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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.

THE WEST & WEST MIDLANDS: BRITANNIA PRIMA

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).

THOSE DARN BATTLES & OTHER ARTHURIAN SITES

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.

POET’S CORNER … AGAIN

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.

GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH

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,

Mak

CLICK HERE TO GO TO PART SIX

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 NORTH: BRITANNIA SECUNDA (?) & VALENTIA (?)

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.

POET’S CORNER

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)

WHAT IF?

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,

Mak

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,

Mak

 

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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:

Brochmael/Brocmail/Brochfael

 

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)

Consul

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,

Mak

 

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All Quiet On The Eastern Front? – Part Six

These blogs are going through a rethink and rework as of 09.12.11. New material or changes will be in bold type.

A rough placing of the 'Anglo-Saxon' regions

MIDDLE SAXONS

It’s hard to know how far the ‘Middle Saxons’ (thought later to be aligned to the ‘East Saxons’) territory extended west. They are generally associated with what is now Middlesex, obviously, and the Thames Valley in general, but also further north.

(Here we should keep in mind the paper by Wade in Part Three as the still unknown reasons for lack of settlement in some of its hinterland and how generally fragmented they were).

If that ‘bulge’ hypothesis, also in Part Three, is correct, then they may have felt the after effects of a victory of a southern Badon. The question remains as to why a push and taking of territory would happen in this region, if Badon happened in the southwest, and not towards the south and/or north from there? (Unless my hypothesis is correct and they did push in these directions, as well as outwards from enclaves). It could be that these pushes actually joined up British enclaves that had smaller amounts of the ‘Middle Saxon’ (think ‘Middle Saxo-British?) enemy between, so these were easier to take. It could be they weren’t ‘Middle Saxon’ at all at this point, but still British.

But always keep in mind Nick Higham’s theory that Badon was not the resounding victory that it is made out to be, but the last victory by the Britons, and that it was the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ who came off best when the ‘wars’ were over and the peace began. If this was the case, all these British enclaves may have been under tribute to ‘Anglo-Saxon’ overlords.

‘SOUTH MIDDLE SAXONS’ (SURREY) 

(NOT SHOWN ON ABOVE MAP)

These are thought to be the southern territory of the ‘Middle Saxons’, residing on the other, southern side of the Thames in what is now Surrey. A southern Battle of Badon with someone like Ælle in charge could have seen them involved and the resulting defeat (or defeats) could have meant they ended up with British neighbours to the west and north keeping them in check.

EAST (JUTISH) & WEST (SAXON) KENT

Going further east to the one area, which, at this time, may have been the closest to a kingdom, as well as one of the most materially wealthy; would these Jutish/Frankish/Saxon regions get involved at Badon? Well, if they did they may have been led by Æsc (or Oisc), if his dating is correct. Maybe the Kents only would join in if Ælle had some power over them or there was something to be gained by doing so. Perhaps there were some old scores they’d want to settle? It’s even possible that the more ‘Saxon’ West Kent were involved and not the Jutish/Frankish East.

This region could have been, along with the coast of East Anglia, one of the most richest and cohesive areas in eastern Britain, and with the the social norm of expanding to prove your power and greatness, they could indeed have been a regional threat. This, along with their Continental Frankish connection, may have made them a force to be reckoned with.

If they were at a southwestern Badon, then they may have been far enough away from the ‘front’ to avoid much damage or further raids after a defeat … although the Thames would have been a great route for reprisal raids. This is if they didn’t end up be a tributary state to someone. However, if Badon was the crushing defeat it is thought to have been (this and other battles) would there have been anyone left to go home? I doubt if any distant region that may have been involved at Badon would commit all their warriors. Again, if Higham’s theory is correct, it could have been the Britons that were paying tribute to them!

There seems to have been later connections between those of Kent and the ‘East Saxons’ (Essex) to their north across the Thames Estuary. They may have be more interested in expansion that way, leaving the Brits of the west alone, but then again …

To quote a comment that Jonathan Jarret (A Corner of the Tenth-Century Europe blogger) has made below:

In Steven Bassett’s The Origins of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, now getting old but still irrepleaceable IMO, there is a paper on Middlesex by Keith Bailey, and he notes among other things that those ‘-ingas’ names can be seen as forming a ring of fairly small sites, none of which really rise to later significance, around London. Ever since I read that I’ve been inclined to pair it with the ASC annal for 457 that talks about defeated Britons retreating to London and wonder if there was a legacy sub-Roman authority there that was settling these groups as a defensive perimeter round the old capital. That would, perhaps, explain, why the settlements there are perhaps more culturally assimilated than outside, as you remark. What then happened inside London so that by 597 Æthelberht and his Essex subordinate both have land there, and that it has somehow become part of Essex anyway (and its ‘Suth ge‘Surrey not… or is that Æthelberht’s recent work…), though, really is the domain of the novelist because there’s just no way to know.

Of course, if Higham is right, those of Kent may have held great power in what were the two eastern provinces.

EAST SAXONS

What about the area that is now Essex (East Saxons), which almost encompassed London? Here’s a (lengthy) quote from the BBC’s H2G2 website, which I think sums it up well:

“One thing that is apparent from archæology is that in the fifth and sixth centuries there was not a great influx of people into Essex unlike the large numbers which arrived in Kent and East Anglia, for example.

Here is evidence for this peaceful integration rather than bloody warfare; it would appear that the Roman countryside survived intact for some considerable time and changed only on a gradual basis as and when the political and economic circumstances altered and this may also represent a gradual transmutation from the late Roman civitas of the Trinovantes into the East Saxon kingdom.

Another factor to be considered is that there is a remarkable absence of cremation cemeteries in Essex, and where they are found cremation is always a small part of a cemetery containing inhumation burials which would seem to illustrate the early English settlers taking on Romano-British customs and indeed many English settlers shared the cemeteries with the British population. Another thing which has been noted with the cemetery problem is the ratio between the number of known cemeteries and the number of -ingas place names, i.e. there are many surviving -ingas place names but relatively few cemeteries associated with them. The high survival rate of these -ingas names would seem to indicate that the settlements, whether the first wave or secondary wave (which is the prevailing view) were permanently occupied by the English settlers unlike those of say, for arguments sake, Hampshire of the same period where there was a lot of heavy fighting between the English and the British and any settlements in the warzone would have been destroyed in all likelihood by one side or another. But this seems to be not the case in Essex which again would point to a peaceful integration of the two peoples.”

