Tag Archives: Valentia

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

To do the subject justice, I’m afraid this has become a seven part blog!

Provinces based on Anne Dornier's theory with my own thoughts (kindly created for me by Steffon Worthington)

The (wonderful!) map above isn’t quite correct in its placement of some of the northern tribes and will be updated soon, but I wanted to get this blog out this weekend.


What if Arthur were dux (or one of the other ranks) of Britannia Prima (II of the map)? This province (which, unlike in this version of provincial placements, could have got up to the Mersey and included North Wales) could have existed in its immediate post Roman form, or, it could have shrunk by fragmentation. Most scholars see this province of the Late Roman period with the more Romanised Britons to the east (in the Lowland or Civil Zone) and the less Romanised to the west (in the Highland and Military Zones), as based on the archaeology. However, they appear to have taken to Roman material goods and Latin inscribed stones after the Empire had departed, possibly through the influence of Roman Christianity, but possibly for other reasons too, which I’ll explore below.

Most argue that it is kings of this province who Gildas refers to in DEB. Ken Dark puts forward the possibility of three eastern civitates of this province surviving in a more ‘Roman’ form, under some kind of administration (DobunniCornovii and Silures as Gwent) whilst the rest were ruled by kings (petty kingdoms with an over-king) and Nick Higham and David Dumville, in general, agree. It could have been only these three civitates that made up the province, one of which Gildas was in. Or, conversely, if Higham’s theory is right, the more westerly kingdoms could have made up the province, as he certainly sees the Dobunni and Cornovii as tribute payers to the ‘Anglo-Saxons’. But, they all could still have been part of it even if the two or three of its civitates were having to do so. (The provinces could also have been only in name with no real political power).

(There are two very opposing views with regard Dobunni and Cornovii given by Christopher Gidlow (Revealing King Arthur, 2010), who sees the archaeology pointing to these two being a major force against the east, and Nick Higham, who sees the Cornovians as being weak and both civitates being tribute payers. Right there is a perfect example of the problems on agreement with this period in general. Not to mention that one sees the evidence pointing to Arthur existing and one not.)

The sum of all parts?

With a province made up of so many parts (if it still was), and that would be around 8 (major ones) that we know of, it’s hard to know how they would agree to a provincial army and its dux without the Empire there to enforce it. (Unless it did have an over-king, such as the later king Maglocunus/Mailcun/Maelgwn, to enforce this?). Each civitates and kingdom could have been obliged to supply men, as explored earlier, or, the dux could have had bucellarii (of Hibernians?) as his personal force making him slightly independent of them but able to be supplemented by them. Or, the most powerful and dominant civitas or kingdom chose the dux or general … or it was done on a rotational basis. All these points go for the northern provinces too.

With either Irish feoderati, laeti, settlers or Goidelic speaking Britons in many western parts of this province (northern Dumnonia, Demetia and northwest Venedota), it could be they who were used to supplement the Britons. If Arthur was a general of mixed race (or a Goidelic speaking Briton) it might go some way towards explaining why it was one of these regions (Demetae/Demetia) that may first have reused the name, followed by others in the north, as I explored in THIS blog … if, indeed, that is was reused and Arthur ap Petr (King Arthur of Demetia) wasn’t the ‘original’ himself.

There are suggestion by Dark (2003) and Stuart Laycock (2010) that it was this province that was courted by the Western and later Byzantine Empire in a reversal of fortunes – which is why ‘Roman’ material goods are found within it, especially at Tintagel – and it was Dumnonia and perhaps other Britannia Prima elements that supplied the king, Riothamus and his supposed 12,000 men to fight for the failing western Empire in Gaul in the 470s. If the figure of 12,000 men is anywhere near the truth (and it may not be) this is a huge force. Whether they were all Britons (or just Britons from Britannia) is another question, but, either way, he was commanding (or in charge of with a commander?) a large force, and an army of this size, or even part of it, couldn’t have come form one kingdom or civitas. (David Dumville (2003) thinks southern Britain may have been his base).

If there was this coordination (or cooperation) in the 460s/470s, (again, possibly instigated by Ambrosius Aurelianus) enabling a single king to command this many Britons, there’s the possibility that it could have still been there in the 490s where most place the Siege of Badon … although the fact that Riothamus was defeated could have had a major impact on the following decades, depending on how many of those 12,000 were lost, or simply didn’t return to Britannia. We can only guess as to what this defeat (yet another one after Magnus Maximus and Constantine III) did to the morale of the British.

(There’s always the haunting question of how a British king could afford to take this many men abroad (if he did) during a time when we were supposed to be suffering attacks from the ‘Saxons’. Of course, there could have been a peace at the time, but it’s not out of the question that some of his men were Saxo-Britons or other Germanic elements).

As an aside: imagine if we’d never heard of Riothamus via the Continental sources and only from a legend that told us how a British king (who left no British genealogy) fought alongside Romans in the 470s with 12,000 men? We’d probably think he was only a myth. The same would go for Ambrosius Aurelianus had Gildas not mentioned him. (I’m not a supporter of Riothamus=Arthur or Ambrosius=Arthur, by-the-way, but I always keep an open mind).


