Tag Archives: Catraeth

In Search of the ‘Original’ King Arthur – Part Eight

Arthur named in ‘Y Gododdin

(Some of what appears below is also in the blog about Arthurian Poetry, so apologies for the duplication if you’ve read those).

Attributed to the bard/prince Neirin/Aneirin, ‘Y Gododdin’ (The Gododdin) is a British poem (actually a collection of poems), the original parts of which are thought to date to the early 7th century. (Koch, 1999).  It tells of a doomed battle at Catraeth (thought by most, but not all, to be Catterick in North Yorkshire) between the men of Gododdin and their allies against the ‘English’ of what would become Northumbria:  the Bernicians and the Deirans.  In it is contained what is thought to be the earliest reference to Arthur:

Ef gwant tra thrichant echasaf,

Ef lladdai a pherfedd ac eithaf,

Oedd gwiw ym mlaen llu llariaf,

Goddolai o haid meirch y gaeaf.

Gocharai brain du ar fur caer

Cyn ni bai ef Arthur.

Rhwng cyfnerthi yng nghlysur,

Yng nghynnor, gwernor Gwawrddur.


He charged before three hundred of the finest,

He cut down both centre and wing,

He excelled in the forefront of the noblest host,

he gave gifts of horses from the herd in winter.

He said black ravens on the ramparts of fortress

Though he was no Arthur.

Among the powerful ones in battle,

in the front rank, Gwawrddur was a palisade.

(Jarman, 1990, V99, 64)

John Koch in his translation of the work conclude that this section is part of the original B Text and not a later addition, as mentioned earlier, although there are other scholars who disagree with him (Isaacs et al). Even if Koch is right, we still can’t be certain, as explored and mentioned in earlier blogs, which Arthur it refers to: an ‘original’ or, possibly, Artúr mac Áedán or even Arthur son of Bicoir, both of whom could have been active in the area.  If we knew the exact date of the battle we might have a better chance of coming to some informed conclusion.  By this I mean, if the battle or the poem took place before Dalriada became the enemy then it could indeed be referring to him.  If it happened after, then it is unlikely.  Unless they were in the habit of praising their enemy.

Unless Y Gododdin is referring to someone other than the Arthur of Badon fame he was obviously gaining public attention in the last quarter of the 6th century and the fact that most of the Arthur names occur in the North has led some to the conclusion that he must have originally been from there or had been active there.  It would certainly make sense of Aneirin mentioning him if he was also their most famous ‘local’ hero.  But ‘local’ could mean anywhere from the Wall northwards.

Richard Barber (The Figure of Arthur) concludes that because the poem deals only with people in the present (or recent past) this Arthur was of the same era.  It’s a valid point, but what if there was another reason?  What if it was because poems about Arthur, whether based on earlier ones or recently written, were current?  This might not only explain why he’s mention in Y Gododdin but why at the same time the name was being given to ‘princes’.  If it was ‘known’ that the hero of these poems was also an HIberno-Briton or Cambro-Irish it would give even more reason.

Praise the lord!

Like many great men before him and since, Arthur may have fallen out of favour towards the end of his life or after.  It happened to Cromwell and it even happened to Churchill.   This could explain the gap between his supposed death and the Arthur names (and poetry) appearing.  However, two or three generations later great swathes of Britain were falling under ‘Angle’ and ‘Saxon’ rule.  The British probably needed a hero more than ever.  Some clever king or his courtly (or warband) bard may have come up with the idea of using Arthur, and a poem, or poems, in the style of newfangled (if they were) battle eulogy, accurate or not, and so it/they was/were composed.

These poems could already have been based on folk memory, unless there was poetry composed during his life and it outlived him, so could themselves have been a corruption – deliberate or otherwise – of events.  Even poetry composed during his life would be eulogies.  Bards weren’t historian, they were there to prays their lords and make them famous, if they could, and there’s plenty of evidence for the early poetry, if not being changed, then added to by later generations. (See ‘A Different Look At An Arthurian Battle Poem’ blog for further thoughts).

What would be odd is if Badon was added at this point in time (Late 6th century), had he not fought there.  Not impossible, but any stories must have been passed down through folklore only two or three generations old, regardless of the poetry.  What I do find conceivable, is that it was added much later; after all Badon doesn’t appear to have a rhyming couplet in the Historia Brittonum battle list, although I gave it one in my feeble attempt of a battle poem: Saeson (Saxon). (But it also should be noted that battles could be part of internal rhyming and not just line endings). He could also have gone from being portrayed as fighting at Badon in a poem to being the victor and leader.  These poems may have only called him “leader of battle”, but only this ancient audience may have known his true status.  There are many poems that don’t call their hero a king, even though we know they were.  (See blog ‘Arthur: King or Commander?)

Such poems, in the latter half of the 6th century, must have been used to inspire the British warriors who found themselves fighting against the powerful and ever expanding English.  These hypothetical Arthurian poems (or poem) may have been followed by the rekindling of old stories, some more fanciful than others, and his fame, and the stories, would begin to grow – beyond what he was worth some may have thought – and the poems travelled throughout Britain and beyond, from whichever locale they originated from, recited before battles in certain regions to inspire the combatants.  Not every region may have used this hero.  Some may have been uncertain about his lineage or his mixed blood origins (if they were), others may have sided with whoever it was that defeated him at Camlann. This is, of course, only if he was historical and not an historicized mythical figure. (See THIS blog for that particular discussion)

The naming game

At the time this hypothetical poem is in circulation (if Koch’s dating is right) a prince was born in Dalriada to a king called Áedán and, if we follow this hypothesis, decided to name his son Arturius after this hero of old, in honour of the fact that he too had an Hiberno-British boy.  Not long after (or possibly even before) three hundred miles away in Demetia, a king called Petr has heard the poem and, having a similar mixed blooded (or culturally mixed) son, whom he may have wished greatness upon, names him Arthur also.  As, possibly, does a certain Briton of Kintyre called Bicoir.  Meanwhile Britons simply didn’t use that name, as far as we know. To begin with, perhaps, because it was thought to be an Hiberno-British name; later it may be because of his mythical greatness.