So, perhaps, the East Saxons weren’t even involved in a conflict, although Ælle or Æsc may have ‘persuaded’ them to join in. There were certainly later connections between this region and Kent.

Of course, just because they may have been a ‘peaceful’ coexistence between British and ‘East Saxons’ of that region doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t make enemies of other British, ‘Angles’, ‘Saxons’ or ‘Jutes’! However, their possible connection with the ‘Middle Saxons’ may have been enough to involve them at a southwestern Badon or its aftermath.

EAST  ANGLES

Moving to East Anglia, here is the largest concentration of cremation (and other) cemeteries in the country – with rich material finds on the coast – and, one could assume from this, one of the most powerful. Ken Dark wonders, judging by them sticking to cremation, if these ‘Angles’ didn’t mix as much with the Britons, or, indeed if they displaced them. (An alternative being that a plague and famine meant those arriving after the 460s entered a relatively empty landscape). But it didn’t ‘border’ the British Zone at this time, unless it had a British enclave next door, it was the ‘Middle Angles’ that lay across this cultural divide. This doesn’t mean they could have inflicted some influence on them however.

Some scholars have wondered if it was this region that first saw the Germanic feoderati, being based here to repel the Pictish and/or northern British raids. Both here and further north to Deira seem the logical place to put them.

What would become the North Folk (Norfolk) and South Folk (Suffolk) of the region, again, may have been away from this particular conflict, yet could have have been affected by a migration from the west by their defeated neighbours, and to their north as the sea level rose and the water’s of The Wash expanded even further inland.

As I suggested earlier, there’d have to be a very good reason for them to be involved at a southern Badon. If they were the enemy, then they could have supplied a great many men, although how united they were themselves is a moot point. If Badon was at the Lincolnshire proposed site, then it may been a different matter, although it still lay some miles to the north.

MIDDLE/SOUTH ANGLES

The ‘Middle Angles’ would have come into direct contact with the Britons of the west and eastern enclaves, either to the north or west. (Unless Ken Dark is right and this region, at the time, was still predominantly British). Whilst it has become synonymous with the later South Mercians, Wendy Davies argues against it ever being a kingdom, even in the later 6th century. (MIDDLE ANGLIA AND THE MIDDLE ANGLES, Midland History, vol. 2, pp. 18-20(3), 1973).

Its fragmented state – along with many others – may be shown by the Tribal Hidage, although some scholars (including Guy Halsall) warn against this document being used to show fragmentation. Even so, they had been pushing from The Wash westwards, unless, again, Ken Dark’s theory about this also remaining British, is correct. This means they may, along with the ‘North Angles’ and ‘South Angles’, come into conflict with men of the Cornovii if they’d reached far enough west (or raided). However, the cemeteries don’t seem to come much further west than the East Midlands at this stage and it could very well be because of the expanse of heavy clay that lay between them and the Cornovii, or it was, indeed, a British enclave/kingdom. They may have even raided other ‘Anglians’ to their north and south. They did have a very straight run down the Fosse Way, however, and it may have been from this region that those of the Avon settlements came.

Again, they could have been involved at a southern Badon, but there’d have to be a very good reason. They’d also not have to have been in conflict themselves in their own region. They could have sent a contingent I suppose. It comes down to that Ælle question again. There would be more chance of them being at a Lincolnshire Badon or even at the Arthurian River Dubglas battle (if it happened), thought by some to be the River Witham, if it was also in Lindsey (Lincolnshire) as suggested by most … but not all. The Dubglas has also been suggested to be the River Humber. (See comments below).

What would keep this lot ‘peaceful’ … if they were, and it wasn’t that they just were a region Gildas wouldn’t hear news from? Tribute? Threat of attack from west and north? Containment? What if they had geographically expanded as fas as they could at the time, lacking the technology to farm heavy clay? If this had been the case, they may not have been a threat to the western Brits, unless they were endemic raiders.

NORTH ANGLES

The ‘North Angles’ were in what was once the northern end of the Corieltavi civitas (and may still have been) and bordered onto Lindsey (later Lindeswara) in the east as well as the Britons to the north and west. Its later name, ‘Mercia’, is still perhaps a perfect name for them as it means ‘boundary’ or ‘borderland‘.

There is one very interesting fact about the northwestern border of this region – and that’s exactly what it appears to be – in that the ‘Anglian’ settlement/burials on the south side of the River Trent stop there. There are none from this period on the other side in what is thought to have been British Brigantian territory (or a sept thereof) or possibly Elmet or the Peaks, all thought to be in the province of Britannia Secunda (or possibly Valentia). The only ‘Anglo-Saxon’ settlement worth noting north of the Mersey/Humber divide is Deira. Either the ‘Anglians’ weren’t interested in expanding north, there culture wasn’t wanted or there was something very scary on the other side of the water! Christopher Gidlow thinks he knows what it was and I believe Keith Matthews (aka Bad Archaeology blogger) has come to a similar conclusion. Besides ‘someone’ stopping them, there was also the massive extent of Sherwood Forrest towards the south and marshland in the north, near the River Humber. Not to mention the Pennines further west. A natural military and cultural boundary? However, there’s a good old Roman road crossing the Trent between these.

If this area was to be involved in a southern Badon it would mostly likely have to zig-zag their way down the old Roman roads. Even if they weren’t there, there’s the possibility that if ‘Saxons’ (as opposed to Irish) were involved at the possible Arthurian City of Legions battle, and this was Chester (Deva), these could be who were doing the raiding. Keith also wonders if the Arthurian battle of the River Bassas is what is now the River Perry (near my home) below Baschurch, 10 miles northwest of Wroxeter (Viriconium Cornoviorum/Caer Guricon); so in the same general area. If Badon was in Lincolnshire, however, they could very well have been involved. (This all has to be tempered by that fact these battles may never have happened).

Why they might remain at peace if they hadn’t been involved at Badon could be because of defeats elsewhere or their British neighbours to the west – the Cornovii – like those to the north, were just too powerful for them … or, once again, they just weren’t united enough.

