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

CONCLUSIONS?

English: Scanned from frontispiece of Ab Ithel...

Annales Cambriae

Everyone’s conclusions to this are going to be different, depending on many different factors: how long you’ve been studying the Arthurian subject, how much you’ve read, your culture, your beliefs, your personality.  My conclusions, in a sense, don’t matter, it’s how these blogs have affected your views on the subject.

The original question I posed was:

Can it be deduced with any certainty or probability that the Arthur depicted in the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae, said to have fought at the first battle of Mount Badon, was based on a historical character of the Late-5th/Early-6th centuries or an earlier mythical or folkloric figure? or that he could have been both?”

Can there be any certainty that he was a historic figure that fought at Badon? As long as there’s disagreement on the validity of the H.B and the A.C., no. (Perhaps some individuals can be certain, but it’s hard to see there ever being a consensus, unless there’s some miraculous find to prove he existed). Could he have been purely mythical or folkloric? Yes, but I cannot see how there can be any certainty of it. Could he have been both? Yes, but there can be no certainty about that either. Yet many people are certain of one or the other.

Page from the Book of Aneurin , MS c. 1275. Fr...

Y Gododdin

Probability is another matter. If the probability question where to do with the weight of evidence and the odds of existence to none-existence, then the odds would (probably) be against his existence. But this depends on the interpretation of the evidence in the first place. For example, if you think the Welsh material probably came from a mythical figure you will have a different outcome to if you think the material probably came from Arthur of Badon, or his name replaced a mythical figure. The same goes for the information in Y Gododdin, the Historia Britonnum and the Annales Cambriae. If you think these sources valid you have a totally different outcome to if you don’t. If you think they’re valid, historical documents, then he existed. Even if it’s only the H.B. that can be taken as valid (if not accurate) then he existed. But if you don’t … So, we probably can’t use probability!

For me, there is no firm conclusion to be had, but I hope I’ve, at least, added something to this debate. It cannot be proven that there was a historical, 5th century Arthur, that’s impossible to do, but I hope these blogs have shown that, if there was one, there’s no reason his name couldn’t have come about by the same means argued for the 6th and 7th century Arthur/Artúrs by Higham et al; or that, if his name (and some stories) did derive from folkloric or mythical sources, or there was also a mythical (or historical) character(s) of similar or the same name, why later confusion, even by the 9th century or before, would arise. In essence, Higham’s and Green’s argument for the naming of the other Arthurs can be applied to an early Arthur. Why? Because it appears (to me) that this Arthur of Welsh folklore or myth bears little or no resemblance to the Arthur in the H.B.. One’s a Saxon fighter, the other isn’t. One fights giants and the Otherworld, the other one doesn’t appear to. One supposedly was a leader of battles for kings of Britain, the other one wasn’t. One fought at Badon, the one of the early tradition didn’t. However, this doesn’t mean he couldn’t have been a Saxon fighting Briton who got turned into this fantastical character, just as Vortigern, Ambrosius Aurelianus and Urien were used in stories that had nothing to do with their actual lives. These stories alone prove that this happened and this is too often ignored.

From how I interpret the evidence, we cannot rule out a historical figure who fought at Badon being the ‘original’ and the later legends and topographical and onomastic sites merely being a distortion in response to folk culture and internal and external political events. That’s probably the simplest answer, but the simplest answer isn’t always the right one. Nor can we rule out that there was no ‘Arthur of Badon’ … but it is also possible that there were two totally independent mythical and historical characters that were merged and confused, or even a mythical figure whose name was changed to Arthur, be that earlier than the 6th century or after. The problem arises as to why a purely British folkloric or mythical figure would be given a Latin name (rather than a Latinized name), be that Arturius or Arturus. It would have to be yet another unique case. But that also doen’t mean it couldn’t have happened. (‘Arthur’s Wain‘ – The Plough – could be an indication that Arcturus became Arturus).

What it means, to me at least, is that it cannot be stated categorically that Arthur of the 5th century was historical, but neither can it be stated categorically he was purely mythical or folkloric. But it’s possible that the name was all of these things. However, if Arthur cannot be categorically stated to have been real from the evidence we have, then other Early Medieval figures who are considered historical without question should be treated in the same way.

(I’ve italicized ‘possible’ twice above as that is, in the end, all we can use).

