Tag Archives: Picts

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

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

Hoard of hacksilver & ingots


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?


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)

(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.


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: )


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).


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.


Looking at the Got/Cot(?)/Cat/Caith of northern Scotland; the argument is, as put forward by the writer Carla Nayland ( ) – 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).


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).



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

Magister Peditum page 4 from the Roman Notitia...

One of the Attacotti (Atecotti) Roman unit shield patterns: second row, third from left.

UPDATED 25.12.11

In this Two Part blog I will take a look at a people of Britannia (or Hibernia/Ireland) called the Attacotti who were involved in the so called Barbarian Conspiracy of 364-367 and who, after their defeat or perhaps later, were made Roman military units. Many have discussed this issue, but I hope to add at least a little more to the debate.

It’s said that the Barbarian Conspiracy of 364-367 involved the Picti, Scotti and Attacotti. The latter tribe is hard to identify (not having been mentioned by the 2nd century geographer Ptolemy, although it could have been a later collective name given to some he identified) and they have been placed as far afield as Ireland, the west coast of Scotland and southwest Wales. Wherever they were from, after the Conspiracy, (either after their defeat and capture, or later under treaty), their warriors ended up being made into several Roman military auxilia palatina units … something apparently unique amongst the British tribes (Rance, 2001, p.1).

The Attacotti are, indeed, an enigmatic group. Some place them in the Western Isles or Western Scotland, but there is an argument put forward by Philip Rance (‘Attacotti, Déisi and Magnus Maximus: The Case for Irish Federates in Late Roman Britain’, 2001) that they were actually the Déisi of Demetia (now Dyfed) then known as aichechthúatha (‘client people’) – a general term used for ‘rent-paying’ groups of Irish – so would have been in what is now southwestern Wales. (There are counter arguments to this on linguistic grounds, which I will go into later, although Rance’s argument isn’t just an etymological one). The writer Carla Nayland has wondered about them being a culturally distinct group amongst the Pictish nation: that is the region the Pictish Chronicles called Got and the Irish translation of Historia Brittonum called Cat or Caith (as in Caithness) in northeast Scotland. ( ). Carly admits it might be clutching at straws to suggest Got or Caith were *cott, but it’s worth a look.

I’ll look at where they might have been from later.


It’s in Book 27 of his history, the 4th century imperial historian Ammianus Marcellinus tells us:

“It will, however, be in place to say, that at that time the Picts, divided into two tribes, called Dicalydones and Verturiones, as well as [in the same way] the Attacotti, a warlike race of men, and the Scots [Irish or, possibly, Goidelic speaking Britannians], were ranging widely and causing great devastation; while the Gallic regions, wherever anyone could break in by land or by sea, were harassed by the Franks and their neighbours, the Saxons, with cruel robbery, fire, and the murder of all who were taken prisoners.” [brackets are mine]

However, in Book 26 he has said they all were attacking the ‘Britons’. This certainly make it sound that they were not Britons themselves, or certainly not from within the diocese. I’ll look at this in more depth later.

Since the Picti were from the north, and there may have been Scotti there too in the Western Isles, it’s generally argued that the Attacotti must be from the north also. But this doesn’t necessarily follow. In fact, the line “were ranging widely and causing great devastation” may suggest otherwise. Yes, there was definitely trouble in the north but they could have been from the far west, as Rance (and others before him) have suggested (but see below), or, if they were from Ireland, and raided (and settled?) that could be anywhere on the western seaboard, from Lancashire to the Isle of Anglesey in northwest Wales and even down to northern Cornwall. If they were from, and encountered as a federate group, somewhere in Wales, it might be the reason why so many could be captured as it wasn’t so easy for them to escape. But, the question has to be asked, why was there no Scotti Roman unit, or Dicalydones or Verturiones? Didn’t they get caught? There must have been a considerable number of Attacotti to have made a unit or two out of them.


Notitia Dignitatum  (List of Offices) – is an official list of late Roman administrative and military posts from anywhere around 400 AD.)

It’s not something I do lightly, but I will quote the Wikipedia section on the Attacotti, as I think it’s very well written:

The Notitia Dignitatum is a list of offices of the early fifth century Roman Empire, and includes the locations of the offices and the staff (including military units) assigned to them.

The names of several units resembled that of the Attacotti who were mentioned by Ammianus, and in an 1876 publication Otto Seeck assigned the name Atecotti to various spellings (“acecotti”, “atecocti”, “attecotti”, “attcoetti”, “[illegible]ti”, and “arecotti”) in the Notitia Dignitatum, and documented his assignments within the publication. This produced four conjectural occurrences of Atecotti-related units: Atecotti [Illyricum] Atecotti juniores Gallicani Atecotti Honoriani seniores Atecotti Honoriani juniores.

The discovery of a contemporary funerary dedication to a soldier of the “unit of Ate[g,c]utti” in the Roman Diocese of Illyricum supports this reconstruction, as the Notitia Dignitatum places one Atecotti unit in that diocese.