If the Arthurian battles at the Dubglas were indeed in Lindsey (see next blog), and that river was the Witham, which runs through Lincoln going south, then it could be this lot (or the ‘Middle Angles’) that were causing the trouble at their boundary.

In the next blog I’ll look at Lindsey, Deira and Bernicia.

I look forward to any comments.

Thanks for reading,

Mak.

 

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All Quiet On The Eastern Front? – Part Four

This blog is going through a rethink and rework as of 12.11.11. New material or changes will be in bold type.

EAST ISN’T NECESSARILY EAST

Warning! Warning!

I want to look at who the enemies of these western Britons might have been, but first a very important point from Barbara Yorke I kept in mind:

“The existence of these numerous small provinces suggests that southern and eastern Britain may have have lost any political cohesion in the fifth and sixth centuries and fragmented into many small autonomous units, though late Roman administrative organization of the countryside may have helped dictate their boundaries.” (Yorke, ‘Kings & Kingdom’s of Early Anglo-Saxon England’, 1990, p13)

I also kept in mind, whether you agree with him or not, Stuart Laycock’s theories that there could be old British tribal scores to settle and animosity after the Romans left. Their ‘tribal’ identity (for want of better name) would mean more to them than ‘British-ness’. If using Germanic mercenaries or Anglo-Britons (and their culture) to forward their cause (and their territory) would help, then I’m sure they’d use them. (The ‘Anglo-Saxon’ settlement/culture does seem to match what are thought to be the boundaries of the eastern Britannian provinces of Maxima Caesariensis and Flavia Caesariensis). This use of them, of course, may have backfired on the Brits as they found themselves becoming second class citizens if they kept their cultural identity. This is not to exclude sheer invasion and expulsion in some areas.

A rough placing of the 'Anglo-Saxon' regions

WEST SAXONS/GEUISSAE

(At the time thought to be roughly that of the British civitates of the Antrebates and the eastern Antrebatic half of the Belgae)

We should explore if every ‘Saxon’ or ‘Angle’ (remembering that these could be Anglo-British/Saxo-British ethnically mixed – clarifying my position after comments below) in the ‘east’ was the enemy. Let’s start with the infamous ‘West Saxons’. The words “can” and “worms” come to mind here. (I’ll use these later terms, such as ‘West Saxon’ and ‘East Angles‘, merely for convenience. The kingdoms didn’t exist, as far as we know, and I believe they would be made up of smaller groups of *-ingas or *-ge and the like rather than kingdoms at this point in time. We should also keep in mind that all these southern ‘Saxon’ areas have much smaller cemeteries compared with the ‘Anglian’ regions, which is what has led some to think these areas were indeed élite take-overs). The ‘West Saxons’; Cerdic and Cynric (two very British names) are said to ‘arrive’ in the area in 495 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (ASC).  With regards to this date I would like to quote the following:

“David Dumville’s detailed study of the regnal dates given in the Chronicle and in the closely related West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List reached the conclusion that the fifth—and sixth century dates were extremely unreliable and had been artificially extended to make it appear that the kingdom was founded at an earlier date than was actually the case. His calculation on the basis of the reign-lengths given in the Genealogical Regnal List was that Cerdic’s reign was originally seen as beginning in 538, with the arrival of Cerdic and Cynric in 532.” (Yorke, 1990, p131)

However, regardless of who was ‘expanding’ in this region, some peoples of ‘Saxon’ culture were there prior to Badon. As many argue, Cerdic and Cynric may not have ‘arrived’ from anywhere but have been either Britons or Saxo-Britons of the area. (Besides their possible British names, Wessex does claim later men with the other British names. There are also mixed cremation/inhumation as well as inhumation cemeteries here which, according to Ken Dark, could point to mixed British/’Saxon’ sites). However, whichever of the dates for their arrival is correct, and whichever date for Badon is correct, could have a bearing on whether they were personally involved at the Battle of Badon and what would happen afterwards.

There are two arguments as to where the ‘West Saxons’ (as the Geuissae) originate from: the western Thames Valley, and southern Hampshire. Some think the Geuissae or Gewissae could themselves have been a Saxonized British group or even Jutish. These may have been confused or merged with the group around Dorchester-on-Thames. To quote Keith Matthews’ (aka Bad Archaeology blogger) article, ‘What’s in a name? Britons, Angles, ethnicity and material culture from the fourth to seventh centuries’ (Heroic Age, Issue 4, 2001)

“The exception is the upper Thames valley, where there are large numbers of villas and small towns but an early group of German material culture remains. What makes this group stand out is the early date of the material culture and its homogeneity: this group appears to have few contacts with the local Romano-British population, unlike the thousands of Germans whose material culture sits alongside that of indigenous groups elsewhere in the Late Roman diocese. The upper Thames Valley group has long been identified as in some way anomalous (e.g. Leeds: 53), as the invasion/settlement hypotheses are clearly inadequate to explain so massive a penetration so deep into central Britain at this date. Furthermore, it is not identifiable as the core of a later Anglo-Saxon kingdom, despite valiant attempts to link it with Wessex (e.g. Stenton: 26). Here is perhaps the best evidence for the Germanic mercenaries mentioned by Gildas (Higham 1994: 104).”

Whoever they were, or whatever they were called, they could indeed have posed a threat. (However, we should keep in mind that by the late 5th century they may have married locally). It could depend on where Britannia Prima’s border lay and which side of it the Dorchester-on-Thames group where on. It’s very difficult to know if this ‘border’ was an east-west division of the Atrebates, Belgae and Regni civitates, or if it cut through them. If it originally did, we also don’t know what would have happened after the empire ‘fell’ and if a border would be ‘redrawn’ or how much they had fragmented into smaller polities. Since it looks as if many ‘Saxon’ take-overs used these civitas boundaries, it’s worth keeping them in mind. I’d also like to quote another passage from Yorke:

“A further problem with the Chronicle’s account of the origins of Wessex is that it seems to locate the origins of the kingdom in southern Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, though unfortunately not all the place-names it cites can be identified. Bede, on the basis of information supplied to him by Bishop Daniel, indicates that southern Hampshire and the Isle of Wight were independent provinces which did not become part of Wessex until after their conquest by King Cædwalla in 686–8. A number of sources, including Bede and placename evidence, affirm that the people of southern Hampshire and the Isle of Wight were classed as Jutes and not as Saxons.  It seems impossible to place the origins of the kingdom of Wessex in these Jutish provinces.” (Yorke, 1990, p131)

So wherever the ‘West Saxons’ were coming from it may not have been from the south. Let’s say the Dorchester-on-Thames group were on the east side of the border, in what was the old Roman province of Maxima Caesariensis, and weren’t on the Brits side, and Ælle (or whomever) managed to recruit both them and ‘West Saxons’. If Badon was in the south and they were the enemy then they are most likely to get the brunt of the aftermath of a victory … if they didn’t run east and south for protection. (Higham’s theory not withstanding). If Badon was in, say, the Lincolnshire proposed site (by Thomas Green), they could either have had nothing to do with a battle in that part of the country or they were involved with one of the subsequent (or previous) battles to Badon that Gildas mentions in their own region.