Hywel Dda

Whichever historical Arthur you go for, whether that be one who was at Badon, Artur ap Pedr or Artúr mac Áedán, you have to come up with theories that explain the anomalies between them and the sources. You either have to come up with reasons why Arthur of Badon doesn’t appear in genealogies or near contemporary sources or why one of these other Arthur’s were said to be at Badon; and how, if their respective royal houses knew they were THE Arthur, they didn’t make political mileage from it. Neither Demetia/Dyfed or Dalriada appear to have done so … although the MacArthur/Campbells tried to do so later (See THIS blog). Adomnán makes nothing of Artúr, only his father Áedán. Hywel Dda of Dyfed could, perhaps, have slipped it into to his Laws somewhere that they were the descendants of the great Arthur, but he didn’t. If any of them did try and do so, it’s been suppressed or lost.

So, has my 65% leaning towards a historical Arthur changed? Yes. It may have gone to up 67% now. Why? Because of re-looking at the H.B. battle list and the use of Arthur here. Unless there was something in the Welsh tradition about a Saxon fighting Arthur it doesn’t make sense, to me at least, that he would be used if he was the same as the Welsh folkloric figure we know of today. Of course, stories of a mythical Arthur who fought Saxons might have been around and they’ve been lost, but we can only look at the evidence as it is.

What I may consider now more than before I started these blogs is the possibility of an independent mythical figure alongside the historic one(s). A figure that was, at some point in history, given the name Arturius/Arthur/Arturus, but who may have started life under another guise.

Having said all the above, I want to finish by quoting Christopher Gidlow from his book ‘Revealing King Arthur’ (2010):

“It is worrying just how convoluted, how complex, the arguments against Arthur are. Faced with the mass of evidence, opponents are forced to imagine an unknown British god called Arthur (with a convenient taboo against naming him), or landscape features named after other Arthurs of earlier history or mythology whose importance to the inhabitants is nowhere attested. These chimerical Arthurs have left legends which have, for inscrutable reasons, been attached to a military figure of the fifth or sixth century who, if he existed, cannot possibly have borne the name Arthur. Whatever name he had must, despite his importance, have become irretrievably lost. The author of the Historia Brittonum has for his own purpose for the Britons, uniquely put this composite figure in a narrative which otherwise only features major figures already placed in this time period. All other references to Arthur as a historical figure derive from this single source. The counter-argument, that Arthur was a real person who fought the Saxons at the Battle of Mount Badon, who later attracted legendary tall tales, has the advantage of simplicity and requires fewer unknown steps and sources.” (p.193)

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

Mak

IF YOU CAME HERE VIA THE BLOG ‘IN SEARCH OF THE ORIGINAL KING ARTHUR‘, CLICK HERE TO RETURN TO IT.

Arthurian Probability Test

King Arthur, Merlin, Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain, and Guinevere decide to go to their favorite restaurant to share some mead and grilled meats. They sit down at a round table for five, and as soon as they do, Lancelot notes, “We sat down around the table in age order! What are the odds of that?”

Merlin smiles broadly. “This is easily solved without any magic.” He then shared the answer. What did he say the odds were?

I’ll give the answer soon!

 

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King Arthur – Man, Myth … or Both? – Part One (Introduction)

I actually can’t believe I’m tackling this subject, but here goes …

INTRODUCTION

Whether the figure of Arthur was a historicized mythical or folkloric figure or a mythologized or folkloric 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 at points in this twelve part blog. If I am, accidentally, reiterating what others have said I apologise in advance. I also apologise for not covering everything, but if I did, this would turn into a book! It’s already 20,000 words!

In these blogs the legends I will mainly be referring to are those of the Welsh, which predate those began by the Anglo-(Breton)-Norman Geoffrey of Monmouth (early 12th c) who first made Arthur famous outside Wales and Cornwall, by at least two hundred years. The King Arthur and his famous knights of the roundtable, the Holy Grail and his battles around Europe all came to light between the 12th to 15th centuries, and it will be these stories most will be aware of. The earlier, Welsh tales and poems are, in general, about a very different superhero, who fights – or battles through his men – witches, giants and the Otherworld, but there does appear to be ‘Arthur the Soldier’ in amongst them.

Personally, I have waxed and wained over the years between the one possibility and the other as I have read the various arguments. When I joined the group Arthurnet, I was firmly in the mythical or folkloric camp. I was firmly in the mythical or folkloric camp. Before embarking on this ebook I was about 65% (if a percentage could ever be given!) in favour of the likelihood that the original Arthur was a 5th and 6th century figure of some description … but, who knows, that could swing the other way at some point. It will be interesting to see if that percentage has changed by the end of this. The slight leaning to a historical Arthur may give me a bias in that direction, but I will endeavour to stay as objective as possible.

. It will be interesting to see if that percentage has changed by the end of these blogs. The slight leaning to a historical Arthur may give me a bias in that direction, but I will endeavour to stay as objective as possible.

