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The Attacotti – Britons, Gaels or Picts? – Part Two

Hoard of Romano-British cut silver, ingots and...

Hoard of hacksilver & ingots

WHY DID THEY RAID?

In the second part of this blog we’ll look at why these various Peoples may have raided at the same time, leading Ammianus to called it the Barbarian Conspiracy. If we look at why the Attacotti (and others) raided, we might get some idea of where they could have been from.

It could be, of course, simply down to a weakened defences of Britannia, but Professor Guy Halsall (from his Anderson Lecture, 2011 -), James Fraser (From Caledonia to Pictland) and Fraser Hunter (Beyond the edge of the Empire ) have put forward the varying possibility that these Peoples beyond the Roman frontiers (not only in Britannia but in Europe) were as much intertwined with the Empire as those within it, and may have suffered from its downfall, and changes of policy. They point out that the high quality Roman goods (especially silver in some areas) that some of the Picti, Britons between the Walls and (possibly) the northern Scotti had, may have been bribes as well as the sign of trade with the Empire. (Hunter also notes the material and settlement collapse in the northeast of Scotland during the the Late 3rd and 4th centuries).

These ‘bribes’ and this trading ceased in northern and northeastern Scotland in the Late 3rd century. Was it because Roman policy towards them in particular changed? This, these authors wonder, could be part of the reason (or in some cases maybe the whole reason) why they raided. It was to say “You stop paying us to leave you alone, then we won’t leave you alone!” or “Oh no, our supply of silver has gone, our status has gone done, we need to go and get some more … and show our bravery in our society through our daring fetes at the same time!” Some of it may have been out of desperation as something drastic seems to have happen in these Scottish areas with settlement abandonment as well. But what?

ÉIRE & ULSTER

This is most likely the home of at least some of those raiding Scotti, and it is an area where Roman coins have been found, most notably in Ulster. This is the island where many think the Attacotti originated from, via that aichechthúatha argument or a people called the *Ate (S)cotti or the *Atecotte. (Also see WALES).

How about them coming from Éire (Southern Ireland)? It’s possible, but Scotti (or Scoti) was a general name for any group from the island of Hibernia, (or Goidelic speaking people in general?), although it became synonymous with northern Hibernia (Ulster). However, one would think the Attacotti would simply be grouped under Scotti if they were from the island. A counter-argument to this could be that they were only known by their name because they were captured. If another Scotti group had been captured, then, perhaps they too would be known by another specific name, rather than a general one.

It’s not out of the question that they were allies in raiding, and their Scotti ‘friends’ sold them down the river to the Romans … especially if they were seen as lowly aichechthúatha. This wouldn’t be the first time such a thing had happened, and this could also have been the case if they had been part of a Pictish confederacy instead.

However, since those Roman units were named after tribal groups, would they really go for aichechthúatha? If they’d been sold out by fellow Scotti, possibly, and Rance argues that other unit names may have derived from derogatory terms given by tribal overlords. (Rance, 2001, p.251) But there’s still the etymological problem.

It’s also worth considering the Romans in Ireland, which, until very recently was thought out of the question. However, with the discovery of a ‘Roman fort‘  at Drumanagh near Dublin (British Archeology, March, 1996) opinion has change.

One fly in this ointment is the following:

“There is surprisingly little Roman material in Ireland, but what there is has a strange distribution. None has been found in association with native material. Indeed, to a great extent the distributions of stray Roman and native objects are mutually exclusive. In other words, those native Irish possessed of a rich, La Tene-derived, ornament industry seem to have been uninterested in Roman trinkets. Moreover in the South East, in Leinster, which has produced a fair number of Roman objects and even Roman-style burials and cemeteries, native material is surprisingly rare.” (Richard Warner, British Archeology, May, 1996)

However, Roman hordes found in Ireland (north and south) include:

  • 4 silver ingots and 3 pieces of silver plate ( Late 4th C., Balline, Co Limerick, Éire)
  • 1,701 silver Roman coins, a silver bowl, and 6 kg of silver ingots and hacksilver (Ballinrees, County Londonderry, Ulster)

http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_results.aspx

(What a coincidence in those place names! Balline is in central-southern Éire and Ballinrees is near Coleraine at the central north of Ulster).

That’s a lot of silver in the Coleraine Hoard, and it’s specifically this kind of material that is thought could be used for pay-offs, so to speak … if it wasn’t taken during raiding. Webster and Brown (The transformation of the Roman world AD 400-900, p.213) certainly think the Coleraine Hoard was booty. The coins go up to Constantine III (408). If the policy of payment had stopped, then this lot definitely got the later items from raiding, unless Britannia did a one off ‘donation’! The hacksilver makes me wonder about this being part of a ‘bribe’, but I’m no expert. Philip Freeman in, ‘Ireland and the classical world’ (2001) wonders the same. Of course, this is just a single hoard and we’ve no idea what else may have been in the region or for how long.

But, we must keep in mind St Jerome’s grouping of the Attacotti with the Scotti, which could be telling.

WALES

First the north. We know there were setters and raiders in this area, from Anglesey to the Llŷn Peninsular. Any settlers would have become citizens by now and this is not what they may have been, having been made into auxilia palatina units (although they would be made citizens as soon as they became soldiers of the Empire!). This doesn’t rule out them being from somewhere else, such as Ireland or Scotland, and being captured here, or even based in the region as federates who then went of the rampage.

The southwest of Wales has the largest concentration of inscribed stones with Irish ogham than anywhere else in the UK. This is the region (now Dyfed, once Demetia) that Philip Rance argues for the Attacotti originating from in his extensive paper, ‘Attacotti, Déisi and Magnus Maximus: The Case for Irish Federates in Late Roman Britain’, (2001). It is traditionally said that its dynasty came via the Déisi from Munster in Ireland after their expulsion. This may be an origin myth but that there were Irish there (or Gaelic speakers and culture), there is no doubt, and many think, including Rance, that they were brought over as federates, just as the Germanic federates came to the east.

Rance’s theory forwards the argument that the Déisi, who were known to be an aichechthúatha (‘client people’) of the more dominant Dál Fiachach Suidge of Ireland, were the Attacotti. His basic argument is based on one others have suggested, and that is that the name Attacotti derives from, not a tribe per se, but a section of Irish, or Cambro-Irish in this case, society called the aichechthúatha – a general term used for ‘rent-paying’ groups. It has been counter-argued that aichechthúatha would not produce Attacotti, but something more like *Acectoti. I’m no philologist, but that sounds right to me. But Rance also argues on the federate grounds and the number of them that may have been there that would account for large Roman units being able to be made from them. There could, indeed, have been a federate group (or groups) here from Hibernia (or northern Britain). An alternative might be that they weren’t known as aichechthúatha, but that another group called something like the *Atecotte. (See below) where in the area.

The reasoning based on the numbers sounds plausible, otherwise we have to account for how so many could have been captured. The answer could be the same as that which happened to the Alammani group mentioned in Part One.