What isn’t obvious, and I’ll explore it more below, is who were those ‘Anglo-Saxons’ before the Mercians north of Oxford: those of the south Midlands. They were the ones bordering on what Christopher Gidlow thinks to be the real power base of the Britons: the Cornovii and the Dobunni. (But who Higham thinks were vassals of the ‘Anglo-Saxons’!) If the Britons did win back some of these Midland territories also, the ‘Germanic’ inhabitants don’t seem to have gone anywhere. If Dumville’s 538 dating is right, however, this date could have been the start (or false start) of the push back by the ‘Anglo-Saxons’, in the south at least, although it could have been even much later elsewhere. It may not even have been a ‘push back’ at all but the first push by them if they didn’t become a force to be reckoned with until 532 or after.

If it was around these dates that the Gewissae start to appear, then it may not have been very long after Gildas had completed his polemic before he could say, “I told you so!” This region would be relatively close to Gildas, if he wrote where most think he did in the Durotriges tribal region (roughly western Somerset and Dorset), giving him a very good reason to be nervous. (Always keep in mind that any push or expansion is most likely nothing to do with an ethnic group fighting another ethnic group, but merely the leaders of a group proving what great a leader they are by either raiding, taking a territory or making other territories tributary either through conquest or fear.)

Wherever Badon was, this lot seem to have stopped expanding too, so something may have halted their ambitions and with this possibly being relatively close to Gildas he should have been aware of anything going on here. It could be these peoples that made him worried, but it’s more likely to be those even closer: the ‘Jutes’ of Hampshire (see next blog). If the map above is remotely close to the politcal situation, there was a British divide between Gildas (if he was in the southwest) and them. Of course, as I put forward above, these ‘Saxons’ could even have given allegiance to the Brits and not been a threat at all … at this time. Although it should be noted that Gildas never mentions such alliances.

WEST ANGLES?

(At the time thought to be roughly that of the British civitates of the Dobunni and southern Cornovii)

But who were those further west, but north of the ‘West Saxons’? I found it very difficult to find anyone writing about those who made up the settlers of what is now the southwest and west Midlands of England at this time. The archæological evidence shows they were there, bordering on (or even within) the civitates of the Dobunni and possibly Cornovii. They may not have been Middle or West Saxons at all, but, what I will call, ‘West Angles’. If they were ‘West Saxons’ they certainly weren’t to become Wessex but the Hwicce and part of Mercia. (I realise it’s a lot more complicated than that and I apologise for the over-simplification.) To quote, ‘Research issues in the Post-Roman to Conquest period in Warwickshire’ by Sally Crawford with regards to Warwickshire, for example …

“The social organisation of the earlier Anglo-Saxon period is also one which would bear further research. The cemetery evidence supports the idea that there was a significant ethnic division within the county, with two separate groups based around the upper and lower Avon, which is echoed in the later documentary sources as a division between the tribes of the Hwicce and the Mercians (Hooke, 1996:100). “

Apparently Warwickshire does not fair well in its Early Medieval archæology so it’s almost impossible to judge the power or status of those “Saxons’ or ‘Angles’ there and their relationship with the Britons. However, the mixed nature of the cemeteries might show a mixed ethnic group. I found a little more information from John Morris (The Age of Arthur), although I don’t know how accurate or up-to-date it is.  His information shouldn’t always be trusted:

“But the south western borderlands of the corner of Cornovii have plain evidence; four large mixed cemeteries guarded the main crossing of the Avon on their side of the river, near Coventry and at Warwick, Stratford and Bidford. Their burials began very early in the sixth century and the main ornament derived from the Middle Angles. Further south a larger number of smaller burial grounds circle the territory of Cirencester and Gloucester on the north, the west, and the south, approximately on the borders of the Roman Dobunni. The earliest of them, Fairford, maybe as early as the Avon site cemeteries, but the ornament of most seem somewhat later, and was drawn from the Abingdon English; it passed onto Bidford, the nearest of the Avon garrisons, but only a little of it reached further north, though the Cotswolds sites about Cirencester took little or nothing of the Anglian ornament of Avon. Cornovian territory admitted brides and peddlars within its borders, but Cirencester allowed no traffic in the opposite direction.” (p.284)

I’m not exactly sure what he means by “Cornovian territory admitted brides and peddlars within its borders …” or where that information comes from!?

There isn’t universal agreement of which pre-‘Saxon’ eastern British tribal regions bordered here: some say the Corieltavi could have stretched that far south, others the Catuvellauni. It could be both, of course. Perhaps the Dobunni stretched further north than we think, although, I believe, coin distribution places them were the later Hwicce would be. But someone bordered with the Dobunni and Cornovii and it’s these eastern borders where the cemeteries of ‘Anglo-Saxons’ are found (cremations in the north and mixed and inhumations further south). Some could even have been within their territories. If these ‘Saxons’ were at Badon, or were involved in the struggle against the British of the west at the time, it’s hard to discern what happened to them in the aftermath or during this ‘peace’. Of course, if the Dobunni and Cornovii (or whatever they were called by this time) did ‘defeat’ them, and ‘threw them out’, would the archæology show this? If either of these British civitates were as powerful as Gidlow thinks, (and not as weak as Higham thinks!), then perhaps the ‘Saxons’ may have not tried to expand any further west or south because they were too scared of the consequences.