It’s highly probable that all these units weren’t formed at the same time, and the title ‘Honoriani‘ may suggest two of them were created during the reign of the Emperor Honorius (395-423 AD) and named in his honour, whilst the Atecotti of Illyricum and, perhaps, the Atecotti Iuniores Gallicani were, the original units. (Scharf, 1995, 163-5)

A.H.M. Jones (History of the Later Roman Empire, Blackwell, Oxford, 1964 p 682) estimates that there may have been 600 or 700  to a unit but it could have been up to 800, and this is a lot. Not that there has to have been that many Attacotti of course. They could have been the majority and others could indeed have been Scotti and Picti. Two of these units were cavalry. This could mean they were good horsemen, which might give an argument that they weren’t seaborne raiders, but mounted? However, it is also possible they were good on both land and sea.


It could be telling that two of the units were auxilia palatina (the Atecotti Honoriani Seniores and the Atecotti Iuniores Gallicani). These were élite barbarian regiments of the imperial escort armies. This could be the fate of those barbarians who were captured or who made a treaty, and many a Germanic people became them. They were a type of unit the 4th century military writer Vegetius didn’t agree with in his ‘Epitome of military science’. He thought citizen raised armies better trained and more trustworthy.

The fact that the Atecotti Iuniores Gallicani were one of these units may point to these being the first. However, because the Atecotti Honoriani Seniores were also auxilia palatina it could mean they were also one of the first, with the title Honoriani attached later.

One Germanic bunch of warriors, besieged on an island in the Rhine had to decide their own fate:

“In the winter of that year,[298/299] a host of Alamanni infantry was crossing the frozen Rhine. When the ice suddenly broke, they became trapped on an island, whereupon Constantius sent the river fleet to besiege them. To come to terms, they had to hand over a number of warriors as recruits for the Roman army. These were not “captives” (as the panegyric claims), but rather treaty-bound allies, for the troops chose among themselves who had to go. Worsted tribes often picked among themselves the warriors they were required to contribute to the Roman army; it was in Rome’s interest to enroll men who liked to serve, who were least needed at home, and who were therefore least likely to desert. Bound to each other by tribal ties of trust, an Alamannic king and his followers were likely to have stayed together when giving themselves up for service in the Roman army.”  (Raising New Units for the Late Roman Army: “Auxilia Palatina”, Michael P. Speidel, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 50 (1996), pp. 165-166)

Could it have been a similar fate of the Attacotti? If so, it could mean that they had to have been from outside the diocese of Britannia and not from somewhere like Demetia, which was within Britannia Prima. Unless they were newly arrived in the region but not yet citizens.

What would be interesting to know is how long the Attacotti as a ‘tribe’ had to supply young men as part of a possible treaty. Did this stop when Roman rule ended? The problem is we can’t be certain when that was, even though 410 is the date usually given. Some young Attacotti might have thought there was a better life for them in the service of the empire. However, most tribal based units would soon become ethnically diverse.


We get St. Jerome (c. 347-420), a priest from the borders of Dalmatia and Pannonia who travelled in Gaul between 365-370 AD, mentioning the Attacotti in rather unflattering terms in his Treatise Against Jovinianus

“Why should I speak of other nations when I, a youth, in Gaul beheld the Attacotti, a British tribe, eat human flesh, and when they find herds of swine, cattle, and sheep in the woods, they are accustomed to cut off the buttocks of the shepherds, and the paps of the shepherdesses, and to consider them as the only delicacies of food.”

There have been various theory on whether he meant human flesh or if there was a miss-translation from “humanis” (human flesh) for “inhumanis” (animal flesh). (See the Wikipedia article for more information). However, the Greek historian Strabo (64/63 BC – ca. AD 24) was the first to call the Irish gluttonous, incestuous cannibals. (Celtic Culture: a historic encyclopaedia, Koch, 2005, p.846)

In Jerome’s Letter to Oceanus he complains about the promiscuous Attacotti, Scotti, and the people of Plato’s Republic. Why does he mention the Scotti here? Was it because they were both Goidelic speakers? Or was it because there were, indeed, Scotti in the Attacotti units. Or was it because the Attacotti’s behaviour reminded him of the Scotti? Rance wonders if it was simply for literary effect. Of course, the Attacotti being Goidelic (Gaelic) speakers does not mean they couldn’t be Britannians, as Ken Dark has argued. (Britain and the End of the Roman Empire). However, as Rance also points out, the Romans perceived the Irish (Scotti) as cannibals (true or not) so this could, indeed, be why they’re mentioned together. But if they were, say, a Pictish people, why would they be mentioned here?

(Updated) There is one slightly strange thing; if Jerome experienced this encounter with the Attacotti when he was a ‘youth’ and he was born in c. 347, then he came across them before the Barbarian Conspiracy! Unless he counted being 22 or so as a ‘youth’, or, his birth date is later than thought, in the early or mid 350s?  They could have been formed before the troubles in Britain began (again), or, as Philip Freeman (‘Ireland and the Classical World‘, 2000, p.96) points out, Jerome could have been referring to a raiding group of Attacotti before they’d been made into a military unit. If this is the case then they may indeed have been from Ireland as we know the Scotti raided as far as northern Gaul.