Looking at where those Arthurian battles are placed by those who champion a Britannia Prima Arthur (North Wales, South Wales East Wales, Somerset, Cornwall, Devon), they range from being localised as civil war battles or against Hibernians (Blake and Lloyd) to having him fighting deep within ‘Anglo-Saxon’ territory. (Rodney Castledon, 2000/2003). There is, of course, a Camlan in northwetern Wales (Afon Gamlan); there’s a Camelford in Cornwall, a Killbury (Celliwig, Celliwic, Kelliwic, KelliwigKelli Wig?) in Cornwall, a Gelliweg (Celliwig, Celliwic, Kelliwic, KelliwigKelli Wig?) on the Llŷn Peninsular, as well as a Guinnion (Cerrig Gwynion), which is an old Iron Age hillfort between Llandudno and Bangor … not to mention the not far away hillfort of Bwrdd Arthur. Chester or Caerleon (City of Legions?) and Badon (if it is where some suggest) lie within or in the border region of this province. But we shouldn’t be surprised to find such names like Camlann or Gwynion here. Not because Cornwall and Wales have a huge Arthurian tradition (which, of course, they do) but because their languages derived from Brittonic and these names may not be that uncommon.


There’s the poem ‘The Elergy of Gereint son of Erbin’, said to be fought at Llongborth and, whichever location you go with, it would most likely be in this province. Here are a couple of verses:

In Llongborth I saw Arthur’s Heroes [men] who cut with steel.

The Emperor [ammherawdyr] ruler of our labour.

In Llongborth Geraint was slain,

A brave man from the region of Dyvnaint [Devon],

And before they were overpowered, they committed slaughter.

(There are arguments that, if this really happened, this may have involved Arthur’s men only, or a unit named after him, and not necessarily Arthur. (Gidlow, 2010).

No other surviving early poetry (if, indeed these poems are early) gives Arthur a (possible) geographical location … this is excluding the Triads, which do.


It is most likely either a Geoffrey of Monmouth invention, or a Cornish one, but he, of course, places Arthur’s conception at Tintagel (Din Tagel), and calls him ‘The Boar of Kernyw‘. However, there may have been a number of Kernyw/Cornows in this province in the 5th century, including Cornovii (Cornow) and one in central Wales, beside the one that gave its name to Cornwall (Kernow), and it may not have come from an ancient source at all.

In Part Six we’ll look at the eastern provinces and conclusion on all this will appear in Part Seven.

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



PS: HUGE thanks to the map maker Steffon Worthington for creating the Anne Dornier based map free of charge! There are lovely people at the Facebook King Arthur Group page!


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

Provinces based on Anne Dornier's theory with my own thoughts (kindly created for me by Steffon Worthington)

The map above isn’t quite correct in it’s placement of some of the northern tribes and will be updated soon.

In the next three blogs I want to look at the various regions, starting with the north, and how a military commander of some kind could fit into the political situations. (Apologies for its length!)


The strongest arguer for a provincial dux in the north probably comes from Professor Ken Dark with his theory on the northerly province (or provinces) as possibly retaining (or reattaining) someone who had a similar command in the north to the old dux Britanniarum. (Not to mention those who favour this region as being where Arthur was from). This, he postulates in both Civitas To Kingdom and Britain & The End Of The Roman Empire, is because all but one of the forts under the command of the dux Britanniarum show signs of reuse into this period (this is the only region were Roman forts were reused and not hillforts) as well as the road from York to the Wall appearing to have been maintained.

As explored in my Valentia – The Fifth Romano-British Province’ blog, this northern area was most likely divided into two, with one of these provinces being Valentia and the other either Britannia Secunda or Flavia Caesariensis (depending on which scholar’s theories you go with) as discussed in the last blog. We don’t know what happened to this division after Roman rule ended, but it’s possible they became one again … if they, indeed, survived. There may be more chance for this (or these) surviving in the area in question as it appears to have been made up largely of the very large civitas of the Brigantes (capital at York), and so possibly less likely to fragment at the time, not to mention because the number of descendants of Roman soldiers there. However, with the amount of Roman soldiers (mainly Germanic or Gaulish) that may have been left here, it’s hard to see how they would give it over to a tribal group(s) or leader(s) … although, by the last decade of Roman period there may have to have been British militias to supplement them. (They would also most likely be married to local woman and have ‘British’ offspring). It’s more likely to be governed by whoever was the most powerful militarily. (More on this below).

In fact, Dark’s theory suggests it might have been a Brigantian based hegemony, centred at York, that would have to have done this. This could be why all these civitates tribal names disappeared. There wasn’t just the Brigantes! There were also the Carvetti (may have become Rheged), the Latenses (became Elmet), the Gabrantovices, the Sentantii, the Lopocares, the Corionototae, the Parisi (became Deira) and probably more, including Bryneich (became Bernnicia). It should be noted though, that some other scholars do not see this region as a united area at any time.

