Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Final Word on 'Arthwys' as a Designation for the Irthing Valley

Irthing Valley

I've had new information from Prof. Paul Russell of Cambridge and Professor Richard Coates of the University of West England regarding the -wys ending of Arthwys, supposed father of Ceidio (my candidate for King Arthur).  The following is composed of a selection from my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY, with the additional comment plugged in:

The name Arthwys has frequently been brought into connection with that of Arthur/Artorius. This name is from Arth-, ‘Bear’, + -wys. Dr. Simon Rodway of The University of Wales tells me that 

“There is an element –wys found in a number of words of obscure meaning and derivation which could be present in Arthwys, cf. doublets like mam ~ mamwys, neuadd ~ neuaddwys (Ifor Williams, The Poems of Taliesin, trans. J. E. C. Williams (Dublin, 1968), p. 51).”

To which Prof. Russell adds: 

“Most of the other forms in -wys derive from Latin -ensis (thus also Powys) and that is what it is in mamwys, etc.” 

And Prof. Coates contribution:

"The accepted etymology valid in other names, or words derived from names, viz. < Latin -enses, is beyond dispute."

The best example of such a name is Glywys, the Welsh equivalent of Glevensis, ‘a man of Glevum’, i.e. Gloucester.  Glywys is thus merely an eponym for people who traced their origin to Gloucester. In this, sense, then, Arthwys would be ‘a man of Arth/the Bear.’

Thus Arthwys can be interpreted as a territorial designation, rather than strictly as a personal name. Welsh has a -wys suffix, which derives from Lat-in –enses.  A discussion of this suffix can be found in John T.  Koch's Celtic Culture, among other sources.  Regedwis, for example, is 'people of Rheged' - or maybe better, 'inhabitants of Rheged'. The entry for -wys (1) in the University of Wales Dictionary confirms it as a Latin borrowing and as a nominal plural ending, giving the examples of Gwennwys, Lloegrwys and Monwys. Could –wys, then, be a suffix used for the people who live on a certain river?  Like on an Arth or Bear River?

When I put this question to Dr. Delyth Prys of the place-name experts at The University of Wales, Bangor, he replied: “I've no independent evidence for this, but river names are sometimes used as the name for a more general area and by extension it could be the people of the Arth (area)." 

This all fits in nicely  with the Irthing Valley as a diminutive of the word arth (eirth), an etymology first proposed by place-name expert Dr. Andrew Breeze of The University of Pamplona. From his article “Celts, Bears and the River Irthing” (Archaeologia Aeliana, 5th series, volume XXXII):

"Irthing, which has early forms Irthin, Erthina, and Erthing, would also make sense as ‘little bear’, with a Cumbric diminutive suffix corresponding to Middle and Modern Welsh –yn (Old Welsh –inn), as in defynyn ‘droplet’ from dafn ‘drop’ or mebyn ‘young boy’ from mab ‘boy’.  As the th of Arth is pronounced like that of English bath, but that of Irthing like that of brother, the process of voicing here would take place after borrowing by English, not before.”

Both the Birdoswald Dark Age hall at the Banna Roman fort and the Camboglanna Roman fort are within the Irthing Valley.  Given Arthwys as the father of Ceidio, and Gwenddolau ("White Dales", itself perhaps originally a place-name) at Carwinley as the son of Ceidio, and given that Etterby hard by Stanwix was called 'Arthur's Burg', I hold to my original opinion that the Stanwix Roman fort of Uxellodunum/Petriana was the site of Arthur's ruling center. Arthur as Penuchel in a corrupt Triad could be a reference to Uxello- (Welsh uchel), while the reason the Dyfed king Petr named his son Arthur may be because the original Arthur was a sort of successor of the Petriana garrison.  