The three above classical writers aren’t the only ones to have a go at the Scotti. As Philip Freeman in his excellent book, ‘Ireland and the classical world’ (2001) notes, there were plenty of other writers mentioning them. Pomponius Mela and Solinus commented on the Scotti’s lack of morality and Freeman tells us how Jerome may have been influenced by Caesar’s description of the polygamous Britons (p.100). Prudentius (c.348-405) calls them “the half-wild Scottus, worse than war-hounds”. (Like Britain, Ireland supplied the empire with war or fighting dogs. (Symmachus, c.393). Of course, the irish weren’t the only ones classical writers had it in for. Many a barbarian was written about in unfavourable terms.


So, were the Attacotti Britons, Gaels(Gwydyl) or ‘Picts’ (Fichti) … or, as Carla Nayland suggests, something unique within the Pictish confederacy, perhaps with Scandinavian influence, hence why they are named separately? St. Jerome calls them Britons, but he may just have known that they originated from Britannia, and that may have meant the island and not the Roman diocese of “The Britains’. We don’t know if he heard them speak, or, even if he had, if he would have understood them.

As I mentioned above, there have been many attempts to identify them by their name with it coming from Goidelic aichechthúatha, or something like the Atta/Ate (S)cotti, or deriving from Alt Clut. (I will look at these in more detail in Part Two). St. Jerome’s text could be used to relate them with the Scotti, but this is not entirely conclusive. However, I would favour the explanation given in ‘The Dialects of Ancient Gaul’ by Xavier Delamarre (p.57), with their name meaning “Very Ancient (ones)”. Intensive prefix *ate + cotto – “old”  from either Early Irish or Brittonic, which were much closer languages at the time. (Thanks to Christopher Gwinn for reminding me of this). The alternative, as mentioned, could be the same intensive prefix *ate, but plus (S)cotti. Meaning a particularly nasty group of Scotti.

Not that this help us locate them! What I think we should be looking at is why there was a concerted (if it was) raiding and if knowing ‘why?’ will help with ‘where?’ … and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing in Part Two.

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



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Next Two Blogs

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,



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Where Did Gildas Write?

Those eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that are old county maps of Britain.

Apologies for any typos, but I did this in somewhat of a hurry. I will try to correct in the coming days.

There have been many theories as to where the 6th century cleric/deacon, and later saint, Gildas wrote his polemic against five of the British kings at the time in the De Excidio Britanniae (DEB). Most favour the Somerset/Dorset area, based on the fact Gildas seems to be berating kings of what was (or still was in his day) the province of Britannia Prima. However, there is one scholar who disagrees: E.A. Thompson.

Thompson, in a paper from 1978 (available at JSTOR), reads the evidence as Gildas writing somewhere north of Britannia Prima, or, possibly, Chester. (Chester was most likely in this province, but we’ll come back to that). His reasoning is based on a pretty good argument.

His thinking behind why Gildas may have been in the north is because, when discussing the section about the Scotti and Picti raids and the ‘Saxon’ deployment answer to this, it is all about the north. He doesn’t discuss the south at all with regards to Germanic feoderati.

Gildas tells us that the raids happen thusly …

No sooner were they [the Romans] gone, than the Picts and Scots, like worms which in the heat of mid-day come forth from their holes, hastily land again from their canoes, in which they had been carried beyond the Cichican valley, differing one from another in manners, but inspired with the same avidity for blood, and all more eager to shroud their villainous faces in bushy hair than to cover with decent clothing those parts of their body which required it. Moreover, having heard of the departure of our friends, and their resolution never to return, they seized with greater boldness than before on all the country towards the extreme north as far as the wall. To oppose them there was placed on the heights a garrison equally slow to fight and ill adapted to run away, a useless and panic-struck company, who clambered away days and nights on their unprofitable watch. Meanwhile the hooked weapons of their enemies were not idle, and our wretched countrymen were dragged from the wall and dashed against the ground. Such premature death, however, painful as it was, saved them from seeing the miserable sufferings of their brothers and children. But why should I say more? they left their cities, abandoned the protection of the wall and dispersed themselves in flight more desperately than before. The enemy, on the other hand, pursued them with more unrelenting cruelty than before, and butchered our countrymen like sheep, so that their habitations were like those of savage beasts; for they turned their arms upon each other, and for the sake of a little sustenance, imbrued their hands in the blood of their fellow countrymen. Thus foreign calamities were augmented by domestic feuds; so that the whole country was entirely destitute of provisions, save such as could be procured in the chase. (DEB, 19)