There is another factor that Professor Dark doesn’t consider, and that’s the division of the northern province in the mid 4th century. As explored in my Valentia blog, the Roman expert, J C Mann, argues that this division has to have been the splitting of this northern province (rather than between the Walls) because that was Roman policy when creating a new one in an existing diocese. Whether this was done north/south or east/west, he argues that for it to have been given consular status, which it was, its capital must have been York, the second city … unless this had been changed to somewhere like Chester and Anne Dornier’s theory about Valentia being in the west is right. What it means is that the Brigantian civitas must have been divided also. What then happened to the western portion of this, which appears to have been between the Carvetti (northern Cumbria) and Sentantii (southern Lancashire) civitates? Had it been an area that wasn’t actually Brigantian but was under its hegemony, so was happy to be split from it? We’ll never know, but it would have to be ‘reclaimed’ in Dark’s theory, and there’s always the possibility that it was Coel Hen that started this and was the first ‘overlord’ (in whatever form) of the north. There is even a (tenuous) link given for Coel Hen to Arthur, via Coel’s supposed son-in-law, Cunedag (Cunedda). But, let’s not get carried away! (As an aside, the only poem we have about Cunedda – The Death Song of Cunedda – only mentions him fighting in the east (around Durham somewhere) and west (Carlisle) of this area. No mention of Wales).

Perhaps a telling point is the sharp delineation of the ‘Anglian’ and British areas at the River Trent; the river thought to have been the provincial and civitas boundary to the southeast. There’s also what might have been the difference between the Parisi/Deira region and Brigantia with the former containing ‘Anglian’ settlement on a large scale. Of course, there could have been other reasons for the Trent delineation, nothing to do with military unity or strength, but it’s certainly a possibility that it was a strong northern British force (or forces) that kept them at bay. There’s also the possibilities that the province or civitates that bordered to the southeast were just as worried by their powerful northern British neighbours as they were of the Germanic expansion, and placed (more) Germanic and/or Scandinavian mercenaries in them as a safeguard.


Y Gododddin

It may be from north of the Wall (near the Antonine Wall actually) but this is where we get, what some argue to be, the first mention of Arthur in the collection of poems that went up to make the Y Gododdin.

(The next section about Y Gododdin is copied and pasted from an earlier blog. You can aways skip it if you’ve read it)

Attributed to the bard/prince Neirin/Aneirin, ‘Y Gododdin’ (The Gododdin) is a British poem (actually a collection of poems), the originals 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:

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 discussed 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.

If 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 (if Koch’s dating is right!) 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 Hadrian’s Wall northwards.

(To read the full blog of the above, click HERE)


There are going to be a lot of IFs in the next paragraph, but just bear with me:

If Arthur was a dux for this province or provinces, does this help make any sense of the (meagre) information we have for him, such as the Historia Britonnum  (H.B.) battle list, or any other information above? (See THIS blog for a discussion of the H.B. battle list). Well, firstly, I don’t think him being a dux of some kind would necessarily lead to him being called ‘dux erat bellorum’ (leader of battles). If the H.B list is based on a poem (or poems), then it obviously just called him this (in Brittonic) and not ‘dux Valentium’ or whatever. Secondly, if the battle list is anywhere near the ‘truth’ (and it may not be) there are some who place many of these battles in the north. Many of these would be outside these provinces (to their north and south). Only Camlan, if it was Camboglana (Birdoswald) on the Wall (its border), and Guinnion, if it is Binchester, would be within it … if it was one province. If it was two provinces then one would be in each if they had been divided north to south.

This could mean one of several things if we’re looking at a possible Arthur as dux: he helped those Britons north of the Wall against the Picti and/or Scotti; he fought against Britons north of the Wall (and attacking beyond the border was a usual tactic); the battles were the result of the province being expanded (Coel Hen is supposed to have fought around Strathclyde); he fought for or against Britons to their south (same tactic); he helped Britons to their south against Scotti raiders or in a British civil war … or the H.B. list and those who place them in the north are just wrong! Remembering how Gildas complained about civil wars, it could be any or all of these.

There is a good case for a northern Arthur, but, like everything else Arthurian, it is based on information that may not be accurate or, indeed, true. However, this is just as much about the case for the existence of a military leader in the region in the last quarter of the 5th century, and that is a possibility.

In the the Parts Five and Six we’ll look at the other two regions and conclusion on all this will appear in Part Seven..

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


PS: HUGE thanks to the map maker Steffon Worthington for creating the Anne Dornier based map free of charge! There are lovely people at the Facebook King Arthur Group page!


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

Provinces based on Anne Dornier's theory with my own thoughts (kindly created for me by Steffon Worthington)

UPDATED 20.1.12 Updates in bold type


Gildas tells us that Britain had rectores. This has been taken by many to mean it had governors – which it can mean along with ‘rulers’ and ‘administrators’ – (Higham, 1994, p178) although, in strict terms, the governors would be the praeses, but no one (apart from Nick Higham?) can be certain of what rectores were by Gildas’s time. (More below).

Gildas says:

Britain has rulers [rectores], and she has watchmen/bishops [speculatores]: why dost thou incline thyself thus uselessly to prate [to talk idly and at length] ?” She has such, I say, not too many, perhaps, but surely not too few: but because they are bent down and pressed beneath so heavy a burden, they have not time allowed them to take breath. (DEB, §26)

Whilst Gildas has used rectores in the DEB when talking about Roman governors, it seems a little odd in this instance to says “She has such, I say, not too many, perhaps, but surely not too few”, if talking about governors and these were provincial governors and there were only two or three provinces left. This is something Professor Higham doesn’t tackle and he sees these rectores as being from London, Cirencester and Lincoln. But Britannia could hardly have “but surely not too few”? So is he referring to another function of these rectores or did some civitates (and kingdoms?) have their own at this time? Higham believes these governors based mainly in ‘Saxon’ controlled or tribute paying areas and under great burden, as Gildas tells us they were. Gildas certainly had some respect for the rectores, at least more than he had for the five kings, in his own time.

