Tag Archives: Antonine Wall

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

UPDATED 5.6.12

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

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

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

Bart Jaski’s paper:

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

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

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

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

Y Gododdin

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

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

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

Peredur of the steel weapons,

Gwawrddur and Aedden

Attackers in the flight with broken shields.

And though they were slain, they slew;

No one returned to his homeland.

(Jarman translation)

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

Koch has this to say:

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

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

“ [...] ar gynt a Gwydyl a Phryden”

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

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

Dumbarton Rock & Castle

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

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

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

“Luan filia Brachan, mater Haidani bradouc

Luan daughter of Brychan, mother of Aeden the Treacherous”

In the Cognatio Brychan (The Family of Brecheniauc):

“Lluan, mater Aidan grutauc et uxir Gafran vradavc

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

Brychiniog (The Brecons, Wales)

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

 “Lleian Brychan gwraic Gawron mam Aeddan Vradoc”

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

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

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

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

Tall Tales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

582 Áedán mac Gabrán won the Battle of Manann.

583 Áedán mac Gabrán won the Battle of Manand.

590 Áedán mac Gabrán won the Battle of Leithreid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artúr mac Conaing (born c. 580-600)

Once again Jaski’s paper:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,



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