Yr Hen Ogledd (The Old North) c. 550 – c...

Image via Wikipedia

This hypothetical poem, having reached the North, or having originated from it, is perhaps even recited by a warband bard called Neirin (Aneirin) to inspire the retinues of the Gododdin and their allies against their Bernician, Deiran, Picti, Scotti and probably British foes.  Perhaps their forefathers had even fought with him at the Battle of Celidon Wood … if this too wasn’t a later addition or in another region.  It would makes sense, in a poem that was about ‘local’ figures of fame.  After all, Arthur too supposedly fell in battle and, if those who identify the Battle of Camlan with Camboglanna (Castlesteads) on Hadrian’s Wall are right, it too was in their region. (Lots of “ifs”).

In the great British tradition of the trinity and triad, his fame splits into three different forms: to the peasantry he becomes a stone throwing giant, to the storytellers a fighter of the Otherworld and the supernatural, but to the warband bards and warriors, he remains the ‘leader of battle’, if what came down to Nennius is anything to go by.

But, this is all hypothetical; although it could have as much weight as the Arthur of Y Gododdin being one of these other northern figures.  However, if Arthur map Petr came a generation before all these, it could, as Professor Ken Dark suggests, be him. Someone had to have been given the name first and if we didn’t have Arthur being named as the victor at Badon or the infamous battle list, this is who it might point to.  As stated in a previous blog, even if the Arthur mentioned in Y Gododdin isn’t an Arthur of Badon, it still doesn’t prove there wasn’t one.

In the the next blog I’ll explore another region that could have given us an Hiberno-British Arthur: the Wall.

Thanks for reading,



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In Search of the ‘Original’ King Arthur – Part Two

UPDATED 5.6.12

Artúr (Arturius) mac Áedán and Artúr mac Conaing  (born c.560s-590s)

Artúr (Arturius) mac Áedán of Scottish Dalriada (Kintyre, Western Isles) is not well documented, although his father is. It should also be stressed that it isn’t certain whether he was the son or grandson of Áedán, or both … two different Artúrs of course. This other Arthur would be Artúr mac Conaing, whom I’ll deal with below.

Artúr’s date of birth his hard to ascertain as it’s hard to know when his father was born. Whilst the Annals of Tigernach date Áedán’s birth to c.532, no where else confirms this. If this is the case, and Artúr was born c.570, he didn’t conceive Artúr until his early 40s, hence why an earlier date is sometimes given.

Bart Jaski’s paper:

“In the Vita Sancti Columbae [1], written by Adomnán of Iona († 704), we find the name Arturius [...] He figures as one of the four sons of Áedán mac Gabráin († 604), and St Columba foretells that three of them will not succeed their father in the kingship of Dál Riata in Scotland, as they would fall in battle. This came to pass, for Arturius and his brother Eochaid Find were slain in a battle against the Miathi, while Domangart was killed in a battle in England. The Annals of Ulster only record the slaying of Áedán’s sons Domangart and Bran in 594, but the so-called Annals of Tigernach add that Eochaid Find and Artúr also fell in that battle, which is located at Circhend (i cath Chirchind). Circhend may have been in the territory of the Miathi, and be located around Stirling. If so, the addition to the Annals of Tigernach may have been wrongfully attached to the record of the slaying of Bran and Domangart, since Adomnán says that the latter was slain in England in a different battle than Eochaid Find and Artúr.” (p. 92, 93)

[1] Thought to incorporate elements from a lost earlier life of Columba, De virtutibus sancti Columbae by Cumméne Find.

This Artúr has been championed by some as the ‘original’, especially Richard Barber (1972) following suggestions by Norma Chadwick, but also the lay historian David F. Caroll (Arturius – A Quest for Camelot, 1996) and this Arthur has his merits. Caroll partly argues on the bases of the later legends’ similarities to some elements of Adomnán work and partly because he says that Áedán had a daughter call Morgana (Caroll, 1996, pp.68-69). However, Michelle Ziegler has proven otherwise in the case of the daughter question:

“The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee lists a Muirgein (“birth of the sea”) on January 27, which D. F. Carroll has suggested provided inspiration for the linkage of Morgana (Morgan le Fay) and King Arthur as siblings. This assertion is based on Whitley Stokes’s (1905:53) suggested identification of Muirgein as “Muirgein, daughter of Aedan, in Belach Gabrain.” The suggestions for the location of Belach Gabráin are not Dalriadan at all. Belach Gabráin has been identified as a passage between Leinster and Ossory and therefore on the border between Leinster and Munster in Ireland. It is unlikely that Muirgein nic Aedan of Belach Gabráin was related to the family of Aedan mac Gabran of Scottish Dalriada.” (1999 – Source:

Y Gododdin

The other bases of the argument is that Artúr, alongside his father, fought in the area where some place the Arthurian battles: between Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall. Áedán also took Orkney, something the legendary Arthur is said to have done by Geoffrey of Monmouth. If he was the ‘original’, and others took the name from him, then he may have had to have been an exceptional warrior (and born well before Arthur ap Pedr). If he was, then Adomnán didn’t make anything of it, all his praises were for Áedán. Artúr did die in battle, like the Arthur of legend (although not at a battle called Camlann), and he was in the same region as the source of the (possible) first mention of Arthur in earliest stratum of the British collection of poems, Y Gododdin (‘The Gododdin’) about the doomed Battle of Catraeth; this section of the poem being dated between the end of the 6th and the beginning of the 7th centuries by John Koch, (The Gododdin of Aneirin, 1997) but not all scholars agree. Some believe it could be a later interpolation (Charles-Edwards et al) possibly not being attached until the 8th to 10th centuries and merely based on the H.B.. (I will deal with the Y Gododdin and the verse in question in more detail in a later blogs).