I recently noticed, whilst rereading Christopher Gidlow’s excellent book The Reign of Arthur (2004), that he questioned the same thing as mentioned about. He notes that the 5th century writer Ammianus calls emperors, provincial governors, military officials and even barbarian client kings “rectores”, whilst a certain Tutvwlch in the poem Y Gododdin is even called one. (p.120) He also points out something about the Historia Brittonum and its use of dux (or the plural duces) and that is that in every instance before its connection with Arthur when using this term it either means a general or a governor subordinate to the Emperor. (p.44). This could mean when the H.B. says Arthur was a dux, it meant something very specific.

Speculatores used to be one of two things: in Roman military terms they were scouts or spies, but in earlier times they were public attendants. Nick Higham forwards two possibilities: that the rectores/speculatores partnership was civil governor and military captain, or a civil and ecclesiastical one. (Higham,1994, p158). David Dumville simply says the latter were bishops. (After Empire-Towards an Ethnology of Europe’s Barbarians’ (‘Studies in Archaeoethnology, Volume 1’, 1995)).


So, what were these provinces that made up the old Roman diocese of ‘The Britains’? There’s no complete agreement about which ones were where or where their boundaries were, but I’ll use the three maps (below) as a guide. The provinces were:

Maxima Caesariensis

Flavia Caesariensis

Britannia Prima

Britannia Secunda


The following three maps show different possibilities to their locations … and there are more.  (For further discussion on Valentia see THIS blog).

Provinces based on various theories.

Provinces based on J C Mann's theory

Provinces based on Anne Dornier's theory with my own thoughts (kindly created for me by Steffon Worthington)

The map above isn’t quite correct in its placement of some of the northern tribes and will be updated soon.

These provinces (wherever they were) made up the imperial diocese of Britanniae (The Britains). It is all but the two southeastern ones that are argued to still have existed in some form in Gildas’s time, although a few scholars think even these could have still functioned, either under British (Dark) or ‘Saxon’ (Higham) rule. If it’s the latter, then these two eastern provinces were either under a certain degree of, or complete, Germanic control and/or the Germanic culture had taken hold there. For Nick Higham, the region between the two eastern provinces and the eastern portion of Britannia Prima were also under ‘Anglo-Saxon’ suzerainty. (For further discussion on the extent of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ control, see THIS blog). He appears the only scholar to have forwarded this possibility.

The provinces were generally divided along tribal boundaries, but not always … although it’s almost impossible to know where some of the tribal boundaries were. There are various discussion and theories as to whether these tribal civitates and kingdoms made it into the period we are talking about, or whether they had changed. Some regions still retained their civitas (tribal) name, such as Demetia (Dyfed) or Dumnonia (Devon and Cornwall), but this doesn’t mean it reflects the pre-Roman political situation and it could be that they simply used the name. Others didn’t; the Ordovices became Venedota (Gwynedd) and possibly part of Powys, with the Cornovii becoming part of Powys and Pengwern, although later Mercians would call them Wreocensæte, Pencersaete etc. No one knows when exactly these changes started to happen or as to what the political tensions were between the various British civitates after Roman rule had ceased. The various competing theories (by scholars and laymen alike) are what make it hard to judge whether the provinces remained intact, disappeared by the Late 5th century or simply changed size and shape. History being a complex affair means it could be a mixture of the above or something completely different.

Several scholars who have studied Gildas’s DEB in depth (but most notably David Dumville and Nick Higham) point to both him, and Continental sources, indicating that provinces did still exist in his day. If they all did, then two of them may have been under complete ‘Anglo-Saxon’ control … and the Gallic Chronicles for 441AD seems to tell us they were. But some scholars argue otherwise. If they are right, then the question is, how much control did they have, and were they united in by someone? Most would say no, but Higham says yes and that it is an ‘Anglo-Saxon’ over-king that Gildas refers to in the name of the ‘father-devil‘. Who’s right makes a difference to the subject of this blog, but since there is no consensus, we’ll continue with the hypothesis that the western and northern provinces could fight back and Badon was a decisive victory for the Britons … although the Britons not being the overall victors still makes these military positions possible at the time.

(Please keep in mind that when I say “Anglo-Saxon’ we’re still talking about Britons being in these regions. Some may have fought against these ‘masters’, other will have sided with with. Some Britons would be slaves, others would be in alliance or inter-marrying).


Gildas tells us that (in his opinion at least) things were a little different at the time of Badon …

[...] and in regard thereof, kings, public magistrates, and private persons, with priests and clergymen, did all and every one of them live orderly according to their several vocations. (DEB, §26)

So we cannot assume that the political and military situation in Gildas’s time was the same as at the time of Badon … unless you’re one of those of the opinion that Gildas meant that Badon only happened one month previous to him writing and not 43 years and 1 month. This argument is based on Gildas’s Latin, and this is beyond me I’m afraid. Most take the view that it was the latter, but there is also a theory that places the battle of Mount Badon, not just to a possible decade but to something far more specific: February, 483! This solution, by D. O. Croinin, is based on the 84 year ‘paschal cycle’. (The ‘lost’ irish 84-year easter table rediscovered, Peritia (6-7), 1987-1988, p. 238). Another theory sees Gildas meaning it happened 43 years and 1 month after Ambrosius’ first victory and another that is was this duration after the Saxon Advent.