Friday, September 22, 2017


Lochmaben Stone

In Kychwedyl am dodyw o galchuynyd (Llyfr Taliesin XVIII), Owain son of Urien or the god Mabon or Owain in his incarnation as Mabon is referred to as 'rwyf dragon.'  The full phrase is actually 
'ri rwyf dragon', which Professor John Koch renders "king, leader of chieftains [lit. = 'dragons‘] (see*

Let us go to the GPC definition for rwyf, modern Welsh rhwyf:

rhwyf2, rhwy3 
[H. Grn. ruy, gl. rex, (gurhemin) ruif, gl. edictum, Llyd. C. ro(u)e, roy, Llyd. Diw. roue] 
eg. ll. rhwyfau, (geir.) rhwyon.
Brenin, arglwydd, rheolwr, pennaeth, arweinydd:
king, lord, ruler, chieftain, leader. 

Dragon, once again, had the following meanings:

[bnth. Llad. llafar dracŏn-em a’r ff. l. dracŏnes] 
eg. ac e.ll., hefyd ll. -au.
a  Ymladdwr, gwron, arweinydd rhyfel, pennaeth, tywysog; nerth milwrol:
warrior, hero, war leader, chieftain, prince; military power. 


head, chief(tain), leader, lord, master, ruler, director, senior member.

'rwyf dragon' is found used in several other medieval Welsh praise poems, although, so far as I've been able to determine, its earliest use is in Llfyr Taleisin XVIII.  Rhwyf corresponds quite nicely with pen, and if dragon were to be rendered in a similar fashion in both honorifics, then the conveyed sense would be the same. 

I'm not saying that Owain as rwyf dragon should be identified with Uther Pendragon.  I still hold to the view that the latter is his father, Urien (see  The point I'm trying to make is that a title very much like that of Pendragon was used in an early poem on Urien's son.

In passing, I would revise Koch's translation somewhat.  'Dragon' is not plural in the text, and so there is no reason to make it so.  Instead, I would simply put down "King, Warrior/Chieftain-leader" or some such.    

*There is an edition and translation of the Book of Taliesin poem with useful notes by Marged Haycock, Prophecies from the Book of Taliesin (Aberystwyth, 2013), poem 3. There is also a translation by John Koch in The Celtic Heroic Age, ed. John T. Koch and John Carey, second edition (Andover + Malden, MA, 1995), pp. 349—51, cf. pp. 347-48 for notes on Mabon and Modron and their connection with Owain.  Information courtesy Dr. Simon Rodway of The University of Wales.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Rheged was a very important Dark Age kingdom of North Britain.  It is best known for its being ruled by Urien of Rheged and his son, Owain.

Lochmaben Castle

Burnswark Hillfort

There has been a tendency in the past to link the Dark Age kingdom name Rheged with the Romano-British period polis of the Novantae tribe, RERIGONIUM.  According to Rivet and Smith’s “The Place-Names of Roman Britain”, Rerigonium should be seen as “a latinization of British *ro-rigonio- ‘very royal (place)’.  Under their entry for the place-name Regulbium, the authors cite British *ro- ‘great’ (a prefix… rendered in Latin as heard or adapted by Latin speakers, re-, a common prefix).  –rigonio- is from British *rig- *rigon ‘king’ with *-io- derivational suffix.

For a full discussion of what past authorities have surmised in regards to the location of Rheged and its possible etymology, see pp. xxxviii-xlii in Sir Ifor Williams' edition of THE POEMS OF TALIESIN.

In my opinion, Rheged is rather easily derived from a Welsh ged, ‘gift’, and the Re-/Rhe- can again be accounted for if we allow the original Ro- to have been altered due to Roman influence.  The meaning would be something like ‘Great Gift’ and may have been formed, originally, after the model provided by nearby Rerigonium.

It would be nice to suggest that Ptolemy made a mistake, and his Rerigonium should instead be something like *Rereconion, *re-rec- meaning 'great gift'.  Welsh rheg, like ged, means ‘gift.’ Rerec[onion] would exactly match my proposed meaning for Reged.  Unfortunately, we are not justified in assuming that Ptolemy made such an error.