Even if Rance is wrong about them being the Attacotti, his paper is worth a read for the information it contains on the subject. (Available at JSTOR for $12 if you’re not a member: http://www.jstor.org/pss/526958 )

ALT CLUT

Moving to Scotland, in this theory, the name comes from A(l)t C(l)ut (Rock of Clyde); what is now Dumbarton Rock (The Rock of the Britons) in southwest Scotland. However, this is based on Charles Bertram’s 18th century medieval forgery ‘Richard of Cirencester’, and would require the Romans to miss out two Ls in the name.

This was certainly a British speaking region, lying between Hadrian’s and the Antonine Walls. Roman goods have been discovered here, so it is a possibility, under this scenario. They were certainly in a good geographical position to raid, not being too far from Hadrian’s Wall. There are coin hoard concentrations here too (Hunter, 2007, pp34-35) either achieved by raiding or bribery … or both. (If you look on the internet it is amazing to see how much it is almost stated as fact that the Attacotti were from here. It’s a possibility, that’s all).

WESTERN ISLES/HEBRIDES

This Western Isles is the area that would later become the Gael region of Dál Riata (Dalriada). There are many arguments now that their arrival was no invasion but that a similar culture (and probably Goidelic language) had been here a long time and began to spread during the 6th centuries. As Hunter notes, this Atlantic zone of the British Isles didn’t have the same trade (or raiding) as those further north and east. There are no coin hoards here, unlike those found in southern Scotland, but there are Roman finds, which appear to tie in with the Roman withdrawal from the Antonine to Hadrian’s Wall (Hunter, 2007, pp.32-33).

It is interesting to note that before the Late 4th century the Attacotti aren’t mentioned, nor are they mentioned again after the Barbarian Conspiracy, during Flavius Stilicho’s campaign for example. Only the Scotti and Picti are mentioned. It could be argued that this was the Attacotti’s first and last attempt at raiding, hence why there are no hoards found in the region. But, of course, this could go for any region with no or few finds.

This is another area that states as fact that this is where the Attacotti were from. Only another possibility, but if they were Goidelic speaking Britannians they could have been likened to the Scotti (and, indeed, could have had a similar culture), yet known to have been from one of the Britannian Isles, therefore called Britons by St. Jerome.

NORTHERN SCOTLAND

Looking at the Got/Cot(?)/Cat/Caith of northern Scotland; the argument is, as put forward by the writer Carla Nayland ( http://www.carlanayland.org/essays/attacotti.htm ) – which she admits might be clutching at straws – suggests Got or Cat/Caith may have been *cottiGot being part of Atta/Ate Cotti isn’t out of the question, as ‘c’ and ‘g’ could sound alike. (Remember, the name for themselves could have been something like *Attacotos, *Athogotos, *Ardgothos or the like). If it was Pictish we’ll may never know its meaning whoever it sounded. It could even have been Xavier Delamarre’s, *Atecotto, later shorterned and remembered as Got. (This might not work on etymological grounds!).

It would be a very long way for this lot to be raiding, but it’s not out of the question as the Dicalydones and the Verturiones (both most likely confederations) had certainly travelled a long distance … and all three are from the area (north and northeast Scotland) that Hunter identifies as going through some kind of crisis in the 4th century. The region does show signs of contact with the Empire, especially in silver, so Cot could, like the other Pictish areas to their south, have been greatly affected by the Empire’s (possible) change in policy. It may not all have been down to a Roman change in policy, but it could have been a major factor.

One possibility I would forward is that, if these were the Attacotti, it could have been the capture of a great many of their young men that really tipped the balance and led to further decline as the Romans drew their young men away.

Whilst Got/Cat/Caith (supposedly) stretched to the Hebrides in the west, Hunter has shown, as noted above, that the Atlantic side of far northwestern Britain didn’t have as much a contact with Roman culture and doesn’t appear to have been as affected by any Roman policy change. But no one can be sure of the extend of the supposed seven Pictish ‘nations’, and at this time they were most likely far more fragmented. As I mentioned, if the name is Pictish, we may never know its meaning, and if the north’s language and culture had been influenced by Scandinavia it would complicate things even further, but might explain why they would not be lumped in with the Picts. But, again, it could simply be because they had been caught that we know them by a specific, rather than a generalised, name. Ammianus would only have been told these people were called Attacotti; he, most likely, would have had no idea where they were from.

(See: Jonathan Jarret’s blog for some more on the Pictish problem; Guy Halsall’s blog, who warns about the general problem of just who the Romans called Picti; Tim Clarkson’s Senchus blog for all things Pictish and Northern British).

CONCLUSIONS?

So, am I going to stick my neck out and say where I think they were from? Not on your nelly! A reading of St. Jerome should indicate either Irish or, at least, Goidelic speaking, but he calls them Britons. This was either because they were from the British Isles or it was just because the Roman unit was formed there … unless he’s referring to a group of Attacotti before their Roman military formation, which is possible. If this is the case, then it may point to them coming from a Gaelic (Goidelic) speaking region of Britain and at this point in time that may only be, what is now, southwest or northwest Wales or the Western Isles of Scotland.

There’s as a case for those Gots of Caithness, who, like those Picts to their south, seemed to be going through some kind of crisis. But the etymology might be a problem.

If they were from southwest Wales, as Rance considers, then they may have to have been new arrivals to end up as auxilia palatina, but the derivation of the name doesn’t seem to work … to this laymen at least. However, there’s more argument for this region as to why a great many barbarians might have been captured, never to cause a problem again.

Any of these ‘barbarian’ regions may have had something to lose from not raiding and a lot to gain. Did they do it just to get booty, hostages or slaves, or was it to try and get the Romans to start bribing them again, so they didn’t have to risk their necks on these ever increasing dangerous missions. Was the Coleraine Hoard a long term part of this, so it worked for the Scotti, but was a huge disaster for the Attacotti and a general failure for the Picts? Who knows, but it is food for thought.

The jury will have to remain out a while longer (or forever!) but I hope this has, at least, added to the debate.

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

(For a related blog on the Barbarian Conspiracy, which looks at where the British province of Valentia might have been, click HERE).

Mak

 
 

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Next Two Blogs

English: A map showing the approximate areas w...

The next two blogs will be out soon … I hope!

The first is entitle ‘The Attacotti – Britons, Gaels or Picts?‘ and I will take a look at a people of the Isle of  Britannia (or Hibernia/Ireland) called the Attacotti (Atecotti) who were involved in the so called Barbarian Conspiracy of 364-367. Many have discussed this issue, but I hope to add at least a little more to the debate.

The second is called ‘King Arthur – Man, Myth … or Both?. Whether the figure of Arthur was a historicized myth or a mythologized man has been debated and written about numerous times, some might say ‘to death’. There’s not much point writing about the subject again unless something new can be brought to the discussion, and that’s what I hope to do in this blog.

Best wishes,

Mak

 

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King Arthur – A Provincial Dux, Comes or Tribunus? – Part Two

Map of Roman Britain, showing the road from Cl...

PROVINCIAL ARMY?

If these military positions, or one of them, did exist, in some form, in mid to late 5th century Britannia, the question arises as to who exactly these individuals would command: the province’s various warbands or his own provincial army … or both? Generals of the late empire would very often be in command of feoderati (federates) and/or bucellarii (literally meaning ‘biscuit eaters’), but, of course, they could afford them! The former would come in federate ethnic groups, the latter as individual mercenaries, and, perhaps, some ethnic groups.  Bucellarii where his personal household troop and could add up to a considerable number when needed. The magister militum Aegidius had 12,000 at one time.