What may help a little is that I’m agnostic. It doesn’t really matter to me whether Arthur really existed or not. I have no nationalistic tendency to want him to have been from what are now England, Scotland, Wales or even Ireland. None of these existed at the time. What I do want is a fair ‘hearing’, so to speak. I will try and do what Christopher Snyder does when he says

My own contributions on the scholarship of Arthurian origins have been attempts to establish a middle ground between academic skepticism and unbridled lay enthusiasm”. (A history of Arthurian scholarship,  Lacy, 2006, p.13).

Although I am in the “lay” camp, of course! There is another quote from Mr. Snyder to keep in mind:

 “ [...] academic historians, playing by the rules of our disciplines, can say little of value about Arthur.” (The Britons,   Snyder, 2003, p.94)

I can go further than a professional historian, but I will endeavour to keep the rules of their disciplines in mind.

Hit of Myth?

First a few ‘for and against’ quotes:

 “Drawing on the postmodern theory of Jean Baudrillard, it is possible to interpret Arthur as a simulacrum – that is, as a copy which has no original. The textual Arthurs that survive are reformatted copies of earlier ideas of Arthur, referring always to each other but never to an originary Arthur, since such a person cannot be identified or retrieved.” (A Companion to Arthurian Literature, Helen Fulton, 2009, p.16)

“It is worrying just how convoluted, how complex, the arguments against Arthur are. Faced with the mass of evidence, opponents are forced to imagine an unknown British god called Arthur (with a convenient taboo against naming him), or landscape features named after other Arthurs of earlier history or mythology whose importance to the inhabitants is nowhere attested. (Christopher Gidlow in his book ‘Revealing King Arthur’, 2010, p.193)

“This is not the stuff of which history can be made. The fact of the matter is that there is no historical evidence about Arthur; we must reject him from our histories and, above all, from the titles of our books” (David Dumville, 1977, p.188).

“I disagree, however, with those skeptics who believe there is proof that Arthur is pure fabrication. Theories that trace his origins to mythology or folklore are as unconvincing as those that ‘prove’ his historicity.” (Christopher Snyder, ‘The Britons’, 2003, p.94)

Thomas Charles-Edwards conclusions about the Historia Brittonum were:

At this stage of the enquiry, one can only say there may well have been an historical Arthur [...] but “[...] the historian can as yet say nothing of value about him” (1991. p.29).

[Arthur is] above all else [...] a defender of his country against every kind of danger, both internal and external: a slayer of giants and witches, a hunter of monstrous animals — giant boars, a savage cat monster, a winged serpent (or dragon) — and also, as it appears from Culhwch and Preiddeu Annwn, a releaser of prisoners. This concept is substantiated from all the early sources: the poems Pa Gur and Prieddeu Annwn, the Triads, the Saint’s Lives, and the Miribilia attached to the Historia Brittonum [...] in early literature he belongs, like Fionn, to the realm of mythology rather than to that of history.” (R. Bromwich and D. Simon Evans (edd.), ‘Culhwch and Olwen. An edition and study of the oldest Arthurian tale’ (Cardiff, 1992), pp. xxviii-xxix)

That is the question?

First we have to define what the correct question is. To ask, “Did Arthur exist?” will illicit the response, “Which Arthur? King Arthur of Malory, of Wace, of Chrétien, of Layamon, of Geoffrey of Monmouth, or ‘William’ the author of the Breton Legend of St. Geoznovius. Or Arthur of the 9th century Historia Brittonum (H.B.), or of the 10th century Annales Cambriae (A.C.); or do we mean Arthur of the early Welsh stories or the early Welsh poetry?” So, the question I will pose is: “Can it be deduced with any certainty or probability that the Arthur depicted in the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae, said to have fought at the first battle of Mount Badon, was based on a historical character of the Late-5th/Early-6th centuries or an earlier mythical or folkloric figure? or that he could have been both?”

That’s just your opinion!

Opinion as to whether the figure that became the legend of King Arthur was based on a historical person or not, or whether he was one of the other slightly later known historical Arthurs, has vacillated over the decades and centuries between ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’. Today, some of those scholars firmly in the ‘mythical or folkloric Arthur’ camp are David Dumville (1977), Oliver Padel (2000), Nick Higham (1994, 2002) and Thomas Green (2001-2007), following Padel. Those in the ‘historical’ camp (to varying degrees) who look to a possible 5th century Arthur would be Christopher Snyder (2003, 2006), Christopher Gidlow (2004, 2010) and Francis Pryor (2004) … with many a lay historian added to that list. The original as the 6th century prince Artúr mac Áedán of Dal Riata (Dalriada) is put forward by Richard Barber (1972) following suggestions by Norma Chadwick, but also the lay historian David F. Caroll (1996) with 6th century king of Demetia (Dyfed), Arthur ap Pedr, only forwarded by Dr. Ken Dark (2000). Both the Early-7th century Arthur ap Bicoir and Arthur ap Pedr have been explored by August Hunt, but he has since rejected them in favour of the Late-6th century Arthur Penuchel (2011). (Many of you may be unaware of these other Arthurs, and if you’d like to know more about them before reading further, see THIS blog; although they will be discussed here).