All the above considered, Gildas’s duces could have been the major military leaders at that time of Badon and before and in the east and Midlands they may have be purely military rather than kings. However, it could be argued that Gildas simply means ‘leaders‘, which is another translation of duces, but Higham points out that Gildas always uses this and similar terms when referring to ‘military leaders‘. (Higham, 1994, p182 & p189). But in Gildas’s time king and duces, in some regions, had merged … in Gildas’s view.

So Britain may have still had provinces and some of those (and perhaps some civitates) appear to have had governors (if this is what rectores were). There also appears to be military leaders (duces?). Sometimes (in the west?) these were also the kings, but further east it may have been a different story, with rectores and duces (and possibly iudices) fulfilling the separate military and civil roles that the kings made into one. We have no idea of the situation in the north as Gildas doesn’t seem to mention it. (Unless those who theorise that Maglocunus was in the north are right). Once again, there can be no certainty, but these seem to be strong possibilities.

In the next blog we’ll look at what it may have meant if the existing provinces did have commanders.

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


PS: HUGE thanks to the map maker Steffon Worthington for creating the Anne Dornier based map free of charge! There are lovely people at the Facebook King Arthur Group page!


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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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Dark Age Durham – Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have the Roman’s ever done for us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,



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The Fifth Romano-British Province of Valentia – Part Four

In this final blog I want to look at the possible consequences if Dornier’s theory about the placing of Valentia was correct.

Coel Hen (Old King Cole)

Coel Hen is difficult to tie down, as a historical figure, what he was and when he lived. If he did ‘rule’ over the North, did he expand Britannia’s borders? He supposedly gave Brynaich (approximately modern day Northumbria and possibly down to the River Tees) to one son and attacked Strathclyde, and both lay beyond the Wall. Did he expand Valentia (or Britannia) into the Novante region (Dumfries & Galloway), thereby creating what would become the northern (or western) extremes of the enigmatic kingdom of Rheged? (see below). Many genealogies certainly went on to claim descent from him in the same way others used usurper emperor Magnus Maximus, whether their claim was legitimate or not.

The Coelings (descendants of Coel) may have dominated a great portion of the North above the Mersey/Humber line, but it’s hard to know their activities above the Wall.


If Dornier is right, could this possibly explain the supposed movement/migration of Cunedda, Coel Hen’s son-in-law, to North Wales … if, indeed this move ever actually happened? If he was ‘hired’ by Valentia, who may have had close ties with Manau Gododdin (approximately southwest Fife), he could have started in the North (as one poem has him fighting at Carlisle and County Durham) and made his way down the western seaboard, ending up in north and southwestern Wales, rather than just being sent there, or migrating there. Britannia Prima and/or Demetia could have then called on his assistance once he was in the area; hence ‘Allt Cunedda’ in Dyfed, if this isn’t a later antiquarian naming.  If he was Dux Valentianum or even the Dux Britannium it would explain the range of his supposed operations.

There are many arguments as to why Cunedda’s ‘migration’ may only be a foundation myth for the 9th century rulers of Gwynedd to make a claim over Northumbria. However, choosing someone from Manau Gododdin seems a little odd. This area is centred around the Firth of the Forth. Why not choose someone who supposedly came from Gododdin proper or, better still, Brynaich or Deira?  These are the kingdoms that became Northumbria.

The Late 5th Century

Wherever Valentia was, it would be difficult to know what state it, and Britannia, were in by the last quarter of the 5th century.  There is no evidence that there was a political entity Britannia by this time, just many kingdoms of various sizes. Whichever of these were at the Wall it’s hard to determine of their borders still ended at the Wall or if this only became an annoyance in stone, possibly cutting in two, for example, what in the west may have become the kingdom of Rheged.  It could appear from the archaeological evidence that is was still a guarded boundary in places, but if Rheged and Brynaich straddled the Wall, what exactly was it defending? Well, possibly only their own small commander-patronus territories according to archaeologist Tony Wilmott of English Heritage. There’s certainly no archaeological evidence, as mentioned earlier, that the Wall’s length was ‘guarded’ by a permanent force, even by the Early 5th Century.

If that 16th century document calling Brochmael the ruler of Guelentius is right, then some semblance of it remained, even if it was only in name.  There is always the possibility that Powys was called Valentia previously, but how far north did it go?

Taliesin, Urien & Mailcun/Maelgwn

If Valentia was were Dornier suggests, and did last longer than most, or a (fluctuating) alliance between its constituent ‘states’ did, could this also be why the 6th century bard Taliesin writes both for a king of Rheged (Urien) and a king of Powys (Cyngen, son of Brochmael)? Is this why Urien is also associated with Powys in some of the praise poetry. His supposed cousin Llywarch Hen of ‘South Rheged’ certainly is associated with Powys. Is this why Maelgwn (Gildas’ Maglocunus) was so powerful: he may have been ruler over Gwynedd, but he held sway over Powys (or its northern region) and whatever kingdoms made up the western seaboard, at the time? This might give him the contact with the north that he is said to have had.