Here is an interesting quote from a paper with the very long title of ARMIES, WAR, AND SOCIETY IN THE WEST, ca.300-ca.600:LATE ROMAN AND BARBARIAN MILITARY ORGANIZATIONS AND THE ‘FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE’ by Richard Abels:

Generals used federates and bucellarii

Dick Whittaker observes that the “twin process of soldiers becoming landlords and landlords becoming soldiers” in the late empire facilitated 1) the collapse of the frontiers, 2) the integration/fusion of German ‘barbarian’ and Roman culture, 3) the breakdown of law and the growth of a new culture of private power in which ‘the poor became increasingly dependent on the arbitrary will of the landed rich” (Rich 281). As soldiers became landlords and landlords became the masters of soldiers, private individuals became the heads of military retinues of bucellarii. Though by law bucellarii were required to take an oath not only to their employers (a private contract), but one as well to the emperor (public). Surviving Roman administrative records show that bucellarii performed public duties (under the direction of their civilian masters) and were liable for military service if called upon by government authorities. The wealthy Apion family of early sixth-century Egypt received tax breaks for hiring bucellarii, whom they used to collect taxes and maintain order during games in the hippodrome. (Lee 165, citing Liebeschuetz, Barbarians and Bishops 45-6. But, as Whittaker points out, “the public oath was of limited relevance if the patron rebelled or if imperial rule was not recognized: the loyalty of the soldiers than became private obsequium [a personal following]” (295).

Archaeologically, one of the key developments of the fifth century was the increasing ‘nucleation of rural sites. … Small farms disappeared, many vici (villages) were abandoned or removed to old Iron Age hilltop sites, while larger villas … survived, expanded and were often fortified. … [There is evidence] of concentration of property holdings, the increased isolation and inaccessibility of estates and the compulsion on peasants to seek the refuge of the rich’ (292).

Increasingly in the fifth century, the “remnants of the Roman army operated in towns,” and bands of bucellarii in the service of local great men, their patrons, controlled the countryside. The Roman sources term these bands as ‘robbers,’ but it seems probable that they were actually the private forces of local magnates maintaining order and control outside of Roman public authority.

This process was not restricted to ‘Roman’ landlords. It was true also of German chiefs, many of whom were ‘Roman’ generals or federate chieftains. The distinction between ‘Roman’ and ‘German’ itself was disappearing as the cultures merged.

Germanic bodyguards were used by Emperors and it could be as much that they were there, not just for their violent tendency, but because they were (usually) neutral and exotic. (They looked different and talked differently).* This could have been as much the reason some British elites used them as any other … although the fact Constantine III may have taken all the best units (not all) with him to the Continent in his bid for the western Empire may have something to do with it. However, just as happened in the Empire, your bodyguard could turn against you. (Interesting that the emperor Augustus didn’t dismiss his bodyguard, but put them on an island out of harms way* just as the Britons are supposed to have done with the ‘Saxons’ on the Isle of Thanet. (But see THIS blog).

STRUCTURE

The question comes as to how a provincial force would (or could) operate in Sub Roman Britain, especially if the likes of Higham and Dark are right and we had both ‘tribal’ (‘Celtic’) king based kingdoms (in the west and north) and more civil and military civitates in the Midlands and east, at the same time? How do you get powerful kings and their warbands to work under an ‘outside’ commander? The other question is, how would they be ‘paid’? (Higham’s theory not withstanding that this civil zone was under ‘Anglo-Saxon’ suzerainty or Chris Wickham‘s theory on a greatly fragmented Britain).

The answer to the first question could be that they would probably need to function, in some way at least, modeled on the Late Roman army system. (This, of course, being complicated by the Late Roman Empire’s use of barbarian federates who fought in the own ways). Whether they followed what militarily changes had been going on on the Continent is another matter, and their system may have been an old fashioned one, or a mixture of British and Roman. It may also depend on the part of the old diocese that was in question. If we take northern Britannia first, this could have seen an overall commander in charge of the various forces/warbands that occupied/re-occupied the still existing forts there when they were needed to come together as a combined force. This dux could have either been some over-king (or the equivalent) or a general in the employ of an over-king (as envisaged by Ken Dark). If this over-king had illusions of old imperial Roman grandeur he just might have done the latter. However, if this was the case he may have had to come from a ‘wealthier’ region of the north where surplus grain could be grown, such as the Yorkshire Plain. The old legions of the north had to rely on the southern grain regions to feed the amount of men that were there, though that number would be greatly reduced by this time.

We must also keep in mind, as discussed by Alex Woolf in ‘Regna and gentes: the relationship between late antique and early medieval’ (2003, p360), that kings of Gildas’s time – generally thought to be writing in the first half of the 6th century by all but Higham – in the De Excidio Britanniae (DEB) and before may not have functioned in the same way as later, Late 6th century and onward kings did and Gildas’s berated five kings of western Britannia may not be representative of those further east or in the north. Nor should the poetry of the 6th century bards Aneirin and Taliesin of the ‘Heroic Age’ be seen as showing how earlier or more Romanised ‘armies’ functioned. Woolf wonders if the other leaders Gildas isn’t happy with (but doesn’t mention by name) in these Romanised regions are the iudex mentioned by him:

Reges habet Britannia, sed tyrannos; judices habet, sed impios —“kings Britain has, but tyrants; judges she has, but wicked ones” (DEB, §27)

… if they are not one and the same as Gildas later says the kings also act as judges. Higham thinks these leaders were the rectores, speculatores and duces (more on this later).

The question often arises as to why use feoderati and bucellarii when you could use your own indigenous people? There are two answers: 1) Using, what has been termed the Gurkha Syndrome by military sociologist C.H. Enloe, you chose the most feared warriors to deal with the feared enemy, just as the British used the Gurkhas, and ‘Saxons’ were certainly feared. 2) Contrary to public perception, mercenaries are actually more likely to fight because that is their chosen profession, unlike some ‘levyman’ plucked from the fields. It also means you can keep them active for longer as they don’t have to farm. This is not to mention that mercenaries were very often put at the front, to save a kingdom’s own warriors.*

The more attractive alternative (and one perhaps borne out by the archaeology) might be that the various civitates and/or kingdoms that made up a province had to supply the men when needed for a combined force. Or, they were there to support a provincial army by only having to supplement a smaller group of feoderati and/or bucellarii that were the dux’s personal troop. This latter scenario might have been more acceptable, as any general with a large army could have become a threat himself. This would see him with his own smaller unit, or field army, for deal with raiding and the like, and supplemented by a combined large force for set battles. If this is how a historical Arthur did function it would be somewhat of an irony, especially if we add the possibility that he was of mix Hibernian (Gaelic) and British blood (More on this below or see THIS blog). Imagine: an Hiberno-British Arthur fighting with Germanic/Scandinavian/British/Hibernian mercenaries! Sacrilege! Yet perfectly normal for the time.