As Stuart Laycock puts forward (and others I believe) in his book ‘Britannia – The Failed State’ (2009), these ‘Anglo-Saxon’ groups may have been placed there by rival British civitates in the first place. Whether these too would have revolted at some stage or stayed on the Brits side we will never know, but it might explain Gildas telling us the revolt went from sea to sea. Meaning, there were revolts in their regions, rather than those of Kent marauding from the FRETVM GALLICVM (English Channel) to the Severn Sea (Bristol Channel). (However, always keep in mind the E. A. Thompson believes the revolts Gildas is talking about took place in the north (which is the region Gildas is discussing) and went from the North Sea to the Irish Sea). Those upper and lower Avon groups could reflect two sides of the divide, although the Avon appears to run through the centre of the Dobunni region. We must considered the distinct possibility that some of them, at least, weren’t the enemy.

In the next blog I’ll look at the ‘Jutes’ of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and the ‘South Saxons’.

Thanks for readin and I look forward to any comments,

Mak

 

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All Quiet On The Eastern Front? – Part Three

This blog is going through a rethink and rework as of 12.11.11. New material or changes will be in bold type.

BATTLE OF THE CHILTERN BULGE?

What exactly was going on in those supposed British enclaves in the east … if that’s what they were? Were they also at peace? How would the ‘Saxons’ react in those areas that surround these enclaves after a defeat or defeats? It may depend on the treaty agreed. But what would stop them later on, after 20 years or so? These enclaves either had some serious military power or some kind of ‘friendship’ with the ‘Saxons’ There are theories that the Britons did indeed take back ‘Saxon’ territory.  John Morris puts it forward but so does Professor Howard Wiseman (who may be a physicist but his Early Medieval studies have been quoted by Snyder, Higham and Halsall).

For Howard it may be to do with the later ‘Saxon’ expansion and victories at Bedcanford (identified as Bedford) and other sites in 571, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (ACS). These are generally thought to have been British enclaves taken by a newly formed West Saxons kingdom. However, this theory puts forward that after Badon (or even before) the British regained territory and this territory went beyond Bedford. Howard has given me permission to use two maps he created.

MAP ONE

Britain c. 530AD

MAP TWO

Britain c. 530AD (Based on map by Howard Wiseman)

(Maps used with kind permission of Professor Howard Wiseman.The page containing it can be found at http://www.ict.griffith.edu.au/wiseman/DECB/DECBbestest.html )

Howard explains MAP ONE thusly (with reference numbers removed):

“[...] this map descends into speculation in showing precise political boundaries in Britain at the time of Gildas. However, in many of these I have been guided by the work of the respected archaeologist and historian Ken Dark. I have also been guided by the distribution of archaeological sites [...] The names given to the Brittonic states are those of the corresponding Roman civitates when these are attested by post-Roman inscription, or by Gildas. When Roman names are not so attested, a Brittonic name is used. Some of these (Reged, Gwent, Glevissig) are well-attested in the early Middle Ages, while others (Calchvynydd, Barroc, Ebrauc) are only attested in later documents [...]”

On MAP TWO (with reference numbers removed):

“The above map was scanned from the 2000 book by Dark, which shows 5th and 6th century Germanic cemeteries in Britain. Of these I have erased those cemeteries which came into use only in the later 6th century, according to the maps of Morris. Then I have added Roman towns, villas, and forts for which there is archaeological or literary material indicating probable occupation after 490. The data for these sites are taken from the detailed descriptions in the 1998 book by Snyder, occasionally supplemented by Dark. An example of such archaeological evidence is the presence of coins of Emperor Anastasius (491-518), or datable Mediterranean pottery. An example of reliable literary evidence for occupation is that for Luguvalium (Carlisle), which still had a functioning Roman aqueduct and fountain in the late 7th century. These Germanic and Brittonic sites thus should give a picture of Gildas’ partitioned Britain (c. 530). As the map shows, Brittonic and Germanic sites do fall into reasonably distinct zones. There are a handful of small Germanic cemeteries in what I have judged to be Brittonic zones, and one Roman town, Lincoln (Lindum colonia), with evidence for continued occupation in what appears to be an Anglian zone.”

To read more, visit his web page, linked above. The one thing to note about these maps is, unlike Morris and Dark, they don’t take into account the gaps in settlements and cemeteries, so may give a false picture of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ rule or the true spread of their cultures. But, as Howard says in a personal correspondence, “I was aiming for the smoothest boundaries that would leave (more or less) all the Germanic evidence on one side and all the Romano-British evidence on the other”. They also don’t show areas that wouldn’t be up for settlement by either side, such as dense forrest, heath land or heavy clay areas. Possibly even areas that wouldn’t be settled on because of some superstition or another.  (I’ll deal with this later).  Another thing to note is where Howard has ‘Hill Forts Common‘ he means hillforts occupied at this time and not all Iron Age hillforts pe se. Most hillforts in what is now the borderlands (the Marches) of England and Wales were re-occupied in the Late  4th to Early 5th centuries, but it’s hard to find evidence for this occupation going beyond this.

Back to these late 6th century battles. Howard, quoting from the ASC, says:

“ASC for 571 (perhaps invented later to justify West Saxon territorial claims) Cuthwulf fought with the Britons at Bedcanford (Bedford), and took four towns, Lenbury, Aylesbury, Benson and Ensham. And this same year he died.” – (Howard’s brackets, not mine).

We know where Bedford (Biedcanforda) is … or we assume we know. Lenbury (Liggeanburh) is thought to be Limbury in the suburbs of Luton, although there is a Lenborough southwest of Bedford and northwest of Aylesbury. Aylesbury (Æglesburh) is southwest of Bedford (I used to work there). Benson (Bensingtun) is actually called Bensington and is just south of Dorchester-on-Thames in Oxfordshire and Ensham (Egonesham) is generally thought to be Eynsham, just northwest of Oxford. The first question is, if Cuthwulf, who supposedly led these battles, was West Saxon, what was he doing starting his battles in the east and moving west? The answer could be the ASC got the order wrong and Bedford was the last battle. However, it could be that he was from the east and pushed west, taking over West Saxon territory. We’ll never know, but it does make sense of the progression.