Thompson goes on to argue …

According to him [Gildas], in the years preceding 446, the date of Aetius’s third consulship, the Picts and Scots, coming by sea (as he repeatedly emphasizes) seized northern Britain as far as the Wall. We do not know what exactly he means by ‘northern’ Britain; but since he describes the area as ‘all the northern and extreme part of the land as far as the wall’, omnem aquilonalem extremamque terrae partem . . . muro tenus, we can hardly be wrong in supposing that the area which he has in mind is some or all of that part of Britain which lies north of the Mersey and the Humber. The words, which are emphatic, would be wholly unsuited to describe the Midlands or Wales or East Anglia or any region that included any of these. As a description of Kent, of course, they would be ludicrous. On the other hand, the words cannot mean Scotland north of the Wall: the activities which Gildas goes on to describe undoubtedly took place within the old British diocese, and indeed he is unlikely to have cared what went on north of the Wall. He is not speaking here, then, about Britain as a whole. The events which he is narrating took place in the north only: the Picts and Scots came down by sea, landed on the east and west coasts of this region, and ravaged northwards as far as the Wall. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of this fact: Gildas is speaking of the very north of Roman Britain.

(I’m not going to get into the argued dates of the Adventus Saxonum (Saxon Advent) here as that’s a whole other kettle of fish!)

Gildas then tells us how the ‘Proud Tyrant’ (thought to be Vortigern but other forward Constantine III) responded by using *‘Saxon’ feoderati against them, basing them in the ‘east of the island’. Meaning, according to Thompson, in the northeast, where the raids were happening, and not the southeast. (This could have been east and/or southeast Yorkshire and East Anglia – more below). It would certainly make more sense than the Isle of Thanet, which is where they are traditionally placed. Not that they weren’t there, but that this may have been a different group, possibly at a different (earlier?) time. Something was obviously going on in the south as the Gallic Chronicles (as well as the archaeology) tell us so. Here’s Thompson response to that:

We also have some information from a south Gallic chronicler, who may have been writing at Marseilles and who was certainly an exact contemporary of the events in question. The Chronicler of A.D. 452 tells us that the British provinces, which had hitherto suffered a variety of calamities, were ‘reduced to subjection by the ‘Saxons’ about the years 441-2. The statement is an exaggeration, but we cannot dismiss it out of hand. A Gallic chronicler is more likely to have been in touch with southern Britain than with the Midlands or with the North. We have convincing evidence, then, that in 441-2 the Saxons inflicted a catastrophic blow on parts of Britain – in all probability, the southern parts of Britain. And these events were so disastrous that news of them had even reached southern Gaul and were thought there to be so significant as to deserve an entry in a very brief chronicle. The report had (falsely) convinced men there that the Britons had succumbed permanently to the invaders. Even as late as 452 the effects of this disaster were still felt – or at any rate, the news of any British recovery had not yet reached southern Gaul. Now, a very few years later a synod of British bishops (as it seems) was able to meet and to invite Germanus of Auxerre to pay his second visit to Britain; and Germanus was  able to travel to the island and complete his business there without ever clapping an eye upon a Saxon. He must have come to a more westerly region than he had reached in his first visit in 429, when he saw plenty of Saxons. But in spite of this we cannot write off the Chronicler’s words. It is his sole reference to the Britain of his own day, so that the event must have seemed to him to be of exceptional importance and interest. Let us suppose that the Saxon successes to which he refers took place in the south-east of the island: we can then account for Gildas’s silence about them, for, as we have seen, he is concerned with the north of Britain, and we can also account for Germanus’s freedom to travel, for his second visit (as we may guess) took him further to the west than the danger area.

There are those who argue that we cannot trust the Gallic Chronicles before 450 (Miller) but I would offer that it also could have been British migrants to Gaul who passed and spread this (dis)information.

Gildas’s knowledge of the first half of the 5th century is shaky, so it’s not surprising it is confused, but it appears that two different things were happening and either Gildas got his information wrong, the dates are wrong or the appeal was because the ‘Saxons’ of the south were a problem before the (reoccurring) northern problem and the appeal was about both; that is, Picts and Scots in the north and ‘Saxons’ south of the River Humber.

When the ‘Saxons’ (of the north?) rebelled, because they weren’t paid enough, they ravaged from sea to sea, according to Gildas. Thompson argues that Gildas is not referring to from the English Channel to the Bristol Channel, but the North Sea to the Irish Sea, before possibly turning their attention south.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a rebellion in the south, but that Gildas is only referring to what he knows more about: north of the Mersey/Humber line; that is, what was (or still was) Britannia Secunda/Valentia. It’s a very valid point that Gildas makes no mention of the southeast or south if he was writing from the southwest and very near ‘Anglo-Saxon’ cultural and military expansion.

Another reason Thompson gives is one of personal safety! Would Gildas say such things against these kings unless he was at a safe distance from them, especially from Constantine of Dumnonia who may have been closest to him if he wrote in the southwest and one of the most violent? It’s a valid point, although Gildas may have thought God was on his side in the matter, or his whereabouts was unknown. It also may be that, whichever kingdom/civitas Gildas was writing in, Constantine didn’t dare do anything against it. However, Thompson then puts forward Chester as a possible place Gildas wrote. A strange choice as it was not far from two other kings he chastised:  Cuneglasus and Maglocunus! For Thompson’s argument to be consistent, Gildas would have to be somewhere further away, I would have thought.

