,Atecotti, Atticotti, Ategutti) are an enigmatic group of Britons (if, indeed they were Britons) as no one can be sure where they were from.  Most place them in the Western Isles, but there is an argument put forward by Philip Rance (‘Attacotti, Déisi and Magnus Maximus: The Case for Irish Federates in Late Roman Britain’, 2001) that they were a sept of the Déisi of Demetia and known as the aichechthúatha (‘client people’), so would have been in southwestern Wales. (There are counter arguments to this on linguistic grounds, which I won’t go in to).

(For further thoughts on the Attacotti, see THIS blog).

An earlier idea I had for a screenplay (and one to which I have recently returned) had this Arthur’s father serving with the Atecotti Iuniores Gallicani (or the Honoriani Atecotti seniores) in Gaul.  After the unit is virtually decimated and his father killed, whilst supporting Riothamus, the remnants flee to Amorica. The 15 year old Arthur then ends up in Dumnonia and the story goes on from there. (In case anyone is wondering … no, the Attecotti didn’t have a dragon as a shield pattern).

So how might Arthur as an Hibernian-Briton be on the Wall? Not because of being Hibernian, but because it appears to have been a closed system?  Well, he could have joined as a mercenary or part of a bucellarii, fighting under a commander, if they were short of numbers.  If his father had his own fianna warband (which would make him a ri fianna), they could have given their services to one of these groups on the Wall and, eventually, stayed with them.  Alternatively, Arthur could have been a ri fianna and done this with his own warband.   If his Hiberno blood was from his mother, the answer is simpler, of course.  However, if Eigr was actually his mother’s name, I’ve yet to find an Irish name that could have sounded anything like it.

(For further thoughts on what military position Arthur might have had, see THIS blog).

A MERRY OLD SOUL?

The above could take us back to the Campbell genealogy one of which shows a descent to Coel Hen, thought by some to have been the last Roman Dux Britanniarum (‘Duke of the [Five] Britains’) who was militarily in-charge of the Wall area and the northern provinces.  However, no other Coeling genealogy shows Arthur as one of the descendants.

Cunedda’s northern battles

But Arthur also is given a connection to the Coelings via Cunedda who (supposedly) married Coel’s daughter Guaul.  This sounds a little bit suspect as the name means ‘Wall’ … although, I believe it can also mean ‘blood‘.  He may, instead, have given his support to Coel and the Wall … if there was, indeed, any connection.  The poem Marwnad Cunedda (‘The Death-son of Cunedda’) attributed to the 6th century bard Taliesin, but probably a later composer, has Cunedda fighting at Caer Weir (2), somewhere in County Durham just south of the Wall, and Caer Lliwelydd/Ligualid (Carlisle), Roman LVGVVALIVM (1): practically on the Wall.  (Interestingly, this poem makes no mention of Gwynedd!).

FAR & WIDE?

You get those who, understandably, try to give Arthur a sphere of activity.  Many can’t accept that there would be a Britannia (and beyond) wide ranging ‘commander’ as Gidlow and others have suggested so they look for battles just in the north, or the east and the south … or just in Wales (Blake and Lloyd).

There is another possibility, beside the one that says these proposed wide ranging battles belong to different Arthurs or they were just made up.  That is that these battles belong to different times in his career, fighting alongside different kings.  This would see him, not as a Britannian Magister Militum, as forwarded by Gidlow, but a ‘general for hire’ figure with his own large retinue.  He would be a mercenary in effect, fighting for whichever province or civitas needed him.  As for him only fighting ‘Saxons’ as the Historia Brittonum seems to imply, I tried to show in my ‘Arthurian’ poem that it would only take one mention of them for us to think these are only group(s) he fought. He could have battled against every one of the various ethnic peoples of these islands.

Even if we could identify a region where he was from it may give us no indication as to where he fought his battles or who were his British allies and enemies.  There’s the added problem of not even knowing what his status was: high king? king? prince? chieftain? general? Magister Militum?  Each of these could give us different options. We don’t know the state of Britannia and how fragmented of united it was. Were the Britannia Secunda and Valentia provinces still in existence? If so, were they allies and did they see themselves as part of Britannia still? Were Britannia Prima and the northern provinces (if Valentia was northern) allies? Would they come to one another’s aid? Each answer give potentially different outcomes.

Could an Hiberno-British Arthur have been at the Wall? It appears as good a place as any of the other sites and I can see why many favour it above all others. Its downside (for an Hiberno-British Arthur) is it isn’t in an Hiberno-British region; but the possible reasons for him being there, outlined above, could answer this.

In the next blog I want to briefly look at the Historia Britonnum and the Annales Cambriae and see what light they might shed on an Hiberno-British Arthur.

Thanks for reading,

Mak

 

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