So, as opposed to a British enclave based on the Chilterns (later to become Saxon Cilternsætna) and one in the Bedford area, they postulate a ‘bulge’ or ‘corridor’ that was either never under ‘Saxon’ occupation in the first place or was was won back and extended from the Thames Valley, up the Chiltern Hills to and beyond Bedford before or after Badon. This would, of course, cut off some main lines of communication, including part of Watling Street, Icknield Way, the Fosse Way and some river basins from the ‘enemy’. This ‘bulge’ would almost reach St. Albans. Actually, these maps encompass St. Albans, which can’t be right if the shrines referred to (or one of them) was there … and one would think St. Albans’ shrine was. Once again I’m indebted to Howard for pointing me to the following …

“It has been commonly stated that Gildas here, when he talks of martyrs and the unhappy partition, implies that Verulamium and Carleon held shrines which were deprived to the Britons because of English occupation. A more careful reading of this passage shows that he implies no such thing. When he says “I refer to St Alban …, Aaron and Julius … and the others …”, he is clearly referring to martyrs (the history of which he was discussing before being briefly side-tracked into the state of Britain at his time). If he had been referring to their “graves or places where they suffered”, he would have said “I refer to Verulamium …, Carleon, … and other places”. Thus the passage simply implies that there was a partition with the English, and that they evidently held large parts of the country, but it contains no specific geographical information on which parts.”

See http://www.ict.griffith.edu.au/wiseman/DECB/DECBps.html#Martyrs

Howard added: “Regarding Verulamium and St Albans shrine, I haven’t had any luck convincing Chris Gidlow of this [...]”

Could they be right? The archæology (as far as I’m aware) doesn’t show ‘Saxon’ occupation (or culture) to the west of St Albans. If anyone has information to the contrary I’d be very interested to hear about it.

A look at the OS map of Roman Britain shows there are two Roman roads going east/west they could have pushed back on after Badon, if they did: that which goes from Bath (or Cirencester) via Silchester to London and the other northerly route that goes from Cirencester via Bicester to St. Albans. (Another goes north-south from Bicester via Dorchester-on-Thames to Silchester). Between these east/west routes lies the Thames Valley and the Chiltern Hills including the ancient trackway of the Icknield Way.

To have taken the region around Bedford as well may have meant heading north on the Bicester-Towcester road. This push could have joined isolated British enclaves. It makes absolute sense that the Britons would capitalize on a victory if they could, but I’m just not knowledgeable enough to comment on the details and the archæology that Morris, Dark or Howard put forward as possible evidence. It does make sense to these later battles defeating the Britons and the taking of the Chilterns, which was obviously in British hands, where no enclaves but a whole British swathe of territory. But, it also make equal sense that they were enclaves that the ‘Saxons’ strangled. If they were never ‘Saxon’ at this point then it puts a different complexion on the whole debate with the Britons always having the upper hand, as argued by Dark.

Another Theory

However, I will give another possible theory of the fight back that could explain this ‘corridor’ and the ‘peace’. Once Ambrosius started the resistance, a British rebellion began to happen, just like those in the Middle East at the moment. Anti ‘Anglo-Saxon’ (politcal, religious and cultural elements) could have been inspired to break out from their enclaves, or even within ‘Saxon’ regions. This could have happened in regions we’re not even aware of. If Ambrosius could have achieved some sought of unity, or, at the least, coordination, then these, along with pushes from the west and north, would have stretched and shaken the enemies.

Pushes from the west wouldn’t, of course, have been on a ‘front’ but through lines of communication: roads, tracks, river basins. This may not have pushed all elements ‘back’ but turned them into isolated enclaves whilst rejoining British (cultural) areas, making it harder for the enemy to created confederacies and limiting their travel. This, in turn, may have created refuges heading east. The Britons could also have placed their own rulers over some of the enemy territory taken, which may add to the idea of an extended peace. So the politcal map may not have looked like Howard’s above, but like the one on below. I’ve kept St Albans and London as an enclave but, as discussed above, it may not have been:

MAK’S MAP

Britain Post Badon (Mak) - Based on map by Howard Williams

This is just a very rough guess. There may have been more British enclaves in the east and southeast.  (In fact, Professor Ken Dark gives even more British areas than I do in the Midlands, based on the amount of inhumation and mixed inhumation/cremation areas: that’s the squares and star symbols). I’ve added known woodland (although there may have been more) in green and marsh/fen land in blue. I also overlaid a map of the clay soil areas of Britain (not shown here) and, with heavy clays in the Midlands, you could see why there may not have been much settlement there by either side. (Source: http://www.soilyourself.org/2011/02/soils-of-england-soils-of-great-britain.html )

I’d like to do a lengthy quote from the paper, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval (Rural) by Keith Wade ( http://www.eaareports.org.uk/Assessment%20post-Roman%20rural.pdf ). Date unknown.

“The large apparently unpopulated areas [of the east], especially in west Essex and Hertfordshire, have traditionally been explained as forest, but this may be too simplistic. There is an ongoing debate on the extent of post Roman woodland regeneration, but environmental evidence suggests that, at least in some areas, there was no large-scale woodland regeneration. The ongoing ‘extent of woodland’ debate is linked to the ‘surviving Romano-British population’ debate. The lack of Early Anglo-Saxon sites in west Essex, the Hunts part of Cambridgeshire, and Hertfordshire, has been explained as indicating a surviving Romano-British political entity with a small (initially) Germanic settlement ‘living in controlled circumstances on “Roman” settlements’ (Drury and Rodwell 1980), with surviving Romano-British populations that are invisible archaeologically. Others have explained the gaps as more to do with the difficulties of finding Early Anglo-Saxon sites [...] [Williams’] conclusions, however, were still that ‘there are signs that some land also went out of cultivation even on the lighter soils’ and ‘there was clearly a considerable contraction of land under cultivation in the post Roman period, with woodland growing up over abandoned farmland on the interfluve soils’ but that even ‘on the interfluves’ there is ‘some evidence of Saxon occupation, although whether such settlements were involved in the arable exploitation of these difficult soils is perhaps more doubtful’ (Williamson 1986, 127).”

I’d love to hear from anyone knowledgeable on the interpretation of both this evidence and the archæology for all these areas.  