To need a provincial army, of course, would require there being a large enough enemy or enemies to warrant it, with a large enough border to protect, perhaps covering more than one civitas/kingdom. Or, maybe, it could be used to bring more force to bear at a particular point along that border than could be supplied by a single civitas/kingdom army? Is this restructuring what Ambrosius Aurelianus started and what enable the Britons to fight back?

How would they be paid? Well, they would be paid in kind, in some way; certainly not with money, except old coinage to melt down. They could also have been given food, metals or a share of any booty. They may have been promised land, either during service or after it.

LEADING FROM THE FRONT?

Most Roman emperors didn’t lead from the front (although, of course, some did) unlike the Hellenistic kings, like Alexander, who did fight at the front.* How did the British kings in the 5th century see themselves? like their ancient British forefathers or like mini Roman emperors who used generals or what the later Welsh would call the pen teulu (captain of the kings retinue)? Could have been a mixture of course.

GUERRILLA WARFARE?

The Late Roman army had to change its tactics in the 5th century and learned that large pitched battles were not always the answer and smaller guerrilla type operations were the way to go against the northern barbarians. A type of warfare that had been used against them for centuries. It’s this kind of warfare that Collingwood envisaged Arthur undertaking as a comes with a field army against his enemies, who very often may not have been united themselves. It’s always possible that a commander of a provincial force would fight this way at times, as set battles with one large army against another is not always the answer. There would have to be offensive tactics used with surprise attacks on strategic points. Arthur’s supposed battles, many at rivers, may have been just this. Cutting off supply routes or attacking places such as salt production sites or mineral mines could also have been a method used.

(* My thanks to the Ancient Warfare podcast: War as a livelihood – Mercenaries in the Ancient world - of 04/03/09 for this information.)

In Part Three we’ll look at what Gildas called rectores. These could be provincial governors and I’ll explore if this is what Gildas meant by the term, as well as looking at the five provinces that made up the old Roman diocese of Britannia and the various theories as to some of them still existing in Gildas’s time.

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

Mak

 

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King Arthur – A Provincial Dux, Comes or Tribunus? – Part One

Map of Roman Britain, showing the road from Cl...

In this seven part blog I want to explore if an historical 5th century Arthur could have been (not was) some equivalent of a Late Roman commander or a general, and what this might have meant.  Of course, it was the late, great R G Collingwood who put forward the possibility of Arthur being a comes (‘count’) with his own field army back in the 1930s, but I want this to be more of an exploration of the possibility of this and other Late Roman military positions; there can be no certainties. Of course, the question of someone in these positions applies whether Arthur existed or not. (For those new to my blogs, it might be worth you reading ‘In Search Of The ‘Original’ King Arthur’, ‘Valentia – The Fifth Romano-British Province’,  and ‘Arthur – King or Commander’ blogs first).

There is no way of knowing what a Late (or Mid) 5th century Arthur was, if he ever existed, but there is always the possibility that, if he did, he could have been a provincial comes, dux or tribunus. This might sound odd and not seem possible to some who think of British Britannia as a fragmented, old Roman diocese ruled by ‘Celtic’ kings and petty kings (which it must have been in parts), but there are some eminent scholars, such as Ken Dark, Roger White, David Dumville and Nick Higham, who think that there could have been at least two of the five the British provinces still in existence, in some form, in the late 5th century and beyond. (Higham and Dark actually wonder if the whole diocese survived intact up until the mid-5th century at least, but with the former scholar thinking the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ were in charge in at least two of them with a third paying tribute to them). If it was the case that they existed, then these provinces may have had some kind of provincial army, and this would probably have needed some kind of commander or general as their military leader, and not one of the kings … if it had them.

However, we should also keep in mind the thoughts of Neil Faulkner (The Decline and Fall of Roman Britain, 2004) and Chris Wickham (Framing the Early Middle Ages, 2006), whose interpretation of the evidence is that Britain almost completely fell apart c.375-425 and had to build itself backup again from scratch.  Also Stuart Laycock in Britannia The Failed State: Tribal Conflict and the End of Roman Britain (2008) and UnRoman Britain: Exposing the Great Myth of Britannia (2010), written with Russell Miles, comes to a similar conclusion. This doesn’t mean Britannia couldn’t have built back up again, although not in a Roman material way, or re-united when needed. Also keep in mind Nick Higham’s theory, which may make the scenario I will explore here impossible.

RANKS & TITLES

First, a look at what these Late Roman military positions were. I’m very grateful to Robert Vermaat for letting me quote directly from his Fectio Late Roman reenactment website: (http://www.fectio.org.uk/articles/ranks.htm )

GENERALS

When Constantine segregated the civil and military functions, the military commanders ceased to be civil governors (although in some cases there were exceptions). Provinces were henceforth commanded by praeses [governors] without military functions, while the troops were commanded by duces. There seems to have been no sharp distinction between comites and duces.

The comes (title) was originally a title (lit. meaning ‘companion’) for members of the entourage of the Emperor, not a rank. Later the title became known for several functions, both military as well as civilian. These functions were formalised by Constantine, by creating titles such as the comes sacrarum largitionum (finance minister), the comes domesticorum (commander of the protectores domestici).The military version of the title was the comes rei militaris, a vague title without a description of rank or importance, which could describe commands varying from minor frontiers to overall army command of a magister militum.
The comitatenses or field armies of a certain region [was] always commanded by a comes (such as the comes Britanniarum) and was therefore possibly higher in status than a dux. A comes, however could, like a dux, also command a regional army group, indeed like the comes Litoris saxonicum per Britannias (count of the Saxon shore) or even frontier sections (law codes prove the existence of a comes limitis). Comites could also command vexillationes of the mobile field army in the field.

The dux (rank) was originally a title (lit. meaning ‘leader’) of an officer acting in a temporary capacity above his rank, commanding a collection of troops in transit or in temporary command of a single unit. From the third century, a dux became a regular officer. After Constantine, the dux commanded the provincial troops (the comitatenses and palatini falling under the command of the magistri or comites). Such a command could encompass a (part of a) province (styled after the name of that province, such as the dux Aegypti) or even several provinces (such as the dux Britanniarum (duke of the Britains), who commanded the regions straddled by Hadrian’s Wall). Another name could be dux limitis, but these names were not standardised.
The dux ranked directly below the magister militum (but could appeal to the Emperor) and was responsible for the military protection of his own sector, including the military infrastructure, the collection and distribution of provisions and the military legal system. Valentinian I raised the duces from equestrian to senatorial status, which also reflects the ‘inflation’ of some military commands, which saw the replacement of several duces with comites during the fifth century. A dux probably received fifty annonae plus fifty capitus.