It could be argued that some lay historians (and professional historians!) haven’t helped a historical Arthur’s case much either by the way they’ve argued for him, and it is mainly the academic scholars who argue against his existence that put the best cases. (In this respect I hope not to make things worse!). The academic who, to me at least, has made the best case for the possible existence of a historical figure called Arthur (as opposed to someone else who became known as Arthur, such as Riothamus or Ambrosius Aurelianus) is Christopher Gidlow, but even he hasn’t explored the folkloric aspects in detail.

It should be noted from the start that both Nick Higham and Thomas Green had concluded that Arthur didn’t exist before beginning their books on the subject. Higham had concluded this in his book on Gildas’s 6th century polemic De Excidio Britanniae (DEB): ‘The English Conquest- Gildas and Britain of the fifth century’ (1994). This is because he sees the evidence showing that the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ where the ones in charge after Badon, and not the Britons, so there was no place for an Arthur character. Green, in Concept of Arthur (2007), follows Padel’s folkloric Arthur theory and had been writing about this online for a number of years, long before the publication of his book. If you start from those assumptions, or rather conclusions, in a book then you are approaching the subject in the same way as those who start from the assumption that he did exist. The book is there to prove your point. That doesn’t mean what is explore in their books is worthless! Far from it, they are excellent in their ways. It also doesn’t mean they’re wrong, and I bow to their superior knowledge, it does mean this should be kept in mind.

If one looked at the early Welsh material alone, one might have to conclude that Arthur was either mythical or folkloric and Padel does make a very important point in his book, ‘Arthur Of Welsh Literature’ (2000): many (not all) who accepted Arthur as a historical figure (or that he shouldn’t be dispelled as one) do so without considering this Welsh, Cornish and Scottish mythical or folkloric Arthur and the questions these stories and poems throw up with regards to his historicity. I hope not to be one of those and will face these full on in these next (shortish) ten blogs.

So, that’s the introduction. In Part Two we’ll look at Arthur in the landscape of Britain and the possible mythical or folkloric origins, as well as some possible later historical comparisons.

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

Mak

PS: Just in case there are folk out there thinking, “he’s writing ‘a historical’ instead of ‘an historical’, the former is correct. The only time to use ‘an’ is before a word with a silent ‘h’, like ‘honour’. In the past when I’ve used ‘an’, it’s out of habit.

 

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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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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,

Mak

 

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

(Updated: 31.5.12)

SINCE WRITING THIS BLOG I HAVE WRITTEN ANOTHER CALLED ‘KING ARTHUR – MAN, MYTH … OR BOTH?‘. IT MAY BE WORTH YOU READING THAT BLOG FIRST, ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE NEW TO THE SUBJECT. CLICK HERE TO READ IT.

In these blogs I’d like to share my thoughts on my approach to looking for an ‘original’ historical Arthur.  This I have mainly been doing for an idea for a screenplay I’m working on.  I have written three already but haven’t been totally happy with any of them, so I’m going back to basics and doing more research.  This has certainly come out as a much longer piece than I intended, which is why it’s another multi-part blog.

King Arthur was Irish!?

No, I don’t think he was Irish, but I wanted to start, not with his mention in the 9th century Historia Britonnum, but with the known Arthurs (yes, plural) of the 6th and 7th centuries (all Hiberno-British (British/Gael mix) or in Hiberno-Brittanian or Cambro-Irish areas) and try to work forward and back from them.

What, I questioned myself, might have given rise to the kings of these areas giving their sons the name,whilst the Britons and even later Welsh wouldn’t. as well as the mention of Arthur in the northern British 7th century (plus later additions) collection of poems, Y Gododdin? I realise there can only be possibilities and probabilities in the argument, but I‘m attempting, though I may not succeed, to find an hypothesis that is a probable one, or certainly a believable one.  Of course, just because something is more probable and believable, doesn’t make it the truth.