We may never know where the kingdom of Rheged lay, and historian and archaeologist Tim Clarkson (Senchus blogger) in his new book ‘The Men of the North” questions some assumptions about its location, but what if it was a ‘huge’ power, covering what was Valentia north of the Mersey and west of the Pennines … or a large portion of it?  Not a single kingdom but a confederacy, or made up of client kingdoms?  We’ll never know, and Tim may indeed be right that Rheged was not as big as we’d like to imagine, or where some have placed it.


If Valentia did encompass the above and if Maelgwn did control more than we think then the 6th century cleric Gildas could indeed be referring to more than Britannia Prima in his polemic; he could be referring to the remains of Britannia, or certainly western Britannia.




Could this have any baring on the historical Arthur debate.  Well, I suppose it could if he was a military commander of Valentia at some point. Many of his battles have been placed by some in northwestern Britannia, or just north of the Wall.

Summing up

Regardless of all the above, there was some reason why Brochmael was called the ruler of Guelentius (Valentia) many generations after Roman administration had left Britannia, and was still known as such to the Bretons in the 16th century.  Why that might have been, we do not know, but if anyone has any thoughts or theories on this I look forward to hearing them.

Thanks for reading.



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The Fifth Romano-British Province of Valentia – Part Three

Ann Dornier’s Theory

In Part Two I briefly describes Ann Dornier’s theory on the placing of Valentia and in this blog we’ll look more closely at it and what it might mean for later history if she’s right.

Below are quotes from Dornier’s paper:



Ann Dornier (Britannia, Vol. 13, (1982), pp. 253)

“The section on S. Sulian in the Lion Breviary of 1516 begins thus: Fuit igitur beatus Sulianus Jilius Bromailli regis nobilissimi qui regnum Britanniae quod Gualentius dicitur suo quondam tempore strenuissime noscitur g~be rnas s e(.The blessed Sulian was the son of the most noble king Bromaillus [sic Brochmael] who is known to have ruled most energetically the kingdom of Britain which formerly in his day was called Gualentius [sic Valentia]).  Gualentius is clearly a Latinized Breton rendering of the name Valentia.”

What is most interesting is Brochmael is not called the ruler of Powys, when the compiler would have known this was where he was from. This could indicate that the information was from an early date.  It may also show that this was the transitional name for Powys. The quote could make it seem as if this part of Wales, and perhaps all of Wales, was once Valentia, be we must be cautious.

Also, interestingly, Geoffrey of Monmouth makes his Brocmail the consul of Chester (Legecester) – ‘History of the Kings of Britain’, Book 11, Chapter 13. Could he actually have got this right? Did he have access to that same Breton document, or its predecessor, that tells us he was the ruler of Gualentius? (See below).

What is extremely odd about this is why Valentia has even been remembered at all.  There is no evidence of Britons identifying with their province of origin on any memorial stones.  If any location is identified it is their civitas (tribal) origin.

Provincial Capital

Ann Dornier Britannia, Vol. 13, (1982), pp. 255

“Although there are several places which might be properly considered, the weight of evidence seems in favour of Chester.  It has been pointed out that by the early third century at the latest the civil settlement of Chester had acquired independent status.  It was probably the civitas capital of the Deceangli; and by the fourth century the civitas of the Deceangli may have absorbed that of the Cornovii, thus increasing Chester’s administrative importance.  There is a growing body of archaeological evidence that in the late Roman period Chester was more than just a legionary base with a modest civil settlement: there was clearly a very prosperous civilian population living to the west and south of the fortress; and there is the possibility that in the west at least this area was bounded by a defensive perimeter, marked by the circuit of the medieval west wall.  This would bring it into line with such places as York and Lincoln.  Moreover, there are hints from post-Roman sources that Chester may have been a late/ sub-Roman ecclesiastical metropolitan, and therefore by definition a provincial capital.  Finally, the fortress of Chester may have been of greater military importance in the late period than has hitherto been thought (see below, pp. 257-8), and this may have been a contributory factor in the choice of Chester as the provincial capital of Valentia.”

Whilst the geographer Ptolemy (2nd century) tells us that Chester (Deva) was part of the Cornovii civitas, there are those who doubt this on archaeological grounds.   (Actually it wouldn’t be part of any civitas as it was a military region). The status and size of Deva (pronounced ‘Dee-wa’) and the civitas of the Cornovii would have changed through time and depended on whether or not the legion was in the city and, as argued by Webster (‘The Cornovii’, 1975, p.17) and by Keith Matthews – aka Bad Archaeology blogger -  (Arthurnet, March 2003), no one can be certain where the Cornovian northern boundary may have ended. Although many have placed its territory as far north as the Wirral Peninsular and the River Mersey based on Ptolemy, Webster guesses it ended much further south, somewhere between Whitchurch and Chester, south of Holt, based on the archaeological evidence.  This ‘boundary’ could have changed many times depending on many factors.  However, this too could fit in with Valentia’s southern border, which may have stopped at the Cornovii’s northern ‘frontier’.  (More blow)


Ann Dornier (Britannia, Vol. 13, (1982), pp. 257)