OFFICERS

The tribunus (rank) was the commanding officer of a new-style unit, which could be a regiment of auxilia palatina or a numerus or anything in between. Tribuni of the scholae were commanded by the magister officiorum, but tribuni also commanded cavalry vexillationes, new-style auxilia regiments as well as the new-style legions of the field army, but also the old-style cohorts of the limitanei. By the mid-fifth century a tribunus might also be styled a comes, under the debasement of Roman military titles. By the sixth century a papyrus describes an old-style cohort commanded by a tribunus, eight senior officers including the adiutor (regimental clerk), the primicerius, six ordinarii and six others, probably the centuriones.
A so-called tribunus vacans was an officer temporarily without unit serving as a staff officer. These tribuni vacantes could also serve on special duties – when Ammianus was on a mission from Ursicinus to relieve the magister peditum Silvanus of his command (read “arrest him”), he and his nine fellow domestici were accompanied by several tribuni vacantes. And in Egypt, a tribunus civitatis might combine military and civilian duties, acting like a governor. Tribuni could also be in charge of barbarian groups, as the example of the Tribunus gentis Marcomannorum shows. We know of one Agilo who was a tribunus stabuli in 357. These men (later comes stabuli) were responsible for gathering levies of horses for the army. A tribunus probably received eight annonae (plus four capitus if cavalry).

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(This latter position could, apparently, become a governor (as well as a comes), which we’ll discuss in Part Three. The bold type is by me, to indicate that even a civitas could have a tribunus/governor).

Now, I am not suggesting that any position in Late (or Mid) 5th century Britain would be exactly the same as that found in the late empire, but that it may have been something similar, using the Roman military names; just as 6th century inscribed stones in Wales have given us ‘protictor’ (protector), another Roman military rank, magister (magistrate or ruler), presbyter (priest) and medici (doctor), but the first two may have had a very differing meaning in Britain at the time. The genealogy of Demetia (Dyfed) also gives us a Triphun (Harleian MS 3859), which could be the Brittonic form of tribunus, although there is some doubt to this as it could be from the Welsh word tryffun, meaning “panting”. (My thanks to Christopher Gwinn via the Facebook King Arthur Group for that information). It is interesting that protictor (Dyfed), magister (Gwynedd), medici (Gwynedd) and Triphun (Dyfed) all occur in regions that were the least Romanised, especially Gwynedd, but would become more Romanise – or Latinised – after the Romans had left.

(For more information on inscribed stones of Wales: http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/adsdata/arch-769-1/ahds/dissemination/pdf/vol45/45_015_039.pdf )

The Life of St Germanus also tells us that on his visit to Britain in 429, to tackle the Pelagian heresy, there was a man of tribunus rank and, as Nick Higham points out (The English Conquest: Gildas and Britain in the Fifth Century, 1994), Gildas in the De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (DEB) mentions duces (the plural of dux) and he seems to imply that they could be both kings (tyranni or rex) and none-royal. Of course, Higham places Badon much earlier than others, 430×440 and, therefore, Gildas writing the DEB to 479×484. He also believes the ‘Saxons’ to have been the overall victors, and not the Britons and his conclusions leads him to deny the possibility of a figure of Arthur ever existing. Personally, I think, even under Higham’s theory, it doesn’t mean Arthur couldn’t have existed, he was just made into more than maybe he was. Most scholars, however, do not agree with Higham’s assessment of the evidence.

In Part Two we’ll look at what structure a British provincial army could have taken.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to any comments, thoughts … and correction,

Mak

 

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ARTHUR: KING OR COMMANDER?

ARTHUR: KING OR COMMANDER?

The title really should be ‘Arthur: King, Commander, both, or neither’, but it’s not quite as catchy.

Those not au fait with the Arthurian subject and the search for an historical 5th or 6th century figure will just assume Arthur was a king. The first you might have been aware of an alternative view would be the last King Arthur film, if you saw it.

The flip side of the coin is those who do study the subject and believe he wasn’t a king because the 9th century document, the Historia Brittonum (in all its various versions), doesn’t make it sound as if he was a monarch but only a “leader of battles”.  Some will also say that the early Welsh stories of Arthur never call him a king, but as we will see, they do far more than that.

For the sake of this discussion we will assume there was a late 5th century figure called Arthur who fought at the Siege of Badon.

The main problem, as I discussed in the Arthurian poetry blog, is knowing where the battle list in Historia Brittonum originated from. If it was from a poem, whether oral or written, it may not have been made explicit within it that Arthur was a king, whether he was or not. There are examples in later mediaeval Welsh poetry where the bard extolled the virtues of his king in verse but does not say he was a king, because he knows his audience is already aware of this fact. If we didn’t have the relevant genealogies we wouldn’t know they were kings either, and could come to the conclusion that they may just have been military leaders of some kind. The same could have happened to Arthur.

As for the early Welsh stories of Arthur not saying he was a king, we only have to look to the story of Culhwch and Olwen (c. 10th century) to see that he was called a pen tyrned: a leader/chief/head of rulers/princes/kings. They seem to be making him out to be is some overlord or High King. It is certainly not making him out to be just a leader of battles. The Welsh poem, ‘The Elegy of Geraint’ (c. 9th to 11th centuries), even calls him an “ameraudur”. This could literally be translated as “emperor” but it is also possible it means “commander” or “general”.

Of course, it can be argued that this was only down to the later storytellers wanting to make him into a character closer to the rulers of their own day. This is a very valid point. However, whoever gave Arthur the above title chose an unusual one. For example, they didn’t call him a Gwledig; which seems to have been the highest accolade for someone in the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries: Emrys Wledig, Macsen Wledig, Urien Rheged (Wledig) and many more. There was only one poem – attributed to Taliesin but most likely a later bard – that calls Arthur by this appellation. (See THIS blog.)

The other reason why Arthur is assumed not to have been a king is because there are no (reliable) royal genealogies that name him. Those that do are either derived from the stories or could very well just be made up. (See THIS blog)

There were, of course, great swathes of eastern and central Britain that were lost to the Anglo-Saxons where any ‘King Arthur’ could have resided. The downside to this argument is the fact that all subsequent princes given the name are in the west, nearly all in Hiberno-British held areas or those of Hiberno-British descent. (See THIS blog)

At the time Arthur is supposed to have flourished there may have been a very blurred distinction between a powerful commander and a king. There’s also no certainty that the British would use a commander to lead their battles, even though this is what was happening in Europe This may depend on the state of the ex-Roman diocese of Britannia at this time. It is possible from both archaeological evidence and that given by the 6th century saint, Gildas, that some of the old provinces of Britannia still existed. If they, one one, did, having an overall military commander might have been the answer to stop any of the rulers that made up the province from taking the lead and using this power to their own advantage.

Nor can we determine what kind of commander he might have been; if he was one. By that I mean the general jumping to the conclusion that he had to have been a cavalry leader. He does not have to have been this. At the head of mounted warriors, yes, but they need infantry too, and many mounted warriors would fight on foot. It is thought that cavalry, of the Early Medieval style, were of use only in certain circumstances and were probably mainly used as weapons platforms – that is, high speed javelin throwers – or to cut down a retreating foe. We should keep in mind that, unlike in the glory days of the empire, horses were a little harder to come by and you were going to do whatever you could to safeguard your mount. There is also no British Early Medieval evidence of heavy cavalry.

Of course, a military leader could also be a dangerous figure and there’s no reason why such a person could have tried to make himself the overall ruler. Many powerful military leaders throughout history have gone on to assume political power. If Arthur was or went on to be some kind over over-king, it’s very doubtful that he would be given such a position. He would have won it through military power. That is unless there was a similar system to Ireland, which we have no existing evidence of.