If it is the Dalriadan Arthur Y Gododdin refers to, and not an Arthur of Badon fame, (or a mythical Arthur as argued by Green) then the Dalriadans and British had to have been ‘friends’ at the time of compilation and not, as they later became, enemies. Without knowing the exact date of composition it is difficult to argue either way.

There is a verse in Y Gododdin used to add weight to his claim. Within it is the following:

Peredur of the steel weapons,

Gwawrddur and Aedden

Attackers in the flight with broken shields.

And though they were slain, they slew;

No one returned to his homeland.

(Jarman translation)

Here, the warrior who is compared to Arthur in Y Gododdin, Gwawrddur, is mentioned with an ‘Aedden’, who happens to have the same name as the father of Artúr mac Áedán.  It is quite a coincidence, if that’s what it is. The thing against using this as evidence as this Áedán being father of Artúr mac Áedán are the lines: “And though they were slain, they slew; No one returned to his homeland”. Unless this is poetic license, then this can’t be Áedán of Dalriada as we know he was not slain at the Battle of Catraeth.

Koch has this to say:

 “The presence of the name [Aedden] in this list is consistent with the interpretation that the heroes named here (and the list in A.30) were assembled as a sort of ‘grab bag’ of northern tradition put together by a poet in Wales from the older strata of Y Gododdin itself and from other sources that were available by the later OW period.” (Koch, 1997, p.206)

Koch also points out that it became a common enough name, even amongst the British. Never-the-less, it is interesting that later interpolators put Gwawrddur and this Aedden together. Another thing about this verse is the mention of Peredur. If this is Peredur, son of Eliffer (from ‘somewhere’ in the North, usually taken to be York), then he’s dying at the wrong battle! Peredur (possibly the same Perudur to later be attached to the Arthurian romances) supposedly died c. 573.  (In one genealogy Perudur is said to have had a brother called Arthur Penuchel, and I’ll look at this later). Another point to be made is that this Aedden is not mentioned anywhere else in Y Gododdin. All those from outside of Gododdin are described as such: an unknown ‘lord of Dumbarton’, Llyfrddlew from the ‘land of Pobdelw’, Cynon of Aeron, ‘Cynddylig of Aeron’, ‘Gorthyn of Rhufoniog’ and ‘Madawg of Elmet. No Aedden of Bentir. This could be because a verse is missing. It could also be because he simply wasn’t involved. There is also the line in Y Gododdin that says:

“ [...] ar gynt a Gwydyl a Phryden”

[...] against the heathen tribes of both Scot and Pict” (Koch, B1.6)

This is not saying they fought them at Catraeth, but that the warrior it describes had fought them. (Strange it should call the Scots (Hiberno-Britannians) ‘heathen’ as they are generally thought to have been Christian, but this could just be propaganda).

Dumbarton Rock & Castle

The matter gets even more confusing when we factor in the relationship between Áedán and Rhydderch of Alt Clut (Dumbarton Rock). Adomnán tells us that St Columba was a emissary between the two kingdoms. At times they cooperated and there was a peace but at some point, according to the Triads, Áedán laid waist to Alt Clut, gaining the epithet “The Wily” or “The Treacherous” (‘Aeddan Fradawg’). (Clarkson, Men the North, 2010, pp.80-81). If the Y Gododdin verse in question was composed, not in Gododdin but in Strat Clut and during a time of peace, is it possible they would have compared Gwawrddur with Áedán’s son? Unfortunately, the poem is not thought to have travelled to Alt Clut until after the fall of Gododdin c. 638.

Added to this, the genealogy, Bonedd Gwŷr y Gogledd (‘The Descent of the Men of the North’) shows Áedán’s connection to the British king Dumnagual Hen of Alt Clut, via marrying one of his daughters … not that we can trust this text that also makes Dumnagual the grandson of the usurping emperor Magnus Maximus and seems a bit confused!

Áedán was not only meant married a British woman but to be half British himself, supposedly having a mother called called Lluan verch Brychan (Lluan daughter of Brychan). In the De Situ Brecheniauc (The Situation of Brecheniauc);

“Luan filia Brachan, mater Haidani bradouc

Luan daughter of Brychan, mother of Aeden the Treacherous”

In the Cognatio Brychan (The Family of Brecheniauc):

“Lluan, mater Aidan grutauc et uxir Gafran vradavc

Lluan, mother of Aiden ‘the Grit-lke’ and mother of Gafran ‘the Treacherous’”

Brychiniog (The Brecons, Wales)

She is said to be one of the (many) daughters of Brychan of Brycheiniog in central Wales. However, this mentions another son, Gafran; a son not mentioned anywhere else. It looks like a Welsh version of Gabrain, Áedán’s father’s name, which is why many scholars think this more the case, or that the pedigree can’t be trusted at all. This the later Plant Brychan made clearer:

 “Lleian Brychan gwraic Gawron mam Aeddan Vradoc”

“Lluan ferch Brychan was the wife of Gawron [Gabrain] and mother of Aeddan Fradog”

You will also see it stated on the internet that Brychan was from Manau Gododdin (southwest Fife, Scotland). How can this be? It’s because the De Situ Brecheniauc says his grave was at Ynysbrychan (Brychan Island) near Mannia, which has been taken to be Manau. It also says he had a daughter called: ‘Befchan daughter of Brachan in Mannia‘. Lundy Island has also been put forward as Ynys Brychan. Whether this is Manau or another Mannia we may never know but Bartram in his Welsh Classical Dictionary puts forward two Brycheiniogs (or Brychans), one in Wales, the other in Manau Gododdin.