“Why and in what context would a second consular province have been considered necessary or desirable, and why Valentia?  Several possibilities present themselves.  First it may have had something to do with the imperial ego.  If the creation of Valentia was the work of Constans in 343 and if it was originally called Constantia after him, it may have been given consular status at its inception, befitting for a new province named after the victorious emperor.  Alternatively, if originally equestrian, its elevation may have gone hand in hand with its renaming after the reigning emperor(s) in 369, perhaps as a way of underlining how great was the imperial victory in recovering the province. Secondly, military considerations may have been the important factor …”

There is still the question raised by Mann, that any such status would have gone to the second most important city: this thought to be York. If Dornier is right, however, would this mean that the diocese capital would be moved to Chester (or wherever it was), if there still was a diocese capital after London, or Maxima Caesariensis, was lost?

Troops at Chester

The one fly in the ointment could be the lack of evidence for any major garrisoning of troops at Chester at the time.  There appears to be archaeological evidence of use, but the Notitia mentions no troops there.  However, this could have been patrolled by the Comes Britannium as well as the troops at Segontium (Caernarfon) and other stations along the north coast of Wales.  This might not have lasted long as Magnus Maximus may have taken them with him to Gaul, although I believe there is evidence that it was still in use after 383

Provincial Boundaries

So where were its boundaries, if Dornier is right? Well, firstly, let us address a problem that Dornier does not: if Chester was in Valentia, and Valentia was a division of Britannia Secunda, then that province’s border could not have ended at the River Mersey; if indeed it ever did. It would had to have already encompassed Chester … unless they redrew the provincial borders when it was created. If they did, that would indeed be unique as all known divisions of Roman provinces have been just that: divisions. (Mann, 1998)

This means the division of Britannia before Constantia/Valentia was created would have to have been something like that suggested by the map below, whether it be Secunda or Flavia that is in the north, with this northern province also encompassing North Wales.

Depending on who’s right about where the northern Cornovian territory actually ended – at Holt or at the River Mersey – the redrawing of the boundary shown left could mean it dissected the tribal area, something the Romans tried to avoid. It also means that most of what is now Cheshire wouldn’t have been in a civitas, as far as we know.  Of course, it’s always possible that this area remained under direct military rule, just like that of North Wales to the west. There may be a number of very good reasons for wanting to keep Cheshire under military jurisdiction: the three major salt mines at Northwich, Middlewich and Nantwich, as well as the ports on the Dee and Mersey.

This theory does answer the question of Powys being part of Valentia, and Valentia also being below the Wall.  What it doesn’t answer, and it needs scholars to debate it rather than a layman like myself, is whether or not it would be possible for Chester to take the mantle from York and for the provincial boundaries to be organized this way.

In the final blog in this series I’ll look at the possible later consequences if this hypothesis was followed through.

Thanks for reading,



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The Fifth Romano-British Province of Valentia – Part Two

South of the Wall

In the first blog on this subject I looked at between the Antonine Wall and Hadrian’s Wall as a possible siting for Valentia. However, a much more likely siting is south of the Wall.  The first argument is that Britannia Secunda was divided to the north and south, possibly along a Tees-Morecambe Bay line. This would be in keeping with Roman policy of creating a new province by dividing an existing one.

As explained by Higham and Jones (‘The Carvetii’, 1985) it’s the western part of the Wall, the home of the Carvetii (roughly northern Cumbria and part of Dumfries and Galloway), that seems to have been most garrisoned by the Romans, so it must have been causing the greatest overland threat. (Not all through the Roman occupation as they wouldn’t have felt safe enough to give it a civitas status at some point). It appears that some of it stretched north of the Wall, hence the garrisons there either to protect them, or, more likely, to keep an eye on them. With this in mind, it may be that the Wall wasn’t so much a political boundary as it was physical.

If this is, indeed, were Valentia was then the division may have been done as much to cut in half the possible tribal confederacy of the Brigantes: probably the largest in Britain. The northwest was also the home of the Setantii (Lancashire) and it is thought that because Ptolemy missed them off his map they were a sept of the Brigantes of the east. This could be why MAMVCIVM (Manchester) is not listed as being in the Brigantian territory. (Other septs probably included the Parisii of East Yorkshire and the Corionototae of the Corbridge area and probably others).  If, as Stuart Laycock argues in his book ‘Britannia, The Failed State’ (2008), north below the Wall were as much the cause of troubles in the 4th century as those beyond of the Antonine Wall, then it might make sense to ‘divide and conquer’ by splitting Britannia Secunda. (Alfred P Smyth in his book ‘Warlords and holy men: Scotland 80–1000‘ comes to the same conclusions as Laycock).

Again, if Valentia was here its provincial capital could be Carlisle, although it would be odd (as explained later) why anywhere other than York would be given a consular status, which Valentia’s capital was.


Another candidate for Valentia is what is now Wales, or a part there-of, which then is thought (by most) to have been in the province of Britannia Prima. This is given credence partly because of a 16th century Breton document that says Brochmael was a ruler of Gualentius, the Latininized Breton version of Valentia. The Brochmael in question is Brochmael Ysgythrog, a 6th century ruler of Powys; which is thought then (but not proven) to have straddle what is now the borders of England and Wales.  It may be argued that what was meant was Wallia or Gualia, the Latin name for Wales, but it’s hard to imagine a Breton getting this wrong. (More on this below).