Gildas tells us that Britain had rectores; this was the Roman term for a provincial governor, but it doesn’t mean that that’s what they were by the early 6th century. It could have been a bishop by Gildas’s time. He also tells us, through Biblical comparisons, that the five kings he verbally attacks in his polemic were steering their ‘pharaoh’ to destruction.

“I will briefly set down the threatenings which are denounced against these five aforesaid lascivious horses, the frantic followers of Pharaoh …” (DEB Ch. 37) 

This ‘pharaoh’ could have been the rectore, he could have been a military commander or even over-king. Of course, he could be the devil.

Conclusions?

Can any conclusions as to what Arthur was be drawn form this? I don’t think so. The period, the evidence from Gildas and what was happening on the continent could mean that Arthur fulfilled any of these position, or even all at various points in his life.

This blog is not as in-depth as I normally make them but my work load has made this impossible. I’m hoping that through time, and comments from others, we’ll add to this debate.

Thanks for reading,

Mak

SINCE WRITING THIS I HAVE DONE ANOTHER RELATED BLOG, WHICH COVERS THE SUBJECT IN EVEN MORE DETAIL. CLICK HERE TO READ IT.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2011 in King Arthur

 

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All Quiet On The Eastern Front? – Part One

INTRODUCTION

(Updated 2.1.12)

This blog is going through a rethink and rework as of 12.11.11. New material or changes will be in bold type.

This article (now an eight part blog) was mainly in response to a question I posted on Arthurnet about what could have caused the supposed two or three generational peace after the Battle of Badon (and other battles) between the Britons and the ‘Anglo-Saxons’. I was asking if this subject had been debated by any group of academics, such as was done for the papers and discussions that went into the book ‘After Empire-Towards an Ethnology of Europe’s Barbarians’ (‘Studies in Archaeoethnology, Volume 1’, 1995). and discovered that no one was aware that it had. There have, of course, been numerous individual books and papers on the subject.

One Arthurnet member’s argument was that it was the great victory at Badon that caused the ensuing ‘peace’ and slow down of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ military and/or cultural expansion visible in the archaeology. This article was mainly in response to this, but it took on a life of its own and went on much further from there. However, keep in mind that this was its starting point.

My question was, again, motivated by the Arthurian screenplay I’m contemplating, which I wanted to make post-Badon.  However, it has ended up going much deeper than this and is relevant whether you think there was a historical Arthur of Badon fame or not.

I will concede that my knowledge is not great enough to do this subject much justice. Having said that, my (lengthy) layman/novice meagre stab at it will follow. Since the scholars on the subject can’t be here, I’ll have to bring some of their thoughts to bear instead. One of those is Nick Higham, who, regardless of his negative views on a historical Arthur, should be listened to. Some quotes that follow are from a paper by him entitled ‘Debating The Insular Dark Ages’, 2004. I will also pay heed to his theories from ‘The English Conquest: Gildas and Britain in the Fifth Century’ (1994). In this in-depth work, he concludes that the battle of Mons Badonicus was the Britons’ last victory against the ‘Saxons‘ but not the decisive one, and the ‘Saxons’ were the ones who won the ‘war‘.

I realise this all has to be tempered by the archaeological evidence, which, whilst seemingly supporting a ‘peace’ or slow down of expansion, cannot, as archaeologist Keith Matthews (aka Bad Archaeology blogger) has mentioned through Arthurnet, be dated accurately enough or interpreted clearly enough. He also pointed out recently that we may be relying too much on burial practices and that evidence of other kinds, being greatly helped by metalwork reported under the Portable Antiquities Scheme, show the creation of new ‘Anglo-Saxon’ sites during the period 475-550. However, if Gildas says there had been an extended ‘external’ (relative) peace for possibly 40-odd years, who are we to disagree … unless we’ve misinterpreted him, which some, including Keith and Nick Higham, think we have, as well as Ken Dark, although in a completely different way, not to mention archaeologist Francis Pryor.

I will use the terms ‘Anglo-Saxon’, ‘Saxon’ and ‘Anglian’ to mean not only those of Germanic stock but any Britons who might have supported them (either willingly or unwillingly!) or taken up the culture, which is how many scholars now see the situation at the time. What, in my opinion, they should probably be called are ‘Anglo-Briton (or British) ’ or ‘Saxo-Britons (or British)’ etc.  After all, most of the generation we’re talking about were not only born in Britain but probably had British blood within them. Indeed, some of them may have had 100% British blood coursing through their veins. We call those of Hibernian (Irish) descent ‘Cambro-Irish’ (whilst I tend to call them Hiberno-Britannians), so why doesn’t this apply to those of Germanic stock? Probably because it helps keep them as the bad guys?!

WE WON … DIDN’T WE?!

So, the Battle of Mount Badon (dated anywhere between 483 and 518 – or 430 to 440 by Higham) is a massive defeat for the ‘Saxons'; other victories in other regions happen for some time afterwards and seal the deal.  If Ælle was their Bretwalda, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (ASC) tells uswho they faced (meaning Badon would have to be of the earlier dates – if the ASC dates are right, which they’re probably not!) and he died at the battle – or one of the other battles – that would make things worse for the enemy. For Ælle to be in such an ‘overlord’ position – if that’s what a Bretwalda was, as there’s no agreement – it must have meant he could personally bring the greatest military force to bear, as well as having many groups either as tribute payers to him or allied through fear. So if he was defeated at Badon then, perhaps, the greatest threat was removed, along with many enemy warriors and a break-up of any coalition. (More on this later).

Higham:

“Barbarian kingdoms or ‘over-kingships’ often came into existence very suddenly, following military victory, and might disintegrate just as dramatically, as a consequence of defeat or changing political circumstances. The familiar examples of the rise and fall of individual dynasts in the late-sixth and seventh centuries, which Bede provides, should be sufficient to warn us off the simple, developmental approach.”

However, the question I posed on Arthurnet still stood: ‘what was stopping the second generation ‘Saxons’ from wanting revenge over the deaths of their fathers’ if so many of them had been slaughtered?’ As the late and great Sir Frank Stenton tells us:

“Much that is characteristic in the oldest Germanic literature turns on the relationship between the companions and the lord. The sanctity of the bond between lord and man, the duty of defending and avenging the lord, the disgracing of surviving him, give rise to situations in which English listeners were always interested until new literary fashions of Romance origin had displaced the ancient stories. There was no doubt that this literature represented real life. It was the personal reputation of the king which attracted retainers to his court, and it was the king’s military household around which all of the fighting centred. The inclusion of foreign warriors among the king’s companions and the presence of hostages from other countries in his court went far to cement the great dramatic confederations of early times. The migration to Britain produce no change in the relation of the king to his retinue. There is no essential difference between the king’s companions of the heathen age and the nobles who attest the earliest English royal charters.” (‘Anglo-Saxon England’, Stenton, 1989, p302)

Here’s a society that should (supposedly) fight to the death should their lord fall and avenge his death. This is not to mention the general tradition of the blood feud. So what was stopping them? I’ll explore the possibilities below.