But, another Irish legend tells us Áedán was the son of Federlm Derg, the daughter of one Feidlimid mac Amalgaid a king of Moy (Co. Tyrone). (A Middle-Irish Poem on the Birth of Āedān Mac Gabrāin and Brandub Mac Echach, M. A. O’Brien Ériu Vol. 16, Contributions in Memory of Osborn Bergin (1952), pp. 157).  Yet this too is thought suspect.

Once again, the Scottish sources don’t relate any of the British connection, only the Welsh ones. They either made it up or there was another Brychan. If it isn’t the case that there was a British connection either via Lluan or Dumnagual, then it may take the Hiberno-British element out of the argument and make the question of why he chose the name Artúr an even bigger one. Could he have used it in spite of the British? Possibly. However, it then would be a case of giving your son the name of a famous enemy hero, and that would be unusual.

Tall Tales

Áedán also appears in a tale called Gein Branduib maic Echach ocus Aedáin maic Gabráin (‘The Birth of Brandub son of Eochu and of Áedán son of Gabrán’ -  c. 1130) and a lost Irish tale called Echtra Áedáin mac Gabráin (‘The Adventures of Áedán son of Gabrán’ – MacQuarrie, ‘Echtra Áedáin mac Gabráin’ listed in “Scéla: Catalogue of medieval Irish narratives & literary enumerations”. 2006, p. 109.).  He was also made a character in the epic story Scéla Cano meic Gartnáin (‘The Story of Cano mac Gartnáin’ – Anderson, ‘Early Sources of Scottish History A.D 500–1286’, volume 1, pp.154-155) as well as in the Compert Mongáin (‘The conception and birth of Mongán’ – Wiley, “The Cycles of the Kings: Compert Mongáin“, 2004).

The story of Compert Mongáin is related both to Áedán and another Arthur we will look at later, Arthur son of Bicoir. The semi-mythical Mongán in question was said to be conceived by the sea-god Manannán mac Lir whilst Fiachnae (Mongán’s father) was campaigning with Áedán mac Gabráin. (Various version give various reasons why Manannán spent the night with Cáintigern, Fiachnae’s wife – one of three mentioned).

There’s a version of the story in the earlier Immram Brain (‘The Voyage of Bran’) that tells how Manannán prophecies Mongán’s birth and likeness to the god Bran. Bran was also a name of one of Artúr mac Áedán’s brothers. (More on this later).

In yet another tale the story ends telling us that Mongán was the reincarnation of Finn mac Cumaill (Finn McCool) (Scél asa mberar co mbad hé Find mac Cumaill Mongán ocus aní día fil aided Fothaid Airgdig; MacKillop, pp. 333–334)

(However, this could be because Mongán’s father was also known as Fiachna Finn). What the above demonstrates is how known historical figure were attached to mythical figures and happenings.

There is no doubt this Artúr’s father was considered a great man, even by his enemies. As I mention earlier, the Welsh (or the North) included him in their Triads … although they did give him the epithet of “The Wily” or “The Treacherous”. He took great swathes of Pictish, British and even English territory. So, it can be argued that if the British included Áedán in their Triads though he was the enemy, why not his son, Artúr?

Below are the pertinent dates for Áedán’s battles from the Annals of Ulster. Those from the Annals of Tigernach are in brackets.

582 Áedán mac Gabrán won the Battle of Manann.

583 Áedán mac Gabrán won the Battle of Manand.

590 Áedán mac Gabrán won the Battle of Leithreid.

595 The Battle of Ráith in Druad and the Battle of Ard Sechain. The slaughter of the sons of Áedán, that is, Brán and Domangart [and Eochaid Find and Artur, in the battle of Circhenn, in which Áedán is defeated, and] the battle of Corann.

600 Áedán fought the Battle of the Saxons[, where there fell Eanfrith brother of Æthelfrith King of the Saxons], in which Áedán was defeated.

606 Áedán mac Gabráin died [in the 38th year of his reign in the 74th year of his life].

(Quoted from a paper done for a Masters degree by the now historian Jonathan Jarret. The paper can be found at

There are questions here: where were the battles of Manann/Manand? The Isle of Man or Manau Gododdin? It could be either, or both, in different years. I’d like to quote again from this Jonathan’s paper:

“In 577 the Ulaid attacked Manau, and this at least must have been the island (AU s.a. 576). However, for 578, the Annals of Ulster record, “The retreat of the Ulaid from Man” (s.a. 577, trans. Mac Niociall). No hint of a battle is given, but in a record so bald as that of the Chronicles argument e silentio is risky. It is best to say that we simply cannot tell what occurred. Then, in 581 and 582, it is recorded that Áedán won this “Battle of Manau” (AU s.aa. 580, 581; cf. AI s.a. 583). It is noticeable that AT uses different languages for the Ulaid’s attacks on Man, and Áedán’s fight or fights at Manau. The former are recorded in Latin and the latter in Irish, suggesting the use of two different sources (cf. Dumville 1982, 1984a p. 119). “It was by him that Manu was cleared; and in the second year after his death the Irish abandoned Manu” (LL 330ab 45, trans. O’Rahilly 1946 p. 504; see also Dobbs 1921 pp. 324, 328).”

Adomnán also mentions them fighting the Miathi (thought to be Sterling=possible Gododdin territory), and this is where Brán and Artúr are killed. So they could either still be seen as the enemy, or they could be seen as their overlords if the Gododdin were defeated.