(Since writing this I have read more on the work of Chris Wickham, Guy Halsall, Ken Dark and re-read Francis Pryor, I realise even more the complexity and varying interpretations of the data. However, what is clear, is how politically fragmented and lacking in elites most of the east appears and how even ‘Anglo-Saxon’ sites, such as Mucking in Essex, are being reassessed).

I’m also not sure if this ‘bulge’ theory would harmonise with what Gildas tell us. One would also have to wonder what would convince the Cornovii (or Dobunni) to attack beyond their borders … if they did. The answer might be simpler for the Dobunni as they may have been trying to take some of their lost land back. The Cornovii, however may have wanted revenge for attacks on Chester and Bassa (if these Arthurian battles are, indeed, where some think them to be and if they ever happened). More land would also be a good reason. I think that these reasons would be above an altruistic one of ‘saving Britannia’, although saving themselves and their portion of their province might have had something to do with it. (Interestingly, Dark wonders if these two civitates are ones that were under Roman type administration rather than monarchy at this time).

There would bound to be different factions wanting different things, including some who might think, “The ‘Saxons’ are their problem. Let them sought it out!” Those ‘Saxon’ regions in the Midlands that found themselves isolated  (in this hypothesis) may have swapped sides to survive. (Plenty of evidence of that in history). The Britons could have shown, through their power and their action and, maybe, even through bluff by announcing how united they were though they may not have been in reality, that they were a force to be reckoned with.

None of this takes into account Nick Higham’s theory that the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ were the ones who had the upper hand after Badon and his assessment that this battle happened (and Gildas wrote) much earlier.

(See comments below)

HELLO SAILOR!

We also have no idea what sea power either side(s) had. If the Brits could, somehow, have taken control of at least some stretches of the southern and eastern coast, they may have been able to disrupt not only supplies, but immigration and export, for a while at least. There’s probably not such a strong argument for this, but it’s worth considering.

In the next blog we’ll look at just who the ‘enemies’ might have been, starting with the ‘West Saxons’/’Geuissae’ and the ‘West Angles’.

I look forward to any comments.

Thanks for reading,

Mak

 

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A Brief History Of Wroxeter Romano-British City

 

Postcard mock-up showing CGI and photo composite of the basilica at Wroxeter

WROXETER – VIRICONIVM CORNOVIORVM

(Whilst my blogs are mostly about Later Roman and Post Roman Britain, I thought it was also worth taking a look at the the earlier history of this amazing city.  The images you’ll see here were created by a company I was co-director of called Pastscapes. The modelling work was done by my friend and colleague, Peter Hurst. Texturing, lighting and Photoshop work was done by yours truly).

Wroxeter (Viriconium Cornoviorum) near Shrewsbury in the English county of Shropshire, over 200 acres in size and with 2 miles of ‘walls’, was one of the largest Roman-Briton cities in its time with a population of about 5,000. It even outlived the Roman occupation by 200 years before finally being  abandoned with the arrival in the region of the Angles. The arrival of the Romans in this part of Britain happened in 47 AD – 4 years after they landed in Britannia – when they attacked the hill fort of the Wrekin Hill. The Cornovii tribe of the region – whose territory covered what is now Shropshire, Cheshire, part of Staffordshire, part of Herefordshire, (possibly part of Merseyside), Wrexham, Flintshire and part of Powys – suddenly had new masters. In 58 AD the XIVth. Legion built a garrison fort by the River Severn (Sabrina/Hafren) where Wroxeter now stands.

After leaving for Armenia they were replaced by the famous XXth. Legion in 66 AD who spent the next 24 years here and it’s during this period that some of the Cornovii began to settle next to their Roman masters. This, in time, became a vicus: a settlement near a fort that supplied a number of services to it, such as shops, taverns and various forms of ‘entertainments’; savoury and otherwise!

The people of this settlement probably weren’t too happy when the legion was sent north to Chester (Deva) in 90 AD, abandoning the garrison and demolishing the fortress in the process. Although the legionnaires at this time weren’t allowed to marry the locals they probably made a lot of female ‘friends’. Some of the locals had obviously grown to like this new Roman, imperial way of living as they moved into the now abandoned fort and, with Roman guidance and plans, began to make it into the city we know of today, giving it the name of Viriconium Cornoviorum.

Viriconium may have had Roman overlords but it was essentially ‘British’. It became one of the many civitates; independent administrative centres, governed by the Britons themselves but under the supervision of a Roman provincial administration based in Londinium (London). It became, in effect, the capitol of the Cornovii region. It’s hard to tell whether or not the vast majority of the Cornovii were ‘happy’ with the Roman presence or not. It does remain somewhat of an enigma to archaeologists who still can’t quite understand how a successful Romanised city could exist in, what appears to be, an un-Romanised countryside: the only one of its kind in England. There are varying theories to explain this but none have yet come to the fore. The Cornovii’s feeling towards the imperialists probably were something like most conquered peoples: some liked it, some hated it and those in the lower strata of society didn’t care either way as they’d just swapped one set of masters for another.

The fact remains, however, that Viriconium was doing well even if the rest of its people weren’t behind it. The rest of the population were still living the same way they had probably been doing for a thousand years. Still in roundhouses and still living with their own customs and ways and still speaking their own language. It may have been these very traditions that attracted some of the populous to the city. The Iron Age traditions were all very well for the elite parts of society but there was no chance of furtherment in your life. From what can be gleaned about this society, if you were born into the lower classes, you stayed in the lower classes! The Romans had many faults but at least you were allowed, and encourage, to better yourself. Even slaves could end up in high government positions.

Latin was certainly encourage by the Romans and would have been the only written language as there was no written form of Brittonic at this time. The upper echelons probably learnt Latin because they needed to, but the rest may not have bothered or only learnt enough to get by. Some of the elite would have moved into the city to live in the large courtyarded city houses but others may have stayed where they were. Either way, it is these men who would have made up the native provincial council. The function of the council varied from province to province and there’s no specific information on how they functioned in Britain. It’s thought that they would have had to: raise money, promote annual games and festivals in connection with the Imperial Cult and settle tribal disputes … amongst other duties. (These native cities were even allowed to use British as well as Roman law). These were powerful people who not only had to govern a tribe now under the yoke of the Roman Empire but who were also expected to use their own money to help pay for new public buildings. In the case of the public baths, this must have been a considerable amount, but, as you’ll read below, they may have had some help.