If we also keep in mind that the 6th century cleric/monk Gildas (St. Gildas) tells us in the De Excidio Britanniae (DEB) that the Britons were often at civil war, then something must have been very wrong in the east, or something extremely right in the western ‘borderlands’, to not be able to take advantage of that too. Could be a bit of both, could be a completely different reason such as Higham’s theory on the ‘Saxons’ being in charge of eastern Britain and holding the eastern part of Britannia Prima to tribute payment.

Higham:

“Gildas’s remarks elsewhere reflect his continuing concern as to the vulnerability of his countrymen to their neighbours, which seems inconsistent with a triumphant conclusion of the war, so renewed divine protection: for example, ‘it was always true of this people (as it is now) that it was weak in beating off the weapons of the enemy but strong in putting up with civil war and the burden of sin.’”

What a strange thing for GIldas to say if the Britons had power over the enemy and they were at peace with them! So, what was true of the past with the ‘Saxons’ seems true even in Gildas’s day; unless he’s referring to other enemies, such as the Hibernians/Scotti, but he hasn’t mentioned them in regards to recent history.

Could Gildas just be trying to make a point, whether it was a ‘true’ one or not? Or, was it just in his view that they couldn’t beat the enemy off, maybe because they couldn’t win every battle? It could also be that it was only recently things had become uncertain again, and not for the whole of those 43 years since Badon (if it was this period – see below). However, it could also be that they still fought … or, indeed, because the ‘Saxons’ held more power than we think. (More on this below).

Higham again:

“In the present, Britain was divided by ‘an unhappy divorce of [?caused by] the barbarians’, the term divortio apparently referring back to the metaphor of ‘a chosen bride’ for the island of Britain, which was, therefore, no longer the single patria and promised land of Gildas’s ‘latter-day Israel’. Control had been ceded to the Saxons even of access to such shrines as St Albans. The church was now ‘tributary’, her sons had ‘embraced dung’ and the nobility had lost its all.” [Higham’s brackets, not mine]

So, for Higham at least …

“The war between Britons and Saxons, therefore, seems to have ended in some sort of compromise, which conceded a very considerable sphere of influence within Britain to the incomers. This was highly unsatisfactory from Gildas’s perspective and he was both extremely hostile towards, and fearful of, the Saxons.”

Higham’s not the only one to come to the conclusion that the ‘peace’ wasn’t necessarily satisfactory for both/all sides. The much maligned John Morris (1975) came to the same conclusion as did Stenton (1943-1989). However, Higham seems alone in how far he takes this.

What Higham mentions is what I was trying to get at in one of my posts: they’ve won a decisive victory, and yet they still can’t go where they want!  Seems odd if the British ‘defeated’ the Saxons. Are there any alternative answers to Higham’s? Here are three I can think of:

1) the Britons had defeated ‘Saxons’ to the west/north/south of these ‘no go’ areas, but not these areas themselves.

2) The ‘Saxons’ had made some small gains in the intervening time, cutting off these areas.

3) The Britons had won back far more territory than we think, but not these areas.

(I’m sure there are more).

Of course, Ken Dark see things differently and Higham explains it as follows:

“His thesis, in brief, is to postulate not just survival but continuing cultural, political and military power for the sub-Roman elite, both in the far west (where this view is comparatively uncontroversial) but also in the east, where it has to be imagined alongside incoming settlements. He postulates the sub-Roman community to have been the dominant force in insular affairs right up to c.570. Then, over a sixty year period, but for no very obvious reason, Anglo-Saxon kingship begins to emerge, the English conversion began and, in this scenario, Anglo-Saxon leaders overthrew British power and set about establishing their own kingdoms [...] Dark’s principal argument for continuing British military and political power in the east rests on the very uneven distribution of Anglo-Saxon cemeteries and the proposition that large gaps in that distribution necessarily represent strong British polities which excluded Anglo-Saxon settlers by force.”

This theory does answer certain questions, although Higham himself disagrees with Dark’s conclusions, mainly because of what Gildas says. It’s a theory John Morris seemed to have been working with as he believed the majority of those in the east to still be under some kind of British rule. There may be another alternative reason, which I’ll look at in later blogs. Whatever the reason, ‘Anglo-Saxon’ expansion and kingdom foundation doesn’t appear to have started until after 550. If Badon was the earlier of the dates, at 483, then there was a peace for almost 70 years … unless Keith is right.

Just a note on the earlier dating of Badon. There is a theory that places the battle of Mount Badon, not just to a possible decade but to something far more specific: February, 483! This solution, by D. O. Croinin, is based on the 84 year ‘paschal cycle’. (The ‘lost’ irish 84-year easter table rediscovered, Peritia (6-7), 1987-1988, p. 238). Why is this date (if it’s correct) so different from the one given in the Annales Cambriae at 518? I’ll explore this in more detail in the coming blogs.

In the next blog I want to explore just what kind of Britannia Gildas saw, and how clouded that view might have been.

I look forward to any comments.

Thanks for reading,

Mak

 

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In Search of the ‘Original” King Arthur – Part Three

UPDATED 1.6.12

Arthur map Pedr (born c. 570s)

Arthur map Pedr of Demetia (Dyfed and Ceredigion, Wales) has had his birth estimated at c. 570–80 by the late Rachel Bromwich (‘Concepts’, p.178) but to c. 526 by J.W. James (‘The Harleian MS. 3859 genealogy II’, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 23 (1969) pp.143–52). It makes a huge difference to the various arguments depending on which of these dates is right. If it’s the former, the names appear almost three generations after Arthur’s supposed death, at almost the same time as, or just after, Artúr mac Áedán. If it’s the latter, earlier date, then his name was given towards the end of the ‘original’s’ life (if Arthur of Badon existed) or not long after it. Most scholars, studying the genealogies, accept the later date.

Legend tells how the Deisi (or Déssi) tribe were ‘thrown out’ of the Ireland and ended up in what is now southwest Wales and was then the Roman civitas of Demetae, which would later become the kingdom of Demetia and then, through political contraction, modern day Dyfed. The fact that this was a Cambro-Irish area is attested by the vast amount of inscribed stone found here with Latin and Irish Ogham writing; more than anywhere else in Britain. Since many of these are dated to the 6th century, it shows the use of the language years after their arrival (if they did arrive), although there was probably continuing contact, especially ecclesiastical.

Ken Dark warns about assuming that the above story is true. It could be an origin myth. This could be one of the regions that was already Goidelic speaking, or its élite were or had been for long time, and this was down to it being on the Irish Sea Zone. However, it makes sense – to me at least – that Irish warriors may also have been brought over to help defend this part of Britannia during the Late Roman period. As I’ll explore later, the ‘myth’ about the expulsion of the Déssi could have given rise to the Arthur of Culhwch ac Olwen.

Some of this Arthur’s forefather’s bear possible Roman names and titles. This could simply be because they wanted to make themselves look grander, as well as giving them legitimacy to rule, and maybe deflect from their Hibernian origins; or it could be because it was a time when there was a resurgence of using Latin names. Cunedda (Cunedag of Manau Gododdin) is also given Latin named ancestors at around the same time, as are those of Alt Clut (Dumbarton Rock, Scotland).