What does the archaeology say about ‘Saxons’ in the British held north for the Late 5th century? Well, very little actually, but there are Germanic finds associated with some Roman forts (Dark, 2003) as well as the major settlements in what was the Parisi region and what would become Deira (southeast Yorkshire) and later part of Northumbria. Professor Ken Dark also wonders if the Roman forts on the Wall that continued into the 6th century were not the result continuous occupation as such, but rebuilt and manned during the fight back against the Scotti, Picti and, later, Saxon rebels, in the mid 5th century.

The fact that there are so few ‘Saxon’ finds in the region could be seen as their expulsion, or containment, being successful. This make sense if they didn’t have the same foothold or hadn’t been in the north for as long as those in the south.

I never considered Gildas being from the north because of his dating of the building of Hadrian’s and the Antonine walls, which he thought happened in the late 4th century. Thompson has a good answer to this:

Gildas advances his theory on the building of the walls for an obvious reason: no self respecting historian of Roman Britain could possibly have left the two most striking monuments of the Roman occupation unaccounted for. Of the entire passage we can only accept those words spoken by the Romans to the Britons pointing out that they could send no more legions to the island: from now on the Britons must look to their own defence. If we had no further evidence we would reject this passage, too, along with the account of the two Roman expeditions which resulted in the building of the walls. We would regard it as part of the same story or theory. But in fact we have other evidence; and this further evidence throws a very different light on the passage. Gildas has heard in some way of Honorius’s famous letter of 410 to the British civitates bidding them defend themselves. So while we dismiss the aetiological stories of how the walls came to be built we must retain this chapter, which contains some sound historical information. The contents of Honorius’s letter are a matter which Gildas could not possibly have invented, and he could not possibly have got the incident right by coincidence. A genuine tradition has reached him here.

(It should be noted here that some scholars now think the the Honorius rescript was not addressed to the Britons at all, but to the Italian cities of the province of Bruttium. However, the jury is still out as Zosimus, who is the source of the information, is talking about Britain just before this is mentioned. Of course, he himself could have got the information wrong).

There is another (tentative) possibility, and one that would still put Gildas in the southwest, and that is that Gildas is specific about the north and doesn’t dwell on the south because he knows his audience are all too aware of what happened there?

There are other ramification to this, of course, and some of these apply whether Gildas wrote in the north or not. For example: was the Proud Tyrant from the north, or did he just have primacy over it? was Ambrosius Aurelianus from this region? did the battle of Badon happen in the north and not, as most assume, in the southwest? and when Gildas talked of peace, was his view of the whole of the diocese of Britannia influenced by a greater peace in the north, whilst it may not have been so peaceful further south? (But see THIS blog).

It’s very difficult to answer these questions. Later ‘histories’ place both Vortigern and Ambrosius in the south and Wales and not in the north. There might be more of a case for the Proud Tyrant – whoever he was – as he’s the one who brought in the ‘Saxons’ to deal with the northern problem. But if their arrival happened in the south before this, then either Vortigern had primacy over the north, he supplied ‘Saxons’ to the north, or this was not done by Vortigern at all and the stories of the north and south were combined.

Ambrosius could have been dealing with ‘Saxons’ anywhere, but the Historia Britonnum gives him a battle at Wallop in the south, unless he was, indeed, a far ranging dux. As for Badon, Thomas Green has put forward a possible ‘northern’ Badon at Baumber (called Badeburg in the Doomsday Book) in Lincolnshire. As for Gildas’s views on the ‘peace’, writing in the north could have clouded his idea of peace in other regions.


My own conclusions are that there is a good argument for considering that Gildas wrote in the north, but I’m not totally convinced. In Chapter 3 of the DEB, for example, his description of the ‘transparent rivers, flowing in gentle murmurs’ of Britain might place him in Hampshire, but he could have just been reiterating something he’d heard, just as he’d learned about the geography of Britain in general. However, writing in the north does make some sense of him not mentioning the ‘Saxons’ of the south, except, perhaps, obtusely through Ambrosius?

I shall continue to think on’t and look forward to your thoughts and comments. (There are some very interesting comments below).

Thanks for reading,


* I have used ‘Saxon’ in inverted commas as this was a generic term for several Germanic groups as well as the Saxons themselves.


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Northern Britain and the Fall of the Roman Empire

A stretch of Hadrian's Wall viewed from Vercov...