Assuming, just for the moment, that one of these Arthurs/Artúrs wasn’t the ‘original’, which some argue one was, I’m starting with Occam’s Razor, whilst keeping in mind that such a device might well be blunted by the stubble of time.  This ‘razor’ would probably first say that he has to be one of these known figures, but it could also say (if it was a double bladed affair) that they were given the name because, if there was an ‘original’ Arthur before them, they were of the same ethnic origins as he, or there was some identification with him by them.  This is not to say he was Irish (Hibernian/Scotti) per se, but possibly of mixed race in an Hiberno-British region, or a region of such descent.  Such a person, of course, could have been born at one of several locations on the western seaboard from Cornwall to Clydesdale or Kintyre.  We know through inscribed stones that there were Hibernians or Hiberno-Britons on the islands of Britain, especially in what is now southwest Wales, and there are two 5th and 6th century ‘Irishmen’ known as far east as Roman Wroxeter (Viriconium Cornoviorum) in modern day Shropshire, and Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum) in Wiltshire:

  • Wroxeter: CVNORIX | MACVSM/A | QVICO[L]I[N]E, ‘Cunorix son of Maqui Coline’ (c.460-475, Wright/Jackson/1968)
  • Silchester – EBICATO[S]/[MAQ]I MUCO[I--], ‘of Ebicatus, son of the tribe of … ‘ (c. 500-700, Fulford/Clarke/1999 or 350-425, Fulford et al 2000).

We’ve no idea who these gentlemen were or what they were doing there, but they were there.  They could be warriors, they could be monks.

There is very little to go on when searching for Arthur before the Historia Brittonum – ‘History of the Britons’ (H.B.) ca 828. and the Annales Cambriae – ‘Annals of Wales (A.C.) ca 970, but there are some clues.  Let’s start with a reminder of (or an introduction to) who these ‘other’ HIberno-British Arthur’s were and, firstly, where the Hiberno-Britannian/Cambro-Irish regions lay.

Arthur (Artur/Artúr/Artuir) names of the Hiberno-British regions

The main regions where early Hiberno-Britannians, Hiberno-Britons or Cambro-Irish were resident were:

The Western Isles and western Scotland.

Northwest Wales

Southwest Wales

South central Wales

Southwest Devon

Northwest Cornwall

Only one of these regions would see their language remain: those of western Scotland. Those in Wales left the most traces through inscribed stones (especially in the southwest) and some place names. Cornwall has a number of Irish saints. Cumbria and Lancashire seem to be Hibernian free and this could simply be because the Isle of Man lay between, which they did colonise, or because of the strength of the kingdoms there. The same could be true for what is now Dumfries and Galloway in southwest Scotland.

The map right shows only roughly where these Gaels might have been in the Late-5th/Early-6th centuries. They may not have extended so far we in the north at the time. The difference in pink to red it the extend of settlement or, in the case of southwest Wales, the extent of Latin/ogham inscribed stones.The map also shows where the old British provinces might have been.

There are, of course, different theories to the existence of Goidelic (Early Gaelic)  [1]speakers in Britain and these range from settlers/raiders from Ireland to there having ‘always’ been Goidelic speakers in these regions. The jury’s still out, but most favour an influx.

Why the Hiberno-Britannians (descendants thereof or inhabitants of these areas) of the 6th and 7th centuries might give their princes the (generally accepted) Insular Latin derived British name Arthur (Gaelic Artur/Artúr/Artuir) two or three generations after Arthur of Badon’s supposed death, whilst the British/Welsh did not until the 15th century (Henry (Tudor) VII’s son) has been debated many times. I am of the opinion, based on the evidence as I see it, which I’ll show in the coming chapters, that if they were named after an ‘original’ Arthur, who wasn’t one of these, it was for a very good reason and a reason that was more than just taking a fashionable name or that of a mythical god [2] or folkloric figure [3], or because the Brittonic/Brythonic speaking Britons wouldn’t take the name out of respect or awe for Arthur of Badon. It didn’t stop them using the names Constantine or Caradoc (or variants thereof) on numerous occasions as well as mythical names such as Brân.

However, why those who were once his (or elements of the Britons’)  supposed enemy would take the name is the main question, whether Arthur was also an Hiberno-Briton or Hiberno-Britannian himself or not. But we don’t think with a 6th century warrior’s mind and perhaps his unsurpassed martial prowess was enough; or, they were not his enemy at the time, or not all the time, but allies against other Scotti or the Picts. After all, we actually have no evidence that those of the west of Scotland were the enemy in the late 5th century, or, at least, not to the Britannians below the Wall. (Bede says they didn’t arrive in western Scotland until 500 AD, but the archæological evidence disagrees).