On the Battle of Miathi, Michelle Ziegler has this to say:

“While Aedan’s motives and objectives can never be fully understood, we can grasp several facets of the situation in which Artúr mac Aedan died. The battle of Miathi was fought near the River Forth in Manau. Adomnan (1.8; Anderson and Anderson 1991:119) indicated that the battle was very costly—”from Aedan’s army, three hundred and three were killed as the saint had also prophesied”—but Aedan was victorious. Adomnan refers to the Miathi as barbarians, perhaps indicating that they were not associated with either the ruling branches of the Picts or the British (Sharpe 1995:269). This might well have been the case if they were caught in a tug–of–war between the Picts, the British, and, in this case, the Dalriada Scots. Considering Aedan and Cenél nGabráin’s ties with the Picts, it seems clear that Aedan and therefore his son Artúr were not fighting as allies of the British.” (Artúr mac Aedan of Dalriada, The Heroic Age, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 1999)

If Michelle’s right, then it is a little odd that the Gododdin should praise this Arthur who may have died fighting against them … unless this praising was done prior to the later battle. Would such a verse be removed once the Dalriadans became the enemy? We’ll never know. However, it seems to me that if there was anyone who was going to be praised it would be Áedán. He is the one that ranged from Eastern Ulster, to Stirlingshire, Angus and the Orkneys. If anyone is to be emulated it is him … and the British did start using the name. However, the British may have gone for Arthur because he was, well, more British? Or simply because his name rhymed with Gwawrddur.

Jarman dates the Battle of Catraeth of Y Gododdin to c. 600, whereas Koch puts it earlier to c. 570 (actually 565×585). However, we don’t know for certain when the earliest parts of the work were composed. The earlier date of the battle, of course, could make a huge problem for the Arthur mentioned in Y Gododdin being Artúr mac Áedán, who must have been extremely young then, or perhaps not even born. But, again, this has to be tempered with the problem of a composition date. Neirin/Aneirin may have ‘sung’ some of it to the court of Din Eidin soon after the battle, but some would have been done in his name by another bard or bards, after his death, probably in Strat Clut (Strathclyde), as argued by Koch and Jarman.

This Artúr as Arthur question isn’t a problem for those who have deduced that the verse that mentions Arthur is a later interpolation (Charles-Edwards et al), possibly of the 8th to 10th centuries, and the Arthur it mentions is the one from the Historia Britonnum. Koch’s reasoning on that subject is thus:

“I see no stylistic, linguistic, or thematic reason to exclude B2.38 [the verse that includes Arthur] from the Ur-Text. From the point of view of style, the use of enjambment in the second half of the awdl (in which the name Arthur occurs) is consistent with the usage and other Arch. segments. Similarly, the occurrence of the hero’s name in syntactic isolation in the last line is not unusual for the Ur-Text.” (Y Gododdin, 1997, pp 147-148)

Isaac thinks the poem may not have been composed until the 10th century. If he’s right, however, this would have massive implications.

If this Arthur was Artúr mac Áedán that does not prove that there wasn’t another, earlier Arthur of Badon fame. It weakens the argument but still does not account for or explain the name being given to a prince of what is now southwest Wales at almost the same time. All that can be said is what is usually said about Arthurian material: no one can be certain about anything.

Artúr mac Conaing (born c. 580-600)

Once again Jaski’s paper:

“Neither Artúr nor Domangart appears among the seven sons of Áedán recorded in the genealogical tract Senchus fer nAlban ‘History of the men of Scotland’, but both names occur among the sons of Conaing († 622) son of Áedán. The original version of this tract has been dated to the middle of the seventh century. It is possible that Artúr and Domangart were omitted from the sons of Áedán by mistake, so that there was an Artúr son of Áedán and an Artúr son of Conaing, or that they were wrongfully placed among the sons of Conaing. Adomnán may also have erred in naming both as sons of Áedán, and the story that they were considered for the succession in the kingship a mistake or even a fabrication. If they were indeed sons of Conaing, they would of course not have been entitled to the succession whilst their father and older kinsmen were still alive.” (p. 93)

However, if Artúr was the son of Coaning and not Áedán he could hardly have died at a battle in 595. If Artúr wasn’t a son but a grandson of Áedán (or there were two of this name), what does this mean for the mention in Y Gododdin, if Koch’s dating is correct? Well, it could help or it could make things worse.

Domnall Brecc was another leader of Dalriada (and Áedán’s grandson) who died in the battle of Strathcarron (c. 642) and he would have been contemporary with an Artúr mac Conaing. There is a verse about Domnall in a later poem attached to Y Gododdin, which tells us he came down from Bentir (Pentir/Kintyre) to be killed in a battle against Eugein (Owein) I of Strat Clut (Strathclyde). This is after the kingdom of Gododdin is thought to have fallen to the Northumbrians at the battle of Din Eidin (Edinburgh) c. 638 and, argued by Koch and Jarman, to have been composed by a Stat Clut bard soon after. This is one of the reasons why Koch argues for Y Gododdin traveling to this area first before arriving in Wales. The difference is when it travelled to Wales: the 7th, 8th, 9th or 10th centuries.

Others think the Strat Clut section a 9th century Welsh interpolation, like the Arthurian one, simply because it doesn’t relate to Gododdin. Regardless of this, what it does show is that the Dalriadans where the enemy at this point. So, could this (or these) Artúrs be the ‘original’? I’ll give my thoughts on that and all the others in the final blog.

(There is a slight irony to Scotland championing a Gaelic (or half-Gaelic) Arthur. This is the culture, said to originate from Ireland, that defeated and dominated the Pictish and British peoples and cultures of what is now Scotland. It’s a little like the Welsh championing an Anglo-Saxon Arthur!).

In the next blog we’ll look at Arthur map Pedr of Demetia (Dyfed, Wales), born ca 570.