Image via Wikipedia

This isn’t a blog of mine really, but it points to a blog (which was from a lecture) given by Professor Guy Halsall (Historian on the Edge blogger).  It is easiest to explain the subject of this lecture by quoting the introduction:

“The argument goes essentially as follows: we ought to think about Roman-barbarian relations in the north of Britain more in the context of those on the other frontiers, African as well as Rhenish; we ought to think about Roman-barbarian relations much less exclusively in terms of conflict and confrontation – the two worlds were inter-twined; on the Rhine frontier it is possible to suggest a rough three-band conceptualisation of barbarian polities, with those in the middle, intermediate band most affected by the imperial crisis around 400 AD; the North Sea should be seen as a cultural zone of two-way interaction and not just as a frontier across which one-way ‘migration’ or invasion took place; the ‘Pictish’ confederacies discussed by late Roman sources started at Hadrian’s Wall, not the Forth – the rough frontier of the seventh-century Pictish kingdom; a military reorganisation of Britain took place in the reign of Magnus Maximus which involved a movement of regular troops away from the line of the Wall and the (probably only temporary, at least as initially envisaged) handing over of authority in the highland  zone to local military leaders and ‘irregulars’; this affected the southern Pictish areas between the walls and perhaps areas further north too; by the middle of the fifth century it produced crisis in that area and a fragmentation of an earlier extensive but weak confedearcy into smaller competing units; it might be that the British on the wall expanded north and became a dominant power; in the period around 600, crucial changes led to a shift in the balance of power towards the English in the south-east (the Scottish east coast should be seen as in the North Sea cultural zone) and the Scots and other powers on the west coast; the British in the intra-mural zone might have been squeezed militarily from both sides and an English political identity might well have become more popular in local competitions for authority; shifts in these years produced change and perhaps political crises in the Pictish areas north of the Forth; it might be to this period that we should trace the creation of the Scottish and indeed other kingdoms, such as Bernicia; internal Pictish strife might explain why the Picts do not seem to be a very active player in the early seventh-century politics that are visible to us.]”

To read this very thought provoking blog, click HERE.


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The Fifth Romano-British Province of Valentia – Part One

Over the next few blogs, I’d like to share my thoughts on the so called Barbarian Conspiracy, the creation of Valentia and its siting.  I do not claim it to be a scholarly work, but I have tried to give as many references as possible but there will be no bibliography.


The Barbarian Conspiracy of 367 AD

By the late fourth century, the Roman Diocese of Britannia was divided into five provinces: Maxima Caesariensis, Valentia, Flavia Caesariensis, Britannia Prima, Britannia Secunda.  There is no universal agreement as to where these were, but most place them (roughly) as shown on the map above (or left).  (I will show another theory as to where they were later).  In the map, Valentia has been situated in the three most argued regions. (I’ve followed modern day county boundaries, just as a guide and given Maxima Caesariensis two possible western borders).

It’s said that the Barbarian Conspiracy of 367 involved the Picti, Scotti and Attacotti  (AtticotiAttacotiAtecottiAtticottiAtegutti).    The latter tribe is hard to identify and they have been placed as far afield as the west coast of Scotland and southwest Wales.   Wherever they were from, after the Conspiracy they ended up being ‘moved’ and three Roman military units were created from them.

The 4th century imperial historian Ammianus Marcellinus, whose account this is, tells us that the Saxons were not involved in it as they and the Franks were busy attacking Gaul this time around.

When Count Theodosius arrived in London to sort the problem out, we are not told who was doing the attacking of the city, they are just called a “roving band of plunderers”.  We also don’t know who killed the Count of the Saxon Shore either but it probably allowed the Picts to sail some 500 miles to get to London. If, indeed, they did and these ‘roving bands’ weren’t rebellious soldiers.

Ammianus also tells us the Conspiracy included treachery on the frontier defences (the Wall), army desertion and, two years later, the usurpation of the political exile Valentinus (who the new province was not named after), his capture and execution.

It has also been questioned as to why Ammianus tells us that Count Theodosius wanted to avoid reprisals for fear of further disturbances.

“[...] led him [Theodosius], with an eye to the future, to forbid investigations into fellow-conspirators, incase this should spread alarm among many people and stir up again in the province [...]”

He’s telling us he didn’t want to stir up a problem within the province again.  Was the Barbarian Conspiracy as much a propaganda exaggeration?  Was it more of a ‘Romano Conspiracy’? After all, Theodosius was the father of one of the current emperors. Was it as much a cover-up for civil unrest caused, or added to, by Valentinus? Whatever the case, the area most affected was won back and (re)named Valentia after one of the emperors.

It appears that this province was ’abandoned to the enemy’ in 367 (or before) and wasn’t regained until 369 or later.  Considering that Theodosius fought against Scotti and Picti it could be the northwest or northeast below the Wall, the whole area below the Wall or, indeed, anywhere down the western seaboard to North Wales.

Professor Birley in his book ‘The Roman Government of Britain’ believes that Britannia Secunda may have already been divided, possibly north and south as opposed to east and west, with the new part – whatever it was called originally – being renamed Valentia. Bartholomew (Britannia 15, 1984) argues for Maxima Caesariensis being renamed.  Hind (Historia, 23, 1973) suggests the whole diocese was renamed, Ferre believes York was its capital, whilst Gidlow (Revealing King Arthur, 2010) wonders about Maxima Caesariensis having been divided.  Let us look at the merits of each one.