It may be odd for all the Hiberno-Britannias to have been the enemy at the time with regards to Arthur, considering they may have named their princes after him, yet those of the Cambro-Irish regions of southwest and northwest Wales seem to have been the enemy, or some of them, if the stories of (St.) Tewdric (c.Early-6th century) expelling Irish from southwest Wales and Cornwall are true[4] and if Cunedda (c.Early-5th century) from Manau Gododdin (southwest Fife, Scotland) did indeed fight against those of northwest and southwest Wales[5]. Even if he didn’t, a later ‘Welsh’ king called Catguolaun Lauhir (Cadwallon Long Hand) of Venedos/Venedota/Venedotia (Gwynedd) supposedly did[6] … not that Venedotia existed in the 5th century.[7]

But there were Hibernians and there were Hibernians: raiders and settlers … and, possibly, Goidelic speaking Britannians. What we are not told is if these figures fought against Scotti raiders with the aid of settled Cambro-Irish, who were either laeti (warriors with family, settled in the area) or feoderati (federates fighting under their own leaders, not necessarily here to stay).

The Hibernian Dalriadians (of Dál Riataof the Western Isles of Scotland did become the enemy of their British ‘cousins’ yet they still continued to take the name … and still the ‘royal’ Britons weren’t using it as far as we can tell.

A simple answer, and one Richard Barber (The Figure of Arthur, 1972) came to, is that the legendary Arthur is based on one of these. (Barber obviously had a very sharp Occam’s Razor!)This certainly makes more sense than Arthur being Ambrosius Aurelianus (Reno, 1994), Riothamus (Alcock, 1975), Vortigern, or even Catellus = Cattigern = Vortigern = Riothamus=Arthur (Pace, 2009). However, he can only be one of these other Arthurs, who we are exploring, if he was not of the 5th century but of the 6th or 7th and did not fight at Badon.

(I doubt the above alternatives for many reasons but mainly because there is neither evidence that the name ‘Arthur’ was an epithet[8], or that Riothamus[9] or Vortigern[10]weren’t personal names).

Why the name Arthur?

First a cautionary note from Juliette Wood:

 “Too often a priori [11] considerations of the importance of Arthur distort such considerations [of why other princes were given the name] (Bromwich 1963, 1975/6: 178–9; Padel 1994: 24; Green 2007) but the quest for a historical Arthur surfaces still in popular writing.” (A companion to Arthurian literature, 2009, p.123)

There may indeed be a priori elements when it comes to this, but I’ll try not to do so.

The use of the name Arthur by the Hiberno-Britannians/Cambro-Irish is explained as follows in Bart Jaski’s paper, ‘‘Early Irish examples of the name ‘Arthur’ (Journal of Celtic Philology, 2008):

 “That a British name is found among members of an originally Irish dynasty can be explained by ties of marriage. The sources suggest that Áedán had a British grandmother, mother and wife, and such connections may have been common among other members of the ruling families of Dál Riata. In this way, British names could be adopted by dynasties with Irish roots.” (p.94)

This may, of course, explain the giving of the name, but not why the Britons don’t appear to have used it. (It may also not be a British name per se, but a British version of a Latin name). However, there could be other reasons behind the name being used, which I’ll explore in the coming blogs, starting with Artúr (Arturius) mac Áedán of Dál Riata (Argyle, Scotland). Born ca 570.

(There is a Post Script to all these blogs about the pronunciation of the name Arthur, but it’s worth reading it first. Click HERE).

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

Mak

NOTES:

[1] There was much less of a difference between Goidelic and Brittonic in the Late-5th century to what there is now between Gaelic and Welsh.

[2] Green, 2007. Thomas Green doesn’t just argue for a mythical god figure in his book ‘Concepts of Arthur’.

[3] Higham, 2002

[4] They may not be since they seem to come form the famous 18th century forger Iolo Morganwg.

[5] If this isn’t an origin myth

[6] Cadwallon supposedly defeated the Irish on the Isle of Anglesey in 517AD.

[7] No one’s certain when Venedota came into being but an inscribed stone at Penbryn still refers to it being the land off the Ordovices in the 6th century. Later it is called Venedos in a stone from Penmachno. The change may have happened when its focus changed from the mainland to Anglesey. (Dark, 2000, p.178)

[8] As you’ll see later, there’s no known etymology in Brittonic or Goidelic to make the name Arthur or any evidence the used animals as epithets.

[9] We know there was the very similar personal name Riocatus.

[10] The Goidelic version of the name Vortigern is well attested in Ireland.

[11] A priori: Latin for “from the former” or “from before”, and in this instance refers to knowledge that is justified by arguments of a certain kind.