Here’s what the Expulsion of the Desi says:

 “Eochaid son of Artchorp went across the sea with his children to the territory of Demetia (Demed), and there his sons and grandsons died. From them is descended the kindred of Crimthann (cenel Crimthaind) over there, of which is Tualodor mac Rigin maic Catacuind maic Caittienn maic Clotenn maic Naee maic Artuir maic Retheoir maic Congair maic Gartbuir[Vortipor] maic Alchoil [Agricola] maic Trestin [Triphun] maic Aeda Brosc maic Corath maic Echach Almuir maic Arttchuirp.”

The Jesus College MS 20, 12 genealogies are strikingly similar:

Arthur map Pedr map Cincar map Guortepir [Vortipor] map Aircol [Agricola] map Triphun[Tribune?] map Clotri map Gloitguin map Nimet …

(It should be noted that two other genealogies give this Arthur a slightly different name: Cardiff copy of Hanesyn Hen, p. 77 gives Arth, and the Bodleian MS Rawlinson B 466 gives Arthen. However, the Jesus College MS 20, 12 seems the most trusted.)

There are two more famous names here: the first is the name thought to be on a memorial stone: that of Votiporigis the Protictor, whom many have identified with Vortipor of the Dyfed genealogies and the aging king maligned by the 6th century monk/cleric Gildas. However, today’s linguist do not believe them one and the same.

Jaski:

“The memorial shows that among the rulers of Demetia/Dyfed the Irish and Latin languages – and also Roman culture, regarding the memorial itself and the title protector – carried prestige. The absence of a formula in British is notable. However, the names in the pedigree from the grandfather of Gartbuir/Guortepir [Vortipor] onwards do not look particularly Irish, and in fact point to the integration of the Irish rulers with their British subjects and neighbours.” (p.92)

Interestingly, Arthur map Pedr is only put forward as being the ‘original’, by Dr. Ken Dark. (A Famous Arthur in the Sixth Century? Reconsidering the Origins of the Arthurian Legend,” Reading Medieval Studies, 26, 2000). But how different things would be if there had been literature on him. We’d then have a plethora of papers and books about him and claims that he was King Arthur. Actually, he was a King Arthur … but was he the first?

If there was no Arthur of Badon and if Artúr mac Áedán was instead Artúr mac Conaing (see next), then this Arthur would indeed be the ‘first’ and, it could be argued, those of the north could have taken this king’s name. Of course, he couldn’t have been at Badon and couldn’t have even been at the Second Battle of Badon as it was much later, in 665. Could he be mentioned in Y Gododdin? Possibly, but, again, it’s down to that famous verse’s date of composition.

The one thing in this Arthur’s favour is it would be during his time when the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ kingdoms were emerging and uniting and pushing west. A time when you would need united Britons fighting against a more united enemy or enemies. For this to happen, Demetia would either have to have been a powerful kingdom or this Arthur chosen as their war leader.

This all begs the question of how those of Demetia saw themselves by this Arthur’s time: as Britons or Hiberno-Britannians or simply as Demetians? The names may have gone more British, but the ogham inscribed stone evidence shows they were still commemorating their deceased in Latin and Irish. Of course, there’s no reason why they couldn’t have used Irish and Latin and still thought themselves Britannian. (They could have been tri-lingual).The fact they did not retain any Irish heroes, such as Finn McCool like those in western Scotland did, could indicate they were more British; but this could be a later indicator for both regions and things could have been very different in the Late-5th century.

There are three other things about this Arthur that should be considered:

* He was possibly the one who fought and died at a Battle of Camlann but the date was changed. This could have been at Afon Gamlan (River Camlan) between Demetia (Dyfed) and Venedotia (Gwynedd).

* Some of his exploits could have been attached to an Arthur of Badon.

*This Arthur could have been the one attached to the tales of Arthur in Culhwch ac Olwen and the hunt for the boar Twrch Trwyth.

It is a remarkable coincidence that we have an Cambro-Irish Arthur and that the stories of Culhwch ac Olwen take place in this region. We have a chicken and egg situation here: which came first? I will give a hypothesis as to what could have caused the story of the Twrch Trwyth, but it is pure speculation.

Regardless of whether the story of the expulsion of the Desi was an origin myth or not, at some point it was believed. What better way than to get back at your former homeland than coming up with a story that tells of a man who defeated a fifth of it and killing one of its famous boars (stealing this part from Finn McCool possibly). The question then is, why the name Arthur or Artūrius? Was there a famous legendary Late-Roman commander in the region (not L. Artorius Castus) whose name they chose, or was it from Arthur of Badon or Arthur ap Pedr … or was he a mythical figure named after Arcturus? It could be any of these reason. Arthur ap Pedr was either named after this character (who could have been named after Arthur of Badon) or the character was named after Arthur ap Pedr. Or, as put forward in later blogs, Arthur of Badon and Arthur ap Pedr were both named after this folkloric/mythical/legendary figure.

However, if the character is named after Arthur ap Pedr, then the story has to have been a pan Hiberno-Britannian one and Arthur ap Pedr has to have been born earlier for an Arthur (possibly two) of the north to be given the name c. 570. If the general consensus is that Arthur ap Pedr and Artúr  mac Áedán are contemporary, then that hypothesis has to be rejected, leaving the others.

But if they are all named after a folkloric/mythical/legendary figure he too has to be a pan Hiberno-Britannian (yet not Irish) and one that was given a Romano-British name. The name still may have to have had supplanted that of another mythical figure if it didn’t come from Arcturus.

The alternative is they were all named (or perhaps renamed in the stories cases) after an Arthur of Badon who was of mixed ethnic descent and perhaps who also defeated Scotti raiders. The Irish would have brought with them the story of Finn McCool and there’s no reason to surmise that in southwest Wales this was who could have been renamed and the story changed over time.

It’s a theory.

Brychiniog from the Brecon Beacons

Brycheiniog

There is no Arthur here, but it’s worth mentioning this small Cambro-Irish kingdom  called Brycheiniog (the Brecons) in what is now south central Wales, which lay to Demetia’s east. Tradition says it was founded by and named after the Cambro-Irish prince Brychan (whom we met in the section on Artúr mac Áedán) from an older British kingdom called Garth Madrun in the mid 5th century, but this could be just tradition.

Brychan was supposedly a son of an Irish settler called Anlach whom, it seems, peacefully took control by marrying the British heiress of Garth Madrun. This tradition also says Brychan sired an extremely large number of children, some of whom went on to become, like their father, saints in Wales and Cornwall. One daughter supposedly being married to Artúr mac Áedán’s grandfather.

Tradition tells how his father, Anlach, went to war with the usurping Irish king, Banadl, of Powys to his northeast. The battle did go his father’s way and Brychan was supposedly sent to Powys to be fostered as part of the treaty. However, whilst the there Brychan was rather a naughty boy having his wicked way with the Irish king’s daughter. He supposedly became pious on his return home and his subjects name the kingdom after him.

How much we can trust any of the above information is another matter but it all obviously made for a good story.

In the next blog we’ll be moving back to the Western Isles to take a look at a very interesting character called Arthur son of Bicoir the Briton (born ca 580-600?).

Thanks for reading,

Mak

 

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