Valentia between the Walls

There are some who argue for Valentia being the region between the Walls (‘The Old North’) as shown on the map above.  If it was here, this, of course, would had to have meant that this region was retake by someone, such as the co-Emperor Constans in 343. There was a campaign against a situation in Britannia that must have been so serious that he crossed the Channel in winter. It would make sense to retake the region if this was the direction from which the attacks were coming, or the kingdoms there were also complicit in it.  It could also make sense of the Roman names of the ancestors of Cunedda of Manau Gododdin (west of St. Andrews in Fife). But there are several problems with this argument:

  1. There is no evidence of reoccupation of the region.
  2. There is no evidence of a triumphal march given to an emperor taking new territory.
  3. If this was a region that had caused problems, or at least been complicit in them, would the Empire simply let these tribes look after their own military needs, and not re-station legions in the area.  It could be there were foederti, laeti or gentiles stationed there who we’re not aware of, but if there were they left no archaeology, apart from the coin hordes at Trapian Law.  It might be argued that they would only give such coins to a place that had an economy or system that could use them, but this seems to be the only evidence so far.  It’s also possible that they were simply ‘paid’ to keep them ‘sweet’, and the use of such payment forcing them to buy from the Empirical Britannia to the south. There is also the possibility that they were taken by raiding.
  4. The creation of other provinces within a diocese elsewhere in the empire have always come through the division of an existing province (Mann, 1998).
  5. It seems possible that they did what the Romans had done elsewhere and placed small detachment within ‘kingdoms’ to keep an eye on them, giving them citizen status but not making them a province. (Mann, 1998).   Quintilius Clemens of Stathclyde may have been one.
  6. The cost of creating another new province would be immense.

Valentia was placed in this region by the 12th century Cambro-Norman cleric Gerald de Barri, otherwise known as Geraldus Cambrensis or ‘Gerald of Wales’.  He not only placed it here but gave its provincial capital as St. Andrews.  Of course, this would not just make Valentia between the Walls but put it beyond as St. Andrews is in northeast Fife. (See map above)

As argued by Ann Dornier (Britannia, Vol. 13, (1982), 259) this could be a political move as there was very much a ecclesiastical ‘fight’ between York and St. Andrews in the 12th century as the latter was trying to get primacy in Scotland over the former, and Gerald probably favoured St. Andrews. Any claim to supremacy was helped that much more by showing a Roman past and making St. Andrews the capital of Valentia would do just that.

It should be possible to discover if Valentia was between the Walls or within the original diocese by where the Notitia Dignitatum (c.380-430), which lists the military units and their placements, has them; but this is not only hampered by the difficulty of identifying all the Latin place names but by the fact units in Valentia aren’t mentioned at all. (Perhaps this latter fact could be used as an argument for Valentia being between the Walls).

There appears to be only two places that are questioned – Dicti (Old Worthingham?) and Morbio (Ilkley?) – both in the north, and three that are unknown – Praesidio, Olenaco and Ulrosido.  The latter two are listed as units on the Wall (Hadrian’s).  If it was the case that Valentia was between the Walls then this might leave only one unit that protected it, besides the the 10 units of the Comes Britanniarum.  There is no evidence for the refortification of the Antonine Wall.

There could also be a problem with where its provincial capital would be placed, St. Andrews aside, as it wouldn’t have one originally. It is possible that the area around Carlisle was adjoined to it, as this did happen elsewhere in the empire.

In the next blog I’ll look at some other location options.

Thanks for reading,



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

The Pennines in northern England

UPDATED 1.6.12

Arthur Penuchel c. 570s (?)

Said to be one of the sons of the northern British ruler Eliffer (of the Pennines/York), along with Gwrgi and Peredur. He, perhaps, shouldn’t be included here because of his mention in the Jesus College MS 20 genealogies is thought by most to be a scribal error for their sister Arddun, who appears in the incomplete Peniarth MS 47. The scribal error is understandable, but the epithet penuchel (‘arrogant’/‘high head’/‘overlord’) is a little harder to understand, unless Arddun herself had it. There was one other ‘penuchel’: Sawyl penuchel (ben uchel), the son of Pabo Post Prydein and a descendent of Coel Hen. To confuse matters even further, this ruler was also called Samuil Penisel (‘low-head’/ ‘humble’).

In yet another MS (Peniarth MS 50) it gives Gwrgi and Peredur a brother called Ceindrech pen asgell (‘Wing-head’) and it can be argued that there may have been a confusion between Ceindrech and Arddun and a corruption of pen asgell. The main problem is it’s hard to trust these genealogies.

August Hunt makes a case for this Arthur in his (little read) ebook ‘The Arthur of History – A Reinterpretation Of The Evidence’ (2011). August also gives a another possible interpretation of the epithet as deriving from VXELLODVNVM, the Roman fort of Stanwix on Hadrian’s Wall. The name of the fort means uxello=‘high + dunum=fort’. (Hunt, 2011, pp.77-78). So, he argues, the epithet penuchel could have meant ‘chief of the high (fort)’. This is not how most interpret it.

The thing against this Arthur existing is he is not mentioned with Gwrgi and Peredur as being involved at the Battle of Armterid in 574. But, if he wasn’t born until 570 he would only have been a child at the time. But that date is a guess anyway and he makes no appearance anywhere else.