 

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A Different Look At An Arthurian Battle Poem – Part Three

(Click HERE for Part one – Click HERE for Part Two)

Is it time to rhyme?

The question comes as to whether any poetry about Arthur was composed during his supposed lifetime or many years later.  As Keith mentions and Gidlow points out, the limited surviving early battle poetry we know of only exists between ca 580 and 640; this means that there is a lot that has been lost to us.  But if the type of battle poetry that the H.B. was based on – if it was – only had a relatively short life and had finished by the mid-seventh century then we might deduce that it was compose during this time and not before or after.  If it was in this period it gives a completely different slant to why or how it was composed.  The ‘why’ is possibly easier to answer.  This was the second phase of the Anglo-Saxon migration, expansion and conquest.  What better time to bring a national hero (or great warrior) back from the dead and sing his deeds to the warbands before they faced their Germanic enemies?  “He beat them! So can you!”  This would be the way in which his name could travel the length and breadth of the British Isles, beside him possibly already being a legend in certain regions.  This is the exact period when those Hibernian-British or Cambro-Irish Arthur names appear, adding greater strength to the poem(s) being composed at this time.  (I explore further in THIS blog about Arthur being an Hiberno-Britannian).

The ‘how’ would need either known poetry, or stories.  Any stories or legends would be, perhaps, two or three generations old so we can imagine the level of corruption that may have already occurred.  The possibility of any poetry having being written down in British at this time is slim.  However, if it did exist, it may have had to adjust and develop to the changing language.  This itself could lead to corruption.

Recently I have wondered about Aneirin’s involvement in all this.  This is the man (if it is indeed his own words) who gives us the first mention of the name Arthur in Y Gododdin (not forgetting that there are some scholars who argue this verse is a later interpolation):

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 fed black ravens on the ramparts of a fortress

Though he was no Arthur.

Among the powerful ones in battle,

In the front rank, Gwawrddur was a palisade.

(Jarman, 1990, V99, 64)

It’s a bit of a negative compliment, but not totally unusual.  Everyone else mentioned in this poem are either living or recently dead and Arthur is the only one from the distant past … if, indeed, he is and this isn’t Artúr (Arturius) mac Áedán of Dalriada (see THIS blog).  If it is an ‘original’ Arthur of Badon fame, why mention him in particular?  Why now? The ‘why now’ I answered above.  It could also be he just happened to have a name that rhymed with Gwawrddur.  Another explanation is that he was from that region and, added to this, if there was current poetry being circulated about him it would already be in the audience’s mind. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that Aneirin himself had composed work about Arthur.  Could he have been the first?  This might make the mention even more logical.

(Those observant amongst you might have notice something odd about the rhyming in this section:

Gocharai brain du ar fur caer

Cyn ni bai ef Arthur.

Rhwng cyfnerthi yng nghlysur,

Yng nghynnor, gwernor Gwawrddur.

Caer’ does not appear to rhyme with ‘Arthur’ or the previous line.  This bothered me for a little while until making a search through Y Gododdin and finding the following:

‘A’n gelwid i nef bid athleddawr ym mid!

Ef crynid ei gadwaywawr.

Cadfannan ryorug clud, clod fawr,

Ni chynhennid na bai llu iddo llawr.

… and …

A ddalwy mwng blaidd heb bren yn ei law

Gnawd gwychnawd yn ei len:

O gyfrang gwyth ac asgen

Trengis, ni ddiengis, Bradwen.

So it is a specific bardic device).

As already mentioned, if he fought at Celidon, then this was most likely in the Gododdin’s back yard.  There are some, including Keith, who place other battles from the list in this region:

Glein: the River Glen in Northumbria (Gododdin),

Breguoin: High Rochester in Northumbria (Roman Bremenium in Selgovae (Gododdin)

… and one battle not in the H.B. …

Camlan: Roman Camboglanna – Castlesteads, Cumbria (Carvettii region).

If these are right, and we will never know, they not only add more weight to Aneirin’s mention of Arthur, but to all but one of the 6th/7th century Arthur names appearing in the same region.  Of course, these battle placings pose problems to some who look for a southern Saxon fighter. If these battle were in the north and the rest in the northwest Midlands and east, it would only leave Badon in the south; unless you follow Green’s siting of this in Lincolnshire, leaving none!  This is a mine field that I am not going to venture any further into, but the more taken away from the south leaves you wondering ‘who was the British leader in the region of Britain that seemed to be undergoing the biggest expansion’?