The downside of the whole of Wales being Valentia is the evidence given by Ammianus.  Even if there were raids happening down the west coast of Wales, most of the trouble appears to be in the north of Britannia, under the Wall. However, Wales certainly was a militarized region with only two (known) civitates in the south: Demetia (southwest) and the Silures (southeast).  The other (known) tribes of the north, the Ordovices, the Gargani and Deceang(l)i, were under military rule. This itself might point to just how much trouble these tribes, or the Irish, of the area where.

Another theory

Before getting to what I think may be the most interesting theory as to where Valentia might have been in the next blog, it is worth exploring another theory of where the other provinces were first, and yet another siting of Valentia.

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

As the map above (or left if you’re reading this via email) shows, the names of Britannia Secunda and Flavia Caesariensis are swapped.  This theory comes from a paper by J.C. Mann entitled ‘The Creation of Four Provinces in Britain by Diocletian’. The changing of the names of these two provinces he explains as follows:

“As Richard Goodchild suggested to me, in a letter written shortly before he died, the two provinces [Flavia and Maxima] were probably named in honour of the two men who ranked as Caesars in A.D. 297, Galerius and Constantius, employing the gentilicium in both cases, thus Galeria Caesariensis – the London province, since London was the supreme community in Britain and now became the capital of the diocese, and Galerius was the senior Caesar – and Flavia Caesariensis the York province, York standing second only to London as a capital.  When Galerius died in A.D.311 and the title of Maximus was assumed shortly afterwards by Constantine, the latter suppressed the reference to Galerius (whom he disliked) and substituted Maxima, derived from his new title. Thus it is that the names Maxima Caesariensis and Flavia Caesariensis appear in the Verona List, A.D.312/14.

A near parallel to this dynastic naming of new provinces is provided by the case of Valeria: when Pannonia Inferior was divided, the northern part, in which lay the old capital of the province, Aquincum, and the two legions surviving from the Principate, I Adiutrix and II Adiutrix, was named Valeria, in honour of the daughter of Diocletian who married Galerius, while the old name, now Pannonia Secunda, continued in use for the southern part, with its capital at Sirmium and two new legions, V Iovia and VI Herculia.”

He then follows on with a theory on Valentia …

A later example is, of course, Valentia, created after the campaigns of Count Theodosius, in A.D. 367/8. This is surely named in honour of Valens, and it seems very probable that, on the analogy of Valeria, it was formed around the old capital of the northern province, York, and included territory which had fallen ‘indicionem…hostium’ .  This no doubt refers largely to the area which later became Yorkshire, including especially the eastern part, to protect which there was later constructed that string of watch-towers along the north Yorkshire coast, which it has elsewhere been suggested might be dubbed the ‘Pictish Shore’.  The south-eastern part of Britannia Inferior will have become Britannia Secunda, with Lincoln as its capital.”

His argument is, that whatever was the second major province had to be centred around York.  Since Valentia became the second most important province because it was given a consul, then Mann argues that Valentia had to have been on the east,  with York as its capital.

But what if something had changed when Constantia (or whatever Valentia was originally called) was formed … if it was formed not where Mann suggests but to the north as discussed in Part One or on the west side of the Pennines (see below). Could its provincial capital have taken over from York because of the status (or ego) of who created it?

What should also be mentioned is that the signaling stations of Yorkshire weren’t the only things to spring up at this time, but also the Constantian shore forts in the northwest at Lancaster; besides the already existing and remanned forts of Maryport, Burrow, Walls, Moresby and Ravenglass. The latter is known to have suffered a fire and rebuilding work in the mid 4th century.

But will still have that vexed question of Brochmael and this brings me on to the other alternative …

East-West Divide

Ann Dornier (Britannia, Vol. 13, (1982), pp. 253-257 ) forcefully argues that it’s possible that what was the northern half of Britannia Prima and the western half of Britannia Secunda became Valentia with the provincial capital at Chester.

It may be that those west of the Pennines would be happy to be divided from their eastern overlords but there’s no way of knowing. As mentioned earlier,  Higham and Jones tell us the Carvetii region (possibly later to become Rheged) had the largest concentration of Roman forts in Britain; there are over 40 auxiliary forts there, over half with vicus settlements attached to them. ( This has a certain irony to it as this means the most militarized area probably had the most amount of Britons who actually came into daily contact with Roman military might. It was a very different story east across the Pennines in what is now County Durham. This area is believed to be mostly forest and there is little evidence of settlement. (‘Roman Britain and English Settlements’; Collingwood, Nowell, Myres, 1988, p.421).  This could be a very good reason why the Picts had to sail much further south to raid anything of significance.

There is also strength to the argument that some in the east may have used Anglian feoderati to protect them not only from Picts, Germanic and Scandinavian raiders but from their Western British cousins.  The Parisii region may have been particularly vulnerable.

In Part Three I will look in-depth into Dornier’s theory and the possible consequences if she’s right.

Thanks for reading,



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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’ Arthur – Part Nine

UPDATED 1.6.12


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roman commanders Dark Age kings

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

Birdoswald Roman Fort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Cunedda’s northern battles

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,



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