If this Arthur did exist, he may not have been an Hiberno-Britannian (as far as we know), but he was northern, and he appeared at the same time as the others … that is, unless, this was just another name for one of the other Arthurs.

Feradach hoa Artúr (c. 697)

This mean ‘Feradach grandson of Artúr’. Of course, it isn’t Feradach who has the name, but his grandfather, and we need to ask who this might be.

Jaski’s paper again:

“At this stage we have to take Adomnán’s law to protect clerics, women and children from warfare into account. Cáin Adomnáin, which was promulgated in Ireland in 697, includes a Feradach hoa Artúr, among the clerical guarantors. That he was from Scotland seems likely, especially since other Scottish clerics, as well as Bruide, king of the Picts, are included in the guarantor list. As his name indicates, he was a grandson or descendant of Artúr, possibly (one of the) the Artúr(s) we have considered above. If so, we may be certain that he was on familiar terms with Adomnán, who thus would have been aware of Artúr’s true descent. But since there are a number of uncertainties, the name of Artúr’s father remains a matter of debate.” (p. 93)

I’ll return to this character later when discussing the Campbell’s and MacArthur’s (spurious to say the least) genealogies as he appears in them and may give a clue as to which Artúr he was the grandson of.

Artharus rig Cruthni (date uncertain)

This is one I only recently discovered through Jaski’s paper, although I should have seen it earlier as he appears in The Expulsion of the Dési.

“It is found in a list of the forshluinte ‘subject peoples’ of Dál Fiachach Suidge, the ruling dynasty of the Dési of Munster, which is appended to the text in Rawlinson B 502. It includes the Bruirige o Bruru mac Artharu rig Cruthni ‘Bruirige from Bruru son of Artharu, king of the Picts’. The independent version in Dublin, Trinity College, MS 1298 (olim H. 2.7) of the fourteenth century has Brurige nó Briunu mac Partharo regis Pictorum. If Artharu refers to the name Arthur, its spelling is distinctively odd. Irish texts normally have Artúir as the genitive. The form Partharo may be related to Partholón (from Latin Bartholomaeus), who appears as the ancestor of the Picts in Lebor Bretnach, the Gaelic translation and redaction of the ‘Nennian’ recension of Historia Brittonum [He also appears in the Book of Invasions]. This is a highly uncertain example, but there is a possibility that the form Artharu was inspired by the northern British name Artúr Irish scholars were familiar with.” (p.102)

Vanora’s Stone. Meigle

T’would indeed be interesting if the Hiberno-Picts (Gwydyl-Fichti) or Picts were using the name also … or a variation of it. Scottish tradition does have Arthur’s supposed wife, Gwenhwyfar (cognate with Irish Findabair), as a Pict (though I doubt she’d be dressed like Keira Knightly was in the last Arthurian movie). She (supposedly) appears in a Pictish stone sculpture in Meigle, North Ayrshire being torn apart by animals on the orders of Arthur because of being accused of infidelity after she’d been abducted by Mordred. Here she’s called Vanora. The stone is thought to actually show Daniel and the Lions from the Bible.

The pre-Galfridian, Early-12th century French Benedictine monk Lambert of St. Omer did write that Arthur’s palace was in Pictland in his Liber Floridus … after having crossed out ‘Britain’ first.  (Liber Floridus, Early-12th century. See His work may have been based on a version of the H.B. that no longer exists. (Dumville, “The Liber Floridus of Lambert of Saint-Omer and the Historia Brittonum,” Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 26.2 (May 1975): pp.103-122). Why he changed his ethnicity, if he did, we do not know, unless his information said Arthur was from the North and he assumed this to mean Pictland? (Lambert also only calls Arthur a “dux”, “miles,”, “leader” and “soldier”, but not a king).

As I have put forward, those names reused tended to be the names of great men – Caroticus and Constantine to name but two – and these names were obviously passed down through centuries in some cases. It is possible that this is how the name Arthur came to be used, via Vulgate Latin Artūrius, and epigraphic evidence shows that it was a name used throughout the Roman empire, although not in Britain. If this was the reason the Hiberno-British were giving their sons the name, then one of these Artorii before them had greatness, and logic dictates that he was the first one.

Other Arts & Arths

I’m not going to further discuss the other ‘Art‘ and ‘Arth’ based names that are put forward as the historical Arthur because, as far as I can see, Arthur’s name was ‘Arthur’.

For those interested to know what these other British and Irish Arth or Erth based names are, here’s some of them:

Art, Artchorp, Arthrwys, Arthmael/Arthfael, Arthgen, Erthir, Arthfoddw, Arthgal (may derive from Ardgal), Arthlwys, Arthen, Arthnou (from ‘Artognov‘ of the stone from Tintagel)

Thanks for reading,



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The Fifth Romano-British Province of Valentia

I will be posting a blog soon entitled ‘The Fifth Romano-British Province of Valentia‘. This will be covering the various theories as to where this province was in the Roman diocese of Britannia, but especially covering one that hasn’t been properly considered.



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