Silua Celidonis

One last point about this battle, wherever it was: there has to have been more information contained in a Latin text (if that’s what it was) than the name itself.  It has to have been more than “Arturius bellum silua Celidonis”.  (Apologies for my none existent Latin!).  As I postulated earlier, it could have been a complete list of the battles in Latin, which differed only from the British poem by this one battle, hence why it was included and had to be glossed.  However, it could have also contained urbe Legionis and monte Badonis.  After all, all the other battles in the Latin version of the H.B. have purely British names with no Latin endings to them.  Of course, this is most likely because they couldn’t be given them.  It is interesting that these three all have the same ‘nis’ endings.  It’s not completely out of the question that there was also once a Latin poem containing these three battles. If there was a Latin poem, it could indicate that this was the earliest of them all.

Conclusions?

It would be naïve to think that the bards were not politically or ambitiously influenced in their poetry.   Whilst such poetry was meant to be learnt verbatim, it would also be naïve to think that later bards might not add to or adjust what they had learned, especially if they added material from a storyteller to spice it up.  This might mean that any poetry coming down to ‘Nennius’ would not be an accurate historical record, even if it was composed at the time of Arthur’s life.  On the meagre evidence we have I think the probability is more towards a 6th century composition of any poem … with the possibility of an earlier Insular Latin poem containing less battles.  It could actually be in its favour not being politically useful to any one dynasty.  There may be no ‘need’ to change it.  Then again, if it was as much for bolstering the British warriors against the English, the greater they made Arthur, the better.

The one positive note is that the ‘original’ poems of Taliesin and Aneirin did make it to us (as far as we can tell) and an ‘original’ Arthurian work may have found its way to ‘Nennius’.  This does give us the very pertinent question of what happened to such a poem or poems, and Latin texts, if they existed?  If the poem was in written form one would think it would be guarded with someone’s life.  Especially if there was only one in existence.  It could, of course, have been lost or destroyed along with any text; perhaps even by the later Anglo-Norman enemy.  It could be argued that if it was still in oral form, which might explain the variation in the different recensions of the H.B., it eventually was lost or transformed into something unrecognisable.  However, it seem a little odd that the poems of Taliesin and Aneirin survived and those of Arthur didn’t.

Taking the Historia battle list on face value is an act of blind faith.  It does not mean there isn’t truth held within it, but with three hundred years of transmission during turbulent times when the language itself was under great changes, and the 9th and 10th century political situations possibly effecting ‘Nennius’ translation, we should tread carefully.

Poet’s corner

Before I embark on my feeble attempts at battle poetry, a pertinent quote by Nora Chadwick:

“It is almost impossible for anyone who is not a native Welsh speaker, familiar with the strict Welsh metrical prosody, to appreciate justly, still less to convey, the intellectual mastery of this tight-knit poetry, its concentrated brevity of phrase, its use of repetition and inversion and crescendo to achieve the climax of the final impact on the emotions which comes to us almost as a shock. This is, in fact, the effect at which the poet aims, for example, in the Lament for Urien of Rheged above, where the closing stanza achieves the finality of bereavement. To obtain his effect, the bard sacrifices reflection to emotion at a white-heat. Unfortunately no early Scottish poetry has survived.” (Chadwick, 1963, §6)

Below are new version of the poems I did before. The first does not follow the correct meter(s), but the second uses the 8 and 7 syllable, 24 line style.  I have removed Celidon and Agned from these exercises:

BATTLES OF ARTHUR


Leader of battle for the kings of fair Prydein,

There fell many at the confluence of Glein.

In Linnuis four time the victor at the Dubglas,

Gore filled the waters at the river of Bassas.

Slayer of dogs for a day at Caer Guinnion,

He fed the black crows on the walls of Caer Lion.

Blood stained the fetlocks on the shore’s of the Tribruit,

At Caer Bregion the tramplers did acquit.

Three days the siege on the green hill of Badon,

He charged and fell forty-seven score Saeson.

STANZA OF THE BATTLES OF ARTHUR

Leader of battle he has been,

War lord for kings of Prydein.

The red cloaked reaper he was seen,

At the confluence of Glein.

In Linnuis four times victors mass,

Gore filled waters of Dubglas,

On legion’s ford below the pass

Blood stained fetlocks at Bassas.

No one spared where the boar had gone,

For a day at Caer Guinnion.

Glutted black crows thereupon,

The ramparts of Caer Lion.

On cold bleak shores they did acquit

As blue blades flashed at Tribruit.

At Bregion’s fort the pyres were lit,

For hostile crews no earthly pit

Long the siege upon Mount Badon,

The giant charged, his sword prayed on

Forty-seven score skulls of Saeson,

For the Lord of Creation.

_______________________

Thanks for reading,

Mak

 

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