Alternately, Rheged could be from rheg (from Brth. *-rek).  The -ed is likely the Welsh suffix -ed1. From the standpoint of the philologist, relying on rheg- is a better bet than requiring the *ro- to become *re-.  Regularly, we would expect Ro + ged to become Rhyged (I have this confirmed from Dr. Simon Rodway of The University of Wales). According to Professor Koch in CELTIC CULTURE: A HISTORICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA, "The name [Rheged] is Celtic and is related to Welsh rheg ‘gift’, explaining the artful poetic theme of its rulers’ renowned generosity." I would agree with Koch on the etymology, but not on its application as a kingdom name.

We must remember that Urien is linked to Modron and Mabon.  Lochmaben is near the Annan, which is thought to derive from a goddess name like the Irish Anu, which has the same root as the Welsh word anaw.  One of the meanings of anaw is 'gift.' The Lochmaben Stone is on the other side of the Annan near Gretna Green.  The great Burnwark hillfort is nearby and this is believed to have been the oppidum of the Novantae.

From the GPC:


[H. Wydd. anae, yr e. lleoedd Brth. a Gal. Anava, yr e. prs. Gal. Anavos; cf. yr e. prs. H. Gym. Anaugen, Anauoc, yr e. prs. H. Grn. Anaoc, Anaudat, a’r e. prs. H. Lyd. Anaugen]

eg. a hefyd gyda grym ansoddeiriol.
Cyfoeth, golud, budd, rhodd, trysor, hefyd yn ffig.:
wealth, riches, benefit, gift, treasure, also fig. 

Perhaps the nucleus of Rheged was found on the Annan?  This tribe may possibly be descended from the Roman period  Anavionenses, thought to be a sub-group of the Novantae.

This does leave open the problem of the small Dunragit hillfort near Stranraer and the Rhinns of Galloway.  If  Rheged refers to the River Annan, why do we find an apparent Rheged name so far to the west? My guess is that at some point the kingdom name Rheged was wrongly identified with Rerigonium.  As such, Dunragit as a place-name may be fairly recent.  The other polis of the Novantae mentioned by Ptolemy is Leukopibia or, rather, Leucovia, which has been identified with the Roman fort at Glenlochar.  However, the Water of Luce quite close to Dunragit makes for a much better Leucovia.

Before closing, I should refer the interested reader to my recent identification of Urien with Uther Pendragon:

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Selection from Mike McCarthy's ROMAN CARLISLE AND THE LANDS OF THE SOLWAY (ref. Stanwix/Uxellodunum, etc.)

As those have been reading my posts (or books) now know, I have tentatively proposed the Stanwix Roman fort (Uxellodunum/'Petriana') as Arthur's headquarters on the west end of Hadrian's Wall.

I'm currently trying to get my hands on the unpublished report (or raw data?) concerning the sub-Roman or early Medieval timber structure(s) found there during a dig in 1999 at the Stanwix Primary School.  If I'm successful, and the material contains anything worth passing along here, I will do so.

For now, here is yet another summary of such findings at the Wall, prepared by the man who was the director of the archaeological group conducting the Stanwix Primary School dig, Dr. Mike McCarthy. The selection may be found in his book ROMAN CARLISLE AND THE LANDS OF THE SOLWAY:

"At Stanwix, Carlisle, little of the fort, the largest on Hadrian's Wall, has been investigated under modern conditions, and it is certain that much will have been destroyed. Excavations in the school playground, however, have provided tantalising hints that activities continued [past the Roman period], with the discovery of at least two phases of buildings represented by substantial post-pits cutting through earlier Roman deposits...