Thanks for reading,



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“dux erat bellorum”


This was originally from a post – with some additions – I made on Arthurnet about why Nennius (or whoever) used the term “dux”. The update, below, is taken from the up-coming ebook.

Dux erat bellorum/Dux belli

The discussion about what ‘Nennius’ (or whoever the compiler(s) and/or translators where) meant by “dux erat bellorum” (or ”dux belli” in the Vatican recension) in the Arthurian section of the H.B. has gone on for decades. Some have used it as an argument to say he was given the old Roman command of dux Britanniarum (‘Duke of  the Britains’) in command of the northern troops, but others point out that if he’d been given the title then why didn’t the H.B. call him such?

In actuality, there may have only been two position he could have been in to be a battle leader or commander-in-chief and they are some kind of general or an Over King. This I’ll look at later as it’s not what I want to explore here.

I think there are actually two question: 1) WHY was dux used, and  2)  WHAT words in Primitive or Old Welsh were they translated from … if they were?  An Arthur of Badon couldn’t have been the first or last to be called a ‘leader/lord of battle’. Perhaps it’s just a case of finding it. To try and answer this, I wanted to look at a nearer contemporary source (at least in John Koch’s view) and see if it could help: the British collection of poems, ‘Y Gododdin’.

The why?

First why was dux used? Was it simply because in Latin it meant ‘leader’ or ‘lord’? Very possibly. But, as mentioned before, Higham argues that a mythical Arthur was used as a Biblical ‘Joshua-figure’ in answer to St. Patrick’s ‘Moses-figure’ in the H.B., and that he was given this title because Joshua was called a dux belli.[1] It is a valid point and I would have agreed with Higham’s conclusions once upon a time, but even if Arthur was used in this way in the H.B., and given this title after Joshua, it does not mean that he was invented to be this, but was, rather, perfect for the Biblical comparison, just as St. Patrick was for his. Had someone else been used we might all be writing about them.

We should also keep in mind that, if the H.B. was in reply to Bede’s earlier work, the English called the Gaul, St. Germanus a ‘dux belli’ and the title could have been used because of this.

But there is the point that the Harleian H.B. says “dux erat bellorum”. If it had wanted to make him Joshua, why not just call him, as the Vatican recension does, “dux belli”. Did the Vatican editor make him Joshua, or did he just clarify the comparison? However, it cannot be ruled out that a possible historic Arthur wasn’t called a “dux bellorum” in any poetry and Nennius used this term because of the Biblical, or St Germanus, comparison he was trying to make.

There’s also another point to bring up here and it is another one made by Higham, but this time in his book ‘English Conquest – Gildas and Britain in the Fifth Century‘ (1994). Higham is adamant that Gildas’s use of duces (plural of dux) is meant as “military leaders”, but this could apply to a king or a civil position. How long between the 5th and 9th centuries this was used by Britons, we’ll never known, (see below) but it is at least a possibility “dux erat bellorum” meant ‘military leader of battles’  for clarification as dux had other meanings.  (See THIS blog for further discussion on this).

Whilst dux does mean ‘leader’ or ‘lord’ in Latin, this may not have been the only way those of 9th century Britain would have read it, besides the possibilities mentioned above. Let’s look at it another way: what was a dux or duke in the 9th century?

As far as I’m aware, the Welsh never used the term dux as a specific title but across the border in England and over the Channel in Brittany, they certainly did. In England it meant a ‘supreme landlord’, only second to the king, and there were quite a lot of them. They could very often be princeps and dux of a county or shire and, like the dukes across the English Channel, by the 10th century they gained even more power.[2] So choosing dux the H.B.’s Latin literate 9th century audience are possibly going to imply something very different to us. The English would interpret it their way, Bretons, Welsh etc., theirs. (Like Higham, I think the H.B. was aimed as much at the English, and specifically the Mercians, as the Britons).

Christopher Gidlow in his book The Reign of Arthur points out something else about the Historia Brittonum and its use of dux, and that is in every instance before its connection with Arthur when using this term it either means a ‘general’ or a ‘governor subordinate to the Emperor’.[3] This is very similar to an English duke, who was subordinate only to the king. So, did the translator or compiler use dux knowing the English would read it as more than just ‘leader’? Of course, the answer comes back as to why he didn’t just say he was simply a dux if they’d know what a dux was? But, if it had more than one meaning, adding “of battles” would be for clarification. Did he/they use the term specifically for the ‘English’? It could be argued that he did, as the H.B. (as argued by Higham) was aimed just as much at them.

This leads on to what might have been translated, if it didn’t come from Nennius and it had come from an ancient poem or poems …

The what?

Y Gododdin

In the Arthurian battle list of the H.B. there seems evidence from the rhyming of some of the names that this originally came from a battle poem or poems. If the poem(s) or Triads that came down to 9th century were in Primitive or Old Welsh, what might this be and what other evidence is there for such a title or description as ‘leader of battle’ (if dux erat bellorum hadn’t been added later)? One would think it should come down as pen llu (leader of the hosts/legion/army), pen kat (leader of battle), pen budinor (leader of armies) or penteulu (leader of household troop); or, to really big him up, guledig; but he’s never called these, or no evidence has survived, and only the latter title once in the poem Kadeir Teyrnon. He is called penn kadoed Kernyw (‘Leader of the battalions of Cernyw’) in the poem ‘Ymddiddan Arthur a’r Eryr’ – ‘Arthur and the Eagle’ (dated to around 1150 AD), but that could just be the influence of Geoffrey of Monmouth. However, none of these titles, except guledig, are mentioned in Y Gododdin. (You find pen llu, and even penn draig/penn dragon/pendragon (‘head/leader warrior’) in the poetry of the Medieval Welsh poets and these could have, perhaps, been used by those further south in earlier times. Pen llu would be the closest).