Viriconium had, what is now called, Watling Street running through its ‘heart’: a Roman road that stretched from Londinium (London) through Viriconium, before turning south back down to Caerleon. A road that the modern A5 follows for much of its length to Shrewsbury. Other roads ran north to Deva (Chester) and on to Holyhead on Anglesey (Ynys Môn) on the Irish Sea. This would have meant a great deal of ‘traffic’ passing through the city, both civil and military. It was also the ‘artery’ for the imperial postage system: the cursus publicus.

Major towns and cities would have held the mansiones: staging post inns with stables and resting rooms for the riders of the system. Viriconium’s mansio was situated to the south east of the city. Roman roads could ‘grow’ in height over their history. This is because they would be simply added to. Some roads have ended up 2 meters above their original height, which has meant dwellings beside them having to give up their lower rooms and add another story to the building in order to access it!

A CGI reconstruction of Wroxeter's basilica, c. 130AD

We may have the Emperor Hadrian to thank for help in the building of Wroxeter’s (and other city’s) public baths. There were few public baths around in Britain in the first century AD, but a big building program in the mid second century. Could it just be a coincidence that Hadrian cancelled billions of sesterces owed to the treasury by impoverished municipalities and the baths sprang up after that? Or that a plaque dedicated to Hadrian was erected over the entrance to Wroxeter’s forum? We’ll never know. Whatever the reason, the 30 year gap since the beginning and halting of the construction of the baths was restarted in 150 AD. The forum and bath’s basilica, however, had been completed in 130 AD. The forum was not only a marketplace but a  home to the forum basilica: the seat of power for the tribal council. The bath’s basilica, on the other hand, was a cathedral-sized exercise and socializing hall. Its size shows the important of socializing in Roman society and it is estimated that over 1000 people could have passed through per day.  It was open to rich and poor alike and would have not only been filled with sweating men, woman and children, but with vendors selling their wares including Roman hamburgers!

Cutaway of how the baths at Wroxeter might have looked

The baths weren’t the only addition to Wroxeter at this time as the city boundary was extended and new defenses built. It’s unsure as to why this was done as there’s no indication of a threat at this time. Most of the Empire’s problems were happening much further north. It could be that this was merely done as a show of the city’s wealth or status. The defenses were not of the usual Roman stone wall construction, but more like the Iron Age hill fort ramparts with a ditch and palisaded gravel and turf ‘wall’. We don’t know if the Roman army supplied legionnaires or auxiliaries to guard the gates of the defenses or whether it just had ‘civil’ guards of some kind. The local populous weren’t allowed to be armed so it was either the former or an un-armed latter. This was a prosperous city that may have benefited  from its dealings with the Rome. It was a city living the Roman ideal but with a local flavour.  Its territorial size, fertile agricultural land, mines and salt deposits may have made it the perfect supplier for the large Roman legions based at Deva and elsewhere in its territory.

The bath's palaestra and frigidarium. The outside plunge pool only lasted about a hundred years.

Wroxeter’s important dates go something like this (with a little homour thrown in) …

c. 122 AD The Emperor Hadrian visits Britain and might have come to Wroxeter. Well, it was the most westerly city of their empire and the wine wasn’t bad either!

c.130 AD The forum is dedicated to Hadrian and a large plaque is placed above the entrance to tell us so. The city walls are extended and Viriconium is now the fourth largest city in Roman Britain.

c. 150 AD The work on the massive bath complex shown in our images is restarted after a 30 year hiatus. When completed it is able to take 1000 customers a day – rich and poor, men and woman… although most of the wealthy had their own private baths.  The baths would be open during daylight hours and the complex included the basilica (for exercising), shops, a bar and public toilets. The complex had all the ‘mod cons’ of the day, including double glazed windows!

c. 170 AD The forum is destroyed by a fire – and there was no insurance cover!

c. 306 AD The  baths are refurbished after a long period of neglect. Must have been charging too high an entrance fee!

c. 378 AD The baths are refurbished again adding more buildings. – under new management? It’s this layout that can be seen at the ruins today. (The Romans and many Britons are now Christians).

c. 400 AD Baths mustn’t have been doing well again as the main bath block becomes disused. Maybe the populous were too worried about what was happening to the Empire to bathe!

c. 410 AD As the Romans depart, leaving Britannia to fend for itself, Wroxeter takes on its own administration. In fact, nothing much changes at Viriconium, except maybe for a drop in taxes and not so much Latin being heard around town.

c. 476 AD Cunorix, an Irishman, who may have been a military commander – Philips & Keatman call him a Welsh king – is buried in the town ramparts. Hopefully he was dead at the time.

c. 527 AD The baths and the basilica are partly demolished and changed into a new marketplace, replacing the baths as the centre of trade. Obviously Roman health and cleanliness were out!

c. 542 AD The town centre is redeveloped and a large wooden building replaces the basilica – and that is large! Some believe this may have been for the local warlord, but it’s more likely that the warlords went back to the safety of the hill forts and left Viriconium to the bishop.

547 AD The bubonic plague reaches the area, killing the king of Gwynedd (pronounced something like “Gwinneth”), Maelgwyn (pronounced something like “Malegooun”).

c. 642 AD Now the Anglo-Saxons are in control of most of what is today England, part of the British kingdom of Powys is merged with the Angle kingdom of Mercia and, for the price of peace, the bishop of Viriconium is told to pack his bags and leave what’s left of the city, which now dwindles away to become the village of Wroxeter. In the same year the kings of Gwynedd (Britons) and Mercia (Angles) – that’s Cadwallon and Penda – bash the hell out of King Oswald (Angles) of Northumbria at nearby Oswestry (my home town). Now the Britons, who have been pushed west or just given in to the Anglo-Saxons, are known as “Welsh” and live in “Wales” – both words merely deriving from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘foreigners’ or ‘slave‘- which is why the Welsh prefers to by known as Cymru (pronounced “Cummry”), which means “land of friends or comrades“.

(The above dates are from English Heritage’s Wroxeter brochure)

Source: ‘Wroxeter: Life & Death of a Roman City‘ –  Roger White & Philip Barker

 

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