To summarize, modern investigations at several forts have yielded evidence for sub-Roman activity in key buildings. They include the granaries at Birdoswald, the commanding officers' houses at South Shields and Vindolanda, the bath-house at Binchester and the headquarters building at Carlisle.  The conclusion one might draw is that important buildings in important locations (forts) continud to have a function at the point where the old-style Roman military command structure no longer had any real force, and the pay chests needed for the soldiery had ceased to arrive; and we can see this at Carlisle where the barracks fell from use. Nevertheless, the continued use of formerly key buildings, as we can see in several forts, might allow us to infer that this is an element in the archaeology of lordship. If so, it is lordship in transition from a Roman command structure to one of sub-Roman leaders emerging as local chiefs or kings with military titles and authority derived from that of the late fourth century. They doubtless formed small private armies or warbands, and established territoria which could supply their provisions and over which they exercised a quasi-leadership role. They were not yet kings or princes, but neither were they members of the Roman army linked into a wide-ranging command structure.  Their authority was derived from the former prestige attached to the place, and their dwelings may, as is hinted in the late phases of the Commanding Officer's house at South Shields, be large and imposing, as the central range location of their buildings at Carlisle and Birdoswald may also suggest."

My Case for Uther Pendragon as Urien Rheged (from an earlier post)

Uther Pendragon, called gorlassar in a Taliesin poem (the origin of Geoffrey's 'Gorlois'), may well be Urien of Rheged, son of the Cynfarch (not Cynfor) who was the father of Eliffer's ("Constantine's") wife Efrddyl.  I long suspected this, as gorlassar is otherwise found only in two places - and on both occasions it is used of Urien, once for his person and once for his spear.  I resisted this conclusion for a long time because with Arthur as Urien's son I was forced not only to deal with the absence of Arthur in Cynfarch's line of descent, but also with a chronological impossibility: Urien is too late to be Arthur's father.  Still, I can no longer deny that Urien of Rheged is Uther Pendragon.  

The name may have come about as Uther Pen at first.  I say this because in a Llywarch Hen poem, the hero bewails the fall of Urien and is in possession of his slain lord's head. 

Professor John Koch once had a similar idea regarding the god Bran's severed head.  Here is what he has to say in CELTIC CULTURE: A HISTORICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA:

"One possibility is that the strange and strangely named yspyddawt urddawl benn (feast of the stately head) around Brân’s living severed head in the Mabinogi represents a garbling of a more appropriate ‘feast of the uncanny head’ (uthr benn); the marwnad would make sense as the words of the living-dead Brân mourning himself. For Geoffrey, the epithet Pendragon is ‘dragon’s head’, an explanation of a celestial wonder by Merlin (see Myrddin). This meaning is not impossible..."

From Koch on the head of Urien:

"... another 30 lines describe Urien’s decapitated corpse. In the former, there is much penetrating wordplay on the multiple senses of pen (head, chief, leader) and porthi (carry, support [e.g. of a poet by his patron]). The situation is reminiscent of that in Branwen, in which seven survivors, including the poet Taliesin, return from Ireland with the severed head of their king, Brân, and the englynion may intentionally echo this story:

Penn a borthaf ar vyn tu,
penn Uryen llary—llywei llu—
ac ar y vronn wenn vran ddu.

The head I carry at my side, head of generous
Urien—he used to lead a host, and on his white
breast (bron wen) a black crow (brân).

Arthur's Breguoin battle = the Brewyn of Urien.  This may suggest either that they both fought at the place, together or separately on different occasions.  It is not necessarily the case (as I discuss in my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY) that Brewyn was copied from Urien's battles onto the Arthurian battle-list.  In the "Marwnat Uthyr Pen", Uther claims that his ‘champion’s feats partook in a
ninth part of Arthur’s valour’.

I would add that the 'Pa Gur' poem's phrase "Mabon son of Modron servant of Uther Pendragon" at last makes sense.  For the center of Mabon worship, the locus Maponi of the Classical sources, was at the heart of Urien's kingdom in the North, and in the early poetry his son Owain is referred to as an incarnation of Mabon.