I did find other possibilities in Y Gododdin: *cintrenn/cyntran, *(ri/si) chatvarchawc, and *aer dwyw/ry(ri)dywys.

Starting with *cintrenn/cyntran (‘centurion’ according to Koch), here’s a position that the H.B. translator might have known, judging by the fact that three of the four mentions of it in Y Gododdin are from the later A text, dated to the 8th/9th centuries.  This is, indeed, a ‘battle leader’ of sorts, whether you take Koch’s interpretation as a ‘centurion’ or not.  Jarman does not translate this as a leader of a hundred men, just as ‘warrior’ or ‘leader’.  Koch’s reasonings are thus:


 “[BI.13] 253 *ar-tege can(t)=uur ‘he used to lead a hundred men’ is evidence for the persistence of Roman office of centurion, a heroic ideal and poetic convention if nothing else.”

(‘The Gododdin of Aneirin’, Koch, Notes, p.168)

“[A.5] 48 … A further possibility is that the original had the t- pret. of the verb (*cintrann (…) rac-uant rac bodinor ‘a centurion (who) counterthrusted against armies’).

(‘The Gododdin of Aneirin’, Koch, Notes. p.180)

“[A.18] 196 *cintren’n‘ [MS kynrien] ‘battle leaders, centurions’.  We expect a third personal name here, but this word is frequent in the diction of the Cynfierdd as a common noun.   Furthermore the preceding two names *Conrig and *Conuon have Celt. *kuno – ‘hound’ as the first element, whereas *cintren’n’ has *kintu – ‘foremost’, so the alliteration would weaken.  The general sense of kynran is ‘first in its part’, thus more specifically in Hengerdd ‘commander, captain, (under-)chieftain.  The transparent preform would therefore be Brit. *cintu-rannos.  This form probably rose as a popular etymology applied to the Lat. centurio, centurionis during the Roman Period.  In favour of this interpretation one may further adduce CA A.24.287 diua oeda gynrein gan-wyr ‘his centurion’s centuries (hundred-man units) perished’.) It is probable therefore that the name of the third hero has dropped out or been transformed in transmission into the common noun.”

(‘The Gododdin of Aneirin’, Koch, Notes, p.194)

“[A.24] 287 *diba oid i-cintrenn cant-guir ‘his centurion’s hundred-man units perished’.

(‘The Gododdin of Aneirin’, Koch, Notes, p.199)


The information in of itself is fascinating – if Koch is right – and shows that even those north of the Wall were fighting in a legionary way. (Even though a Roman centurion was actually in charge of eighty men).

There is another instance when ths was used, this time in a ‘Llywarch Hen’ poem about Marwnad Cynddylan (‘Elergy for Cynddylan’), an 9th century poem about a 7th century occurrence:


Mawredd gyminedd! Mor fu da[f]fawd

a gafas Cynddylan, cynran cyffrawd;

saith gant rhiallu’n ei <yspeidawd>,

pan fynnwys mab pyd, mor fu barawd!

Grandeur in battle! So good was the destiny

that Cynddylan, the battle leader, got

seven hundred chosen soldiers in his retinue,

When the son of Pyd requested, he was so ready![4]


However, it may be wondered why the H.B. translator wouldn’t call Arthur a centurionis in Latin if this is what he was; unless they wanted to make him something more than this?

But there may be other clues in Y Gododdin, as mentioned above. For example: the leader of an Irish or Hiberno-British fianna (warband) would be a ri fianna > ‘leader (lord) of the warband’. I found in Koch’s translation a reference to the *tri ri chatmarchoc, ‘the three directors of the cavalry brigades’. If you look in Jarman’s book the ri isn’t there at all and it’s translated as ‘Three battle-horsemen’. In yet another version it has *Tri si chatvarchawc, which gets translated as ‘Three hundred knights of battle’. We don’t know which one’s right, but if it’s Koch’s then here’s an example of Britons using ri (modern Welsh rhi = ‘king’ or ‘lord’) as a leader, this time of cavalry units. (If he was called a ri (Brittonic *rigos) at anytime and not meaning ‘king’ but ‘leader’, this itself could have caused confusion over his status). But Arthur seems to be even more than these. He’s made out to be more of an overall leader; a commander or general if you will. The only reference in Y Gododdin I could see is:


*Aer dywys, rydywys ryfel > ‘Battle leader, he led to war …’

(LXXIII, A 72, 690. ‘Aneirin – Y Gododdin’. Jarman)

*Air=tiuis > ri- tiuis > ribel_> ‘A battle leader can lead in war’

(A.72, 904 ‘The Gododdin of Aneirin’, Koch, Notes,113).


Here seems to be a point on which the two eminent scholars agree. Once again there is that ri usage by the Britons, which here is translated as ‘led/lead’. (Later Welsh might interpret ri-dywys as ‘king/lord of war’).  In fact, if you change the hero of this and the previous verse in Y Gododdin that these appears in, from “Ywain” (the only  possible Guledig mentioned in the piece) to “Arthur”, it would fit perfectly:


Battle leader, he led to war,

The land’s multitude loved the mighty reaper. [Arthur was called the Red Revenger]

On the green earth there was fresh blood around the green grave,

He wore armour over his crimson garment.

A trampler of armour, an armour’s trampler, [Arthur was called the trampler of nine]

Like under death weariness falls.

Spears were shattered at the commencement of battle,

A path to a clearing was the aim of the spearthrust. (Jarman)


A battle leader can lead in war.

A sovereign’s host loved the powerful reaper.

The mighty Forth is blood around a new grave.

It was armour that he had over his red [garments].

An armoured trampler used to trample on armour.

The appearance of death fell on the exhausted.

Spear-shafts in shields at the outset of battle —–

a path towards the light was the purpose of the spear thrust. (Koch)


These ‘titles’ would seem to me the strongest contenders for what could have been translate to “dux erat bellorum”.  Here the translator gets the chance to call him a dux, as in ‘leader’, as well as letting any Breton or English reader translate it as a ‘duke’ with military command but second to a king.

Why any of the above would also account for Arthur being called a pen teyrned (teyrnedd) > (‘chief/leader of kings/lords/rulers’) in Culhwch ac Olwen and the Triads, I’m unsure. Unless this was just some Welsh bard’s interpretation of the leader of kings (in battle). Pen tyrned could be interpreted as meaning the ‘Head of Kings’: a ‘High King’, but there is no indication of this in the H.B. and if he was commonly thought to be a king, of whatever class, one would think the H.B. would have made political use of it … had they known.

As mentioned before, Stephen Knight argues that in the 9th/10th century Arthur of their stories may have simply been fashioned into a Welsh over-king of the times, in the mold of Rhodri Mawr and Hwyel Dda.[5]  Many later Medieval Welsh kings were styled this by the Gogynfeirdd (‘The Less Early Poets’).

It should be ask here why Nennius, if making the whole thing up, didn’t just call Arthur a High King, or even a king? Why call him a battle leader for kings? Was it because this is what he was (or was thought to have been) or was it because the English had no knowledge of a ‘King Arthur’ so ‘Nennius’ had to give him another title? Or was that it was such commonly known fact that he was a High King that it didn’t need to be stated? But then why did the Vatican recension tell us there were those more nobler than him?

Dux Britannium

There is always the possibility that because the translator was working form an Old Welsh copy of a poem, it may have used the equivalent of the Old Welsh translation of “Dux Britannium”.  We mustn’t forget that this was at the end of a transmission of the story, which may even have gone form Latin to Primitive Welsh to Old Welsh to Latin.  Even if it didn’t start as Latin, it still came down as language and military knowledge had changed.  Did it come down as something like “aer dywys, pen tyrned prydein” > “Leader of battle, chief of the rulers (kings) of Britain”?

A digression

Just to digress for a moment, I think Keith (Fitzpatrick-Matthews) in his recent paper on the H.B. (The Arthurian Battles of the Historia Britonnum July 2010 – available on Scribd) makes an interesting point about battle poems.  It appears (from the limited evidence we have) that they lie between 580 and 635 AD. (Urien Rheged   (Ardwyre   reget,   Williams  1960,  7),  Cynan  Garwyn  (Trawsganu  kynan  garwin,  Williams  1960,  1)  and  Cadwallon   ap   Cadfan   (*Marwnad   cadwallon   ap   cadfan*,   Gruffydd   1978,   34 ) [6]. They could have, of course, been in use before this and it is just a case that none have survived.  But if they do belong to a narrow window of time, and did not begin until after Arthur’s death then even the first poems about him may not have surfaced until after the event(s) and so they themselves would be based a folk memory, unless there were bards present at Arthur’s battles at the time to transmit the information, or as wondered by the likes of Christopher Gidlow (2004), some of the transmission was originally in Latin.  Even these may not necessarily have been in an accurate, historical way; that’s not what the bards were there to do.  As Keith points out, the chances are, all these poems may have been written after the fact, and this too is the opinion of Dumville. [7]

There is the question of whose bards might have been praising Arthur, if he was neither king or prince? (Not that he couldn’t have been a prince).  The bards were there to praise their patron.  As in 9th century Wales, there may have been two bards: the itinerant ‘chief of song’ (pencerdd) and the ‘poet of the warband/household’ (bard teulu); the former praising whomever he might be visiting as well as others and the latter his king and his warband and whoever might have been fighting with them.  Aneirin seems to fall into the former category.  He sings of the exploits of the various warriors, some from other kingdoms, fighting together.  If Arthur did command kings in battle, as Ywain in Y Gododdin may have done, then Arthur could have been praised by several bards over several campaigns … unless he employed is own.  If there was indeed a battle poem then it could have been the condensing of several other’s lyrical works.

What we may never know is what was written in Latin, if anything.  The royal courts seem to have had a priest in their employ. Whether any of these put quill to parchment and wrote down any of Arthur’s deeds, we’ll never know. But, just perhaps ‘silua  celidonis’ was a case in point? – (see THIS blog for further discussion).

Back to the point

In the Vatican recension of the H.B. Arthur’s position is clarified as being a miles, interpreted today as “soldier”.  On this point there’s an interesting thought from Dane Prestano in a post from Arthurnet in November 2007:


This `miles’ issue has bothered me for a while.  In `The Ideals and Practice of Medieval Knighthood’ By Christopher Harper-Bill, Ruth E. Harvey, Stephen Church, which can be found on Google books it is stated that by the 9th/10th C `miles’ had become synonymous with a Knight, not a soldier and by the 12th C this was evident in medieval manuscripts. It could be argued that the later additions of ‘miles’ where because someone interpreted the same was as later generation are doing.  He’s a leader of battle. So this throw away term in the H.B. might be a clear indication that Arthur was a mounted knight, lending a much more Romance slant to the H.B. Arthur material than thought before.


I may not agree with Dane that this shows Arthur was a cavalryman, but it may prove that is how he was perceived at the time, making him into a contemporary horse-backed duke.

Thanks for reading and be sure to take a look at the comments below,




[1] Green, Concepts Of Arthur, 2007; p.151

[2] Michael Lapidge, John Blair, Simon Keynes, 2001, p.152

[3] Gidlow, Reign of Arthur, 2004, p.44

[4] From Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews’ website:

[5] Knight, 1983, p.32-34

[6]  -List from Fitzpatrick-Matthews, 2010, p.19)

[7] Dumville, 1977, p.188


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